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Christopher Wilkins’ Summer Blog: Fiesta sinfónica

July 21, 2014

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra will perform its first concert of the summer at the DCR’s Hatch Shell on Wednesday, July 23 at 7 PM. Here are a few words from Music Director Christopher Wilkins. (*Visit http://www.landmarksorchestra.org to hear an audio stream of the program scheduled to be performed on July 16. It will be available until July 31. We are very grateful to the Boston Musicians’ Association and WGBH for helping us make this happen.)

PODIUM NOTE:

Music has little respect for political boundaries. In more than three centuries of musical sharing between key port cities in the New World – Havana, Port-au-Prince, New Orleans, New York, Miami – it is often impossible to determine what started where, who gets the credit, and whose tradition it is.

All of the works on tonight’s program are crossbreeds. They derive from European dances, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and American innovations. The European influences are primarily Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese. The African derivations come mainly from the two great musical regions of Black Africa: the northern grassland below the Sahara (Senegal), and the forested south (Congo).

George Gershwin made a career of blending styles. Rhapsody in Blue (1924) set the tone: “I heard it as a… musical kaleidoscope of America,” he said. Porgy and Bess (1935) is almost a catalog of American musical traditions. In 1932, Gershwin visited Cuba and, with his infallible ear, easily assimilated the sound and feel of Afro-Cuban music. After a two-week stay, he produced a ten-minute work called Rumba. He later changed the title to Cuban Overture, which he considered more apt for a “serious” orchestral work.

During the 1930s, Cuban music enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity. The danzón and the Cuban rumba rose to international prominence. In the 40s and 50s, Afro-Cuban music positively flourished in New York City, the de facto home to “mambo mania.” Arsenio Rodríguez and Tito Puente led the way at the Palladium Ballroom, and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie incorporated Afro-Cuban music in an historic concert of jazz at Carnegie Hall. Chano Pozo was Dizzy’s drummer. He is remembered today as a progenitor of Latin jazz.

David Amram writes, “I joined Dizzy, Stan Getz and Earle “Fatha” Hines in March of 1977 where each of our respective bands gave the first-ever concert in Cuba since the revolution, with the sanction of the US State Department. The entire concert was dedicated to the memory of Chano Pozo… At the concert – with only a minute of a backstage outline to all the musicians – I was joined by trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and the great family drum ensemble Los Papines.”

It was Dizzy Gillespie who suggested that Amram produce an orchestral version of that experience. Amram obliged, and the result was En memoria de Chano Pozo.

The decade of the 1930s found artists in a populist mood. Economic hardship called for art that served the common folk. Not coincidentally, it was also a decade of enormous growth for the film industry. 1939 is often cited as the greatest year in US film history (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). In Mexico, the grand spectacles of Hollywood were considered a threat to their own burgeoning film industry. Mexican film director Chano Urueta distanced himself from Hollywood’s resplendent style by invoking distinctly Mexican traditions instead. In developing that aesthetic, he had the ideal partner in composer Silvestre Revueltas. “The spirit of Mexico is deep within me,” Revueltas wrote. He had an uncanny ability to express the spirit of Mexican culture without directly quoting folk material. His music is inherently colorful, earthy and eclectic, like Mexico itself.

La noche de los Mayas (The Night of the Mayas) lies at the center of the “Aztec Renaissance,” a movement taking inspiration from native history, ideals and expression. One of the few national awards Urueta’s film did not win was for set design, because the film was shot almost entirely in the ancient Mayan ruins of the Yucatán. Revueltas’s music evokes qualities he saw in the landscape, and sounds he imagined to be ancient Mayan ceremonial music. His score employs a great many indigenous percussion instruments, or their modern equivalents. Of special note are the log drum, Indian drums, and the conch shell.

The Fiesta sinfónica program has been a highlight of the Landmarks Orchestra’s season for the past three years. At the heart of it has been a commissioned work of Gonzalo Grau, Viaje. Viaje began as a musical travelogue through four Caribbean nations. This year, two new Latin American countries have been added to the tour: Gonzalo’s native Venezuela and Brazil.

Our performing partners in Viaje, and in David Amram’s work, are the extraordinary members of the “pocket-sized salsa orchestra” that Alex Alvear has brought together. They comprise many of the leading performers of Latin jazz in Boston, and indeed in the nation. No experience of Latin popular music is complete without dancing, and we have some of the best in Bajucol, a leading Latin American folkloric youth ballet company in Boston, led by Miguel Vargas.

− Christopher Wilkins

Update Regarding Concert Scheduled for July 16

July 16, 2014

The potential of heavy rains occurring during our set up time has caused us to cancel tonight’s concert at the DCR’s Hatch Shell. By cancelling this morning, we will be able to record the entire program which will be audio streamed on http://www.landmarksorchestra.org for two weeks beginning Thursday, July 17 by 5 pm. We are very grateful to the Boston Musicians’ Association for allowing us to make this happen.

Christopher Wilkins’ Summer Blog: Opening Night

July 11, 2014

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra will kick off its 2014 season of free concerts at the DCR’s Hatch Shell on Wednesday, July 16 at 7 PM. Here are a few words from Music Director Christopher Wilkins.

PODIUM NOTE:

As we gather once more at the river, our thoughts turn to the role music plays in the civic life of a city. The Boston Landmarks Orchestra is sustained by the idea that our community is drawn together in meaningful ways through shared experiences of great music. This summer’s programming gathers together dozens of collaborators and partner organizations from throughout the Boston area. Tonight’s One City Choir is emblematic of them all.

As remarkable as Boston is as a musical hub, the strengthening of community through musical experience is possible everywhere. “Music is pretty much like fire: it needs constantly to be looked after.” That is how Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmast once explained his inspiration for founding the Afghanistan National Institute for Music. For his achievements and courage, Dr. Sarmast has been awarded the Charles Ansbacher Music for All Award for 2014.

Kabul is a world away from Boston, but Dr. Sarmast’s convictions remind us of the life work of Maestro Ansbacher. There is a deep connection too between their philosophy and the core beliefs of Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, last year’s recipient of the Ansbacher Award. Dr. Abreu’s program of youth orchestras – known universally as El sistema – brings hope and healing to children around the world. Next week’s program features the El sistema-inspired Dudamel Orchestra of the Conservatory Lab Charter School.

At the River
We launch the 2014 season with music of two native sons: Larry Thomas Bell and Leonard Bernstein. Dr. Bell has composed the second of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s commissioned settings of a traditional American hymn. He writes:

“The text for the old hymn tune At the River depicts a beautiful, surreal vision of heaven. In my musical adaptation, I tried to create an analogous music to the words ‘gather by the river that flows by the throne of God.’ It is entirely fitting that we should be gathering here by the equally beautiful but earthly Charles River to begin the 2014 season of the Landmarks Orchestra. I like to think that Charles Ansbacher is smiling down on us from his heavenly perch listening to the orchestra that he did so much to create.”

Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront
Film director Elia Kazan created his 1954 masterpiece, On the Waterfront, in part to answer his many critics who were furious at him for “naming names” before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The film deals with one man’s dilemma in dealing with union-related violence on the New Jersey docks. He faces an internal struggle between integrity and personal safety.

Kazan approached Leonard Bernstein to score the film for the same reasons he pursued Marlon Brando as lead actor: he wanted them for their talent and their prestige. Bernstein was, at the age of 35, already a considerable star. His score to On the Waterfront plays a crucial role in generating the film’s emotional heat. Bernstein serves as Kazan’s cinematic co-pilot, navigating adroitly between the film’s emotional poles of tenderness and brutality.

The Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront features three principal melodies: a noble theme for Terry Malloy (Brando’s character); a violent motive connected to the longshoremen; and a love theme for Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint in her screen debut). The “Brando” theme is heard at the outset played by the solo horn. Violence erupts as timpani and drums pound away under a “squealing” phrase introduced by the saxophone. The Brando theme returns, ushering in the love music. At the end, the “Brando” and “Saint” themes are heard together, interlocked in counterpoint.

Carmina burana
And finally… the sound and fury of Carl Orff’s Carmina burana, settings of 24 medieval poems from Bavaria. This music has been used for many purposes, but tonight it serves to demonstrate the outstanding quality of these performers: the orchestra, our guest artists, the choristers of the Back Bay Chorale, the One City Choir, and Steve Colby, our sound engineer to whom we owe so much.

The instrument Carl Orff most wanted to play as a child was the timpani. This should come as no surprise to fans of Carmina burana. Rhythm dominates right from the start. Powerful blows in the timpani and low brass lead to the massive utterance of O Fortuna, one of the most recognizable stretches of music in the world. The image is of a giant turning wheel that determines the fate of all humanity. O Fortuna creates a powerful frame for the whole of Carmina burana. It is the massive portal through which listeners enter the work, and by which – 65 minutes later – they exit.

Within this structural enclosure, Orff places three separate sections, settings of poetry loosely organized by theme: In Springtime (pastoral poetry); In the Tavern (drinking songs, which Orff presents as the exclusive domain of men); and The Court of Love (erotic poetry). The lyric high point of this last section is the solo soprano’s floating high B on the word “Dulcissime,” signaling surrender to her suitor, and ravishing every listener as all succumb to love’s allure.

— Christopher Wilkins

“I Have a Dream” 50th Anniversary Concert

August 22, 2013

Before exiting the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, a visitor steps into the final room. It is not a gift shop. It is more like a concert hall. Here Martin Luther King Jr. performs on the big screen. It’s his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivers with passion, power and an unerring sense of timing, like a great Shakespearean.

In the last half of the speech, King lifts his head, no longer reading from his notes. His voice rises and falls in lines thatseem improvised which, by this point in the speech, they are: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” He croons like a great jazz singer:“From every mountaintop, let freedom ring!”

 King’s speeches are peppered with song lyrics, including those of “America,” also known as “My Country, Tis of Thee.” He borrows from hymn verses, gospel songs and Negro spirituals. Lee Hoiby’s setting of the latter part of the “I Have a Dream” speech echoes these musical references, but it also captures beautifully the lyric drama of King’s vocal performance.

 The spirituals played a crucial role in Dr. King’s crusade for civil rights. During the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, Mahalia Jackson sang “I’ve Been ‘Buked,” and Marian Anderson sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The spirituals helped define the purpose of the civil rights movement, placing it in the context of a universal and eternal struggle for social justice, rooted in community and prayer.

 The themes of hope and salvation that are contained in the spirituals have influenced composers throughout the world. English composer Michael Tippett used the spirituals in his oratorio A Child of our Time, where he drew upon theirhealing power. The harsh quality of Tippett’s subject, revolving around an aspect the Nazi pogrom known asKristallnacht, is balanced by the deeply consoling tone of the spirituals. The fact that the spirituals are from another time and place helps elevate Tippett’s work, bestowing on it universality and timelessness.

 The “I Have a Dream” speech is rich in allusion. It makesreference to the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. King quotes frequently from scripture, at one point drawing from Isaiah verses that are well known to every enthusiast of Baroque music: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill made low.” The final words of the speech are drawn from a 19th century Baptist hymn (probably not a spiritual as he had thought):“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!”

 Four and a half years later, in the final speech of his life, King once again quoted the lyrics of a favorite song.Dominic Tierney, associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College, tells the story in a recent issue of The Atlantic (“America’s Song of Itself”). I quote his article with liberal use of ellipsis:

 “On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to speak in support of striking sanitation workers inMemphis, Tennessee. “I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” King announced. “And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” And then he closed in his lyrical voice: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The next day he lay dying on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel, struck in the cheek by an assassin’s bullet.

 “The last line that King ever spoke in public came from a song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” written by Julia Ward Howe in 1861. It was a fitting finale to the life of a great American because the story of the “Battle Hymn” is the story of the United States. The song, now approaching its 150th anniversary, is a hallowed treasure and a second national anthem… But most of all, the “Battle Hymn” is a warrior’s cry and a call to arms. Its vivid portrait of sacred violence captures how Americans fight wars… as a righteous struggle—a holy war for a democratic peace.”

 The principles motivating both the March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech – freedom of expression, fairness of economic opportunity, individual responsibility and collective action – lie at the heart of Alan Paton’s classic novel Cry, the Beloved Country. The story is set in South Africa amidst the racial turbulence of 1940’s Johannesburg. It describes a murder, motivated by economic need, which resonates throughout the community in ways both tragic and hopeful.

 In Paton’s novel, the murdered man had been revered for his advocacy on behalf of the native people of South Africa. He had been a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln’s writings and speeches play an important partin the story. The novel’s themes of justice and social responsibility are expressed in such a way that they have proven meaningful for readers throughout the world ever since the book was first published. It is fitting that for tonight’s performance of Kurt Weill’s musical adaptation of the novel, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra has once again recruited its One City Choir, drawing on volunteer singers from across our community.  

 When Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson were granted therights to create a staged adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country, they learned that the film rights had been given to another party. A filmed version of Cry, the Beloved Country was already destined for the silver screen. Wishing to reserve the option of eventually turning their Broadwayshow into a film, Weill and Anderson changed the title from Cry, the Beloved Country to Lost in the Stars. They felt that a new film, following what they hoped would be a successful Broadway run, should have the same title as the staged version.

 When Paton attended the premiere of Lost in the Stars, hewas impressed with Weill’s music but upset by many of Anderson’s revisions. Anderson had inserted a nihilisticphilosophical perspective, suggesting that people live by and large as lonely beings without meaningful connection to others. As the title song put it: “we’re lost out here in the stars.” But Paton’s intention had been completely the opposite. He contended that all members of a society areinterconnected, and that the actions of each individual affect the whole. All people must take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, he argued. Furthermore, he believed that the duty to care for each other is bound by our relationship to God.

 When composer and musicologist David Drew created a concert version of Lost in the Stars in 1988, he changed the name back to Cry, the Beloved Country. He did so in part out of respect for what he felt was Kurt Weill’s original intention to adhere as closely as possible to the language and meaning of the novel. It is Drew’s version that is performed tonight, augmented by readings from several passages of the book, included by permission of the Paton estate.

 Photographer James Westwater has collaborated with orchestras over many years, combining photography and music in an art form he calls photochoreography. During tonight’s performance of Lincoln Portrait, photographscollected and organized by Mr. Westwater are shown on a screen suspended over the orchestra. Most of these pictures are taken from the collection of Civil War images captured by Mathew Brady and photographers in his studio. Toward the end of the work, the pictures change to 20th century images, including a photograph of Dr. King at the Lincoln Memorial.

 This spring, one of our Breaking Down Barriers advisors, Christopher Robinson of Boston University, alerted us to the fact that there existed no standard American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation of the speech. TheBoston Landmarks Orchestra approached the estate of Martin Luther King Jr., which confirmed this fact, and enthusiastically endorsed the idea of creating such an interpretation. As a result, the orchestra has commissioned the first-ever officially sanctioned interpretation of the speech. It has been created by Richard Bailey of Boston University and is performed tonight by deaf artist Misha Blood.

 The ideas expressed in the “I Have a Dream” speech were potent, but they were not new. History was made because of the persuasiveness and universality of Dr. King’s language and the virtuosity of his delivery. To touch the hearts of Americans, he harnessed the power of many forms of artistic expression: rhetoric, literature and poetry, hymns and sacred songs. From the hundreds of thousands of listeners gathered that day at the Lincoln Memorial,great waves of applause followed his every ringing line. In the midst of the speech, he summarized his dream in termsthat are apt for an orchestral concert: that one day “all God’s children will be able to sing” in a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

 

- Christopher Wilkins

Kiss Me Kate: A few words from Christopher Wilkins and Steve Maler

August 17, 2013

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, along

with the entire Kiss Me Kate cast, look forward to this performance.

The play that inspired the musical, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, is a yarn

of many threads. Characters and plotlines intertwine to a clever – and sometimes

ridiculous – extent. But Kiss Me Kate adds yet another layer. If The Taming of the

Shrew is a play within a play, then Kiss Me Kate is a play within a play within a

musical.

Cole Porter’s ingenious creation requires a multitalented cast. Performers are called

upon to sing the music of one of America’s most sophisticated songwriters while

delivering lines by the greatest writer in the English language. There is a great deal

of humor and plenty of dancing. Moods swing abruptly from the satirical to the

deeply expressive. All of this provides ample opportunity to showcase Boston-based

actors of extraordinary and diverse talents.

We are privileged to have in our cast both elite members of Boston’s theater

community and fine emerging talent. We are especially honored by Kerry O’Malley’s

participation and her enthusiastic embrace of the production. We are delighted to

have been able to attract as our male lead a genuine star of the Broadway stage,

Marc Kudisch.

Central to our production is the ebullient and creative choreography of Yo-el

Cassell, resident choreographer of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. We are

grateful for the support of Richard Ortner and the Boston Conservatory, and for the

impeccable musicianship of Timothy Steele. We are especially pleased that tonight

the music is front and center, beginning with the artistry of the musicians of the

Landmarks Orchestra performing the original sumptuous orchestrations of Robert

Russell Bennett.

with warmest wishes,

Christopher Wilkins

Music Director

Boston Landmarks Orchestra

Steven Maler

Founding Artistic Director

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Words from our friends at the Longwood Symphony Orchestra

August 7, 2013

Our friends at the Longwood Symphony whom Landmarks is presenting at the Hatch Shell on August 14 wanted to share this with our audience:

 

Established in 1982, the Longwood Symphony Orchestra is a distinctive organization in Boston’s cultural landscape recognized for its musical quality, innovative programming, and unique business model of community engagement. Positioned at the crossroads of the arts and the sciences, the orchestra’s membership is composed mainly of health-care professionals, including doctors, medical students, research scientists, nurses, and other caregivers. The LSO’s 2013-2014 season begins October 5 at NEC’s Jordan Hall with Music Director Ronald Feldman conducting works by Sibelius and Brahms. Visit www.longwoodsymphony.org for more information.

We are very pleased to be partnering at our concert at the DCR’s Hatch Shell with the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of the performing arts through education and performance. Every summer, the foundation brings talented youth from all over Asia and the United States to participate in the intensive three-week musical training program. Visit www.chineseperformingarts.net for more information.

Post from our Friends at the Boston Lyric Opera

July 31, 2013
Boston Lyric Opera Music Director David Angus conducts the Boston Landmarks Orchestra at the DCR Hatch Shell in a special program entitled A Little Magic Flute & Birthday Celebration for Verdi, Wagner and Britten.  It will  feature selections from BLO’s upcoming season productions, including  a preview of the all Boston-rooted cast for the October world premiere of BLO’s new English adaptation of Mozart’s beloved opera, The Magic Flute. The program also includes homages to composers Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, and Benjamin Britten, who this year celebrate milestone birthdays.

“Music is unity,” said Esther Nelson, BLO General & Artistic Director. “We begin our season not only with a world premiere re-imagination of Mozart’s Magic Flute, but with a celebration of the wealth of artistic talent with local Boston roots. We’re proud to preview our home-grownMagic Flute cast at this year’s concert with Boston Landmarks Orchestra as we embark on our exciting 2013/14 season.”

The concert begins with the overture and opening scene of Mozart’s Magic Flute; a performance of “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s Norma by soprano and BLO Emerging Artist, Michelle Trainor; the Duke/Gilda duet, “Caro Nome,” “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata,” and the Quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto, featuring soprano/BLO Emerging Artist Chelsea Basler, mezzo soprano Sandra Piques Eddy, tenor Zach Borichevsky, and baritone James Demler. The concert’s second half includes Siegfried’s death and funeral music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilightof the Gods), the last in the composer’s cycle of four operas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung); the ladies quartet from Britten’s Peter Grimes; and Isabella’s aria from Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers). The program concludes with more selections from Mozart’s Magic Flute, including the quintet from Act I, Papageno’s suicide aria, the Papageno/Pagagena duet, and the Act I finale featuring the company. 

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