October 31, 2014

A Veritable Island of Hope and Sanity – My Visit to Indiana University

A Veritable Island of Hope and Sanity

My Visit to Indiana University at Bloomington
February 13, 2009

I am just returning from a very enjoyable visit to the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University at Bloomington, where my orchestral work IN TIME OF WAR was performed. Having heard about the unique and wonderful music program at this university for so many years, it was enlightening to finally visit the campus.

Although I arrived with high expectations, I was nevertheless impressed by the high quality of musicianship. The opera department is constantly in production, and I attended a performance of Massenet’s CENDRILLON, a rarely performed work. The singing, orchestral playing, sets, costumes, and stage direction were all top-notch, certainly up to the standards of many American regional companies. The Mac Center, their large performing hall, is state-of-the-art, with excellent acoustics, ample stage space, a large orchestra pit, and generally beautiful on an aesthetic level (why is it so difficult to build professional halls with good acoustics for orchestra and symphonic music in this country, when they could do it so well at Indiana University? How many millions have we spent on performance halls in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere, to improve poorly-designed acoustics?).

The orchestra concert, under the director of the conducting program, Maestro David Effron, was a revelation; performed by the youngest of the university’s three orchestras, the program consisted of Christopher Rouse’s compelling flute concerto, my own composition IN TIME OF WAR, and Beethoven’s 6th symphony (“The Pastoral”). I have known David Effron’s work for many years–this is the fourth piece of mine that he has conducted–and he ranks among this country’s finest opera and orchestral conductors. He has had an international performance career, having been music director of the Heidelberg Opera Festival in Germany and the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina; he has led hundreds of performances with major American opera companies such as the New York City Opera, and was formerly head of conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music, and subsequently at the Eastman School of Music. Effron is a passionate and instinctive musician, with an impeccable sense of musical style, and he elicited brilliant and sensitive playing in the Pastoral Symphony; notable were beautifully shaped phrases and carefully crafted dynamics, textures, and orchestral timbres. One could feel the love of this music from both conductor and orchestra.

The Rouse concerto, truly a virtuoso work, juxtaposed beautifully lyrical tonal sections with highly virtuostic and energetic music, and featured prize-winning young flutist, Daniel Stein. Mr. Stein’s gifts as a flutist are substantial, and I think we will be hearing a lot more about him as he enters the profession.

My own composition, IN TIME OF WAR (for soprano solo, strings, harp, and percussion), features purely orchestra movements, juxtaposed with movements for soprano solo and orchestra. Having been at the final two rehearsals, I was able to witness this young orchestra attain a high performance standard in this not-so-easy piece, which attempts to show a paradox in the human condition- that we are all born to mothers–often loving mothers–and yet are capable of participating in the tragedy of warfare. (For more information on this piece, please see REVIEWS on my website.) Commissioned by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and its music director, Barbara Day Turner in 2002, the work was premiered in San Jose with the vibrant and popular soprano Erie Mills, conducted by Turner. At the Indiana performance a young doctoral student, Carolina Castells, performed with exquisite sensitivity. Her fine musicianship and warm lyric soprano voice was very appropriate for the work, and I feel she has all the earmarks for a substantial career.

This was a big program, containing two large new works and a substantial symphony. An amusing moment occurred toward the end of the final movement of the Pastoral Symphony (the final work on the program), when a woman a few seats away from me said to her husband in a quiet but audible voice: “Boy, this is a long one!” I guess the Pastoral Symphony was unfamiliar to her.

If you have an opportunity to attend an opera or concert performance at this university, I recommend that you do you. In our present-day atmosphere of junk culture saturation, this place is a veritable island of hope and sanity, not to mention the architectural beauty of its campus.