Musical Musings

The Sarasota Orchestra Blog

New World Symphony

It's a perfect time to pay homage to the natural splendors of our country.

The Masterworks series continues in December with The New World. The concert will feature legendary pieces that pay homage musically to America. Composers Aaron Copland and Antonin Dvořák have captured the essence of American music both subtlety and uniquely in their pieces.

There are many aspects of America that is special. It's difficult to create music that reflects all of them, but somehow, Copland and Dvořák were able to.

Imagine a beautiful Parisian night at the theatre. Most are expecting to hear music with beautiful melodies and serene themes that reflected the Romantic period. but instead were abruptly surprised and assaulted with irregular rhythms, incredibly high instrument ranges and flat footed ballerinas dancing as though they lost all technique. 

It was no wonder Igor Stravinsky's ballet score, The Rite of Spring caused such an outcry as it did on its debut in 1913.

Stravinsky's notorious work inspired today's composers to create more groundbreaking works that continue to break the boundaries of classical music. Stravinsky's ballet score didn't have the expected melodies with impressionistic motifs that reflected the Romantic Period. Stravinsky introduced a new approach to creating music. It didn't have a traditional music form that reflected Mozart and Beethoven. It was shocking for the time and demanded instrumentalists to push their instruments to their limits. The tempo is very difficult in the sense that it is often syncopated or changes every other measure.

While Stravinsky's notorious masterpiece was an in initial shock, over time audience members found the beauty beyond what they originally derided as "noise".  A fascinating takeaway from Rite of Spring is that though the musical changes were shocking at the time, they sound pleasing to our ears, almost like chamber music.  It is dynamic and interesting, and the sort of music that modern lovers of music find quite accessible.

When you join us, try to imagine what the audiences of 1913 may have been thinking. Do you find it shocking or disturbing? Or do you see it as a wonderful, compelling piece of music? Either way, our perspectives of music have evolved because of this thrilling discovery of The Rite of Spring.

This is a masterpiece we should all experience.

Hear it live as Music Director Anu Tali opens the Masterworks season with The Rite Music at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, November 4-6. For ticket information, click here.

Quintessential Quintets

This Sunday, experience "the sweetest melodies" and "exhilarating" music at our third Chamber Soiree of the 2016-2017 season, Quintessential Quintets.

The program features three pieces: Gabrieli's Canzona per Sonare No. 2; Beethoven's Piano Quintet in E-flat Major featuring Jonathan Spivey, Principal Keyboard; and, Weber's Clarinet Quintet in B-flat Major, featuring Bharat Chandra, Principal Clarinet.

Jay Hunsberger, principal tuba

Jay Hunsberger, principal tuba, is no stranger to performing new works. In fact, a hallmark of his career has been the substantial number of new works that have been written for him and which he has premiered.

One of those, "The Grey Road" by Francis Schwartz, explores the terrible atmospheres that exist in war-torn countries and post-cataclysmic areas. Schwartz often utilizes unconventional instrumental techniques as well as histrionic elements to convey the tense, frightening atmospheres of the time.

"There are many musicians who don’t feel comfortable with the histrionics," Schwartz told The Observer in a 2010 interview, referring to the scripted noises and unusual facial expressions he writes into many of his pieces. "But there are many musicians who discover they have these hidden talents or incredible acting abilities by playing my music." 

The piece forms part of Schwartz's Literary Bagatelles series. "The Grey Road" was inspired by the post-apocalyptic novel, "The Road," by Cormac McCarthy and the works of artists Francis Bacon, Max Neumann and Anselm Kiefer.

Hear "The Grey Road" as part of the September Fest: Music of our Time Part II this Sunday, September 25 at 4pm in Holley Hall.

Other pieces featured in the Chamber Soiree include:

Cadernos, a piece featuring a vibraphone solo;

Death with Interruptions, a piano trio that invokes the chaos that could ensue when one day people mysteriously stop dying. Soon afterwards Death herself enters the narrative and falls madly in love with a cellist;

Teatro de Marionetas is the Portuguese expression for Puppet Theater. In this work, two puppets, represented by the two tubas, meet for a set of three dances;

and, Immutable Dreams, which recalls our last conversation, in which we imagine that our youthful dreams, because they were shared, would live on and persist even when we are gone.

Voice of the Whale

Whales are the stuff of legends. It's no doubt why: these magnificent mammals are the largest creatures to ever have lived on Earth. The longest whale (Blue Whale) ever recorded was measured at 110 feet long. Need perspective? That's about nine family-sized cars in a row! 

Whales have a very unique and intriguing method of communicating known as echolocation. Their sound can travel for miles (one mile each second!) and helps the whales navigate long distance. Humpback whales engage in a form of communication known as singing. When you listen, you will find repeated patterns almost like lyrics and a chorus. 

Why all this talk about whales? This week's Chamber Soiree, Music of our Time Part I, includes a very special piece of new music entitled Vox balanae (Voice of the Whale) by George Crumb. Composed in 1971 and scored for flute, cello, and piano, the work was inspired by the singing of the humpback whale. 

Each of the three performers are also required to wear a black half-mask throughout the performance. In Crumb's own words, "by effacing the sense of human projection, are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful, impersonal forces of nature."

In experiencing this piece, you may ask yourself if you hear a pre-recorded version of a humpback whale singing... but, that couldn't be further from the truth. Crumb instead utilizes the three musicians to produce the sounds naturally, creating a dynamic seascape for the audience. 

Other pieces featured in the Chamber Soiree include: 

TraInspOrt, an exploration of the various stages of riding a train written for bassoon and two percussionists;

Six Bagatelles, an abandon of tonality in six short, yet emotional, pieces; 

and, Thirteen Ways, a set of 13 musical miniatures inspired by the Wallace Stevens poem, "Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird." It's not a song cycle; rather, the music is like underscoring for a textless film of the poem's images.

September Fest: Music of our Time Parts I & II
Chamber Soiree 1, September 22 at 5:30pm in Holley Hall
Chamber Soiree 2, September 25 at 4:00pm in Holley Hall

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Written byHerald Tribune

 There's no doubt, audiences are thrilled by the Sarasota Orchestra's new music director, Anu Tali. She's brought an intense energy from the orchestra in previous performances and we found this yet again in a downright thrill ride of an encounter...  

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