Rule #9 – Do not fear your emotions.
Music is a universal language. It is an education of its own. It is history, mathematics, art, psychology all rolled into a package that anyone can appreciate, no matter where they live. Music is a proven healer. It is one way many students deemed “special” by the educational community can communicate with others. Those who do not respond to words, respond to music. This blessing is nothing short of magic.
I allowed myself to enjoy the magic that is classical music, courtesy of the Apollo Chamber Orchestra. This orchestra is local to the Washington DC area and features young musicians and their mentors playing side-by-side in an informal atmosphere. It also helped that two of my treasured friends “Handel” the double bass duties in the orchestra. We brought a complete cheering section for the low strings section.
The program this evening focused on four Eastern European composers. The orchestra, led by an energetic Stephen Czarkowski, began the evening with the Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The melodies of this piece started by honoring Passion Saturday and moved to a joyous awakening on Easter. The intense celebration of Easter was felt with the rising crescendo of the notes. Just try sitting still through this piece! I dare you! You can’t do it. Throughout the audience, feet were tapping, arms were moving, and excitement was building during the entire performance of this overture.
Our psyches were then treated to a wonderful gift in the form of baritone Javier Arrey. He appeared courtesy of the Washington National Opera’s Young Artist Program. This Chilean native sang five of Dvorak’s Biblical Songs, Op. 99, in Czech. The compositions were personal for Antonin Dvorak, who took the words from the Book of Psalms during a time of personal crisis. Arrey was true to the beauty of the music Dvorak composed in his mourning. His voice carried without microphone assistance in the concert venue. Powerful, and prayerful – and the sounds melted my own sad heart.
Mr. Arrey then sang a portion of Handel’s Messiah, “Why do the Nations so Furiously Rage Together?” We were told, by the conductor, that Mr. Arrey was recovering from a cold. But no one in the audience could tell. We were taken on a magic carpet into Georg Handel’s musical masterpiece. What could be better? How about an encore from the “Barber of Seville”? Mr. Arrey did not just sing this piece – he performed it. He moved among the audience singing directly to the crowd. The only thing missing was a hundred-pound costume. Catching my breath was taking effort! The performance brought the audience to its feet and to tears of joy.
Intermission gave all of us a chance to catch our breath and come back down to earth. But it didn’t last long. We made a journey to Stalin’s Russia with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47. This symphony has quite a tongue-in-cheek history. Stalin sat in on its first performance. The music was supposed to document the greatness of Communist Russia. The notes in the beginning created mental images of abused peasants and elitist class under Czarist rule. The music moved to a feeling of chaos, but the listener can not really tell if it is the chaos of the Revolution, or the chaos from the aftermath of the Revolution. I felt that Shostakovich was trying to find beauty in the current state of Russia and it just wasn’t happening for him. I felt the music pull my strings as if I were a puppet, which is the image in my mind of how Shostakovich may have really felt about his government’s attitude toward its citizens. The last movements were supposed to document the triumphant Russia under Stalin’s rule. There were some notes and chords throughout that section which told me Shostakovich thought Stalin’s version of Russia needed – let’s just say, a bit of – improvement.
We aren’t sure what Shostakovich really meant in this composition, since he passed away before the Gorbachev era. We can only speculate based on what we do know of the composer and his history in Russia. The orchestra, however, allowed us in the audience to feel the tension and imagine what was going on. We were permitted to put ourselves in Russia, to feel what it was like to work in the factory, to search for beauty in the midst of dictatorial sameness.
The Apollo Chamber Orchestra members do not know how much I, personally, needed their music. The prior week for me was a frustrating one. I returned from a week’s vacation to a mountain of yard work, weather that refused to cooperate, the one-year anniversary of the death of my trusty Rusty, and experiencing yet another hurricane. I do not have a good, recent track record with hurricanes. But, as if preordained, the rains cleared in time for me to pack up some friends and head out to the concert. The traffic on the Washington Beltway moved smoothly in our direction. We had no problems getting to the venue or home. We were meant to be there for this concert.
Life is good, especially with a side of music. Self, you must seek out more concerts in the local area… especially from the Apollo Chamber Orchestra.
Videos included are from YouTube and not from this particular concert. They are for your musical enjoyment. Experience these pieces for yourself.