Something old, something new, something borrowed ….

No, nothing blue, and it wasn’t a wedding.

The music director and conductor of the Fairbanks Symphony gives a talk an hour before each concert, and Maestro Zilberkant described last Sunday’s concert, the first of the 2011-2012 season, with the words above. The chamber orchestra played three selections: Gordon Jacob’s “Old Wine in New Bottles,” Robert Schumann’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor” (with guest soloist Kiara Min) and Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite (after Bizet.)”

Something old – well, the themes were old folk tunes. I was delighted to note that one of the tunes was “The Three Ravens,” the basis for my own pastiche, “There were Three Quarks in a Neutron Seen,” which describes carbon-14 decay in terms of a hole in Santa’s hat. (Believe it or not, it’s accurate on a sub-atomic level.)

Something new turned out to be the oldest piece on the program. What I had not realized was that Robert Schumann may have suffered from mental illness. Maestro Zilberkant said schizophrenia, pointing to the fact that he himself marked portions of his work as being by Florestan (his passionate, voluble side), Eusebius (his dreamy, introspective side) and had also a third personality, Raro. The Wikipedia biography suggests bipolar disorder, but also brings up other possibilities. The one point of agreement is that he died in a sanatorium.

The music he penned was glorious, as was its performance.

The Carmen Suite (which borrows themes from Bizet’s opera) was written for a ballet performance of the story of the well-known opera. My acquaintance with the opera is limited to short excerpts seen on television, but I kept recognizing tunes in the suite, and wished I could have seen the ballet. Maestro Zilberkant had, and I am sure it influenced his conducting.

As an old trombonist, I couldn’t help noticing the absence of the brasses, except for two trumpets with the woodwinds in the first piece.

I have an old work crony and facebook friend who is fond of repeating that Fairbanks has more cultural events per capita than any other city in the US. I certainly cannot confirm or deny this, but we do have a symphony orchestra to be proud of, especially considering that the whole area’s population is under 100,000. I’ve missed many of the winter performances in former years because I cannot drive in the dark, but I hope I have transportation arranged this year.