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Chris Wilkins’ Summer Blog (Opening Night)

July 15, 2013

Wilkins headshot

“Wednesday evening we kick off our summer season the DCR’s Hatch Shell. The program is called Rhapsody in Green. Chris Wilkins, Music Director, describes the program in his own words:”

Rhapsody in Green

It is impossible to hear a concert at the Hatch Memorial Shell and not think of the synergy of site and sound that gave rise to the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s name.

To launch the 2013 season, we take pleasure in welcoming to the Esplanade representatives from city, state and national parks. Boston is blessed with green spaces of exceptional beauty, providing popular havens for recreation and public performance throughout the city. Tonight marks the celebration of an important Landmarks tradition, one honoring Boston’s natural surroundings and begun by founder Charles Ansbacher: the annual “Green Concert.”

“At the River” is a newly commissioned work by Anthony De Ritis, Chair of Northeastern University’s Department of Music. It is based on a 19th century hymn by Robert Lowry with a text derived from the Book of Revelation (22:1-2): “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city.“ Mr. De Ritis’s setting features as soloist Myran Parker-Brass, Executive Director for the Arts at the Boston Public Schools, pointing to another hallmark of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, its penchant for collaboration.

Johann Strauss’s Tales from the Vienna Woods is nature music par excellence. Its sequence of waltzes incorporates sounds of nature and allusions to folk music. The introduction originally featured a popular folk instrument, the Austrian zither, though in tonight’s performance solo strings perform the passage in question. There is also a prominent flute solo suggesting bird-song. The first performance of the work was given out of doors in the Vienna Volksgarten, a public park in the heart of the city.

Folk music and birdsong also lie at the core of one of the most exquisite works of the English pastoral tradition, The Lark Ascending. Here Vaughan Williams invites the solo violinist to use his bow like an artist’s brush, illustrating in sound the flight of a lark high over the countryside. In the final bars the solo line soars ever higher, intimating a connection between heaven and earth.

For Beethoven, time spent in nature was an essential part of the creative process. He worked out many of his musical ideas while taking long walks around the ramparts of Vienna, or through the countryside during the summers. And yet, the Pastorale Symphony is one of only a few works in which Beethoven made specific references to nature. His emphasis is on personal experience rather than the imitation of natural sounds: “more an expression of feeling than painting,” he wrote.

The first movement conveys the bliss of beholding nature’s beauties. The music remains active and attentive even amidst moments of stillness and many repetitive phrases. The second movement is a wondrous mix of natural sounds, despite Beethoven’s protestation above. We hear the murmuring of a brook, summer breezes, and birdcalls. The third movement introduces the humorous element of a village band, with all its rhythmic inexactitude. The fourth movement injects the only moment of tension into the work: distant thunder is heard, and then a fullblown thunderstorm erupts with lightning strikes and a lashing downpour.

The final movement is one of Beethoven’s most sublime creations. Its tone foreshadows the slow movement of the 9th symphony and the Song of Thanks in his late A-minor string quartet, a movement written following his recovery from an illness. The finale of the Pastorale Symphony is given over to feelings of gratitude and to deep prayer, expressions which Beethoven indicated in his manuscript were addressed to God.


– – Christopher Wilkins

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