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Music as a Response to War


Capital City Concerts Presents “The Dove and the Hawk” on September 17

by Nat Frothingham

Edward Arron & Friends performance featuring Jeewon Park, piano, Tessa Lark, violin, Che-Hung Chen, viola, and  Edward Arron, cello, in the Music Room of the Rosen House at Caramoor in Katonah New York on November 22, 2015.  (photo by Gabe Palacio)
Edward Arron & Friends performance featuring
Jeewon Park, piano, Tessa Lark, violin, Che-Hung Chen, viola, and Edward Arron, cello, in the Music Room of the Rosen House at Caramoor in Katonah New York on November 22, 2015.
(photo by Gabe Palacio)

“The Dove and the Hawk” — a meditation on “war and peace” — will be the theme of the first concert of the 2016-2017 Capital City Concert (CCC) series.

About that “war and peace” theme — CCC Artistic Director Karen Kevra has written, “Throughout history, great art has been born out of war. This is a concert of music created in response to war.”

The first concert of the new CCC season will be performed on Saturday evening, September 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier.

Remembering the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor

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In a recent phone conversation with The Bridge, Kevra talked a little about how she arrived at the idea for the season’s first concert.

“The genesis for a concert is always an interesting thing,” said Kevra — who had been remembering two past CCC concerts in other years when the Dmitri Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in e minor had been performed.

“It’s been performed twice in the past,” she said. “And with the Trio’s powerful contrasts in moods and sounds, it’s been without exception an audience favorite.”

Shostakovitch wrote the Piano Trio, No. 2 during the summer of 1944. He was living and working in Moscow at the time and the Trio speaks to the fraught period of Russian history during World War II.

The Nazis invaded Russia in June 1941. As the German armies advanced (and they advanced to within 15 miles of Moscow), the Russian nation, Russian armies and people struggled to defend the motherland. The story of wartime Russia from 1941 until the war ended in 1945 describes a run of bloodletting, starvation, government purges, indiscriminate death, suffering and flight without parallel in modern times.

Some of the major events of the period include the 872-day German Siege of Leningrad, the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Kurst. One commentator described the summer of 1944 when Shostakovich was composing the Piano Trio, No. 2 as “the height of the terror.”

In writing the history of World War II in Russia, historians either disagree, or don’t know, or can’t know, the total number of Russian military and civilian war dead. Was it 20 million, 26 million, 40 million? — will historians ever be able to reckon with the enormity of World War II carnage and suffering in Russia?

Four Other Dove and Hawk Musical Offerings

Aside from Shostakovich, the four other program offerings at the September 17 concert contribute to the war and peace theme.

Kevra described the sonata for flute and piano written by German composer Paul Hindemith in 1936 as a piece that is “both powerful and moving with ominous and playful moments. It has it all,” she said.

She described another program offering, the Robert Schumann Fantasy Pieces for Cello and Piano as “bittersweet and nostalgic.” This work was composed soon after Schumann and his family fled from Dresden after a popular rebellion exploded in the streets on May 3, 1849.

Also part of the concert program is Mohammed Fairouz’s “Teta For Flute and String Quartet.”

This piece was commission by Capital City Concerts in 2012. Fairouz who has just turned 30 is an amazingly prolific, second-generation Arab-American composer who actively resists easy labeling and stereotyping. Although he was born in New York City and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, he refuses to be pigeonholed — personally or musically. About his String Quart, Kevra wrote, “With its overt Arab style (this composition) is a reminder of the hope of Egypt’s Arab Spring.”

Samuel Barber’s Much-Loved “Adagio for Strings”

Samuel Barber wrote the “Adagio for Strings” during the late 1930s when the Nazis had already come to power in Germany and when the coming world war hung like a dark menace over Europe. Few pieces in classical music repertoire command the kind of universal response of Barber’s “Adagio.”

Said Kevra about the Adagio, “People like that piece as they should.” Then she added, “I’m excited by the string players who have been assembled to play it.”

In the public mind, the Adagio became the most highly celebrated of Barber’s works. Later in life, he wondered at its popularity and appeared almost to regret the way that this single piece had taken over his other work.

In July 1982, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in a memorable performance of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” That performance was revived on YouTube on January 6, 2014. Thousands of people have gone online to hear it.

It is true that most unsolicited public comments that appear at the end of a YouTube website come off as casual, sometimes throwaway remarks. But it’s a tribute to Samuel Barber and the power of his Adagio that so many of the unsolicited public comments on the YouTube website rise to a level of heartfelt sincerity and some of the public comments are memorable in themselves.

Reactions to the Adagio Performed by the Los Angles Philharmonic Orchestra

Without emendation here are a handful of such public reactions to the Adagio for Strings:

Laura Thornton 2 weeks ago:

“Barber wrote the heartbreak of mankind. This is perfect grief and perfect healing.”

Michael Doyle 1 week ago:

“I have heard from several of my older friends from the coast that Barber wrote this as an expression of the anguish in living as a gay man in the first half of the 20th century. Sounds true.”

Lieutenant Charlie 9 months ago:

“The Theme Song of the Vietnam War”

revanku 1 month ago

“With all that’s happening in the world right now, this is my greatest comfort…thank you…”

Kellie Norcott 2 months ago:

“This was the first piece of music I remember being able to “see”. It is so heartbreaking. ”

Guilherme Eddino 1 year ago:

“There’s something about this piece that’s very hard to describe. It’s not just sad, nor melancholic, nor tearful. It sounds heavy and bleak, yet somehow enlightening, glorious… It almost needs a whole new adjective. ”

vicente lopez 7 months ago:

“It seems to be nothing but it’s everything.What a deep and absolute calm and sadness¡ Parece que no es nada pero lo es todo. ¡Qué calma y tristeza tan profundas y absolutas¡”

And now, a further comment, but this further comment did not appear as an online reaction to the Leonard Bernstein performance of the “Adagio for Strings” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

Instead, the following comment was part of what Leonard Bernstein said after November 22, 1963 when he learned that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Wrote Bernstein, “Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

At “The Dove and Hawk” concert, the program will be performed by six musicians: Theodore Arm (violin), Edward Arron (cello), Jeewon Park (piano), Letitia Quante (violin), Stefanie Taylor (viola) and Karen Kevra (flute). The concert will be played twice: on Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier and on Sunday, September 18, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. at the Champlain Valley Universalist Society in Middlebury.