The Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra, conducted by their Music Director Dr. Christopher Koch, Drury University Associate Professor of Music and Music Director of Springfield Regional Opera, will present their season finale concert on Wednesday, February 5th at 7:30pm in the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts on the MSU campus. Dr. Koch joined us in the studio along with his Drury Music Department colleague, award-winning composer Dr. Carlyle Sharpe, Drury Professor of Composition and Music Theory, to talk about the concert, and the new work by Dr. Sharpe receiving its world premiere at this concert, and set to poems of Walt Whitman.
Koch said Sharpe’s new work, “Of These Years I Sing,” “is sort of related to a work we performed more than 10 years ago.” It was an oratorio-like work called “Proud Music of the Storm.” “We are absolutely thrilled to be presenting this next week,” added Koch. Sharpe noted that the SDCO premiered “Proud Music,” which he described as “pseudo-comparable” to the new work, back in 2008. “It’s actually on another Walt Whitman text, but it’s a complete poem unto itself. We’d been talking about getting a project like this off the ground again, but life happens. I had a parent who got sick… but then everything just kind of lined up this time.
“The big difference between this and the other one,” Sharpe continued, “is that this one is drawn on eleven different poems by Whitman, which focus on freedom, death, and the triumphs—and messiness—of democracy, as well as the importance of women and mothers in society.” He admitted this is rather broad, wide-ranging subject matter, but added, “Well, honestly, it’s kind of a reflection on our times, too. With ‘Proud Music of the Storm,’ I’d had the text sitting there waiting to be set, until an organization asked for a commission. And I’m like, ‘I want to set THIS!’ And just by happenstance there was a lot of stuff in that (poem) that happened to line up with what had happened on 9-11. Here, I purposely chose texts that reflected what is going on. And because I picked these 11 different poems after scouring all of (Whitman’s) ‘Leaves of Grass’, the challenge was getting them all in the right order so that they would tell a story. But also, you’d have those dark places offset with the optimism. And the one thing that was very freeing about it was, as opposed to looking at it as an ‘academic’ project, I looked at it as if I were scoring a film. It had a much more ‘cinematic,’ ‘visual’ aspect, and that was incredibly freeing because I could just put myself into the emotion of what I thought was there. And the result was something that’s nothing like anything I’ve done before.”
Asked if considers “Of These Years I Sing” as a sort of choral song-cycle, Sharpe said, “It’s interesting that you would say that. There are these texts in the different poems that overlap, where I actually use the same music in those places. So it is cyclical in that regard. My challenge was that the orchestra can get (the score) a month ahead—the chorus has to be working on it all along. So I had to write all the choral stuff first, get it off my plate by, basically, the middle of last semester, so the chorus could be learning it. So they’ve been learning, getting it in pieces. The soloist got it at the beginning of December; the orchestra just got it at the beginning of January. But I could incorporate things into the soloist’s music that had already been written in little places, that connected it all together. There is this over-arching theme that goes throughout, and the movements do connect in that way.” The soloist is mezzo-soprano Anne Marie Wilcox-Daehn, Director of Opera at Missouri State University and Springfield Regional Opera’s resident Stage Director.
Christopher Koch agreed. “It is an incredibly narrative piece. You can’t hear this music and not be given both a huge amount of beautiful things to process in your mind musically, but also to think about. And like a film score, it really has a very strong connection between the text and the music. (Wilcox-Daehn) is a fantastic mezzo-soprano—she is soloist in this piece with the chorus. So there’s alternation between orchestra and chorus and soloist, and all of this incredibly beautiful poetry.”
This is very much a choral-orchestral concert, in that also on the program is Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” for piano, chorus and orchestra. “That’s a piece that most people would probably never hear live,” said Koch. “It’s a fascinating piece. The short version of the long story is, Beethoven basically tacked it onto the massive concert that included the premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. And it basically is kind of a ‘prediction’ of the Ninth Symphony that wouldn’t come for another 20 years. But it’s essentially a piano concerto/choral piece/orchestra piece/set of variations, all stuffed into 16 minutes. And it was a huge mess at the premiere, even though it’s a fascinating piece because it predates and predicts so many things that he would do later. My colleague Jim Davidson [Dr. James R. Davidson], who is Director of Choral Studies at Drury, will be conducting that. And Clara Christian, who is the Professor of piano at College of the Ozarks, will be the soloist for that piece.”
This final SDCO concert of the season is also the orchestra’s Charles R. Hall Young Artist Competition concert. “Our winner this year—it’s the very first time we’ve ever had a horn player win—is Emery Smashey from Bolivar. And he’ll perform the Mozart Third Horn Concerto. And then we have a lovely Polonaise from Rimsky-Korsakov’s (opera) ‘Christmas Eve.’
General admission tickets are $15; students with ID get in for $6; and kids 11 and under are free. For tickets, call the Hammons Hall box office at 836-7678 or visit www.hammonshall.com.