ASO to explore ‘Enchanted Garden’Written by Renee Lapham Collins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Think of it like a four-course meal for the ears — and the heart. That would be John Thomas Dodson’s advice for listening to the latest concert planned by the Adrian Symphony Orchestra (ASO), set for April 28 at the historic Croswell Opera House. Curtain time is 8 p.m.
“Enchanted Garden” is the final offering in the Croswell trilogy for this ASO season and it features music by Maurice Ravel, Ottorino Respighi, Sergei Prokofiev and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
“This is a really beautiful concert,” Dodson, the concert’s principal conductor, said. “Every conductor thinks his or her concert is beautiful but I think in this case I’m truly not gilding the lily when I say it. It really is enchanted music.”
Opening the concert is Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” a work Dodson considers “a look at childhood viewed from a very adult perspective.”
“Ravel’s take on the ‘Mother Goose’ stories is a musical, self-aware innocence, a daydreaming look at how ugliness is transformed through character,” he explained. “It’s the kind of innocence you can only have if you’ve lived past your innocent years.”
Dodson said the Ravel is filled with birdcalls and some of the most sensuously beautiful music ever written.
“It has a softness, a rounded quality — with a full range of the colors of the palette available,” he said. “The orchestration has the instruments doubling — that is, a musician will play the flute, then put that down and pick up a piccolo or another will put down the bassoon and pick up the contrabassoon. The result is a deceptively simple, yet deceptively sophisticated piece with a remarkable sound.”
The suite is divided into five “stories,” including “Sleeping Beauty,” “Tom Thumb,” “Empress of the Pagodas,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Fairy Garden.”
The story hiding inside the fairy tales, Dodson said, “is the idea of how beauty is brought about by risking dealing with something which is ugly or unavailable.”
For instance, he said, the listener hears this in the orchestra when the Beast is transformed into a prince because of a woman’s willingness to love and in another place, when the serpent king is able to love the ugly princess, Dodson said.
“In the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ there is a blurry moment in the music, and suddenly that which was not beautiful is absolutely perfect. You can almost see what Ravel is illustrating,” he said.
Like words on a page evoke images in the mind of a reader, so it is with a musical score. A reader hears with his or her eyes.
“You open a book and begin to read, it begins to form a sound, an image, a feeling,” Dodson said. “A score is the same.”
For Dodson, looking at the musical notes on their staffs, with key signatures and treble clefs helps him to hear with his imagination as he plans the music for a concert.
“I was trying to map out ‘Mother Goose’ and came to this moment in the final movement. Ecstasy is how I would describe that moment,” he said. “The ecstasy of sound.”
The goal of “Enchanted Garden,” Dodson said, is to take listeners on a journey. He said once he pictured the four titles together and “played with the order until it was right,” he knew what he wanted soloist Pip Clarke to play.
“For all the softness of the Ravel piece, Prokofiev’s ‘Violin Concerto 2’ in G minor has the crunch,” Dodson said. “It is salt and pepper, sweetness and salty, very much a foil to the Ravel.”
Prokofiev’s work is a signature piece for Clarke, a violin virtuoso born in the United Kingdom.
“The nature of the harmonies ramps everything up in this music, it’s spicier in a way,” Dodson said. “After the ravishing quality of the Ravel, we now have this quality of lively music, with a very Russian soul, a sardonic humor, a cleverness.”
In the finale, Prokofiev chooses the “right wrong note, a bit of a pinch” to demonstrate “not everything is meant to be a furrowed brow.” Prokofiev uses expectation and shock to “pull you out of whatever you may be in,” Dodson said.
The first movement carries the sound of a Russian folk song and takes the soloist from the simplest materials to the most demanding passages, he said.
“The next movement is a simple harmonic pattern overlaid with a sublime and ecstatic violin melody,” Dodson said. “Then the last movement is the jester. The composer lets notes come out to relieve the heaviness, a sarcastic, acerbic sound with explosive energy right up to the very end.”
The second half of the concert opens with the opposite of Prokofiev, Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” which premiered in 1920. Dodson described the work as “the flight of a single lark, a love song of Williams to the English pastoral landscape.
The violin is on either side of the intermission and then “we’re finally back to the land of enchantment with ‘The Birds’ by Respighi.
“This piece goes back to baroque music, illustrating different bird calls and sets them in modern orchestral garb,” Dodson said.
Although music carries an aural definition, most of Dodson’s preparation is done in silence.
“The work of a musician is to imagine,” Dodson said. “It’s really a creative act, you re-create, you look at the score, trying to imagine what it sounds like. Your work is to try to find within it the best balances or particulars you’ve noticed that you think the composers want the audience to hear. What is silent is turned into sound. Ultimately, it is an act of love.”
For information and to purchase tickets, call (517) 264-3121 or order online at www.adriansymphony.org.