A New World at the Pasadena Symphony
Leticia Marie Sanchez
Peter Adams’ painting, The Pools Above Sturtevant Falls, graced the entrance of the Pasadena Symphony on Saturday, April 18. Mr. Adams’ painting of the cataracts in Santa Anita Canyon beckons the viewer to take a dip in translucent aquamarine waters. The tempting pool, with its sunlight swirl, retains an air of mystery. Is the sun rising or setting? An evanescent moment, as ephemeral as a musical note.
An invitation to enter into a New World.
Mr. Adams’ painting heralded the theme of Saturday Night’s concert: A New World. The program represented a new world of styles, techniques, and cultures in the music of Darius Milhaud, Felix Mendelssohn, and Antonin Dvorák.
Darius Milhaud’s Le Creation Du Monde should be called A Frenchman in Brazil because many mistakenly believed that Milhaud’s piece copied Gershwin’s American in Paris. In fact, Le Creation Du Monde came first, in 1923, a year before Rhapsody in Blue and five years before an American in Paris. Milhaud, a French native, derived inspiration from his journeys to Brazil and Harlem. Not everyone reacted with acceptance towards Milhaud’s new musical world. Milhaud wryly observed the pundits’ reaction, declaring, “The critics decreed that my music was frivolous and more suitable for a restaurant or a dance hall than for the concert hall. Ten years later the selfsame critics were discussing the philosophy of jazz and learnedly demonstrating that La Création was the best of my works.” Those embarking on musical, nautical, artistic, and scientific New Worlds, from Columbus to Galileo to Picasso to Milhaud often find that being derided as a lunatic is simply the first step towards being hailed as a genius.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E. Minor, Op.64 also represents a foray into uncharted waters. While most orchestral works slowly develop the exposition of main themes, Mendelssohn’s unusual structure has the main theme burst through the piece at the beginning. Violinist Linda Wang, performing on an Old World violin, a 1767 Guadagnini, captured the energy of this dynamic movement. Unlike the mocked Milhaud, Mendelssohn fortunately found immediate acceptance of his unusual style.
Finally, Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, op. 95 “From the New World” exhibits the composer’s passion for his new world, the United States. A native of what is now the Czech Republic, Dvorák wrote Symphony No.9 while living in New York. Dvorák’s homage to his new domicile incorporates the influences of African American spirituals as well as the Native American legend of Hiawatha. Longfellow’s poem Song of Hiawatha inspired Dvorák so much that he once attempted to compose an opera based on the work. Many motifs from Hiawatha, such as the wedding dance, blend seamlessly into Dvorák’s symphony. This piece celebrates the diversity and variety of our heritage and has become an immensely popular work. Ironically, it took a visiting composer from outside of the United States to weave a tapestry that so cohesively captured the American spirit.
Legend has it that Neil Armstrong took “From the New World” Symphony with him on the Apollo 11 mission, the historic odyssey that marked man’s landing on the moon. The astronauts transported Dvorák’s piece to a whole new lunar world. Music emboldened the heroes as they made their giant leaps and bounds for mankind. We, too, can take music with us when we catapult into new worlds, whether it is a hike near Sturtevant Falls or a trip to distant lands.
The lightest of all belongings, music is that suitcase which we we carry in our hearts.