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On Music and Time

News 2018-03-22

On Music and Time

Beethoven….born 1770

Mozart….born 1756

Tchaikovsky….born 1840

Rachmaninoff….born 1873

Go through any symphony season and you’ll see music by these names…much-loved, timeless music audiences expect symphony orchestras to program regularly.
But look when these composers were born….
Now, would you expect first-run cinemas to regularly schedule great movie equivalents to the works of these composers: movies like Wizard of Oz (1939), Casablanca (1942) or any movie of the past with certifiably classic stature? Nope, and it’s an interesting question why an orchestra relies on so much its past for its current audiences.
I remember seeing Citizen Kane at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House theatre in 35mm on a screen that replicated the size of the one used at the original release. It was overwhelming. I remember seeing Gone with the Wind at our Met when it came out in a painstakingly restored version on the big screen. It was unforgettable. So why do we not get an ongoing flow of classic films in first-run movie theatres when musical classics of the past are core fuel for symphony orchestras? Let me speculate and please let me know what you think:
I believe it has to do with the abstractness of music itself. Music is, well, music – the rhythms, sounds, sensations of Nature untranslatable into any other form. Music is our wiring, our hearts beating before we are born, our bottom-line essence. Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff had it, just as we have it. And therein the reason why we can feel the same sensations as they did because they are the same and transcend time.
In a movie you see the characters, hear their voices and get their arguments and resolutions with much less internalizing. The score underpins the drama, the lighting, sets and locations leave little to the imagination. And because you get it the first time you experience the film, usually by design, the negotiating with your feelings is done for you to a far greater extent than listening to music where you have to turn inward in sometimes challenging concentration.
For that reason, great movie classics are more attuned to the eras in which they were made, and despite the inarguable artistic merit of these movies, the déjà vu factor for cinema presenters keeps film classics of the past out of first-run theatres.
In his autobiography A Life in Music, Daniel Barenboim writes of a two-faceted approach to enjoying classical music: one being a regard for some personal and historical perspective around the composer; the other being the timeless musical connection to our senses. In other words, when we acquaint with the composer and the circumstances around the work, the sensation of the music elevates.
Think of Mozart, the angst of the final years in his life, his return to the dark key of G minor in his 40th Symphony as you take in this:

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, which we will have next season.
Now try this one from Sergei Prokofiev, a composer who wanted to trash 19th-century Russian romanticism with the steely brilliance of his own playing:

Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto which we’ll have this April 6 & 7 with Luca Buratto as our soloist. A bit more challenging since the tune isn’t the priority, but vivid music in its own way. Add a little prep as to who Prokofiev was and the music self-defines even more.
Now let’s remove the visuals. Close your eyes and take in Luca’s performance of the grinding finale from Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata. What do you feel when you hear this?
Here’s a taste of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, his most popular orchestral work and the second half of our April 6 & 7 concerts:

Rachmaninoff was also an incredible pianist but unlike Prokofiev, placed his musical language in the Romantic 19th century, which you can hear.
I always view music as coming from composers whose hands are on each hand of the clock, controlling time, space, argument, resolution, narrative and so much more. Great composers challenge us in so many ways: sometimes easy, sometimes hard, but more often than not their music elevates our world with sharper colours, feelings and sensitivities as we bond with theirs.

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