Wagner at the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra!

March 22, 2013 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Wagner is 200 years old in May of this year, and his work and music are still amongst the great achievements (and controversies) of the past century and a half. This weekend, the JSO will be devoting an entire evening to his work and it already promises to be one of the better presentations of an already exquisite season. Join us for more after the jump!

Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra
Ride of the Valkyries

Fabio Mechetti, conductor:
"For 200 years, Wagner has fueled our esthetic passions. Come along for the “ride” and experience the rich orchestral tapestry of our modern era’s quintessential visionary."

Wagner has the distinction of being a composer whose name has itself become symbolic shorthand for an entire aesthetic.  To be Wagnerian is a sumptuous thing, gorgeous on stage, laughable perhaps in a cabaret, a bit self serious and over the top.

Wagner's music has inspired generations of musicians and audiences alike. Historically his insistence on formalizing the (prior to that point) rudimentary and provincial Teutonic Mythos into works of grand classical performance is important because it ignited a two century long process of similar endeavors around the planet.

Even if they can identify him by name, most people in America are already acquainted with his music, if only through the familiar strains of the Wedding march, and of course the ubiquity of the melodies of the Ride of the Valkyries whenever a movie needs music to announce the arrival of something emminent that promises to be a handful.  

Perhaps it is part of the wry genius of the American intelligentsia in the 1950s that his widest exposure to the American public is probably the famous Bugs Bunny Opera classic. "What's Opera Doc?" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What's_Opera,_Doc , which borrows heavily from Walkure, as well as Tanhauser.  The cartoon music, light comic, and at times maudlin is perhaps one of the better jokes on the very self serious efforts and music of the collosal talent and ego that was Richard Wagner.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wagner

I am a long time fan of Wagner.  Dating back to 10th grade when I was first introduced to the music of Lohengren.  The prelude to Act One was as peircingly sweet to me then as anything I'd ever heard in my life.  It was one of three things recommended to me by a rather bright older student at University of Florida, along with Godel, Escher, Bach---all of which proved to be sound recommendations.  I was a fan of Wagner from that day forward.  

At the time, Wagner was still under a cloud from the lingering cultural horror of Nazi Germany and the hitlerian identification with the Composer's German Nationalism---despite the fact that Wagner was dead before Hitler was even born----and it was fairly rare to hear his music performed in public.  Indeed when Wagner's Masterwork, the Ring Cycle (four operas which together comprise the mythos) was finally performed in his hometown of Beyreuth it caused riots on the outside of the performance and:


One of the most important opera productions ever is still great music theatre more than 30 years after its premiere. It is not easy to understand that this production could cause such a scandal in 1976. Gotterdammerung almost had to be stopped two times because reactionaries whistled during the performance. In the end it developed into the Bayreuth Festival's greatest success, with the final Gotterdammerung curtain call lasting for 85 minutes.

CBS didnt dare air a version of it until 1980, and it wasnt until 1984 that the Metropolitan Opera felt it was time to test the waters of a full cycle being perfomed.  By 1990, Wagner was restored, however and the reintroduction of Wagners work to the western public seemed to be on its way to full rehabilitation.

The Ring Cycle, as already mentioned, is actually four full operas, performed in sequence.  To sit through all four performances takes apporximately 350 years, as measured in subjective time, and there have been many various shortenings, and condensations of the musical themes for people who work on less geological time scales.  

The arrangement being presented by the symphony is one of these compressed works, and in my opinion its one of the better---even though it doesnt feature any of the operatic vocals.  Wagner wrote his operas as two overlaying arenas of music however, one vocal, one instrumental, in a way that makes it possible to extricate the vocals with literally no musical damage to the symphonic performance.  You lose some of the Wagnerian-ness of the entire affair, but sometimes in the Ring Cycle, this can be just as well.

Lorin Maazel assembled The Ring Without Words, his 70-minute distillation of Wagner's four-opera, 17-hour cycle at the request of Telarc Records in 1987. The piece features no voices, only Wagner's rich orchestral tapestry. It has taken on a life of its own, and the symphony will perform portions of it (I think---still can't decipher the program notes--perhaps it will be the entire work, although that seems ambitious given the other music being played) at the Symphony hall all weekend.

The press got a bit of an instructional video from the Symphony, put together by their intern, Lindsay Marks, detailing the history of the 'Wagner Tuba' which will actually be used by the symphony in this weekend's performances.

Check it out:

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra performs "Ride of the Valkyries," an all-Wagner concert, on March 21-23, 2013, celebrating the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner. Specifically built for The "Ring" Cycle, the Wagner Tuba is being played by four of Jacksonville Symphony's French horn players.

In this video, Aaron Brask demonstrates interesting facts about the Jacksonville Symphony horn section expanding to include the four Wagner tubas. Enjoy the tone of the Wagner tuba and listen in on the Jacksonville Symphony's rehearsal.

Video produced by Jacksonville Symphony PR Intern Lindsay Marks.

The Symphony is far and away Jacksonville's most solid and accomplished public art institution, and any performance you can manage to catch by them is an opportunity missed if you dont.

We will be there this weekend, hopefully we will see a few of you there as well.

afffectionately, Stephen Dare

Thursday, March 21, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, March 22 & 23, 2013 at 8 p.m.

WAGNER Excerpts from Die Meistersinger, Act III
WAGNER, arr. Maazel The “Ring” Without Words
Tickets: $25 – 70
Call 904.354.5547 or log on to www.JaxSymphony.org for more information.