Our Friend Sebastian
Today is the 330th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Like so many of us, I first encountered his music as a child. I don’t actually remember the first time I heard it – it might have been at church, it might have been in a piano lesson. I am pretty certain that the first piece that I became aware of and associated with his name was Menuet in G. It was only years later that I learned that scholars actually now believe this piece was written by Christian Petzold (1677-1733), but no matter. Sebastian is still credited as the composer in most piano books one will encounter, and if it was good enough for his children…
Something Old, Something New
The symphony is off for spring break, and there are two important musical events taking place in Nashville this week. Both of these concerts involve symphony musicians – as well as other outstanding artists both from our community and elsewhere – and considered together are a good example of the breadth of music-making happening in our city.
On Thursday evening, March 26 at 7:30 pm, intersection will present their debut performance at The Platform, a relatively new Nashville event venue. Led by Nashville Symphony Chorus Director and previous Associate Conductor Kelly Corcoran, intersection is a new Nashville ensemble dedicated to presenting 20th and 21st century music in innovative performances. For those who have been following this, it has been a long time coming, and it will be exciting to see what Kelly and the ensembles she has gathered share with us on Thursday night.
Thursday night’s performance is titled Transfiguration, and in addition to the music of five living composers – Arvo Pärt, Sean Shepherd, Jonathan Harvey, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Ned Rorem – also includes new choreography by Nashville dance collective New Dialect, and visual elements provided by Zeigeist Gallery. Nashville Scene’s more in-depth article on Transfiguration and intersection is here.
And then on Friday evening, March 27, Christ Church Cathedral presents the Ninth Annual BACHanalia, Nashville’s annual celebration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Presented in the church’s sanctuary by local musicians, the music begins at 5 pm and continues without pause until 11. One of the musical highlights of the year, our annual Bach festival as usual features both traditional and unorthodox performances of Sebastian’s music. The full program may be viewed here.
The acoustics in the church’s beautiful sanctuary are particularly well-suited for this event, of which I have very fond memories (I participated in 2008 with a recorder quartet comprised of myself and three students – we played selections from The Art of Fugue – and again in 2014, when I led the Nashville School of the Arts Chamber Choir in a performance of Cantata 106, with soloists from Blair School of Music accompanied by musicians from the Nashville Symphony and Music City Baroque, with former NSA choir director Michael Graham at the harpsichord).
From 2009-2012 (at least), BACHanalia was presented on the same night as the Hume-Fogg Battle of the Bands, in which my son performed every year. Each of those years I would catch his band’s act, then run down to the cathedral for as much of Sebastian’s music as I could hear before running back to the school’s auditorium for the award presentation at the end of the night. Luckily they are only two blocks apart!
The church offers food and drink in their fellowship hall during the concert for those who need sustenance to last the night, the event is free, and listeners are encouraged to attend as much or as little as they wish.
Postscript: A Day at the Hall
March 19, 2015
6:27 am: as I drink my morning tea I check the Newschannel5 website to see if they have posted their story on the Suzuki program yet – Dave told me it was going to air yesterday but I didn’t have the opportunity to see it. It’s there!
School Patrol: Students Learn Suzuki Violin Method
I hastily put together a short postscript to my post from two weeks ago before I get off the couch and prepare for another day at the hall
This is a postscript to A Day at the Hall
They arrive at the hall separately. After checking in at the registration table, they sit at tables in the dimly lit lobby and wait. There is some hushed conversation murmuring amongst the pillars but it is mostly between those that accompanied them; the contestants do not talk to each other.
All are teenagers. The rules specify that contestants must be at least fourteen and no older than eighteen the day of the competition – no regulation regarding school grade levels was made this year, so although most of them are in high school, there are two contestants who are college freshmen, and at least one eighth grader. Of the twenty-one who completed the application and are scheduled to audition, exactly two-thirds are girls. Originally nine boys were scheduled to compete but two withdrew in the past week, one of them bowing out only last night.
A Day at the Hall
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
6:56 am: drive into town in pouring rain and heavy traffic – listen to Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96 and drink my coffee on the way in
7:37 am: after walking to the hall from the parking lot a block and a half away, enter through the stage door and make my way up to my office: nobody else is here yet – take a few minutes to begin this blog post
7:54 am: change into my suit
8:05 am: there is still nobody here so I pose for a quick suit selfie to insert here later
8:10 am: sit quietly for a few minutes
8:30 am: Education & Community Engagement Program Manager Kelley Bell arrives and we head down to a kitchen on the second floor to prepare what seems like a vast amount of coffee for the volunteers who will arrive shortly to help us this morning. Since neither of us have done this before we manage to make a bit of a mess (which we clean up as best we can) and only acceptable coffee, but we finally make our way with the cart down to the West Atrium where several volunteers are waiting. After some rearranging of tables and conferring with the volunteers and members of security staff (who will help with traffic flow for the buses full of elementary school students that are about to arrive), everything seems ready so I head backstage to try to catch concertmaster Jun Iwasaki before the buses pull in. Luckily I run into Jun in the hall and we hold a brief meeting in his dressing room about a program we are planning together for May. I stop by the Green Room to check on our guest artists for today’s concerts (more about them later), then I head back towards One Symphony Place where the first buses are beginning to pull in – it’s now about 9:45 am.
Leitmotif in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony
When I was 17 my family moved to Claremont, California, and I had the good fortune to meet and study piano with Gary Davenport, a Juilliard graduate who had recently returned home after many years in New York. Gary at 30 was a brilliant and accomplished pianist, a tall thin guy with a droopy mustache who chain-smoked tall thin More cigarettes through my lessons, which I played on one of two seven-foot pianos in his living room. One morning after a lesson, Gary invited me to stay after for coffee. This was not an unusual event – often we would hang around in his kitchen and talk about music or the dissertation he was writing after we finished in the living room.
On this particular morning while the coffee grounds were steeping in the French press, Gary told me he had something he wanted me to hear (again, this was not unusual) and put a record on the turntable. It was the Chicago Symphony’s recording of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, and it was my first acquaintance with Mahler’s music. I was studying pretty standard piano fare with Gary: Bach preludes and fugues, Beethoven sonatas, etc. – but this was something completely new. I will never forget standing on the floor of his tiny kitchen as I listened to the opening bars of the Ninth for the first time, spellbound as the pointillist orchestration coalesced into the first theme and built to the climax at m. 46. Gary looked at me at that moment – when Guilini (characteristically) pushes the ritardando on that bar to the point where it becomes a fermata – and then, after the a tempo, he took the needle off the record, packed it back into the album’s sleeve, and put it in my hands. “Take this home and listen to it.” he said, “When it comes to the symphonic repertoire, Bruckner and Mahler are where it’s at.”
Thus began my relationship with the music of Gustav Mahler.