Tag Archive: Music

A friend of mine claims that Fairbanks has more arts events for its size than any other city. I’m not going to take a stand one way or another, if only because the metric is so poorly defined, but it certainly has more going on than my inability to drive at night (and the lack of alternative transportation) will let me attend! This time of year, however, the evenings are light enough I can go places, and the Fairbanks Symphony’s Concerto Competition concert April 29 was certainly worth attending.

The Concerto Competition is held each year to find the best young local musicians in four categories: 11 years and under, 12-15, 16-18 and University of Alaska Fairbanks students. Winners play with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra at one of their concerts – this year, the last concert of the season, Sunday evening. They were superb. Every one received a standing ovation, and in my opinion, well deserved. Granted, the tenor is a graduate student and an understudy for the role of Rudolpho in the Opera Fairbanks production of La Bohéme this summer, but these kids are talented and the concerto portion of the concert alone was worth attending.

And that wasn’t all.

The second half of the concert had two “patriotic” pieces that were both inspiring and somewhat overwhelming. The first was Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait. You know the one – bits about Lincoln, interspersed with his own words, read to a background which (and I caught this primarily because of the pre-concert lecture) quoted several times from Camptown Races. It took a few bars for the orchestra to find the right balance between their own volume and that of the reader, but once the balance was found it was an excellent performance. Then came Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

Maestro Zilberkant always gives an introductory lecture before the concert, and when I can attend the concert, I generally manage to arrive early for the lecture. This time he let us in on some interesting bits about the cannon fire and church bells which are orchestrated parts of this piece — often with real cannons, which are not all that easy to time properly, and which (for obvious reasons) are not used indoors. Timing? Imagine a gunner lighting a fuse to fire a cannon which has to go off at exactly the right time. How long must the fuse be? Exactly when must it be lit? And since cannons have to have a cool-down period between firings, it takes no less that 18 cannons!

It is possible to fire the cannons outdoors and have the sound piped indoors, and to Maestro Zilberkant’s credit, he checked with our local Army base, Fort Wainwright, about the possibility. A century ago, it might have worked. Today it would require closing all roads in the vicinity of the university and closing the airspace over the university (which would mean closing down the Fairbanks airport.) It wasn’t practical. A recording of cannon fire was used, and played through – well, I don’t think they were your usual everyday speakers. Maestro Zilberkant warned those sitting near the speakers to move before the final piece was played. The building shook – literally. I don’t think anyone’s hearing was actually damaged, but then I was at the very back of the theater, and the loudspeakers were at the front.

I hope I can figure out a way to get to more concerts next winter.

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.

Very short entry today, I’m not much of a music reviewer. I do know what I like, and Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, “The Resurrection Symphony,” is definitely in the “like” category.

When I watch TV, it’s generally PBS, and Performance Today is one of my must-watches.

Sunday night they had A Concert for New York, actually performed and taped at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center on Saturday, but shown on 9/11. I don’t think I can actually put it up on the blog, but it is available online.

This is one of those symphonies that has not only the orchestra, but solo voices and a chorus. They sang in German, but with a translation on the screen. All that is created dies. All that dies is resurrected. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Well, maybe concerts is the wrong word, but they were more than recitals.

The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival is far more than creative writing class, though that’s what I have been blogging about for the last couple of weeks. There are classes in all kinds of music, dance and art as well as a few things such as clothing design less suited for public performance, and the final weekend is crowded with events, some of which are good enough to charge for attending. As a Festival participant I can get free tickets for a lot more of these events than I have time to attend, and I spent last Saturday afternoon and evening taking advantage of those free tickets.

First was the opera/musical theater scenes. These were costumed and lightly staged (chairs, tables, portable props but no scenery.) We have a new opera company in Fairbanks, and a musical theater group that puts on two shows a year, but I can’t drive in the dark so I rarely get to see them. This was a wonderful treat for me, lasting close to two hours, with some beautiful singing from Festival participants.

Later in the afternoon was the dancing. Considering the role dancing plays in my fiction, I don’t get much chance to see live dancing. Oh, The Nutcracker is put on locally every Christmas but I have no way of getting to it, since winter performances almost always let out after dark. (I do have three DVD’s of Nutcracker performances, not counting the Suite in Fantasia.)

I did take ballet and tap lessons as a child, but in retrospect I suspect that was a desperate attempt by my parents to do something about my lack of coordination. (It didn’t work.) And about the only thing I remember about the recitals was that my parents made me drink coffee to stay awake. (I still hate coffee.)

But I love to watch dancing, even if it is generally confined to PBS and DVDs. And this recital was definitely worth watching.

Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Swing, Tap, Ballroom and Middle Eastern classes performed and enchanted me. Two things I couldn’t help noticing. First, the participants were generally young. Part of this is undoubtedly because dancing stresses the body, and older bodies simply run out of the ability to perform. Second, there was a distinct lack of male dancers. I saw one in a number of groups who was very good – but with the number of androgynous names today, I couldn’t be sure who he was. Total? Two or three males out of a stage full of dancers.

Anyway I enjoyed it enough to order the DVD – though I suspect the intended buyers were mostly the proud relatives of the dancers.

Finally, after supper at Wolf Run and a tour of the watercolors, sketches, and clothing in the art gallery, I went to the orchestra concert. Again, I was amazed by the quality of the performance. These musicians had less than two weeks to rehearse pieces some of them had never seen before, with a strange conductor (Robert Franz.) Many had never met before Festival. The program started with Mendelssohn’s Calm and Prosperous Voyage. Then two of our guest artists, Routa Kroumovitch Gomez on violin and Alvero Gomez on viola, played in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. Jaunelle Celaire and JR Fralick sang selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, each song preceded by a translation of the German words so we had some idea of what we were listening to. The performance wound up with a wonderful rendition of Prokofiev’s Symphony no 5.

I didn’t get home until almost 11 pm, and since it was a cloudy day, I’m glad the sun wasn’t any lower. Wonder if I can arrange transportation to the symphony concerts and Nutcracker this winter?