Wednesday, May 03, 2006

tilting at windmills, and construction sites

I have my own theory of where ideas come from. Messages come through me like garbled signals through a shaky television antenna. They come from the environment and are picked up on my clothing like miniscule hair fibers that later will tie me to the scene of a crime. For example, the way my window faces the street and not the back of the house affects my actions. I am in touch with the world: the late cries, the sounds of people wandering drunkenly to cars they should not drive, men harassing women, weird howls I don't know the origin of. The sounds sneak into my dreams with angry vulnerability.

- from "The Pamphleteer" by Jenny Bitner, included in The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 20o2

I was thinking the other day about why I've been so preoccupied with buildings, with all their shapes and sizes and noises, the presences they fill and the absences they leave. Then I looked out the window at the construction site across the street, which for the past several weeks has provided my daily wake-up jackhammer. Fellow NWS musician and blogger Jenifer has written extensively on the subject.

We truly don't always get to choose our own ideas, preoccupations and obsessions - sometimes they creep silently into our brains, other times they noisily invade our lives. The theme of this weekend's season finale New World Symphony concerts might be precarious mental states, and our strange vulnerability to outside influences.

Most famously we have Don Quixote, the famous story by Cervantes rendered by Richard Strauss as a sort of double concerto for cello and viola, with plenty other solo turns as well. Don Quixote's deranged and wandering mind turns out to be a fantastic subject for innovative orchestration, with all kinds of colorful wind effects, bleating sheep, and chanting priests. The mad knight errant himself will be portrayed here by New York Philharmonic principal cellist Carter Brey; Roberto Diaz, the principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, depicts Sancho Panza.

The Sibelius 4th Symphony might leave listeners curious if this composer wasn't a bit mad as well. It's a strange, spellbinding piece that obeys its own inner logic, and very little else. It certainly doesn't include many of the conventional symphonic gestures, such as a loud emphatic ending. I'm curious to see how our audience reacts, and whether they'll be lost in Scandinavian reveries or have the presence of mind to clap.

More to come soon on this program, and other windmills I've been tilting at lately. If you pass by 21st St., please ignore any weird howls emanating from our building.

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