My music education was largely intellectual. I learned about scales, keys, meter, time signatures, tonics, and modes. It was almost like learning mathematics. I was taught that listening, particularly to classical music, was an exercise in intellect.
But that’s not how it feels. I’ve always loved music, I like singing, although I can’t keep on pitch. Music has always moved me emotionally. But classical music was usually more intellectual, until the Sitka Summer Music Festival.
Through the years I have been moved, emotionally, by the music, particularly of the Romantic period, Brahms, Dvorak and especially that last of the great romantics, Rachmaninoff, plopped into the 20th century. Sitting in the front row I watched the emotion shared between players.
This year’s festival heightened the emotions and moved them well beyond the Romantic. I watched Zuill play Shostakovich and told him he looked angry. “I WAS angry, all the emotions of Stalin, war, terror in that music, how could I not be angry?”
Listening to Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” written while he was in a German POW camp, put me through the emotional wringer. The first time I heard it at the festival I was overwhelmed. One feature of the festival is that you can often hear the same piece of music, performed in different venues throughout the festival. The second time I heard the quartet I knew what to expect and I was able to temper the intense emotion with intellectual curiosity that I could not have handled on first hearing. Intellect is important but cannot be divorced from emotions.
So it went — with a variety of music. Rachmaninoff and Brams took me to old familiar places, Gabriela Lena Frank, an American composer with Peruvian, Chinese, Jewish and Lithuanian roots, Fredrick Tillis, an Afro American composer exploring new ways of looking at spirituals and American composer Caroline Shaw took me to new places.
Then there was the extreme virtuosity required to play Balakirev’s Islamey, the joy and sensuality of Astor Piazzolla’s tangos, and the pure whimsey of Franz Waxman.
The music was not hemmed in by a concert hall, but rang out of a pizza joint, from a mountain top, on a lawn and in a fog shrouded bay. The venues added to the emotional intensity.
The festival ended too soon, they all do, but this year I felt particularly lost when it was a Friday in June and there was no concert. I struggled for a week to write this blog post but on that last day in June, when I wanted to be in the concert hall, after a day of rain, the clouds opened up, we had a dramatic evening followed by a legendary sunset (see blog post here.) and I was overcome with emotion. I knew then what I would write.
Here are some pictures from throughout the festival, the concert hall, the theater, the lawn, the pizza joint, the discussions of the music in Stevenson Hall on the Fine Arts Campus, singing from a mountain top and floating in the mist. With all the emotions musicians can give.