Today, the University Symphony Orchestra of WMU has its first full concert of the year. Our program includes the Espãna of Chambrier, Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the Poème for solo violin and orchestra by Ernest Chausson, and Claude Debussy’s La Mer. Each piece presents distinct challenges and rewards, however, of all the repertoire, the Chausson Poème is my personal favorite.
(Christian Ferras performing the the Poème)
The Poème is a rich piece with an interesting story. It was the product of Chausson’s later career in which he was interested in the Symbolist poets and the novels of Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. Grove describes the Poème in the context of Chausson’s “latent pessimism” and “disenchantment”, though, the original title of the piece was “Le Chant de l’amour triumphant” (The Song of Love Triumphant). This title was taken from Ivan Turgenev’s book of the same name. Large sections in both major and minor and material that is at times tempestuous and sometimes tender leaves you to wonder, does love triumph?
Moreover, the piece blooms from dark corners and iridescent patches as the orchestra and solo violin answer back and forth. This is why I am so engaged by the music’s narrative. The emotional content begins with the celli and is handed off to the violas and winds (Fig. 1). After a few arching melodies, the thematic material returns to the celli, this time, in the form of a more prominent statement (Fig. 2). The music intensifies with the syncopated soprano-voice of the cello choral. This line ascends, giving way to the solo violin for the first time (Fig. 3).
In this way, I get to help bridge the orchestra’s introduction to the violin. I pass my high B-flat to our soloist Ariele Horowitz, the silver medalist of this year’s Stulberg International String Competition. This is not the first time I have met Horowitz. She was a student at Indiana University’s Summer String Academy where I was a counselor this last summer. Maybe it’s our shared “Hoosier DNA” but each time we play this section of the piece, Horowitz and I “connect”. It doesn’t last for more than an instant. In the grand scheme of things, it is insignificant. Yet any musician that is drawn to the dynamic genre of chamber music knows this feeling. It’s not just that the cellist “knows”. It’s not just that the solo violinist “knows”. It’s that the cellist knows that the violinist “knows”, and that the violinist knows that the cellist “knows” (etc. etc. etc.). Awareness, communication, synergy, whatever you want to call it. It is, at least for me, that element of music that breathes life into our art.
Congratulations to all the members of the WMU Orchestra, conductors Bruce Uchimura and Jeff Spenner, and our violin soloist Ariele Horowitz.
The concert begins at 3:00 in Chenery Auditorium in Kalamazoo. Tickets are free.