On Feb. 24 (at Wayzata Community Church) and March 3 (at Orchestra Hall) we will be performing Ralph (pronounced “Rafe”) Vaughan Williams masterpiece, Dona Nobis Pacem. Employing text from Walt Whitman, John Bight and passages from the Bible, it is a work that was written between the two world wars.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (RVW) was born into England’s upper class – his mother was an heiress to the Wedgewood manufacturing fortune, and his great uncle was Charles Darwin – but he spent a great deal of time travelling the English countryside collecting folk music. RVW and his lifelong friend, Gustav Holst, dedicated themselves to creating an authentic national British voice rooted in folk song.
Through his discovery and recording of over 800 songs, he found that the modes played a key role. When he was commissioned to create a new version of the English Hymnal, he departed from German influence (largely major/minor tonalities) and included a broader array of recognizable tunes rooted in those ancient modes. The hymnal, created in 1906, remains the central musical source for the Anglican Church and its offshoots.
RVW recognized the debt to the traditions that shaped his musical style and returned the favor through decades of work with volunteer musicians in the huge network of English choral festivals and orchestras. He grasped music’s potential to build community. According to his second wife, Ursula, “He delighted in working with enthusiastic, arts-minded men and women whose voices were (often) not equal to their zeal, and from them he drew major life lessons as well as astonishing results.”
In the preface to English Music, RVW wrote:
“If we want to find the groundwork of our English culture we must look below the surface – not to the grand events chronicled in the newspapers but to the unobtrusive quartet parties which meet week after week to play or sing in their own houses, to the village choral societies whose members trudge miles through rain or snow to work steadily for a concert or competition in some ghastly parish room with a cracked piano and a smelly oil lamp.”
The musicians of the Wayzata Symphony, the Edina Chorale and the Two Rivers Chorale perform with great dedication, talent and passion. They give no less than their very best, especially when they are given the opportunity to perform such a powerful, transformative work exemplifying:
Familiar modal musical language
Gripping texts of Walt Whitman
Brilliant text painting
An inspiring call to the human spirit in times of darkness.
I think RVW would have loved the collaboration of our three community groups.
I am studying like a fiend, preparing for the first concert of our 10th Anniversary Season.
When I thought about repertoire to celebrate 10 years, I had to include Beethoven Symphony #5. I know it is familiar to everyone and most musicians have played it many times, including me as clarinetist in the SPCO. But, every single time I play or conduct this piece, I just cannot believe the brilliance of Beethoven. I always discover exciting new things. When I was a kid I wondered what all the Beethoven hoopla was about – I preferred Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Mozart – but as soon as I played my first Beethoven symphony I was hooked. In all fields, there are iconic figures who catapult us forward into brave new worlds. Beethoven was one of those figures.
His 5th symphony is a remarkable display of ingenious, ground-breaking creativity. I can’t wait to show some examples of that at our concert on Oct. 14.
One of my favorite soloists from the past 9 years is Manny Laureano, Principal Trumpet of MN Orchestra. Manny is a spirit-above-ego guy. It’s all about the music with Manny and how it connects to community. When I asked him to perform on our opening concert he immediately agreed and even suggested a piece – one he had premiered a couple years ago. Michael Gilbertson’s Trumpet Concerto opens with a 3-part trumpet fanfare – showcasing the skills of WSO trumpeters, Ben Alle and Miriam Dennis. The piece is full of beautiful melodies, driving rhythms, intriguing harmonies and lots of challenging technique for the entire ensemble.
Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man is the quintessential American piece – open, welcoming, powerful. It will be a great way to start the season.
And the Grand Finale? I hope you’ll be there as we include 100 string students from Wayzata High School and singers of the Edina Chorale to join us in performing the Ode To Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Happy Birthday to us!
April 3, 2018
Shostakovich was recognized from an early age as one of Russia’s great composers. He completed his first symphony at 19 and by 26, his film scores, Cello Sonata and first string quartet were admired. His opera, Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, played for nearly two years to rave reviews … until one day in 1936 when Joseph Stalin was in the audience.
The next morning, the headline in Pravda read, Muddle instead of Music. The article claimed his music was too formalistic, not nationalistic enough. This was during “The Great Purge,” a period between 1934-37 when millions of Russian citizens were imprisoned, executed or sent to the Gulag never to be heard from again. This kind of public criticism could have had the same result for Shostakovich.
Thus began a lifetime of living in fear.
Shostakovich had already completed his 4th Symphony but with such frightening criticism preceding the premiere, he felt it best to cancel. Instead he began work on another symphony in the hope of regaining the favor of the authorities. Symphony No. 5 premiered in 1937 and was an enormous success. For a time, Shostakovich could continue his work. In 1948, he would suffer another round of criticism – much more severe.
When we perform the symphony on April 29 and May 6, we will try to portray the vast spectrum of emotion present in this work – extreme sadness, painful loneliness, fevered aggression, exuberant triumph – with the goal of bringing our audience with us to those powerful places where only music can take us.