It was the end of innocence, the end of a particular world order and the end, more or less, of the era when "classical music", as many people think, has been written. The First World War ended 100 years ago on Sunday. And although the United States, which entered the conflict late in the game, did not really take the opportunity to celebrate this anniversary, as the world of music focuses on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War there a few years, the day of the armistice concerts.
This includes some of the most important offers of the season in the Washington area. This weekend, the Washington National Opera inaugurates "Silent Night," a 2005 adaptation of Kevin Puts' award-winning Pulitzer Award-winning "Joyeux Noel" on the Christmas break of 1914, when soldiers in the trenches lay the arms and sing songs together. for one night before shooting again. The National Symphony Orchestra will present Benjamin Britten's "Requiem of War" this month, written to commemorate the end of the Second World War, but featuring Wilfred Owen's poems on the first.
On Monday, baritone John Brancy and pianist Peter Dugan are back with a program called "Armistice: The Journey Home", a continuation of the 2014 program "A Silent Night", also based on the Christmas truce, which they had proposed for the first time to Vocal. DC Arts and have since played worldwide. This weekend, the New Washington Orchestra (NOW) presents a commemoration of Armistice Day with the Washington Master Choir, which features a world premiere by Joseph Turrin; Last month, the Cathedral Choral Society offered the creation of an imposing Requiem written in 1918 by composer Alexander Kastalsky to commemorate the millions of fallen soldiers. And this is just a sample of the programs offered by the Thirteen, Choralis and many others.
Classical music loves birthdays – because, more than any other branch of the arts, it focuses on a more and more distant past. Classical music makes sense when commemorating and mourning: even the general public tends to embrace classical music at a funeral. And classical music, as we think today, was written primarily in Europe before the end of the First World War – in the part of the world most deeply affected by the devastating changes of the war occurred while classical music was already going through an upheaval. (The "Rite of Spring" by Stravinsky, this turn of the 20th century, was created in 1913, one year before the beginning of the war.)
Today, when classical music wishes to reaffirm its relevance for the whole world, this type of historical presentation is a pleasure for broadcasters. The question is whether these observances of the armistice really prove the relevance of classical music or simply serve to wrap the story in a soundtrack of nostalgia for PBS.
One of the arguments for commemorating the First World War is the vast literature on the music of the First World War. In 1914, at the beginning of the war, classical music was a much more popular idiom than today. War-affected artists and musicians expressed their thoughts in the form of symphonies and works for piano rather than protest songs. Today, pianist Dugan said: "As we do not deal with the project, we do not really have the sense of an army of writers, composers and musicians. This gives a very different feeling in terms of the type of art produced. "And the memorial music of the time was far more likely to be successful than it is today, when a play such as" On the Transmigration of Souls "in 2002, the John Adams memorial on the September 11 attacks can win the Pulitzer Prize without attracting much public attention.
Brancy and Dugan's "Silent Night" program in 2014 focused on composers who had witnessed military action, including George Butterworth and Carl Orff. The NOW program this weekend also includes commemorations of Maurice Ravel, who drove a truck into the war and dedicated the movements of his famous Couperin shrine to friends who died during the First World War; and Gustav Holst, who was rejected as unfit for military service and who wrote his "Ode to Death" in memory of deceased friends. The City Choir of Washington features works by Gerald Finzi, who lost three siblings, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who himself witnessed the action.
However, to be truly relevant in the current market, many people think you need new work. Ordering new compositions on specific historical events is never easy. Too often, you end up with something prodigious and flattering, a replica of Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" – like Peter Lieberson's "Remembering JFK (An American Elegant)," commissioned by the NSO and created in 2011, which Not even have the modest half-life I had planned at the time as a ceremonial catch-all. If you are writing music about the First World War, do you have the imperative to create music that evokes the early twentieth century?
Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez, Artistic Director of NOW, is delighted to program Radiohead on his concert: "Harry Patch (in memory of)" was inspired by a radio interview of the last veteran living trenches, died at the First World War. 2009 to 11 years old. (The song was orchestrated by Johnny Greenwood, a classical music composer and Radiohead member.) However, when it came to choosing a composer for the co-commission, there had been some discussion before Turrin's selection. found a suitable musical voice. (The play entitled "And Crimson Roses Once Again Be Be Fair" ("And Purple Pinks Once Again)" is the subject of poems written by writers of the First World War.) "He has the good type of sound, "said Hernandez-Valdez. "He writes in a very lyrical, but resolutely contemporary way."
Likewise, Puts, the composer of "Silent Night," is a tonalist, writing music of cinematic quality. For this opera, however, the historical setting has given a more dramatic than musical impulse; he explicitly chose not to include references to historical music in his score, not even to write new Christmas carols rather than using familiar names. This is an interesting decision, as the opera is so steeped in sense of time and place that it would be virtually impossible to update to another historical period. You can argue for "Rigoletto" in New York during the mafia era, but it's hard to argue that this kind of innocent and innocent cease-fire could have happened in Vietnam or Iraq.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with using only the music of the past; programmers do it all the time. And the challenge is, in the microcosm, the same that applies to the whole field: how do you present the past so as to make it alive?
For Brancy and Dugan, the answer turned out to be a new model of song recital – "reinventing the structure of a program," said Dugan, "where all the songs and elements combine to create a theme, which often resonates outside the music. "The two men will record the new project to be released early next year, after an exhaustive tour – eight cities in eleven days, calculated last week – which demonstrates a proof of concept, bringing them from their beginnings at Alice Tully Hall to a performance at the US Military Academy at West Point. Since their first concert, they have been sponsored by the major World War I memorial organizations in the United States, Great Britain and France. Monday's concert is co-sponsored by the General Delegation of the Flemish Government in the United States.
This type of extramusical participation is the sign that a program has a significant connection to its subject: getting people to confront the First World War and think about the First World War, instead of just offering a few hours of Historized reverie about an event that no longer has a place in the world. popular imagination. Indeed, all the concerts of the First World War should try to connect to the historical realities of the time, rather than crumble into the melodious and nostalgic trope of classical music: crying the closing of a cultural door on always fight to stay open.
Gianandrea Noseda will lead the NSO and the Choral Arts Society in Britten's War Requiem from November 29th to December 1st. . John Brancy and Peter Dugan will present Armistice: The Journey Home at Vocal Arts DC on Monday. The concert of the new Washington orchestra entitled "The end of the war for all wars", which took place Saturday night, will be repeated Sunday in New York. The City Choir of Washington offers "A Farewell to Arms" Sunday. The Washington Chorus presents Britten's Requiem Brahms and Ballad of Heroes at the commemoration of his armistice on November 18. The Tapestry ensemble presents a commemoration of Armistice Day at the National Gallery on Sunday.