Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents North and South
Some years ago (quite a few, actually), I walked into a classroom at University Hall on the campus of The Ohio State University to take an exam in history. I would be less than honest if I told you that I studied extremely hard for all my courses in my freshman year, but I did truly do so for this particular exam. I knew the names of all the personages, the dates of all the major events and the impact of each on the course of world events. I was prepared.
When the instructor handed us all blue books and a folded paper containing the test questions and told us all to start, I opened the paper, and – instead of a list of typical test questions and directions (What were the causal factors behind the War of…? Explain the relationship between the members of the Council of … Why did the coalition of member countries fail?) – there were a dozen hand-drawn maps and a typed admonition to “write the name of each country on its respective map.”
Geography? This was a history test. No one said anything about geography!
Needless to say, I failed the test miserably. My only consolation was that I wasn’t alone in my failure. The entire class – all except for a shy, timid, bespectacled young woman, who no one noticed as a rule – had failed as well. We were to learn later that week that the test had been an object lesson for us: You can’t understand, or appreciate, historical cause and effect without a good knowledge of geography.
Nor can you understand musical cause and effect.
What inspires composers to write music? The reasons can be legion: an inbred need to explain themselves, their ideas, hopes, wants and desires; an event that triggers emotions they find they must express; a need to pay tribute to, or attempt to immortalize, a particular philosophy, idea, character trait or person; or simply the need to sell a composition and continue to eat and stay alive.
And sometimes the inspiration can be something as simple as a place.
On Friday, Feb. 1 and Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, Music Director Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present North Meets South, the fifth concert in the DPO 2012-2013 Imagine Season’s Miami Valley and Good Samaritan Hospitals Classical Series.
Pay attention. There just might be a test later.
Composer John Adams has received, admittedly, inspiration from some off-the-wall sources. For example, in writing his orchestral, three-movement “Harmonielehre,” he cited a dream he had about an oil tanker in San Francisco Bay shooting into the sky like a rocket as his inspiration! So, it should come as no surprise that he would be inspired by President Nixon’s 1972 state visit to China, should it? The concert opens with the result of that inspiration, “The Chairman Dances,” a piece he excerpted from his opera, “Nixon in China.” The music depicts President Richard M. Nixon, a presidential banquet, Madame Mao Tse-Tung, a sexually enticing dance and Chairman Mao jumping out of his portrait and dancing a fox trot!
French composer Édouard Lalo wrote “Symphonie Espagnole” for Spanish violinist-composer Pablo de Sarasate. Lalo’s inspiration was the prototypical Spanish passion which was then all the rage, Bizet’s “Carmen” having premiered at about the same time. One could argue that Lalo’s real inspiration was financial and would allow him to cash in on a hot, prevalent trend. Whatever, Lalo created a work that is more a sinfonia concertante than a symphony, with a vibrant, Spanish feel; fluid, beautiful melodies and an abundant exhibition of violin legerdemain.
Enter guest violinist and, yet, experienced traveler Chad Hoopes, who began his promising career as a student of the violin in Minnesota. At age four. He went on to study under David Cerone and Joel Smirnoff at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He’s won first prize at the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition and was the third artist-in-residence in the history of Classical Minnesota Public Radio. He has also performed with the Vancouver, San Francisco, Utah, Pittsburgh, Houston and San Diego Symphonies and the Cleveland and Minnesota Orchestras. He lives in Cleveland, where – at 18 – he’s in his final year of high school!
Composer Jean Sibelius’s love for his adopted Finland inspired him to write one of the most beautiful and emotionally stirring symphonies the world has ever known. His roots were Swedish, but his was a fervent love and fiery patriotism for Finland. His passionate, patriotic compositions worked to unite his fellow Finns. None more so than his Symphony No. 2 in D Major, also known simply as “Finlandia.” Witness the fact that it had become the unofficial Finnish national anthem, with the Finnish senate even awarding him an annual pension lasting long past the time he stopped composing.
And “Finlandia” has been used as the music for numerous church hymns, the most well-known of which is “Be Still, My Soul” (“Stille meine Wille, dein Jesus hilft siegen”).
Now you know. So, open your blue books, take your pencils, and …
The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present North Meets South on Friday, Feb. 1 and Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. at the Schuster Performing Arts Center, 2 W. Second St. DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman will conduct a Take Note pre-concert discussion. Tickets $9 – $59. For more information, visit daytonperformingarts.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@daytoncitypaper.com