October 24, 2016

It was the summer of '93...

"...the violinist will be revisiting his own memories and making his own discoveries.   He too is continuing...a path going back decades...." 
- Paul Griffiths
This "broadcast" comes to you from the comfort of my Mount Vernon (Baltimore) apartment, where I now sit after having gotten out of a train at 8am this morning and headed straight to school to meet the young people that I teach.   While it was good to be away for many reasons, it was also good to return to the familiar.

Yesterday, the fourth annual Colour of Music Festival came to a close.  This festival, started in 2013 by Lee Pringle, takes place in Charleston, South Carolina and its mission is to honor the participation in and contributions to western classical music made by people of the African Diaspora - and is not limited to participation from African-Americans.    Last week we had the great pleasure of hearing French violinist Romauld Grimbert-Barré share one of the most elegant and sincere readings of Max Bruch's Op. 26 Violin Concerto, and that was followed one night later by the premiere of American composer Ahmed Al Abaca's Across the Calm Waters of Heaven  A Piece for Peace, a work for string orchestra that rightly deserves a permanent place in the string orchestra repertoire alongside Barber's Adagio for Strings, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.    Furthermore, if one is a "fan" of Ralph Vaughan Williams, one will find that one of the distinctive features of Mr. Al Abaca's captivating work is the feeling of unease found in the Cavatina of Vaughan Williams' eighth symphony, that feeling of spaciousness and emotion heightened by the very sensitive piano playing of Sakura Myers.

But why the reference to memory, you ask?

The festival program also included two works that have been with me for much of my life, including Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.    I first heard Carmina Burana in 1983 when, as a youngster, I accompanied my violin teacher to a rehearsal of the Charleston Symphony and Charleston Ballet.

My love of and fascination with dance - and still-burning desire to collaborate with dancers - was lit on that morning in 1983:   that performance included a choreographed portrait of Fate ("O Fortuna") as he, cloaked as the Grim Reaper, revealed both beautiful and tragic destiny to the characters circling him.    Memory shows me that the reactions of those characters went from muted joy (after all, if you know the work you know that "O Fortuna" is a sinister and bombastic D Minor journey) to abject terror, arms rising in fear and falling in fruitless pleading bows to Fate for some sort of intervention (they all died at the end!).   How fitting, with this profound memory, that I would play this work with orchestra on the stage of the Gaillard Center thirty-three years after seeing these images on the same stage, albeit during a time that the newly renovated Gaillard Center was the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium.   the memories of going into the orchestra pit at break, and still so much gratitude to the dancers who let me stand in the wings of stage and ask questions that only an inquisitive eleven-year-old could ask!  

The second memory takes us back to 1993, when I stepped into the world of "real" violin playing and musicmaking via attending the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival at the University of Houston.   The first week of that festival featured the late Sidney Harth both as conductor and master class instructor (who doesn’t remember this man who in his seventies tackled Lalo Symphonie Espagnole and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the energy of a twenty year old combined with the wisdom of a veteran!), and what a time!    Participants that year included violinist Anabel Ramirez (of the Mexican musical Ramirez family), violinist Beverly Shin (she and I reconnected four years ago in Philadelphia), and violist and Ojai Music Festival executive director Abhijit Sengupta (in addition to many others who have remained great friends and colleagues).  

Mr. Harth was the conductor during the first week, during which we performed the eighth symphony of Antonin Dvořák, and it was during that first week that we were all moved to tears after playing his fingerings in a very tender moment of the fourth movement.   

How can anyone forget us playing this passage and having Mr. Harth in his matter-of-fact yet sensitive way talk about a most beautiful glissando on the G-string, a glissando found in the middle of a passage which left all of us in tears?   Revisiting, it was during that moment I could only think about Mr. Harth and that special summer, yet in reality moments are meant to be savored and remembered.

I can only hope, however, that at some point my five-year-old niece remembers the final concert of the week.   At the end of that concert, she came on stage and said “I want to play the harp”.

The fact that this little girl had the opportunity to touch a harp for the first time, guided by another person of the African diaspora, means just as much as Mr. Harth’s diplomatic yet attentive and sensitive acknowledgement of my twenty-two year old response to one of the most beautiful and meaningful moments of the symphonic repertoire….

…and that’s all for today.


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