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BLmO Goes All-Natural


Landmarks founder, Charles Ansbacher.
Landmarks founder Charles Ansbacher

“Rhapsody in Green,” the free season opener for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, takes place Wednesday evening at 7pm at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade. (Details here; rain date is the next night, with Kresge Auditorium the indoor backup.)

BLmO founder Charles Ansbacher was fascinated by the relationship between music and public spaces, and especially moved by the experience of listening under the open sky. Awareness of the natural world, the opportunity to gaze heavenward, the increased community connection we feel: all of these affect our perceptions of the music. There will be many guest species, in the same manner that last summer incorporated whale song.

The first evening begins with bugs, well-established in the repertoire, bumblebee flight and all. Ralph Vaughan Williams’s buzzing noises are from his 1909 incidental music to Aristophanes’s comedy The Wasps, characterizing the judges infesting the 5th-century Greek legal system and stinging the defenseless citizens of Athens with their pronouncements.

With Tan Dun’s Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds, the program enters a soundworld directly inspired by nature. To create context, BLmO have invited Mass Audubon and the director of their Important Bird Areas (IBA) program, Wayne Petersen, who assists in linking the performance to Massachusetts birds, noting the vulnerability of some local populations. Dun writes:

What is the secret of nature? Maybe only the wind and birds know….

It has always been a burning passion of mine to decode the countless patterns of the sounds and colors found in nature. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “In order to arrive at knowledge of the motions of birds in the air, it is first necessary to acquire knowledge of the winds, which we will prove by the motions of water.” I immediately decided to take this idea of waves and water as a mirror to discover the motions of the wind and birds. In fact, the way birds fly, the way the wind blows, the way waves ripple … everything in nature has already provided me with answers.

Considering the circumstances of the concert—the birding theme, the contributions of Mass Audubon, the Charles River setting with wind and birds part of the soundscape, not to mention any Falcons, Skylarks, and Thunderbirds motoring on Storrow Drive—BLmO chose to substitute recordings of birdsong (from the world’s most extensive collection, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) for the composer’s prerecorded imitative instrumentation. The orchestra still creates its own avian effects, especially in the percussion, where there are bird whistles, a water whistle, and a chirruping flexatone.

Copland composed music for films and documentaries, including the concert suite Music for Movies. New England Countryside and Sunday Traffic depict opposite aspects of the film The City, one portraying life the country, the other accompanying hordes of drivers making their way out of the summertime urban jungle. Grover’s Corners is the title track for the movie of Our Town, set in an New Hampshire imaginary town even though the stage manager gives coordinates a thousand feet off Rockport.

Michael Gandolfi’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation is one of the important American orchestral works of the last half-century. Its variety and invention reflect characteristics of a stunning site in southwest Scotland. There landscape architect / modern theorist Charles Jencks has created a garden unlike any other, its features based on quantum physics, wave theory, black holes, and the dawn of the universe. Gandolfi begins and ends the first five movements of his work with the sound of local birds, but just as Jencks continues to add features, Gandolfi does the same, and this summer Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival premieres new movements “Octagonia” and “The Comet Bridge.”

Music Director Christopher Wilkins presides
Music Director Christopher Wilkins presides

No nature music sports more sonic splendor than the Pines of Rome. Respighi depicts well-known Roman sites where pine trees link to the past while embodying the Eternal City’s natural beauty. The first movement has children imitating soldiers on the grounds of the Villa Borghese, woodwinds and harp creating the swirl of activity. No bass instruments play; and then long downward swoops by harp and piano lead to music of the subterranean sounds of ancient catacombs. Echoes of chanting monks well up from below as a trumpet contemplates the bucolic scene above. For the moonlit beauty of the third movement we are on the picturesque hill of the Janiculum at night, wind rustling to a theme of longing by clarinet. Rapturous textures intensify and the clarinet returns to usher in the song of a nightingale, the first example of a recorded sound in symphonic music. And now the morning light breaks through the mist and the tread of Roman legions is heard along the Appian Way. The young musicians of the BU Tanglewood Institute signal that the consular army has crossed the Esplanade, arriving at the at the Hatch Shell oval, and one of the most powerful crescendos in musical history is upon us.

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Music Director Christopher Wilkins tells us that “For four summers, it has been a privilege for BLmO to perform alongside young musicians of the Conservatory Lab Charter School, under the visionary leadership of Diana Lam.” Conservatory Lab was the first US public school to implement throughout its curriculum El Sistema, the international system of orchestral training. As Lam steps down this month, BLmO warmly welcome Linda Nathan, another accomplished leader, as the school’s new executive director.

The ambitious company’s season comprises eight festive free Hatch Shell events. Details are here.

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