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Chris Wilkins’ Summer Blog: “For the Ages: A Family Guide to the Orchestra”

July 18, 2013

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra brings Fiesta Sinfonica to the Hatch Shell tonight

Here are a few words from Chris Wilkins on our July 24th performance entitled: “For the Ages: A Family Guide to the Orchestra.”

For the Ages

It is an honor to join with the Free for All Concert Fund in presenting the Charles Ansbacher Music for All Award to José Antonio Abreu, the Venezuelan visionary who founded the music education system known as El sistema. The global impact of El sistema has been extraordinary. It has sparked a revolution in the training of young musicians throughout the world, and it has served as a model for innovative approaches to education in fields beyond music as well.

A few principles characterize an El Sistema based program: it must be orchestral; it must include a daily routine of music making; and it must be open to all segments of society. All of these conditions – and many more – are met at the Conservatory Lab Charter School, where orchestral music is central to the school’s entire curriculum. Over the past several months, Boston Landmarks Orchestra musicians have led rehearsals and workshops for the school’s young musicians, and worked alongside the dedicated teachers and administrators who inspire them every day.

The Dudamel Orchestra of the Conservatory Lab Charter School was named for conducting ‘phenom’ Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Dudamel Orchestra performs two works on tonight’s program. The first, which they perform alone, is a suite drawn from Howard Shore’s stirring and magnificently orchestrated score to The Lord of the Rings. The second is a Michael Gandolfi work commissioned for this occasion.

Mr. Gandolfi’s The Queen and the Conjurer was created for the Dudamel Orchestra and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra to perform together. The work’s structure, orchestration, melodic material, and storyline developed out of meetings between the composer and the student musicians. The Queen and the Conjurer is a theme and variations. In the beginning, the Dudamel Orchestra presents the theme, a stately melody inspired by a tarot card known as the High Priestess. The Boston Landmarks Orchestra sets the variations in motion, which represent magical effects inspired by the tarot card of the Magician. The musical score includes a written narrative, which appears below in words by Dana Bonstrom. 

The first half of tonight’s program also includes works that showcase the instruments and families of the orchestra. Perpetuum mobile by the “Waltz King,” Johann Strauss Jr, is a high-spirited polka in which each musician is featured at some point in a virtuosic “riff” over a repeating four-chord accompaniment. Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra shares with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf the prestige of being the best-known of all orchestral works for children. The Britten has the added distinction of appearing from time to time on programs for grown-ups, with or without narration.

In 1853, Robert Schumann paid one of the most famous compliments in musical history, announcing that the 20-year-old Brahms was “called to give ideal expression to the times.” Such extravagant praise implied that Brahms was a worthy successor to Beethoven, and it helped jump-start the career of the young composer. It also caused him considerable anguish: “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.”

When finally, at the age of forty-three, Brahms did produce his first symphony, he did not shy away from invoking the spirit of the master. A turbulent C-minor symphony that ends in blazing glory in the key of C-major surely brings to mind “The Fifth.” And echoes of “The Ninth” are so obvious in the main theme of the finale that Brahms readily admitted its similarity to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. “Any ass can hear that,” he reportedly said.

And yet Brahms’ 1st Symphony speaks with a wonderfully fresh voice. Its emotional expression is highly varied, with a range of moods that are at various times tragic, plaintive, playful and heroic. Its middle movements are as subtle as the outer movements are grand. Most characteristically, the symphony offers a profusion of long-arching melodies in a style that is classically concise. This duality  – of classical rigor and open-hearted romanticism – is present in all of Brahms’ large-scale works, and all-pervading in the 1st Symphony.

- – Christopher Wilkins

The Story of The Queen and the Conjurer:

Words by Dana Bonstrom

  1. The Queen and her royal court await the arrival of a magician.
  2. The Magician appears, in a theatrical flourish of colorful confidence!
  3. The Magician promises the Queen a performance of other-worldly mysteries.
  4. The Magician begins: gold coins appear from nowhere and dance in the air;
  5. A white silk cloth becomes a beautiful dove.
  6. The Queen and her court are delighted by the Magician’s tricks!
  7. A knight’s sword is drawn from its scabbard as if by an invisible hand.
  8. The Queen is delighted by the Magician’s performance…
  9. As cards and kerchiefs fly and float through the air.
  10. But something else is happening… the assembled lords and ladies are slipping into slumber…
  11. And even the Queen herself is soon fast asleep on her throne!
  12. The Magician conjures a large sack from thin air…
  13. And begins to fill it with precious jewels, bags of gold coin…
  14. And other priceless possessions stolen from the slumbering lords and ladies…
  15. Until one last prize remains: the Queen’s crown!
  16. The Magician approaches the throne, and reaches out for the crown…
  17. But the Queen awakes!
  18. The Queen raises her arm as if to strike the Magician… but instead gently places her hand on his shoulder.
  19. The Magician shyly returns the Queen’s smile, bows deeply to her…
  20. And commences to restore the priceless possessions to their rightful, sleeping owners.
  21. When the Magician’s sack is empty, the Queen raises her hand again…
  22. And the lords and ladies wake from their sleep.
  23. The Magician smiles at the Queen…
  24. Bows to his audience…
  25. Then spins around –
  26. And vanishes!
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