August 2013

Review of ALIVE! Mahler 3, Hong’s Rite of the Cicada (World Premiere)

by Composers of Sibelius

I kept seeing articles online (like this one) about these strange alien sounding bugs and vaguely remembered hearing the strange sounds of loud summertime bugs in my youth, wondering if they were one and the same. (That psychedelic sound is the same, but the math doesn’t add up, so the bugs I remember [c. 1985] must be a different brood of cicada.) At any rate, it was pleasantly surprising to hear word of an extra concert by the One World Symphony dedicated to these mysterious creatures.

I arrived just in time — can you imagine missing the emergence of these bugs and the concert dedicated to them!? I hope you didn’t miss them both.

The concert opened with the world premiere of Summer Cloud, a piece for Flute and Soprano by New York City based composer Andrew Struck-Marcell. This music was beautiful and sublime — an immersive experience created by the unusual placement of the musicians on a balcony above and behind the audience. The resulting acoustical effects, as the music filled the space from above and behind, created a very holographic, three-dimensional sound, seemingly placing the audience inside the cloud, so to speak.

Next came a real surprise — two Renaissance pieces. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to live a capella Renaissance music, yet I do have a recording of El grillo, the first of these pieces to be performed. It was a real treat. There is something so magical about the sound of human voices intricately coordinated to bring about such simple joy. The second piece, It was a time when silly bees could speak, featured silly lyrics (okay, there was probably some non-literal stuff going on for anyone interested) and was beautifully performed by the musicians. The tune itself did not appeal to me, but then again I’ve always had a bit of a prejudice against old songs sung in English… Maybe it’s me… The bees certainly fit the program, but then again, I’ve never been very fond of stinging insects either!

Then we had Bartók — From the Diary of a Fly. There are two minds about Bartók, sort of a love/hate thing going on — but I love his music, and this piece was no exception. Great sounds! Very stimulating and exhilarating music always from the Hungarian. (Of course I am not alone in admiration of his music — see here for some interesting reading.)

(While reading the above-linked-to analysis of “a fly” the first fly of the year found its way into my apartment… Never doubt the ability of a focused mind to manifest itself!)

Next was our second world premiere (third if you count the world premiere orchestration and arrangement of the Bartók piece by Maestro Sung Jin Hong) of the evening — that’s a lot of new music! The long awaited star of the evening, Rite of the Cicada by Maestro Sung Jin Hong, featured audience participation, recorded sound, vocal soloist, and orchestra. I’m shy and don’t like to participate too directly in performances, hence why I never went further with my own orchestral playing, but this was different. Prior to the start of the piece, we were directed in the proper performance of our part — a chant that starts out nearly silent and grows into a shout by the seventeenth (year) repetition. Fun if you let yourself get into it!

The music proper then was begun and it was superb. I believe this may be my favorite piece to date by Sung Jin Hong — although having only heard each of his pieces once, it’s hard to compare and contrast. When they ever become available on CD I’ll be the first in line to buy them. (No, I don’t want to have to purchase mp3s online from @pp!e or anyone else — I’ll buy CDs until they stop making them!) We did our chant at the proper time and that led to the emergence of the bugs cicadas — they’re too dignified to be called bugs, and this music dedicated to them represents that dignity nobly. From the opening dissonances to the final sounds — the music is gorgeous in a way that, when you think about all the cycles of life on this planet both strange and familiar, transcends music.

This was followed by music from Mahler’s third symphony. I’ve always gotten an impression from Mahler’s symphonies (with the exception of the first two) of a bag full of tensions, climaxes and resolutions, all tossed into the air and landing in a jumbled heap that is called a symphony, but here Maestro Hong deftly led the orchestra through the work with supreme skill and the result was a beautiful, shining example of what is possible when Mahler is conducted with an insightful grace and attention to musical intent. It was a rousing finale to another unique and magical evening with the One World Symphony.

I couldn’t stay for the post concert jazz and wine, served up by the Maestro himself as audience and musicians mingled (so I heard from those lucky enough to be present), but it sounds like it was a lot of fun. Maybe if there is a next time, I’ll be able to stick around.

I’m unbelievably grateful to have a neighborhood resource like the One World Symphony. It’s gifts like these that enrich our lives immeasurably.