Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Christopher Zimmerman: Classical Music, and the FSO

Ladies and Gents:

Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor I’m always hearing - the one about the demise of Classical Music. The rumor goes that the orchestra is a museum piece, a dinosaur - lumbering around, irrelevant, soon to become extinct.

Hmm….pretty resilient dinosaur, since there are more thriving orchestras in this country than there are soccer clubs in England.

The gloom merchants claim that symphonic music is no longer “relevant” to people’s lives and lifestyles. If they mean that there are numerous and diverse forms of entertainment available to people today which reflect their everyday lives more closely than a symphony concert does, sure, they are right. But that is exactly why the concert hall experience is special. This is a place to go to escape the myriad of activities, issues and concerns which consume our everyday life; a place to discover beauty and a wealth of emotional and intellectual experiences; a place to enrich our senses and inform our lives and, hopefully, to remind us of the truly important things in life. What could be more relevant than that?

At this Saturday’s concert, the Fairfax Symphony will perform three pieces of music of considerable diversity which give us three different insights into three great artists. An early-ish Haydn Symphony bursting with life, energy, exuberance, wit and some over the top drama; one of the things I love about this music is that you can feel that Haydn has somehow written into this piece his own sheer joy at being a virtuoso composer—a sort of mischievous arrogance!

Then a piece by Sylvie Bodorova, a Czech composer who lives in Prague. I am happy and honored to call her a dear friend and I have had the good fortune to present Sylvie’s music in this country several times over the years, as well as on her home turf. This piece is a one movement, violin concerto, 15 minutes of calm, serene, even spiritual music — the spinning out of an extraordinarily beautiful often wistful, melody. I think it truly reflects the character of the composer herself who, in all circumstances, manages to radiate a kind of grounded joy. Despite its overall serenity, this work does however build up to a kind of “cadenza diabolica” where the soloist can give free flight to her virtuosity—and Chee-Yun, our soloist, will certainly give you that, believe me.

Then, the mighty Shostakovich 10th. This is an epic work by a composer who perhaps more than any other—yes, even Beethoven—expressed in his music the world that he lived in. His music is both a reflection of the repressive regime of Stalin’s Soviet Russia under which he lived and worked, and a response to it. Despite, or because of, the grim horrors that he lived through and witnessed, Shostakovich’s music has a raw emotion which is agonizingly beautiful as well as, at times, vehemently brutal. He had to write this music and was in many ways a voice for his people and thus I hope you will hear the compassion that underlies this predominantly dark and powerfully emotional work.

We hear a lot about music education these days - too often about it getting cut from schools. I know Fairfax County has a public school system that endorses and supports a comprehensive music education for its children, but I also want to encourage you to lead the way from home. Our children don’t always know when we’re giving them access to something wonderful and life-enhancing - my 13 year old daughter thinks classical music is so, like, “yesterday” - but keep bringing them and, in my heart, I believe they’ll thank us later. Music education doesn’t always mean being told what to listen to, or which instruments are playing. Sometimes it just means sitting in a darkened hall and being enveloped by great sound.

In most businesses when you apply for a job you go through an interview process and find out pretty quickly whether you’ve been successful or not. For conductors it’s usually different, more protracted, a bit more like a courtship, which one hopes will end in a strong marriage. And now this week is the first time I get to meet the whole family, so as you can imagine I am excited to be here!

During the last two years I’ve tried to learn about Fairfax, both the Symphony and the area. What I see is a proud orchestra, supported by an enthusiastic community in a dynamic and fast-changing region. More importantly, I see a potentially limitless future where the reach of the Symphony is extended and the orchestra performs with ever more quality and impact.

I am sure that you are as excited by the possibilities open to your Symphony’s future as I am to have the chance to be the one helping make them happen.

See you on Saturday,

Chris Zimmerman


Audience member said...

This was easily the best concert and the best total package of a conductor we have seen. He is experienced but youthful, energetic and genuine and doesn't seem to be pushing his own career on our time like the last couple of candidates. The music was phenomenal even if not everyone might have chosen the difficult symphony - and the audience loved it, four ovations! Wow.

Anonymous said...

CZ is my teacher at the Hartt School. You've described him to a T -- a man of conviction and uncommon sincerity.

Paul said...

Chris was the best of the group and we are pleased he has been chosen by the Board.I hope we will see more concerts like his where difficult music like the Shostakovich 10th is played. How about some Mahler, Bruckner and Wagner?


Anonymous said...

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