Posts Tagged ‘WDAV’

Aftermath of a Musical Dream

October 18, 2015

While catching up on some tasks around the homeplace yesterday, a mid-afternoon weariness came upon me, and so I decided to take a little siesta.

Having finished the outdoor chores, I was inside the house. WDAV was tuned in on the radio. My favorite deejay, Mike McKay, was introducing the station’s 3 pm airing of a performance by the Charlotte Symphony.

I lost track of what Mike was saying as I stretched me weary ole bones upon the floor to partake of a wee bit of personalized yoga recovery, otherwise known as dozing off while stretching.

The next thing I know, my mind was stirred in wakefulness that attended a hearing of some incredibly beautiful music.

The experience was ethereal, as if I were dreaming, and yet there I was, my conscious attention approaching some orchestral destination that was being played out in my mind, or in the airwaves, or in the room, or somewhere I’ve never been.

I listened.

A little while later, I checked the WDAV website to find out what that music was that had stirred my awareness up from a necessary mid-afternoon slumber.

http://www.wdav.org/1_33_38.cfm

Now, the next day, a little Google search brings me to some comprehension about the source of yesterday’s dreamy revery: Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by theme by Thomas Tallis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasia_on_a_Theme_by_Thomas_Tallis

This symphonic piece was composed in 1910, and later revised in 1913 and 1919.

When I read the Wikipedia info about the dates of  this music’s conception and revision, I immediately thought of the First Big War, which had happened from 1914-1918. That war has been a subject of my research for the last few years, as its aftermath pertains to the novel, Smoke, that I published last year.

The composer, a Brit, Ralfph (pronounced Rafe) Von Williams wrote the music in 1910, four years before the cataclysmic conflagration of early 20th-century European history, World War I. He later revised that music in 1913, just before the war started, and then again after the war had ended.

And I am wondering, this bright autumn Sunday afternoon, if that traumatic experience of world war might have had some effect on Mr. Williams that compelled him to revise his 9-year old masterpiece.

I think that First Big War did had an impact on this incredibly voluptuous statement of orchestral pathos, or tragedy, or whatever it is this haunting Phrygian melody imposes on my soul.

The music is similar to, and a compositional precedent to, a famous piece written two decades later by Samuel Barber,  Adagio for Strings (1936).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adagio_for_Strings

That’s another great, prescient pre-war piece of musical angst created four years before a Big War (the Second one).

Perhaps there is some composer out there today writing such a piece, but entirely new and expressive of whatever the hell is going on in our world today.

I wanted to provide a link so you can hear the piece of music that has inspired all this. So I went back to the WDAV website, which represents a great media source for classical music enrichment and enjoyment. It was there I had learned the name of the music.

I treasure WDAV and support their work with an annual contribution. However, for purposes of this online presentation I . . . long story short, stumbled upon this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY

from BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is captured for YouTube in a performance at a cathedral in England. If you watch the performance, you may agree that both the music and the setting represent the union of two elements of our profoundly great Western cultural heritage: music and church.

After composing, Vaughn Williams noted an association between this Fantasia and the message of Psalm 2:

Why are the nations in an uproar

and the peoples devising a vain thing?

The kings of the earth take their stand

and the rulers take counsel together

against the Lord and against his Anointed?

 

Smoke

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The Nutcracker is not correct!

December 24, 2014

During all six+ decades of my time here I’ve been appreciating Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet suite. Every now and then, woven throughout this life I’d hear snippets of the musical adventure–dance of the mirlitons, the sugar plum fairy, snow queen, the Nutcracker Prince . . . whether spinning across the airwaves from WDAV, or sacheting through some mall soundtrack, or whirling around in my childhood recollections, maybe  gliding through a Christmas scenario from some ancient yuletide celebration in days of old. Whether it be a shimmering tinsel of exotic melody that hangs upon my personal memory, or some almost-seen glimmering remnant from a collective archive of European culture, I haven’t a clue.

Then last night we saw the actual ballet performed at Charlotte.

http://charlotteballet.org/tickets/nutcracker/

Whoa! What an experience.

As the dancers initiated their rite of midwinter reverie, my first thought was about the stage setting in their background.  How much the world has changed! since Petr Ilyich first cast this musical extravaganza into the world’s imagination. The immensity of the Christmas tree, the lavish grandiosity of what is obviously a mansion setting, and the quaintly sumptuous finery of the characters’ costumes–these elements of the story are quaintly outmoded, and did not portend a ballet that would reflect sensitivity to contemporary political correctness.

The family depicted in the story do not seem to represent regular folks–certainly not Democrats, anyway.

I mean, they look like old-fashioned rich people, like we used to see in old British movies, all dressed in frills and formality. Maybe they’re actually . . . the dreaded 1%! Or maybe even (Tchaikovsky being a Russian) they are those heartless Russian nobility  types whose vast domains were enriched by the toil and sweat of peasants. 

I thought: This is going to be a ballet about upper crust Ruskies whose prosperity was directly dependent on the Czar’s authoritarian feudalism, before the Bolsheviks began redistributing the Old World’s old money into new Leninist revolutionary paths of proletarian appropriation. This stageplay is not going to be an egalitarian holiday presentation. No Little Match Girl or  Dickensian Tiny Tim tearjerker here.

I wasn’t really thinking that. I’m a Republican after all.

But the ballet is, as it turns out, one colorful yuletide episode in a little rich girl’s life. How politically incorrect is that? And if that wasn’t bourgeois enough, the setting then morphs into the little rich girl’s dream– the whole second half of the show is a little rich girl’s fantasy! Don’t tell anyone.

Now I can understand the palace-like marbled grandiosity of the Bank of America Center interiors, which I was forced to walk through while ambling from the parking garage to the theatre. (Even though Wells Fargo sponsored the Event. Go figure.) This ballet is part of a vast capitalist plot to make every middle and lower class family just like the well-endowed family whose holiday fantasy is dramatized in the Nutcracker!

I can’t believe the Democrats met here, right outside those doors in downtown Charlotte, only two years ago! 

Is it a Russian plot?

That dancing Prince looks pretty nutty if you ask me. I wonder if he’s somehow connected to Putin’s power-grabbing aspirations!

Nevertheless, in spite of all that hog-wild rumination trying to drag my sugar plum appreciations into politically correct judgements, we had a great musical experience with the Charlotte Ballet, accompanied by Charlotte Symphony! I was thoroughly enthralled as the dancers whirled around Petr Ilyich’s construct of an Old World 1%er child’s fantasy, while the stage-setters did their magic under the influence of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s imaginative dancing mastery.

Somewhere between the pageantry of high-hatted toy soldiers and the mysteriously dissonant celesta, which accompanies Sugar Plum Fairy’s confectionary grace, I found myself amazed at the “diversity” represented in Tchaikovsky’s 19th-century rendering of an old Hoffman tale.

My amazement started in the first scene, with the post-modernly mechanical movements of the the Toy Doll  and the Nutcracker Doll. These motions were incredibly like mime, or even hiphop. I didn’t know if I was flashing on Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Marceau, or Michael Jackson.

To further complicate my prior expectations about ballet, I had to ask: Who would have thought an outlier Russian symphonist would include Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, and Chinese tea in his fantastic array of pirouetting spices? And then he blends them into a Czarist celebration of one family’s opulent holiday festivities?

But old Petr managed to do it. Quite an amazing guy, that Russian.

From listening to his music over the years, I’ve gotten the impression that the composer spent his whole symphonic life trying, time after time, to perfect the delicate art of orchestral crescendo. The Nutcracker represents, it seems to me, an exotic side-trip in that lifelong dynamic project. While 1812 Overture and the Swan Lake were brilliant expressions of that quest for the perfectly constructed crescendo, The Nutcracker is a different character entirely–a wildly musical collection of diverse cultural adventures, 19th-century style. Maybe that’s why its seasonal popularity has launched Petr Ilyich’s masterpiece of sweetness of  into one of the world’s most enduring classics.

Glass Chimera