Music Director’s Message: Feb 10

Music Director's Message: February 10

One of my favorite works of musical humor is The Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra, with music by Randall Davidson and narration by Garrison Keillor. Keillor examines every instrument in the symphony on a tongue-in-cheek quest to find the perfect Lutheran instrument. All are rejected except for two, one of which is the triangle. The Apostle Paul repeatedly admonishes Christians to be patient, and who could possibly exemplify patience better than the triangle player, who must carefully count hundreds of measures of rest before playing a single note (I’ll let you look up the other instrument Keillor selected)?

Tonight we feature a concerto for Solo Percussionist, which is truly a rarity on concert programs. I don’t think that the RSO has ever programmed a work in this particular genre, so let’s think about what this means.  ‘Solo’ is singular, meaning that there will be only one featured performer, but ‘percussion’ implies plural. That distinction sets apart our soloist, Simón Gómez Gallegos, from most of his colleagues. A violinist joins the orchestra to play violin, a trombonist plays trombone, and each comes to rehearsal carrying a single instrument case. Now, a flutist may play both flute and piccolo, and an oboist might double on English horn, but these are basically different sized versions of the same instrument. A percussionist, on the other hand, must be expert in literally dozens of instruments. Some of them, like claves and sleighbells, can be played quite easily by almost anyone. Mallet instruments like xylophone and marimba take years of dedicated practice to master. Others, like tambourine, triangle and cymbals, look deceptively simple, but need a professional’s touch to go from mundane to magical (some conductors believe that a badly played triangle can wreck a performance!).

Born in 1959, MacMillan is a Scottish composer whose works are heavily influenced by his Roman Catholic faith. Veni, veni Emmanuel is one of the most often-performed percussion concertos ever written. According to the composer, he started composing on the first Sunday of Advent in 1991 and finished on Easter Sunday in 1992. Thus, the work whose title means “Come, Come Emmanuel” symbolizes God’s promise of a Savior through his birth, life, death and resurrection. The soloist makes his way through the vast array of instruments on stage, arriving at last at the chimes as the Easter bells sound in ecstasy.

Serious stuff, certainly, but the rest of our program overflows with joyous eclecticism. Prokofiev’s music could be sardonic and harsh, but the puckish and playful music from the movie Lieutenant Kijé showed his delight for satire. A world premiere by Iranian-Canadian composer Kamyar Mohajer was inspired by his memory of traditional Persian lullabies his mother sang to him as a child. We bring the evening to a rousing finish with work Beethoven described as his “Little” F major symphony, Symphony No. 8. The shortest of his symphonies, light in spirit without being lightweight, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a song in your heart.


Steven Larsen