The Millbrook Independent: TŌN at Bard Sizzles the Program

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“The Orchestra Now under the baton of Leon Botstein delivered a program music on The Romantic Hero last Saturday night at Bard’s Sosnoff Theater. All three works of the evening were introduced by students who had clear diction, knew how to use a microphone, and were adept at giving informal information with witty twist.

Kyle Anderson on cello was magnificent in the opening notes [of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini] and throughout this symphonic poem. Flutes and strings conjured up heated winds that separated the longing lovers with Otherworldly intensity. The clarinets and bassoon worked overtime. And those delightful horns from hell!

The main course was Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life, 1898), composed immediately after Don Quixote. Strauss’ wife is personified in first violin played by Concertmaster Sophia Bernitz, who gave an adept performance in the nearly six-minute solo that argued in enigmatic bird-like fashion with the orchestra to light comic effect, finally excelling in virtuosity with deep emotional lyricism at the pathos and resignation of the finale.

The blustery blare of the war passage is often condemned by critics as repetitious bombast, yet Botstein excavated a satirically edged twist that reminded me of Shostakovich. The concluding peace was so satisfying that I left with hardly a care in the world—some of the items rattling around in my head were healed and coalesced into solution, which is one of the healing acts of good music well-played. I’ve heard Ein Heldenleben a couple of times before at Sosnoff Theater but this performance by Botstein and TŌN was indelibly more memorable.” —Kevin T. McEneaney

Photo by David DeNee

Wagner’s Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Götterdämmerung

Notes by TŌN violist Leonardo Vásquez Chacón

The Ring
They say that a river cuts through rock not because of its power, but its persistence. Such a virtue is exemplary of Richard Wagner, the composer of the titanic tetralogy of operas (who actually used the term music dramas) known as Der Ring des Nibelungen or “The Ring of the Nibelung.” The fourth in the saga, Götterdämmerung or “Twilight of the Gods,” was completed in 1874 and is the opera from which Siegfried’s Rhine Journey comes.

The Themes
The music starts with a somber line in the cellos, depicting Siegfried and Brünnhilde waking up after their first intimate encounter. As the fog dissipates, we hear four French horns proudly announcing the hero Siegfried’s theme. This is answered by the clarinet, which brings a different and much more tender musical idea: Brünnhilde’s theme. Wagner keeps developing these two themes throughout the piece by changing their character, instrumentation, and the harmony around them, almost like the two lovers dancing or having a discussion. At some point we also hear the sinuous and ever-flowing music that represents the Rhine river in Das Rheingold, the very first opera of the cycle.

From Darkness to Heroism
The composer’s mastery in orchestration and use of drama always impacts me. The piece depicts an epic journey filled with contrasts between darkness and heroism, while other parts remind me of the most innocent and tender moments in Debussy or Ravel, composers of a later generation. Wagner’s music is something that even musicians in a professional symphony orchestra do not always get to perform because it is mostly in the field of opera companies, so being able to perform it today is really a great opportunity.

Thank You, Wagner
Like the Rhine river that knows no rest, Richard Wagner’s relentlessness gave us a work comprised of four operas that needs four days to be performed—almost 17 hours of music. His use of Norse mythology, along with plots that involve romance, murder, magic, etc. are what inspired much of our modern epic sagas like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Next time you find yourself awestruck by the latest episode of your favorite show, remember you have Wagner to thank.