For our second OFAM 2001 classical outing,
and the Festival Symphony Orchestra propose to take us on a tour of American and European haunts that will be at once familiar and strangely exotic to the seasoned traveler...a fine blend of old and new!
We begin in America. Our first stop is a small, forgotten cafe to hear Walter Piston's fine and rarely-performed Toccatta
, a piece well-suited to the rhythmic spirit of our adventure. Then our first train ride -- the world premier of
From Chama to Cumbres Pass by Steam
for orchestra, jazz band, Hammond B3 organ...and locomotive! We think you'll enjoy the ride. The first half ends in Europe, with a selection that might seem at first blush a curious choice for a program dedicated to rhythm, trains and the age of machines. But while Maurice Ravel's 1928 Bolero
was commissioned for a ballet about a Spanish dancer in a bar and although it has ever since been associated with, well, "the sensual", Ravel always insisted that the work was inspired in fact by the sounds and cadences of a factory. We can probably take him at face value on this: Bolero
is certainly not a bolero, and more than one contemporary slyly noted the piece's similarily to Serge Prokofiev's 1927 mechanistic, factory-inspired ballet piece "The Steel Step" ( Le pas d'acier
), the premiere of which Ravel certainly attended and which was part of the spate of mid-1920s "machine-age" compositions that began with Antheil's Ballet mécanique
. Ravel bore with Bolero's
"sensual spanish dance" treatment at its premiere, dismissed the piece as not having much going for it anyway, and hoped that someday it might be staged in a fashion sympathetic with how it was concieved. After his death, his brother succeeded in doing just that -- complete with factory backdrop! We will not impose the backdrop on you, but we do invite you to approach Bolero
this evening with a fresh mental image...
We join our conductor for the second half of the program on another train, this time behind Arthur Honegger's Pacific 2-3-1
, named after an engine built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia that was popular throughout the world in the 1920s (the example pictured above was on the service of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe). Of course the French (who live under a different colored sky from the rest of us) somewhat perversely insist on classifying engines by their axle
layout rather than by their wheel pattern. If Honegger had been American rather than French-Swiss, his justly-famous piece would have been justly called "Pacific 4-6-2". It's only 6 minutes long, so this is probably much ado about nothing.
Our journey ends with motion of a different kind as we join Modest Mussorgsky's on his wonderful musical "promenade" through an exhibition of paintings by his friend Victor Hartmann. Mussorgsky wrote Pictures At An Exhibition
in 1874 for solo piano; Ravel orchestrated it in 1922.