Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy New Year! The British Are Coming!

2013 starts with a big ol’ bang. Works by Britten, Warlock, Holst, Dvorak, Schumann and Puccini are leering at me from the music stand. They’re saying, “Haha, you had your fun down in Florida, now stand  and deliver!” Well, I certainly did have fun, visiting Venice Beach and St. Augustine with my wife and two boys, topped off by a swim in the ocean New Year’s Day. (We weren’t the only ones in the water)! The temperature hit 75 that day and the water wasn’t much cooler. At the same place during our visit two years ago, the temperature never got above 40. We were relieved.

What a joy it is to have Youtube and Spotify to fill in the gaps in my own personal collection and those of the library. Works like the Brittens that we are playing next weekend (Chamber Orchestra, Sunday, January 13th, 2:30 at the Bijou) are rare finds in the public library, and even if located are subject to availability. I often like to treat any unfamiliar piece I am playing as “new music,” untainted by someone else’s renditions. So don’t ask me how I like Beecham’s, or Szell’s, or Bernstein’s this or that, because I am neither well-versed nor particular. In the end, it is almost always a performance in which I took part that will become my favorite. Britten, however, is a composer whose performance success is better off not left to chance. Every once in a while a work will be on the docket that is impossible to find for free. For that I break down and buy it on Amazon. I think the last work I had to do that for was the Bax Overture to Adventure that Kirk Trevor performed with us in March of 2011. (You remember, “obscure even by British standards).”

Speaking of Britten, it is (sort of) the 75th anniversary of the premiere of his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. It was written in 1937, having been commissioned in May for performance at the Salzburg Festival in August of that year. Britten was Bridge’s most accomplished composition student. Ten-year-old Benjamin attended a performance of Bridge’s orchestral suite The Sea, and the word is that Britten “was knocked sideways.” Bridge took him under his wing, and Britten eventually became a “handler” of sorts for Bridge and a good friend. Variation 10, “Fugue and Finale,” contains many references to other works of Bridge.

The three remaining works on the program span a compact period of the early 20th century in Britain, from 1912-1943. It is hard to imagine the variety of styles that will be represented, despite this relatively narrow confine of time and geography. It will be great to hear Cody Boling (Beadle Banford in our recent Sweeney Todd production) again, teaming with KSO principal hornist Jeffrey Whaley to bring Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings to life. (In referring to this work, please be advised that it is NOT for tenor horn and strings. That comma is there for a reason).

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