musings of a professional bassoonist

Monday, June 14, 2010

Symphonic significance


There is much speculation these days regarding the viability of symphony orchestras.  Let's face it; they're expensive to run and U.S. orchestras must rely heavily upon donations to survive. Orchestras now face competition from many other forms of live entertainment and from the internet's endless supply of recordings and videos.  Understandably, orchestras throughout the country are suffering financially.  Not all orchestras are struggling, though.  For example, there was good news about the Minnesota Orchestra on the internet today.  The Minnesota Orchestra surpassed its 40 million dollar goal for renovation of its hall!

Within any large city there exists a segment of the population  which truly appreciates the opportunity to attend live symphonic concerts performed by musicians who live in the community.  The civic pride associated with sports teams can apply to symphony orchestras as well.  Loyal symphony fans often speak of the incredible visceral energy of a live performance which keeps them coming back.

Benjamin Zander, the outspoken and charismatic conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, does not agree that only a small percentage of people "get" classical music.  He insists that classical music is for everybody- it's just that they haven't found out yet!  He proves his theory in this video.




Arts managers estimate that approximately 3% of the population appreciates classical music, but Zander's experiences, as you can see in the video, suggest otherwise.

That visceral energy of a live performance is difficult to describe.  I have vivid memories of certain classical music performances which I will never forget.  In some cases I was a member of the orchestra or chamber group performing the music, and in others I was an audience member .  These memories include precise auditory detail along with the sensation of being in the midst of ineffable greatness, and in some cases I can even picture the conductor's expression during a heart-stopping moment.  Although I am sometimes deeply affected by listening to recordings, my most memorable musical memories are of live performances.  One example is Mahler Symphony No. 6 which I performed with the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra in Boulder.  Musicians from orchestras all over the world participated in that once-in-a-lifetime blockbuster performance.  There is no video of that performance  (you had to be there!) but here is a sample of Mahler 6 featuring Valery Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.



What an unspeakably powerful piece!

The ancient Greeks took it upon themselves to explain how music works.  They proclaimed that music was about relationships among invisible, internal, hidden parts of human hearts and souls.  Music moved those parts around until the positions were "right."  The 7th grader in Zander's video demonstrates this theory, as the music seemingly found and re-positioned the movable parts of his inner being, enabling him to finally release his grief and to cry over the loss of his brother.  The residents of Manhattan also proved the ancient Greek's theory in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.  Their first organized efforts following the tragedy involved music, including performances of the Mozart and Brahms Requiems, which they intuitively knew would contribute to the healing process.  Other cities throughout the U.S., including Columbus, followed suit.

The first time I ever became consciously aware of the effect of live classical music was when I was 8 years old playing in my school's marching tonette band.  (A tonette is a plastic recorder-like instrument for children.)  I recall the thrill of the experience- it was almost as if an electrical spine-tingling charge surged through my body- as we marched through the center aisle of my school's auditorium during an assembly.  A few years later when I was a teenager I heard a live performance of the aria Voi che sapete from Mozart's opera Le Nozze di Figaro.  It was probably the first time I had heard Mozart live, and the young woman singing the aria was immensely talented.  I was completely overtaken.  Have you ever had goosebumps from listening to music?  If so, chances are it was live classical music that you were listening to!  The following video of Maria Ewing singing Voi che sapete provides a reminder of that stunning live performance I remember from so many years ago.



Three hundred years ago the English dramatist William Congreve wrote the following:

Music has charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.

Surely such charms, along with the symphony orchestras which offer them, are timeless.                 
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dances and Dreams

On June 18, a few musicians of the Columbus Symphony with guest pianist Ahlin Min are presenting a chamber music concert entitled  Dances and Dreams to benefit the Columbus Symphony.  The music of Debussy, Stravinsky and Poulenc will be performed by the Columbus Symphony Woodwind Quintet, Columbus Symphony violinist Tatiana Hanna, and pianist Ahlin Min. Although admission is free, donations are welcome and will be fully donated to the Columbus Symphony.

Columbus Symphony's Principal Clarinetist David Thomas organized this event, and part of his plan was to hold a June 5 "preview performance" in his beautiful house:

http://blog.davidhthomas.net/wp-content/uploads/397.jpg

David's house is located in Clintonville, an older (early 1900s) neighborhood within the city of Columbus.  I was so impressed that Martin Inglis and his wife Sue Inglis showed up early, laden with cases of fine wine and huge platters of catered food to offer the guests, and then they stayed late to clean up!   Our orchestra is incredibly lucky to be so strongly supported.  Martin Inglis also happens to be the Chair of the Columbus Symphony Board of Directors, and Sue Inglis is a very active member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra League and Music Director Search Committee.

The evening was delightful in every way. The atmosphere was perfectly festive, with appreciative guests, memorable refreshments, exciting live classical music, and of course, David's lovely house and gardens.  David was so pleased with the evening that he wrote about it on his blog.

Here's a brief comment from a grateful concert attendee who visited David's blog:
It was a fantastic evening! I know it takes time and energy, but this is so good for Columbus--to have some of its best musicians giving chamber recitals like this. Good for the musicians too.Thank you to Susan and Martin Inglis for the wonderful wine and food . It made for a perfect evening.
Even though this performance was a preview of the main event occurring on June 18, donations were eagerly accepted, and were doubled by our anonymous donor.  Thank you to David Thomas and his Columbus Symphony colleagues, to Sue and Martin Inglis, to our anonymous donor and to all of  the people who showed up on June 5 and who will show up on June 18 to support the Symphony!

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