Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Firebird Suite and Robert Frost

My orchestra performed the last concert of our 74th season over the weekend—with a tag-on country-meets-classical concert in a couple of weeks. This season has been all about exploring the universe, so this year we have performed Holst's The Planets and other space-age things. On Saturday, we played the themes to Star Trek, Star Wars and Apollo 13, all heavy on the horn parts. And we spent most of the first half on Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. What a killer. There were moments I could feel my heart pounding in my ears, I was so on edge and afraid of making huge mistakes—I didn't, just a lot of little ones.

In the middle of it all, we performed a new piece composed by Conductor Eric, a short piece that featured the tune Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. The ethereal feel was added by an orchestra member who plays a theramin—yes, people do plays theramins—and the horns added some weight with chords and dynamics.

There were more people in the audience than I think I've seen in recent concerts, and they seemed genuinely pleased with our performance. They applauded enthusiastically and laughed at the funny parts, and they gave us a rousing standing ovation at the end.

It was all very satisfying, and I floated home feeling as though I had been part of something very, very good even if I did fumble some notes and miscount a couple of times and can't play a string of 16th notes for anything. For the most part, each piece went by as I had expected based on rehearsals, but there was a surprise in the mix. As the conductor was introducing his original work and talking about the inspiration for it, he recited a Robert Frost poem with such voice inflection and intent, you'd think he had written the stanzas himself. The audience was so still and quiet as he spoke the words, and you could tell the poem really was significant to him, not just something to recite for color.

I'm not one to parse a poem, because honestly, they confound me more often than not, but there are things that strike me about this one. The poet seems to beg the star for an insight—"Say something to us we can learn by heart and when alone repeat. Say something!" The exclamation point does it, I think, and the longing for something to hang on to, something to repeat when we're alone, which is when we are most in need of comfort and truth. And when he asks that this spoken wisdom be in a language we can understand shows such deep need—talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade, something, anything, for the love of God. A superficial or cryptic reply just won't do from this star we gaze upon. Then, when the mob is at our door, we can at least have this star, little aid that it grants, to hang on to.

That's some powerful stuff, no? To hear this poem recited without warning when you thought you were about to raise your horn for a whole note, but you find you can rest your horn on your lap and be part of the audience for a moment instead, well, that just makes the moment and the words and emotion behind them that much more powerful.

Here is the full poem for you. Read it out loud to yourself, and mind the punctuation.

Take Something Like A Star

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.


dive said...

Sounds like I missed another great concert, Robyn.
Much as I enjoyed the poem I am still in awe of you for playing Firebird. Wow, I so wish I'd been there to hear it.
I don't suppose there's any chance that someone recorded it, is there?

pf said...

Late, though no less sincere, KUDOS to you and the entire horn section on a FINE job! My goodness, you were so busy Saturday evening...what a fun concert. I, too, thought the audience was pleasingly sizable, and really listened and enjoyed our offerings. The poem Eric recited has also been set to music in the "Frostiana" series...a great choral work. That moment in the concert was priceless :)