|Name:||“The Sacrifice” (interludes); “Miserere“; also a cello concerto and Symphony 4|
|Author:||MacMillan, Elgar, Vaugn Williams|
|Released:||2006, 1919, 1034|
|When and how viewed:||Kennedy Center, 2016/5/12|
On Thursday, May 12, 2016, the Kennedy Center offered a concert by Scottish conductor Sir James MacMillan.
The program opened with Three Interludes from his 2006 opera “The Sacrifice”, to a libretto by Michael Simmons Roberts based on a Welsh myth (maybe epic poetry) called Mabinogion. Probably English departments know this stuff. Following a Romeo and Juliet like plot, lovers Sian and Evan must part and accept arranged marriages in a heavily tribal world. Conflict leads to tragedy, in a somewhat complicated plot. My own father used to say, “To obey is better than to sacrifice”, and maybe this opera proves the point. Does the movie 1973 “The Wicker Man” come to mind?
The three interludes follow the example of Britten (“Peter Grimes”) with a passacaglia for the second movement. The outer movements are called “The Parting” (of the lovers) and “The Investiture” ( a ceremony that confers rank, maybe related to the historical “Investiture Controversy” of the Church in European history). The music is more dissonant than Britten, although similar in spirit. The ending of the last piece is violent.
The second work was the Cello Concerto in E Minor of Sir Edward Elgar, Op. 95 (1919), with cellist Alban Gerhardt. The work is in four continuous movements, starting with a Moderato stating a unifying theme. The scherzo may be the most familiar part. There is a brief Adagio, and the finale tends to wind down before a brisk ending in a minor key. At one point, it seems to quote the Schumann Cello Concerto in A Minor.
The main course, after the intermission (and reason I attended) was the Symphony #4 in F Minor by Ralph Vaughn Williams (1934). The work is notorious for a case of Vaughn Williams “being mean”. The four note motive suggests Shostakovich, maybe, and also Scriabin in using the minor ninth and half-step dissonances – but in this work the orchestral color will enable the composer to bring the dissonance into balance with his normally pastoral style. There are four short movements, totally 30 minutes, the last two connected, working up to a violent fugue on the 4-note motive, and ending abruptly on one loud minor chord. It’s interesting that Scriabin’s “Black Mass” piano sonata is based on some of the same harmonics, and is centered on the same tonality (F).
There was a post-program. I was taking notes on my cell phone because the printed supplement had not been included with my copy of the Playbill. There was a panel discussion, with MacMillian and Gerhardt, and a “choral postlude” with the University of Maryland Concert Choir. The group sung four a cappella works by MacMillan. These were Two Strathclyde Motets: “Factus Est Repente” (“Suddenly a Sound Came”), for Pentecost, and “O Radiant Dawn”, for Christmas. There followed a complete mass “Miserere” (or “Missa Verde” or “Green Mass”), 15 minutes, with a little more dissonance than in the motets. Then there was the song “The Gallant Weaver”, which would remind us of “Silas Marner” from high school English literature (but based on a poem by Robert Burns).
In the QA, the cellist said he plays with earplugs, because the sound from the other players is very loud.
There was a pre-show on the Millennium Stage, where the Washington National Opera presented the “Ring” singers in a concert with piano. One of the arias was from Rossini’s “Italian in Algiers” with humorous lyrics about women taming men, and even whether women prefer “smooth” men (“thmooth”) to hunks or brutes (“hairy”). Later there was some Sondheim, as well as Offenbach, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Verdi.
(Published: Thursday night May 12, 2016, 12:45 AM after midnight EDT (Friday)).