Play Memory – Beth Guterman Chu

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A number of people who have watched this video have told me that it made them tear up a bit. I suspect it’s partly because of the expressiveness of Beth Guterman Chu’s face, the domestic setting of the kitchen, and the connection of mother and child through a single piece of music. Whatever it is, I suggest you get out your handkerchiefs.

Music Just Is

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Music is abstract. Igor Stravinsky said that music was “essentially powerless to express anything at all.” Leonard Bernstein instructed millions watching his Young People’s Concerts on television, “Music is never about anything. Music just is.”

Leonard Bernstein teaches music appreciation on American television. This really happened.
Leonard Bernstein teaches music appreciation on American television. This really happened.

Any yet, and yet, and yet, music, as with Edward Hopper paintings (see previous post) invites meaning, invites interpretation and narrative. Beethoven’s “Eroica” may not be about anything, but it sure seems like it does. We cloak the music in composer biographies, in its historical moment. We add imagery, as the St. Louis Symphony will for Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars this season. We supply dancers or even a circus to the musical experience. Somehow, as do Hopper’s solitary women, the music maintains its integrity. It just is. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has remained inviolable, even after it was used to choreograph dinosaur battles in Disney’s Fantasia.

To allow the music to just be, to allow it no past or future, suspension rather than resolution, as Marks Strand puts it in relation to Hopper’s paintings, is an unnerving proposition. “…For many of us this is intolerable,” Strand writes, “…this unpleasant erasure of narrative.”

Ye we may realize the shattering poignancy of art.

An Orchestra of One’s Own

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New Principal Harp Allegra Lilly plays the Fantasia show this weekend, but then, she’s been playing just about every show every weekend since she joined the orchestra in September.

Allegra Lilly
Allegra Lilly

But she told me she enjoys the challenges and the joys of playing great rep every week. “I figure it’s best to dive in at first.”

And it’s not as arduous as the life of a freelancer, which is what she was doing, in New York City, before she won the Principal Harp audition. One weekend stands out in particular. “I played Symphonie fantastique with the New York Phil,” Allegra recalled, “and Shostakovich 4 with the BSO—same weekend. I managed to alternate matinee and evening performances. When you are freelancing, you’re always getting as much work as you can. A rental car made this happen, but never again.”