Visions of Paradise

October 22, 2016

Sir Edward Elgar

b. Lower Broadheath, England, 1857 / d. Worcester, England, 1934

Chanson de Nuit, Op. 15, No. 2 / Chanson de Martin, Op. 15, No. 1 (circa 1890)

Christos Hatzis

b. Volos, Greece, 1953

Thunder Drum (2016)

Gustav Mahler

b. Kaliště, Czech Republic, 1860 / d. Vienna, Austria, 1911

Symphony No. 4, G Major (circa 1890)

All the music on tonight’s program conveys ideas and emotions of paradise. Sir Edward Elgar’s exquisitely tender Chanson de Nuit and Chanson de Matin turn the everyday into the remarkable, and suggest that the composer found a domestic paradise in the blessing of each new day. Elgar wrote many pieces that contemplate childhood, and his nostalgic affection for it shines through in these pieces.

The highly personal focus of Elgar’s music is a stark contrast to the epic and communal scope of Christos Hatzis’ new work, Thunder Drum. Hatzis contemplates the human and ecological trauma of Aboriginal history and evokes our collective yearning for return to a lost paradise. His opening movement, Elegy for a Lost World, employs the vanishing language of 19th century romantic music, which is gradually overtaken by synthesized sound effects and pre-recorded samples of Inuit throat singing, and further distressed in the second movement, Games, by industrial synthesized percussion. The final movement, Reconstitution, ends ambivalently, pointing toward the ethical lessons that still stand between humankind and paradise.

Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony ushers us into a world of exquisite enchantment with the rare and magical sound of sleigh bells. The famous fourth movement’s soprano solo is a setting of the folk poem “The Heavenly Life,” which presents a child’s paradise filled with good things to eat, served up by saints and angels. The path to that delicious playground however is covered in shadow, and Mahler’s too-easy juxtaposition of comfort and terror throws the listener into the fragile emotional world of childhood. A chilling second movement depicts the skeletal figure of Death fiddling away in a macabre dance. (Mahler also penned a song entitled, “The Earthly Life” in which a child starves to death while waiting for his mother to finish baking bread.) The centerpiece of the symphony is a beautiful and spiritually transformative third movement that prepares our ascent to heaven, where Mahler combines childlike play with the profound serenity of a return to innocence. The soprano sings from Heaven: “There is no music on earth that can compare to ours.” It is sweetly ironic that Mahler’s ravishing music has already proven her wrong.

  • Notes by Maestro Arthur Post
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