Friday, May 27, 2016

Thoughts At The Symphony

 Orchestra Hall
Since returning to Metro Detroit we have been enjoying the Detroit Symphony Orchestra directed by Leonard Slatkin. At Orchestra Hall or the neighborhood concerts, on the DSO to Go app or Livestream internet television, it has been a delight. Maestro Slatkin does a wonderful job bringing the music to the people.
 
Every time I hear the symphony live I realize how listening to a recording or radio is lacking.

Last evening we heard Joshua Bell performing Lalo's Symphonie espagnole, which I had only heard on radio before. It is a real showpiece for violin and Bell was amazing! The concert started with a tribute to Steven Stucky, performing his Dreamwaltzes, which Slatkin first directed 30 years ago. And the concert ended with Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major.

The program notes quotes Prokofiev: "I wanted to sing the praises of the free and happy man: his strength, his generosity and the purity of his soul. I cannot say that I chose this theme: it was born in me and had to express itself." It was written in 1944 "as a means of putting into music all of the mind-boggling suffering which Russia had endured during the Nazi invasion, but also to look forward to what many people then felt was an almost-sure final victory."

The symphony premiered in Moscow the day that the Soviet Army crossed the Vistula on their victory march into Nazi Germany. Prokofiev lifted his baton but was delayed by the sound of gunfire. As the symphony came to its end "it became clear that the end of the war was indeed insight."

With the coda, the martial sounds of war with the drums and percussion instruments driving the music louder and more belligerent, the couple in front of me turned to each other in silent laughter. I wanted to give them a Gibbs head slap. Where I was experiencing the impact of war into human life they thought the 'intrusion' was funny.

But I had been thinking of how 1944 was less than ten years before my birth, how I grew up thinking the war was ancient history while around me my parents and grandparents knew otherwise. And I considered how lucky I am: my grandmother and her family, and my husband's grandfather, left Russia a hundred years ago. And fifty years before that the German Ramers. Because had they been in Russia and Germany they would have lived through the war--or died in it.

Great music at once engages my rapt attention while also freeing my mind for free association, forging connections between my knowledge and experience to the music.