Arts on the Horizon: March

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By Rodger Skidmore

Dip your toe in the river

The Mississippi River is 2,340 miles long. But this river is not a single body of water, it is a medley of 7,000 different streams that have joined together to make a mighty waterway. In the same way, music is not just one thing, it too is made up of many, many streams. And, for each stream, there are a variety of sailors that use their paddles to guide us along, shifting through the water, blending one stream into another, making each a stronger, larger flow.

Gershwin, Stravinsky, Little Richard, Mozart, Taylor Swift, Ned Rorem: Each is also a compendium of influences that, throughout their careers, have added their own textures and substance to the river of music. 

Just as streams are made of the confluence of creeks, brooks, and rivulets, so too are composers made of their specific series of influences. In the case of Ned Rorem, his first enthusiasm was for Debussy and Ravel (yes, they were the influencers of their day) who were soon followed by Igor Stravinsky, Billie Holiday and Edvard Grieg.

In college Rorem studied under Gian Carlo Menotti and in his first job worked for the composer Virgil Thomson. Thompson introduced him to Bernstein and Copland, who became his life-long friends. Winning the Gershwin Prize provided Rorem with enough money (his parents had cut him off after he quit the Curtis Institute of Music) to live and compose in Morocco for two years. Don’t worry, Rorem did get a bachelors and masters from Juilliard.

Besides writing ballets, concertos, symphonies, and operas (one was Our Town based on Thornton Wilder’s play) Rorem wrote more than 500 art songs, for which he is most remembered.

Centenary celebrations for him have recently been held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the New York Festival of Song, and at Baylor, Vanderbilt and Purdue Universities, etc. And, why not, even in Waco, Texas.

But more important, Ned Rorem’s Centenary: Celebrating His Life in Music and Words is being held at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key, the evening of March 8. And it is his art songs that will be the focal point with Tom Meglioranza interweaving his baritone voice with the piano tones of Marisa Gupta, forming a small tribute-tary of musical beauty that will, in turn, influence our love of music to some degree, just as ripples on a pond inflict their quarks of pressure upon the furthest shore.

You can catch Max Tan, who curates the Listen Hear Salon Concert Series of which the Rorem concert is a part, along with Ms. Gupta, at their Carnegie Hall debut on April 3. Or, if you wish, hear the same concert at St. Boniface on Siesta Key on March 20, at a preview performance.

Tan and Gupta will be performing Strauss’s Violin Sonata, Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3 for solo violin, Stravinsky’s Divertimento and Three Romances by Schumann (Clara).

More info at Soundboxventures.org.

No more gladiators

That’s right, in case you haven’t heard, gladiators are no longer fighting lions, or each other, in Rome. And, one by one, a number of cities have been banning bull fighting. But Hollywood still makes movies about those strong Roman men, glistening with sweat, fighting lions for the glory of … the glory of not being eaten by a lion? And the opera world highlights the beauty of … not the killing of bulls (and occasional matadors), but the beauty of the face and voice of the opera stars that sing about the world of bull fighting – specifically, as seen and heard in the opera Carmen

In 1875, when Carmen was first performed, it shocked and scandalized the audience members (they went anyway) as it depicted, in an immoral and lawless way, the tragic death of the main character, a woman. In today’s overly analyzed world, we would consider Carmen to be someone who is not looking out for her own self interests. Really, falling in love with a sports figure (Escamilo, a glamorous toreador who probably won’t age well and will turn to fat) and dumping the drunken guy who pays her bar tab (and has a really bad temper) is short-sighted in the extreme.

Ah, but her voice, her face, her long legs and eyelashes. Everyone loves Carmen, her in-your-face attitude, and Bizet’s music.

But enough about a woman being killed (even if it was for love). The Sarasota Opera is also putting on multiple performances of Lucia Di Lammermoor, about a mad woman who kills her husband on their wedding night (hey, he probably deserved it, right?). But Lucia does not kill her true love (who she believes has jilted her) — instead, he kills himself. Life and love are hard, but the music of Donizetti is sublime.

Verdi’s opera of the season is Luisa Miller, and is very peaceful. Peaceful, that is, after just about everyone dies. The two lovers, who truly love each other, but kind of betray each other, die, leaving Luisa’s old father to live alone with no one to take care of him. So, kind of tragic. But, on the bright side, everyone who dies, is betrayed, or betrays someone, does so to the music of Giuseppe Verdi. 

Deceit Outwitted (a Sarasota Opera premiere) is a different kind of opera (ha ha). Yes, it is still full of deceit and anger (a father is forcing his daughter to marry someone other than her one true love) but, get this, no one dies. Instead, there is funny deceit, in the style of The Marriage of Figaro

These four operas are performed on alternate days through March 24. 

More info at Sarasotaopera.org.

Three leaf clovers are also lucky

And why not, it’s the Luck of the Irish at Holley Hall on March 6 through 10, so you can get in the mood for the big day on the 17th. This Sarasota Orchestra’s Great Escapes concert for March will keep your toes tapping with spritely tunes by Leroy Anderson (The Girl I Left Behind Me and The Wearing of the Green), Percy Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey and his famous Irish Tune from County Derry (you might know it by its other name, Danny Boy). There will be lots of other Irish tunes, so wear your finest greens.

The orchestra’s Masterworks concert goes from March 14 through 17 and celebrates the centenary of the writing of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. One could say there were four authors of this 100-year-old tune. The band leader Paul Whiteman talked Gershwin into writing this piece for piano and orchestra, Gershwin wrote the basic melody and its overall structure, Ferde Grofé (Whiteman’s arranger) orchestrated the concerto for the instruments in Whiteman’s band, and Ross Gorman took Gershwin’s suggestion of a clarinet trill and improvised the world-famous opening glissando during a rehearsal. Michelle Cann will be at the piano for Rhapsody in Blue and for Florence Price’s Piano Concerto. Rounding out the program will be compositions by Rossini and Tchaikovsky. 

A one-day-only Classics for Wind and Brass will be at Holley Hall on March 21 with wind and brass quintets. More info for all at Sarasotaorchestra.org.

Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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