This is my first blog entry in my life.

So, why not start with what’s going on?
Joy and I have just returned from a concert by the Orlando Philharmonic. Tomight’s concert was titled “Lincoln’s Year”:

 

Bacon: Ford’s Theatre; A Few Glimpses of Easter week, 1865

Beethoven:Symphony No. 5

– intermission-

Ungar: Ashokan Farewell

Sung:Lincoln’s Battle

Taps

Glass: CIVIL WarS

Copland: Lincoln Portrait

 

Very interesting programming by Maestro Christopher Wilkins to open a concert almost entirely filled with modern American composers with Ernst Bacon. “Ford’s Theater” is a set of short descriptive vignettes sometimes using themes popular in the Civil War era. The set worked well, as the style of the music was surprisingly cinematic (I’d never heard this composer’s music). The program notes, by Dave Glerum, stated that, in the 40s, Bacon was considered one of the top composers of his day. The brevity and form of the “Ford’s Theater”, written for theater, could easily come from one of our best film score writers today. Film music from this works’ time was still under the curse of Wagnerian over-statement – but, these were instead, light, colorful and widely varying in character. Because these works did not start with a bang, nor end with one; and were such a pleasure – they became the perfect appetizer for things to come….

 

Beethoven’s powerful 5th was up next. The strings were up to the job of keeping pace with the Maestro’s quick tempos (except for an unfortunate opening ta-ta-ta-TA solo and a few trumpet slips). I like how Mr. Wilkins justified the works’ choice in the program: that it epitomized the course of struggle, resolution and transcendence. Quite appropriate for an evening memorializing Abraham Lincoln.

 

And a nice $3 cup of hot chocolate at intermission…..

 

The Ungar work, the theme in Ken Burns’ “Civil War” epic documentary, was a lovely surprise. Concertmaster Tamas began playing solo, then the music grew to a quartet, a quintet (strings) and then full orchestra – then back down to solo. I wonder if Ungar scored this arrangement: so well balanced and perfectly shaped. I had no idea whatsoever that Tamas Kocsis had ANY celtic styings in him!! As usual, he played with vivacity.

 

 

Then, my friend Stella Sung’s work, “Lincoln’s Battle”. Stella and I have supported each other by attending each other’s concerts and contribuiting to the Young Composer’s Challenge for many years now – and I am proud that she has been chosen as the OPO’s resident composer. Their first! Her music is all about melody – and her melodies all sing so beautifully. This was no exception. Commissioned for this evening’s concert, she portrayed Lincoln’s moral and intellectual solidity against an unending gloom of his long depression. A beautifully formed work, building to a complex counterpoint of three themes, beginning and ending with an open 5th string sustain. Again, very cinematic in gesture and breadth. Civil War era popular themes and snare drum cadences spoke in the work. Over the last sustain, Lyman Brodie, the 1st trumpet of the orchestra played Taps. The lighting was dramatic. Chris Wilkins’ figure was a perfect silhouette. Lyman Brodie stood in a single, dramatic flood of light. Beautiful!

 

During Taps, three large horizontally mounted screens were lowered and a brilliant, simple and powerful multimedia experience followed. As Philip Glass “CIVIL warS” began, a series of pre Civil War photographs, meticulously displayed began to sequence with the music. These images were choreographed so well by James Westwater that they actually improved the experience of this more interesting than usual Glass score – and the music also perfectly introduced the images. I can’t imagine one without the other now. A testament to the power of images, the experience testified to the changeless and the changed in American life over the last 150 years.

 

But the highlight of the evening was “Lincoln Portrait”. I am forever amazed at the clarity and variety of Copland’s orchestral scoring. A great example of a sonic experience that can only be experienced live and not to be captured by the microphone. The performance was very good (save for trumpet intonation in the beginning ‘ ouch!); and Chris Wilkins’ sensitivity to the score filled it with warmth and well-placed alacrity. But the images played through it – photographs of death and destruction adding an impact I’ve never felt at a classical music concert. And, the fact that the narration was read by Mark McEwen, a popular television host who is returning from a debilitating stroke put the emotions over the top. There were many tears of aliveness and sorrow in the seats this evening.

 

What could have been just a good concert of great music was elevated into a memorable evening that truly communicated profound ideas and spirit. Christopher Wilkins is giving us much more than we could ever ask or hope for. His gift is smart collaboration, community leadership and artistic excellence. That Chris scheduled this particular concert just before the Obama/McCain election is not lost on me, either. Our country needs spirit of Lincoln now: “History is inescapable” “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Maestro Wilkins is reminding Orlando, Florida that, no matter what the election outcome might be, we can always look towards the future, no matter what side we fall, by remembering the Civil War’s dilemmas and Lincoln’s wisdom.

 

  • Reply

    Greg Kilgore

    03 11 2008

    Keith, thank you for sharing your experience of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance. You’ve inspired me… I’ve lived in Orlando for almost two years now, and I have yet to attend a performance by the Orlando Philharmonic… I am going to make a point of doing so. I look forward to future commentaries from you on your blog.

  • Reply

    Ellen Bacon

    29 11 2008

    Hello, Keith,
    I would love to have attended this concert but rarely leave my home in Syracuse, NY. However, reading your beautifully-written blog brought it to life for me. I was so pleased that Chris Wilkins programmed my late husband’s “Ford’s Theatre” to open the concert and appreciate your kind words about it. Leonard Slatkin recorded all 12 movements with the Nashville Symphony on a Lincoln bicentennial CD which NAXOS will release in February. Ernst Bacon is better known to singers than to instrumentalists, but Joel Krosnick, Gilbert Kalish, and other strong advocates are helping to spread the word. If you’d like to hear more of his music, I could send you a few CRI CDs plus some demo CDs of live performances. I’d love to hear some of your music too. Can you direct me to some CDs? With thanks and best wishes, Ellen Bacon, widow of Ernst Bacon

  • Reply

    Keith Lay

    03 12 2008

    Dear Ellen,
    Your comment is such a happy surprise! Like a song caught in a time machine, your note alerted me to your presence and your tenacity in promoting your late husband’s work. It is such a pleasure to ‘meet’ you.
    I am interested in your husbands works on CD, and will certainly be interested in purchasing the Naxos disc this spring. And, yes I am interested in the CRI discs, if you have them available. As I become more familiar with Ernst’s music, could I contact you again in the future?
    Only one recording represents me so far: Richard Stoltzman’s “Reflections” which includes a work for clarinet and orchestra called “Earth Caoine”. You can also hear “Earth Caoine” on my website, as well as a few other works.
    Thank you for reading my blog – this interconnectivity is such a blessing

  • Reply

    Keith Lay

    03 12 2008

    Greg, thank you for reading my article on the OPO. The next OPO concert I’ll be attending is on February 28th:
    The Artistry of Andre Watts
    Saturday, February 28, 2009 8:00 PM
    Andre Watts, piano
    Daniel Hege, guest conductor
    Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
    Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
    Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
    All of these are fantastic works – you’ll love this concert! Good things are always happening in Orlando, and they are happening without the Sentinel or media coverage. Kind of like Florida lawns without irrigation: the lawns don’t look as good, but the roots are deeper and it can withstand quite a lot more strain. If you elect to come to the concert, let me know and I’d like to introduce you to my wife, Joy!
    “the kingdom of heaven is all around us, but men can’t see it” – St. Thomas

  • Reply

    Ellen Bacon

    10 01 2009

    Dear Keith,
    I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Thanks so much for your kind message and the invitation to share CDs. I tried to order “Reflections” from Barnes & Noble, but they couldn’t find it on their computer. Can you send me an email with more details about how I can track it down? Maybe I can listen to it on your website at a friend’s house, since my computer and I are quite limited!
    By coincidence, one of the CRI CDs that I’d like to send you includes the elegy for clarinet and strings, “Remembering Ansel Adams,” with Richard Stoltzman as soloist. My husband was a lifelong friend of Ansel, with whom he shared a love of mountaineering, as well as nature and music.
    The Beethoven 4th is my favorite piano concerto, and 3 weeks after you hear Daniel Hege conduct it in Orlando, I’ll hear him do it here in Syracuse. We are so fortunate to have him as our music director – and you are also fortunate to have Chris Wilkins, whom I met here after an SSO concert. I would love to hear Andre Watts play the concerto and hope that Markus Groh, whom I don’t know, will also bring out all its sublime beauty.
    Thank you for the reminder of that wonderful quotation of St. Thomas.
    All best wishes from the snowy northeast –
    Ellen Bacon

  • Reply

    Bill Bartmann

    02 09 2009

    Great site…keep up the good work.

  • Reply

    Bill Bartmann

    04 09 2009

    Great site…keep up the good work.

  • Reply

    ChrisPark

    05 09 2009

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  • Reply

    black hattitude

    02 11 2009

    Hi,
    Thank you for the great quality of your blog, every time i come here, i’m amazed.
    black hattitude.

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