IN: News & Features

Universe To Center on Hatch Shell Wednesday


The first conductor

Nature planning to visit the Esplanade with rain, the Landmarks Orchestra concert will seek shelter in Jordan Hall tonight.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra begins its 19th season ( and 13th on the Hatch Shell) by commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo landing on the surface of the moon. In partnership with the Museum of Science, under the guidance of Wayne Bouchard, the Museum’s Interim President and CEO, and Danielle Khoury LeBlanc, Director of the Museum of Science’s Charles Hayden Planetarium, Wednesday’s program explores many aspects of the Apollo mission, space travel, and the wonders of the universe through the following works: John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Leroy Anderson’s Summer Skies, Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, Joaquín Rodrigo’s In Search of the Beyond, John Williams’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Philip Glass’s Icarus at the Edge of Time (excerpt).

Charles Wilcox, the Planetarium’s AV Producer, Jason Fletcher, Associate Producer, Wade Sylvester, Special Effects Producer, and the staff of the Planetarium have created original video work, synchronized to the orchestra’s live performance. They have adapted material from the Planetarium’s full-dome science shows: Undiscovered Worlds; Moons: Worlds of Mystery; Dream to Discovery: Inside NASA; and Destination Mars: The New Frontier. They have also used material from the Planetarium’s extensive collection of entertainment programs featuring live musicians, entertainers, and albums by Beyoncé, David Bowie, Prince, and others.

In 1969, the moon landing stood as both an achievement and a symbol. Even today there is a diversity of opinions about what exactly those were, and whether the costly undertaking was worth it. Certainly, the mission brought tremendous benefits, including the furthering of scientific research, the development of new technologies and materials, improvements to computing systems, and the training of a new generation of scientists.

To many, the most profound consequences of reaching the moon were the changes it brought to the collective human psyche. For one thing, the Apollo mission dealt a critical blow to the phrase, “it can’t be done.” It also had a transformative effect on our awareness of ourselves. “Earthrise,” the photograph taken by William Anders during Apollo 8 while in lunar orbit, changed forever how we view our planet. “The most influential environmental photograph ever taken,” is how nature photographer Galen Rowell described it. On the 50th anniversary of taking that photograph, Anders said, “We set out to explore the moon and instead discovered the Earth.”

“The lasting legacy of the voyage to the moon,” Jill Lepore opines in a recent piece in the New York Times, “lies in the wonder of discovery, the joy of knowledge, not the gee-whizzery of machinery but the wisdom of beauty and the power of humility.” Wonder, joy, beauty, humility. These are the qualities we explore tonight.

John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine was composed for a launch of a different sort: the inaugural concert of the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts on June 13, 1986, in Mansfield, MA. It is a shot of musical adrenaline. Brash, brightly colored rhythmic cells dart across the orchestra in a minimalist style typical of Adams’ writing at that time. According to Michael Steinberg, the work uses “a harmonic language with an emphasis on consonance unlike anything in Western art music in the last five hundred years.” Commenting on the title, Adams once said, “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?”

About the accompanying video, Charles Wilcox writes: “We experience grand views of the solar system—Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io, and Saturn’s moon Enceladus spraying liquid water out into space—shown to us by the fleet of human and robotic space missions we have sent out from Earth. We imagine future missions such as the launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (in the next phase of human space exploration) and possible tourist voyages to the Moon.”

Leroy Anderson was a master of miniatures, writing short orchestral showpieces with a wit and originality that few have ever rivaled. But his highly listenable Piano Concerto proved that he could write effectively in longer forms as well. His career with the Boston Pops began when, as a Harvard undergraduate, he conducted the orchestra in his own arrangements of Harvard songs. He was soon writing hit after hit for Fiedler, including Blue Tango, Fiddle Faddle, Sleigh Ride, and a host of other works that remain immensely popular today. Summer Skies was composed in 1953. Given its title, it would be appropriate for any Landmarks concert, but especially for a celebration of the moon landing. Despite its winsome melodies and amiable mood, the piece is little known, and we can find no record that it was ever performed by Fiedler and the Pops.

The opening of Thus Spake Zarathustra by Richard Strauss is among the most famous of all orchestral passages. Stanley Kubrick used it to begin his iconic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it accompanies a sunrise as seen from space. Kubrick had it right: Strauss’s music does represent a sunrise, mirroring the emerging sun that radiates throughout the first chapter of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel, Thus Spake Zarathustra. In all three works, the sun can be understood as a proxy for the awe-inspiring, unknowable, inhuman majesty of the universe.

Kubrick told his collaborator Arthur C. Clarke that he wanted to make a movie about “man’s relationship to the universe… to create a work of art that would arouse the emotions of wonder, awe… terror.” His film is a space allegory about the evolution of humankind’s consciousness, taking philosophical ideas from Nietzsche, a narrative structure from Homer, storylines from several of Clarke’s short stories, and musical inspiration from a wide range of composers, including Strauss.

The Introduction of Strauss’s Zarathustra represents a primordial dawn. It is the Dawn of Man, and the three rising notes in the trumpets stand for the sun, or more generally for Nature. The whole symphonic poem can be thought of as a series of attempts to master Nature. And in the end—spoiler alert!—each attempt is met with defeat. “When I wrote Zarathustra,” Strauss said in an interview in 1921, “I wished to embody in it the conflict between man’s nature… and man’s metaphysical attempts to lay hold of his nature with his intelligence.”

Following this brilliant opening, the music recedes into the lowest reaches of the orchestra to begin a section called Of the Backworldsmen. The work is divided into nine sections, which are connected without pause for the most part. The names of the sections are taken from chapter titles in Nietzsche’s novel. This one is a play on words, which happily works in English as well as it does in German. It sounds like “backwoodsmen,” but is meant to indicate primitive man generally, and a state of existence governed by fear. A theme associated with the Spirit of Man— the inquisitive aspect of human nature—rises up in the bassoons, and again shortly thereafter in the cellos and basses. The horns quote the ancient chant Credo in unum deum as the music suggests one possible answer to human inquiry: religion; or to take Nietzsche’s view: religiosity. This is the false comfort of naïve reverence, and it leads to disappointment, not attainment.

The music loses focus as Of the Great Longing begins. A solo viola drifts ever higher. A momentary ‘flight of fancy’ is interrupted by a dialogue between Nature—those three rising notes again, now in English horn and oboes—and a new religious theme in organ and winds: the Magnificat. Following the third such exchange, cellos and basses project a new upwardly-thrusting theme, Longing, which eventually overwhelms the religious music.

Of Joys and Passions opens with an outpouring of sound and a typically Straussian appassionato theme in the strings, reinforced by horns. This represents humans’ first taste of freedom, especially freedom from dogma and superstition. The soaring melodies express the delights and sorrows of real life. The theme of Longing remains in the lower strings. The music swells to great heights. At the peak we hear for the first time a short theme that will assume increasing importance. Trombones and tuba announce it powerfully. Strauss once called this theme Ekel; in English, Disgust.

The Song of the Grave consists of a series of rising and falling phrases. The Spirit of Man rises up, followed each time by flowing, falling scales. Settling into the lowest depths of the strings, two solo basses and two solo cellos begin Of Science and Learning. Here Strauss turns to the most “learned” of all musical forms, the fugue. The first part of the theme is a slowed-down version of Nature (the three notes heard at the very outset in the trumpets). The atmosphere is stultifying. Voice after voice enters as the texture thickens and the volume level increases. The music eventually breaks free in a line that skitters and soars—this is a return to the ‘flight of fancy’ idea heard earlier. Now an important new energetic theme emerges for the woodwinds in music that dances exuberantly. This music later becomes the main theme of the Dance-Song.

In The Convalescent, Nature and Disgust both return. They alternate at first, but then “go at it,” seemingly engaged in battle. The fugal theme of Science is enlisted, and chaos and conflict ensue. The music builds to a powerful restatement of Nature, in what amounts to a return to the opening of the entire work. We seem to have gotten nowhere.

A long silence is followed by a stabbing chord, and a restatement of both Spirit of Man and Disgust. Then the music suddenly rises with new conviction. This passage could correspond to any number of pages in Nietzsche where Zarathustra experiences a sudden desire toward action. For example: “With these words Zarathustra started up, not however like a person in anguish seeking relief, but rather like a seer and a singer whom the spirit inspires.” (Part II, Chapter 23) Strauss’s trumpet rouses the orchestra awake, recalling these lines: “Up, abysmal thought out of my depth! I am thy cock and morning dawn, thou overslept reptile: Up! Up! My voice shall soon crow thee awake!” (Part III, Chapter 57)

Now we come to the apex of Strauss’s structure, The Dance-Song. This is Strauss’s answer to Nietzsche’s promotion of the ancient idea of ‘eternal recurrence.’ The philosophical argument is too much to go into here, but it is in part an acknowledgement of the cycles of human life. To Nietzsche, eternal recurrence was a life-affirming alternative to the notion of renunciation that had been advocated by a previous generation of thinkers like Schopenhauer and Wagner. And what sort of dance has Strauss provided for this optimistic message? A Strauss waltz of course! Not a waltz by the Waltz King, however. That was Johann Strauss II, to whom Richard was not related, at least not closely. This is Richard Strauss, who fifteen years later would pen the waltz-infused opera, Der Rosenkavalier. As so often in Strauss’s tone poems, the protagonist of the musical drama is the solo violinist: here, the Landmarks Orchestra’s Concertmaster, Greg Vitale.

Now comes the final defeat. We have travelled as far away as possible from the opening scene, with its rising sun depicting the Dawn of Man. The beginning of the end is signaled by Principal Percussionist Robert Schulz, who strikes twelve notes on the chimes. It is now Midnight in the life cycle of humankind. Our spiritual odyssey is coming to a close.

The conclusion is a gorgeously expansive epilogue, with a melody tinged by a sad and noble nostalgia so characteristic of Strauss. It is the ‘flight of fancy’ theme, slowed to the pace of old age. This Song of the Night Wanderer ushers in a new state of being, a kindred spirit to the ennobled ‘superman’ that Nietzsche had envisaged in his novel. Hearing this music today, it’s hard not to believe that we still await such an enlightened human condition. But composing in 1896, Strauss seems already in agreement. While the woodwinds play delicate high chords summoning a pure and peaceful state, the three rising notes of Nature are heard—not in the trumpets here, but ominously in the cellos and basses. Inscrutable Nature is still there, not solved, not conquered, still staring back at us.

The Houston Symphony commissioned Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo to compose a work on the occasion of the US Bicentennial. He had previously visited the Johnson Space Center, and chose as his subject the exploration of space. In Search of the Beyond (A la busca del más allá) begins and ends with a long cymbal roll. Thematic fragments come and go, emerging and disappearing “as if lost somewhere in space—in the other world,” in the words of the composer. Rodrigo was a virtuoso pianist and wrote extensively for that instrument. But his most famous work by far is his concerto for guitar and orchestra, Concierto de Aranjuez, one of the most recognized works in the literature. Born in Valencia, Rodrigo lost his vision completely at the age of three after contracting diphtheria. He composed using the braille music system, developed by Louis Braille.

Charles Wilcox describes the accompanying video: “We begin with inspiring moonlit scenes from Earth and witness a total solar eclipse. Then we leave Earth and travel to the Moon, flying over its dramatically lit craters and mountains. Along the way we experience the wonder of a total lunar eclipse as seen from the Moon, and travel back in time to witness the violent birth and asteroid bombardment of the Moon during the early days of the solar system.”

Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’ from the opera Rusalka has become known to a wide public, especially through well publicized performances by such operatic stars as Renée Fleming and Anna Netrebko. The opera’s story is based on Czech fairy tales. In the ‘Song to the Moon,’ Rusalka, a water sprite, having fallen in love with a human, pleads with the moon to intervene with the mortal man on her behalf:

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night pierce your rays.
This sleeping world you wander by,
Smiling on men’s homes and ways.

Oh moon, ere past you glide, tell me,
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?

 Tell him, oh tell him, my silver moon,
Mine are the arms that shall hold him,
That between waking and sleeping he may
Think of the love that enfolds him.

 Light his path far away, light his path,
Tell him, oh tell him who does for him stay!

Human soul, should it dream of me,
Let by memory wakened be.

Moon, moon, oh do not wane!|
Do not wane, moon.
Oh moon, do not wane!

John Williams’s music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind is tightly woven into Steven Spielberg’s 1977 fantasy about communicating with other life forms, its five-note main theme being a central element of the plot. The suite Williams compiled from the film score begins with otherworldly sounds demonstrating the range of his craft as an orchestrator, sounding for all the world like something from midcentury experimentalists like Penderecki or Ligeti. Gradually the textures and tone assume a more familiar kind of expression, and the musical language starts to sound more like home. John Williams is, of course, a revered Boston figure. And he is forever tied to this venue, since he is the only living composer among the eighty-eight whose names adorn the Hatch Shell in five-inch bronze lettering.

Icarus at the Edge of Time, in its original form, is a 40-minute multi-media work including a musical score by Philip Glass, narration adapted from Brian Greene’s children’s book of the same name, and a film by Al Holmes and Al Taylor (Al + Al). Premiered in 2010, it is a reimagining of the Greek myth of Icarus, in which Icarus travels not to the sun but to a black hole. It brings to life aspects of Einstein’s concepts of relativity for young readers. We perform excerpts from the original score, without narration, and set to a video created by the Planetarium team:

“From the imaginations of the space animator-artists at the Charles Hayden Planetarium come stunning, never-before-seen vistas of space and time: nebulas seething with energy and new star formation, a disk of matter swirling into a black hole to disappear forever, expanding shells of gas blown into space by dying stars, and exotic asteroids.”

Frank Sinatra’s 1964 recording of Fly Me to the Moon, with Count Basie and his orchestra in an arrangement by Quincy Jones, was the first music ever heard on the moon. It was played through a cassette recorder by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin after he stepped onto the lunar surface. Henry Mancini’s Moon River was written for Audrey Hepburn to sing in the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Within a year, Andy Williams had refashioned it as his theme song and sang it at the Academy Awards the following year. Cole Porter’s In the Still of the Night was recorded by two prominent bandleaders the year it was published, 1937. One was Bostonian Leo Reisman, whose band Jerome Kern called “The String Quartet of Dance Bands.” The other was Tommy Dorsey, the “Sentimental Gentleman of Swing.” 

Among the greatest bandleaders of his generation, Michael Andrew is not only a complete gentleman, but an extraordinary performer. He was the headline act at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in New York City for two years. Michael has toured extensively, and performed with orchestras across the country. He has also appeared as an actor on stage, in film and on television. In 2012, he starred in a musical theater version of The Nutty Professor, directed by Jerry Lewis, with music by Marvin Hamlisch. We are thrilled that Michael is with us tonight to perform three moonlit hits from the great American songbook.

Christopher Wilkins was appointed Music Director of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in the spring of 2011. Since then the orchestra has helped reaffirm founder Charles Ansbacher’s vision of making great music accessible to the whole community.

1 Comment »

1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Note: this will be held tonight, WEDNESDAY, 7PM, in Jordan Hall b/c of expected rain. Doors open at 6.

    Comment by Camilli — July 17, 2019 at 5:18 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.