Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Temporal Walk Through the Spirit of Volition

Spirit is energy, and energy a kind of lifeblood. For me Classical Music is this same kind of lifeblood, a form of energy. Volition is a an act of making a choice or decision, an alternate choice perhaps. Alternative Energy in this sense is a form, and in my understanding it is a form of music.

I've experienced several of the compositions by and with Mason Bates and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. So when it came time to see and hear 'Alternative Energy' which was a premier for the PSO, I sort of knew what to expect. To say that some folks may not have known what to expect might be true, and might lead me to believe that some might not have enjoyed or appreciated the composition as much as I did. But at the end of the piece the applause was wild with enthusiasm, so perhaps my impression was wrong.

It's a different piece to say the least. It is programmatic in that it represents four different places in four completely different time periods. Of the four parts, the first was to me the one I like the most: "Ford’s Farm, 1896". It starts out with a slow, laid back, affable, breezy, devil-may-care, happy-go-lucky sort of character, then slowly saws the bow into a somewhat faster tempo and eventually into a dance-like hoedown. Then it proceeded to the second movement, "Chicago, 2012". This seemed like a walking procession, a scenic stroll with rhythmic jazz like impressions. Movement 3, "Xinjiang Province, 2112" begins the futuristic trail. Then comes No. 4, or "Reykjavik, 2222", a walk so far into the future it's not ours yet to envision, yet I can imagine what it might be like, and it seems to come almost full circle.

What's best about this piece is that Mason Bates performs along with the Symphony. When it first begins he sits on a stool and wait, his part isn't up just yet. Yet you can see in his demeanor and body motions that he's entirely 'into' the composition. He is appreciating the music, moving with it in syncopated fashion. Half way through he attends his station and begins to play his instrument: A synthesizer and a computer. His energy as he plays is evident, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fantasia PSO

Fantasia, the name itself is a musical enigma. The original 1940 version I saw when I was a kid, and I saw it again with my daughter. Fantasia 2000 was one of the first DVDs that we owned, before that it was VHS tapes. We were thrilled with both movies, seeing them again and again. Welling up with nostalgia I relived these emotional memories with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Ward Stare at Heinz Hall on Saturday evening.

The large screen above the orchestra was the programmatic element that enhanced the experience to amalgamate the senses beyond mere musical. Perhaps Walt Disney understood this when he began and sustained this experiment with Fantasia. The creativity of the animators to invent entertaining animation stories based on the music composed perhaps a century or move before was the impressive chord struck as I watched and listened. I also noticed the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original movie, and realized that the wide screen aspect we have today really does paint a more interesting picture. Instead of wishing that the original was wider, I rather realized I should be glad because what I was watching and hearing was divine.

Centaurs frolic as Beethoven's sixth symphony almost literally comes to life. This time with the PSO I realize it's much better than any concert experience with the original score sound track could ever be, even with sixteen surround sound speakers throughout. With shooting stars and live music, you won't hear these compositions played any better than right here with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Ultimately having the musicians perform produces an infinitely better viewing experience.

Thunderstorm: Allegro, as movement four proceeds I literally can't take my eyes away from the screen, even though I want to view the orchestra as well.

Fire pink my native child Happy Grateful Feelings after the Storm, yet I have those same feelings just being here for the full experience.

As I listen to then ending of the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony, I'm thinking of a native wildflower I observe every Spring in May: Firepink my native child, briskly waving free and wild, return again to me. My fervent though of thee, flying down the lane so wild on my bike to see.

Next comes a famous composition that most people have heard and seen in one form or another: Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Here the creativity of the animation is spectacular, each segment getting a new flavor with the name of the movement being preeminent to the form. Each selection sees nature come alive as a spell of fantasy spreads magic throughout the natural world with dancing Sugar Plum Fairies, Mushrooms doing their best Three Stooges impression in song, and the final Waltz of the Flowers, in this instance Summer becomes golden Autumn, and eventually the fairies ice skate their way into Winter. In the music I'm fascinated that I hear nuances never heard in the original film, subtle parts I want to hear again.

Micky Mouse was the inspiration for Disney's Fantasia, and he comes to life with Paul Dukas "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." I'm left wondering: which came first, the composition or the film? I know the answer, yet it's amazing how well the music fits the animation and vice-verse. Even down the the final part where the sorcerer pats Micky on the behind with the broom as he sheepishly walks away, as if the thud provided by the orchestra was written specifically for that ending scene.

After intermission comes the fun Ponchielli piece "Dance of the Hours" with dancing animals including Ostriches, Hippos, Elephants and Alligators, the villain being the Alligators. This makes me smile as I sit back and enjoy the music.

Debussy's "Clair de lune" was cut from the original movie, yet the PSO brought this beautiful pastoral piece to us with a lush live rendition of this slow music, this being a treat in that I don't believe I've ever seen it before. This time it was with two egrets elegantly souring above the swamps, and together on into the distance.

Finally, two pieces from Fantasia 2000, Elgar's Military March and Stravinsky's The Firebird brought this spectacular evening to a roaring conclusion, two of the best animations from that film. The Elgar with Donald Duck being separated from Daisy Duck while filling the Arc with the animals, and then being reunited at the end. This was emotional and well thought out.

The Firebird kindled a vivid journey through nature's regeneration after a volcano, well done again and well appreciated, the melody ran strong in my head well after the concert. Just as with the movie, being there made me feel as though I was standing at the podium with the conductor. "Again"-"Again", I want to see and hear it again and again.