Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia
Carlos Simon’s music spoke for itself.
The San Diego Symphony streamed its second concert of the year on Friday, February 26. The concert presented three contrasting pieces of music.
The first piece, by Carlos Simon, was entitled Elegy, A Cry from the Grave. This composition is a reflection upon the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. I found it to be a beautiful piece of music that had a comforting quality.
I think the piece would be better served if it was simply entitled Elegy. The word “Elegy” carries with it the idea of remembering the dead. “A cry from the grave” exceeds even 19th Century emotionalism when it comes to giving pieces of music monikers.
As is the current practice, we were given a specific interpretation of the piece, by the composer, before it started. As I’ve mentioned, before, I do not enjoy this practice and I get absolutely nothing from it. In fact, I find it to be a distraction from the music itself.
Instead of simply listening to the music, I found myself trying to work out its relationship with Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown.
Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were shot and killed, Brown by a police officer and Martin by neighborhood watch participant named George Zimmerman. Eric Garner died in the hospital an hour after being choked by the police. How did these go together? They were all young black men who died under tragic circumstances.
Had Carlos Simon said that this piece of music was inspired by and dedicated to those who have died under such circumstances, that would have been much better. Ideally, he would have said nothing and allowed the audience to find its own experience of his wonderful music.
Composers of orchestral music have to trust the audience and trust themselves. Carlos Simon’s music spoke for itself.
We often talk about a composer finding his or her voice. That used to mean the composer found the grammar of expression that is identifiable in all of their most important pieces. Apparently, that now means the composer’s literal voice spoon-feeding the audience.
I understand that I sound like an absolute curmudgeon, or worse, but I have never once had a profound musical experience by feeling the composer’s feelings and ideas. I have had profound musical experiences by having my personal feelings and ideas opened up by the music of a composer.
Elegy: A Cry from the Grave is a piece of music that can open us up to our feelings and ideas but only if we are allowed the experiential freedom to be opened. Telling us exactly what the music is about removes that opportunity.
The next piece was a lovely performance of Mozart’s Serenade No 12 for Winds and the final piece was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the Russian master’s homage to Mozart.
I have made a habit of listening to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and can honestly say I have never heard it performed better either live or on record. Rafael Payare led a performance that can stand on its own with the greatest to ever do it.