Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why Bruckner? Reasons to come to Mahisorn Hall this coming Wednesday

Siam Community Orchestra •
in rehearsal

The Siam Community Orchestra, on its second outing, is tackling one of the biggest, most monumental works in the symphonic repertoire, and one that has never been played in Thailand ... Bruckner's Ninth Symphony.  Apart from the "because it's there" answer, I ought to explain why.  

I created this orchestra because I wanted to bring together people from across all segments of society in Bangkok who yearn to play BIG music - those pieces that they would never normally get a chance to play unless they were already part of a major symphony.  And so that audiences would get a chance to experience these BIG works - live, played by people who are of the community, sharing their enthusiasm.  

I've been overwhelmed in rehearsal by the passion with which these people have imbued Bruckner's Ninth Symphony.  

Richard Wagner once said that Bruckner was "the only composer who can stand beside Beethoven."  That is a wild claim to make when so many great composers exist, but when you listen to the Ninth, you can believe it.   There are indeed a lot of connections between Beethoven's Ninth and Bruckner's Ninth apart from being in the same key ... the numinous, shifting beginning that seems to gel out of chaos into a tremendous unison statement of an elemental theme seems to portray the very act of creation ... not a wave of the hand sort of creation but the birth of a universe out of darkness and terror.  Both symphonies follow with a scherzo that is savage and vehement and pounding.  And then a slow movement of incredible depth, fashioned out of two alternating themes, one a little faster than the other, and the heavens opening up to the sound of trumpets ...

You can see that one ninth is modelled firmly on the other.  And then there is another Ninth to come - Mahler's, which also has connections to this one, most clearly in the Adagio movement.  

What's different about Bruckner's Ninth is the sense that block by block, stone by stone, a cathedral is rising around you, and your ear is inexorably drawn up and up toward what can only be the voice of God.

I have lived with this symphony for about 45 years now and I had always felt that the work was "complete" the way it has been left to us.  In the Adagio, in particular, Bruckner builds up on two occasions times a powerful and sweet crescendo which climaxes in what sounds like the very heavens opening up and us seeing the face of God ... first in incredible splendor then a second time as though veiled, "through a glass darkly" as it were.  The third time this music comes, there is no climax, only a dying away into music that sounds like distant church bells, sinking into nothingness.  

In the past my interpretation of this was always that Bruckner wanted to show us that God dwells behind veils of impenetrable darkness ... that we can never catch more than a glimpse of the Holy Grail, and the more we approach it the more elusive it becomes.

Yet, I've recently listened to the reconstruction of Bruckner's last movement, which has now been done to what seems to be just this side of perfection after years and years of controversy.  

And I see now that Bruckner didn't mean to hide God from us but to save the blinding revelation for the final movement.  This finale changes everything and makes every note of the first three movements have a completely different meaning.

On Wednesday we will play the symphony with the old meaning attached.  But it is my hope that in 2014 the Siam Philharmonic will give the Thai premiere of the other version, with all the meanings turned upside down.  

Meanwhile please show your support for Thailand's passionate musicians by coming to our concert on Wednesday the 8th at 8 pm, Mahisorn Hall.  Pre-book by emailing tickets@bangkokopera.com, or just show up.

No comments:

Post a Comment