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Ralph Vaughan Williams – the People’s Composer

Marlene’s Musings
January 31, 2019

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 PacemEmploying 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:

Gorgeous orchestration
Familiar modal musical language
Expansive gestures
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.

 

Verdi Requiem – Opera in Disguise

Marlene’s Musings
January, 2015

MarlenePodiumShotWebThis is my fifth season as Music Director of the wonderful Wayzata Symphony Orchestra. I’m thrilled that a hallmark of the season will be our performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Orchestra Hall on Feb. 22, 2015.

I have been a lover of great singing since I was a kid. My paternal grandmother, though not an opera singer per se, was soprano soloist in their Lutheran Church in Austin, MN. She had the most glorious voice and would often hum as I nestled in for a cuddle on the couch. Very happy memories, indeed!

Although Verdi’s Requiem is not an opera, it cannot be performed or conducted unless one has a love and an understanding of opera. The four vocal soloists will be required to display virtuosity comparable to many of Verdi’s great arias. Our soprano will climb to a breathtaking high C at the climax of the final movement as she sings, “Deliver me, Oh Lord, from eternal death on that fateful day.” Spine chilling!

OrchHallSingersOur partners, Edina Chorale and Two Rivers Chorale, have been rehearsing for months. This is no walk in the park for singers. The Sanctus and Libera Me movements include masterful fugues that challenge the very finest of choirs. Their diction will have to be highly rhythmic in order to cut through the texture so that everything can be heard.

Everyone will be challenged by the extreme dynamic range which goes from f f f f to ppppp! One rarely sees five pianos in any score.

For Verdi, who was not religious, this work speaks about the fear of death in very human terms. He does not shy away from the thought that death and the afterlife might not be a pleasant experience. That fear of uncertainty is no more palpable than in the Dies Irae where the solo instrument is the bass drum. It is bone-crunching, terrifying music complete with 8 trumpets placed antiphonally, proclaiming the approaching day of judgment when all sins will be revealed.

This is dramatic music at its best and with Orchestra Hall as our venue, the electrifying energy in the music will be magnified onstage.

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