Teddy Abrams, music director of the Britt Orchestra and a world renowned composer, pianist and clarinetist, will conduct The Britt Orchestra this season (July 25 to Aug. 11) in Jacksonville. This is the second of a two-part column. The first was published on May 26.
EH: How does music influence politics?
TA: It’s one of those questions of whether art imitates life or vice versa. You look at eras of American history and you see remarkable relationships between history and music, or politics and music — even beyond that, sociology and music. The defining characteristics of a lot of cultures are in fact their music making and their cultural output – those are binding elements.
Music is a way of conveying essential information, a way of defining identity. Especially in America, where our music comes from so many different places. We’ve often used it in ways to help us sort out our identities — and we see that over and over.
Jazz is one of the great examples of a music that is built on many different influences. But it’s this ultimately defining African-American music that could only exist (here), given the political circumstances of America. And that continues to this day.
Music is both political and apolitical. The protest songs of the Vietnam era probably had as much influence on people’s thinking about politics as anything. You had these bands and singer-songwriters with massive reach, and trust that they built, and people really listened to what they were saying, in a way that they may have ignored listening to other activists or speakers or politicians. Somebody could listen to a Bob Dylan song or Beatles song with a very specific message, but if they didn’t speak the language, they could still appreciate the music making. Continue reading The Britt — A beautiful experience in a community atmosphere→
Obed Medina is the director of the absurdist comedy, “Seven Dreams of Falling,” by C. Scott Wilkerson, now playing through September at the Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford. The play is a re-imagining of the Icarus myth. The premise of the play is that Icarus (the young Greek fellow who flew way too close to the sun) is now being forced, by his mythological family, to repeat his humiliation over and over, throughout time.
Icaris and the other characters (Daedalus, Theasus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur) are cursed, trapped into promoting and acting out the catastrophe as a yearly ritual, similar to Christmas. The characters desperately try to exploit the event (each to their own advantage) to imprison each other, and to escape. It’s a powerful play. I met Medina at the Collaborative Theatre to talk about “Seven Dreams of Falling.”
OM: It’s a relatively new play. It premiered in 2013 at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I visualize a lot of lighting, sound, playing with shadows and light — coordinating together silhouettes. It’s the only way to tell the story and bring it to life, because it’s a Greek myth and has all these fantastical elements.
The text is very heady; it’s a thinking person’s play: there is a lot brewing underneath the text. The sound propels you forward and incites emotion. We have a lot of projections and video that will be used. We try to tell the story and bring it to life with the images: there’s interaction, rather than just dressing the set. We’re taking the conventions of theater and turning them on end.
Director-actor Ron Danko and musician-music Historian David Gordon have formed The Madrone Theatre Company to produce a new adaptation of the “Spoon River Anthology,” opening Oct. 7 in the Rogue Community College Performance Hall in Medford.
Published in 1915, Edgar Lee Masters “Spoon River Anthology” portrayed small town rural America through poetic portraits of numerous characters who somehow spoke from beyond the grave. Danko pulled 50 out of 240 vignettes and invited David Gordon to weave music into the production. I met Danko and Gordon one afternoon in Rogue Community College’s pristine black-box theater.
EH: How would you describe the “Spoon River Anthology”?
DG: It’s like a haiku or a miniature painting. It somehow condenses life down into its absolute minimal number of words or strokes. These are vignettes about life by people who are done with living. They don’t have to put on pretenses or lie any more. They can be totally honest about their successes and their failures. They admit their failures. To me, the mastery of it is that (sometimes in just a few dozen words) each one creates this little reality that has emotion in it.
Pianist Martin Majkut will perform with flautist Katheryn McElrath in concert at Grizzly Peak Winery on July 16 and 17. In a recent conversation, Majkut, Rogue Valley Symphony’s music director, gave me some insights into the development of classical music.
MM: In general, I am convinced that we are moving away from music that was very academic. Music of the second half of the 20th century often consisted of composers in ivory towers disrespecting accessibility, and thinking, “If you’re not good enough to understand my art, then I don’t want you,” which is such a silly proposition.
All of the great composers wrote with people in mind. Otherwise, the music is dead, it’s on paper. We need the audience to complete the circle. Without them, we’re lost.
I see a trend in music that is deep and meaningful, but at the same time, accessible. It gives you a full range of emotions, not just freaky and dark, but also with elation and romance. We’re going back to an era where all these things are embraced in their totality, not just: “Let’s just wallow in despair and sadness.” Continue reading It’s OK to get lost listening to classical music→
Martin Majkut has served as music director of the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra since 2010. Under his leadership, the orchestra has grown to more than 80 musicians and the Symphony’s educational offerings have significantly expanded to include four different programs. We sat down to chat after a rehearsal late one afternoon.
EH: When did you get interested in music?
MM: I started playing piano when I was just shy of 6. I had many other interests, and my parents never forced me to practice. But I did well. After eighth grade, I went to the conservatory; they took me into both piano and conducting classes.
I started studying conducting when I was 14. You learn a lot of repertoire that way, but I did not fully comprehend what conducting entails until much later. After the conservatory, I went to the university, and concentrated on conducting. It became my life. Continue reading Majkut works to inspire symphony musicians→
Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra Music Director Martin Majkut is currently conducting Brava! Opera Theater’s production of “Orpheus and Eurydice,” to be performed March 3-6 at the Camelot Theatre in Talent. We met after a rehearsal one afternoon to discuss the challenge of opera.
MM: From a technical point of view, opera is a challenge for a conductor. The challenge is tracking everyone’s movement and making sure that they are in sync together. In opera, you have the orchestra: they’re in their seats. Then you have the singers and the chorus: all in movement, and they don’t hear the orchestra very well.
When you stand on the stage, and the orchestra is down in the pit, you sometimes hear very little. Say: you run up some stairs, you’re breathing heavily, you hear some sounds from a distance, and you’re basically singing more or less to a vacuum. You don’t get that beautiful symphonic support that the audience gets. So you really rely on the conductor to cue you, to lead you. Continue reading Brava! director says opera is alive and well→