Seattle Modern Orchestra continues its thematic programming with a concert featuring Delirious Serialists! This concert will offer works from the heights of European Modernism – 1950s avant-garde. This performance will demystify the most misunderstood era of music with a program including works by Italian composers Bruno Maderna and Luigi Nono, and French composer Pierre Boulez, who did for music what painter Piet Mondrian did for the visual arts.
Serenata No. 2 by Bruno Maderna
Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica by Luigi Nono
Le Marteau sans maître by Pierre Boulez
$10 Students and Cornish Alum (with valid ID)
Visit seattlemodernorchestra.org for more details and to get your tickets!
I have the privilege of performing Samuel Barber’s stunning “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with text by James Agee tomorrow evening (Saturday, March 31) with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, 8pm at Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya.
“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.” These are the opening words of author James Agee’s prose poem from which Barber selected passages for his composition. Uncomplicated, sincere, and amazingly alive, Agee’s text struck a chord not only with Samuel Barber, but also with several well-known interpreters of this piece. Both Eleanor Steber, the singer who commissioned Barber’s work, and Leontyne Price, another well-known interpreter of Barber’s music, claimed that Knoxville perfectly resonated with their own experiences growing up. Curiously enough, people of very different backgrounds and ages seem able to connect with Agee’s account of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1915. I too find the text deeply meaningful despite being part of a completely different generation. Although specific imagery such as horses drawing buggies and primitive automobiles are no longer relevant to Americans today, the overlying theme of nostalgia for a simpler, more comforting time is something to which we can all relate. Agee illustrates the innocent state of a child’s being when one gathers information from the outside world and from behaviors of our loved ones, but isn’t able, or burdened with the need, to interpret or understand these actions. His language and descriptions are matter-of-fact and simple, with occasional attempts to explore subjects that are difficult for a child to comprehend (“And who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth?”, “And those receive me who quietly treat me as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: … but will not ever tell me who I am”). Through vivid depictions of sight, sound, taste, and touch (“the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and starched milk”, “the dry and exalted noise of the locusts”, “on the rough, wet grass”), Agee effectively uses synesthesia to draw the reader into the described moment. In his musical interpretation of Agee’s text, Samuel Barber succeeds in deepening the feeling of nostalgia for a simpler time by using word painting and other musical tools that evoke certain associations from the listener. At the beginning of the piece, he sets up a rocking 12/8 tempo that returns a few times throughout the piece as a comforting representation of lullabies and rocking chairs. The idyllic mood that Barber sets up is rudely interrupted by orchestral outbursts as the singer tells of “a streetcar raising its iron moan”, and further text painting takes place with the staccato musical phrases under the words “the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it” and the lush, expansive vocal line sung to the text “now is the night one blue dew”. Throughout the piece, the soprano line emphasizes the conversational and innocent tone of the text in its simple, folk-like melodies. All in all, this has become one of my favorite pieces of all time, and I feel very lucky to be performing it in a beautiful space with such an accomplished orchestra!
Listen to one of my favorite recordings, performed by Leontyne Price, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJjXadvkohk
Other American masterpieces on the program tomorrow:
AARON COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man
JOHN ADAMS: Chamber Symphony
SAMUEL BARBER: Adagio for Strings
Hope to see you there!