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Conductor’s Note - La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

Conductor’s Note

By Steven Schick

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

NOTE: The La Jolla Symphony & Chorus celebrates its 55th season with a Beethoven-Bartok-Golijov concert conducted by Steven Schick at 8 p.m. Oct. 31 and 3 p.m. Nov. 1. Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD campus. Tickets: $29-$36. (858) 534-4637.

I often tell my music appreciation classes that there are just two kinds of music – no, not country and western, although I do love Patsy Cline. My distinction is between “songs” and “dances.” Admittedly this is somewhat of a pedagogical provocation since much music is neither sung nor danced in a literal sense. But, to my mind at least, the distinction seems right.

The opening concerts of LJS&C’s 2009-2010 season celebrate songs and dances by offering wonderful examples of each. Beginning with Bartók’s lively Romanian Folk Dances, and Beethoven’s quintessential invitation to the dance in his Seventh Symphony, our program frames three beautiful songs by the Argentinean-Israeli-American composer Osvaldo Goljov and Bartók’s white-hot Miraculous Mandarin.

Golijov’s songs are really love songs: addressed in Yiddish in the first song to the memories of his childhood, to his love for the simple melodies of early music in the second song, and in the beautiful finale, to the memory of a friend. Golijov loves the intensity of the “inward voice,” the one you might use to calm a child or ease yourself to sleep. Indeed these songs have a veiled almost mysterious beauty. We are very pleased to welcome Susan Narucki, the Grammy Award-winning professor of voice in the UC San Diego Music Department, as our soloist for this San Diego premiere work. This will be a performance you will not soon forget!

The inwardness of Goljov’s songs is counterbalanced by the exuberance of Beethoven’s symphony. From the galloping rhythms of the first movement through the stately dance of the second movement (and the slightly less stately dance of the third movement) the piece is like a slingshot drawn ever more taught until we are flung out, cart-wheeling freely into space in the ecstatic finale. The conventions of the concert hall may speak against a full-blown mosh pit, but if you are like me you’ll not be able to sit completely still during this piece. No one will mind if you dance along!

I suppose that Bela Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin is both a song and a dance. The narrative of the piece centers around the story of Mimi, an attractive woman who has been conscripted by three hooligans to lure unsuspecting passers-by to an apartment where they will be robbed. Mimi’s role, represented by three virtuosic cadenzas for solo clarinet and accompanying orchestra, is part siren song and part fan dance. She moves provocatively, the clarinet line moving sinuously in imitation, as an old rake, a young student and finally the miraculous Mandarin himself are brought into her orbit. When the Mandarin arrives Mimi and her band of robbers get something much more than they expect, and the music, which had been contentedly singing along, begins to whirl wildly.

At times the mixture of song and dance seems impossible to tease apart. Is Mimi singing or dancing? Does Beethoven intersperse simple songs amongst his choreographic romps? Perhaps so. It is good, in any event, to be reminded that singing and dancing are not really separable. After all, the Greek word “melos,” the roots of our word melody, means limb. So melody, the raw material of a song, only works if it has legs. And being moved very often means moving.

On behalf of all of us at the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, welcome to our 2009-2010 season. We hope that you will sit back – or perhaps lean forward – and enjoy the music.

Steven Schick