Here’s an entry also cross-posted on the NC Symphony blog:
12:45 a.m. South African time (already Monday), 6:45 p.m. Raleigh time (still Sunday). I’m 30,000+ feet in the air flying from Johannesburg – where I’ve been conducting a production of Puccini’s La Bohème with Opera Africa – to Raleigh for this week as a guest conductor of the North Carolina Symphony (for the “A Journey Down the Rhine” concerts).
While I have been thoroughly studying all three works for this concert, the one I’ve been thinking about the most lately is the Schumann. An interesting twist is that I have the fortune to be on the not-so-long list of conductors who have conducted Schumann’s opera, Genoveva.
Around this period of his life Schumann had become interested in, if not fascinated by the work of Richard Wagner. So great was his interest that Schumann paid a visit to Wagner bearing a copy of the libretto for Genoveva, and was quite crushed when the great composer of music-dramas was clearly not enthused by its quality or subject matter. Also important to remember is that Schumann was also an avid and serious composer of song repertoire, including such beautiful cycles asFrauen-Liebe und Leben.
So as I think about the “Rhenish” symphony I can’t help but to apply the lens of Schumann as a writer of vocal music and an intense, Wagnerianesque musical-drama. It certainly makes the picture quite different and more complex than simply viewing this masterpiece as the culmination of four symphonies.
I believe the best music inspires a sense of discovery in the listener, so think about it this way: if one were to write text for the music of the first phrase of the “Rhenish,” what might the words be? What type of voice would sing it? Where in the 20-bar phrase would the singer breathe? What character makes their entrance during the fanfare music of the final movement? Which instruments express love? Which instruments express nobility? Which instruments express loss? I hope you’ll let your imagination run wild like I do.
This upcoming week with the North Carolina Symphony is exciting for me. It’s a pleasure to work with this group of talented musicians, a superb soloist like Kurt Nikkanen, and to spend the week digging deep into the best music in the world. See you there!