Back from vacation with a pile of work awaiting me. Production on the 2011-2012 LA Philharmonic concert broadcast series is complete–the final broadcasts are this Sunday and next. They are great ones: Sir Simon Rattle and Magdalena Kožená performing music of Ligeti, Wagner, Mahler, and Bruckner; and Gustavo Dudamel leading a cast of about 1,400 in Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand from Caracas. As always, if you miss a broadcast, it can be streamed for one week following the KUSC airdate. This week’s stream features Pepe Romero playing the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez, or as I like to call it, the KUSC Pledge Drive Theme Song.
I’m putting the finishing touches on the LA Opera on Air season finale: Stephen Costello and Ailyn Pérez starring in Puccini’s La bohème with recent Operalia competition winner Janai Brugger. Arts Alive production for this week’s show is imminent. I’ve got Baroque & Beyond and the rest of my Sunday music shift to program. And hundreds of e-mails to catch up on.
Meanwhile, my thoughts are still here.
Using Instagram, I did my best Ansel Adams impression.
Photographers, artists, naturalists, and ordinary folks like me have been inspired by the drama of the Yosemite landscape.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” -John Muir, 1901
“A man came up to a national park gate, and said to the park ranger, ‘I’ve only got an hour to see Yosemite, If you only had an hour to see Yosemite what would you do?’ The ranger said, ‘Well, I’d go right over there and I’d sit on that rock. And I’d cry.'” -Nevada Barr, from Ken Burns’ “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
Surprisingly, though, not much music has been directly inspired by Yosemite. The American composer Siegfried Benkman has written the Yosemite Suite (1934) for solo piano. Influences of Debussy and Chopin abound in the impressionist-inflected score, and the music accurately evokes a sense of place for someone who knows the park landmarks. But with nine movements clocking in at more than a half-hour it all starts to sound the same after a while.
Another American, Daniel Perttu, has a compelling tone poem Light and Shadow in the Yosemite Valley which has been recorded by the Ohio State University Symphony Orchestra. The performance is only okay, however, which makes it hard to fairly asses the work’s strengths and limitations. (KUSC’s resident Wolverine, Jim Svejda, would say just give the score to the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra and that would solve everything, but I’m not one to jump into a blood feud unprepared.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for a Ferde Grofé-style Grand Canyon Suite for Yosemite. I’m merely expressing surprise that there aren’t more musical depictions of this amazing place. Then again, if a photograph can’t fully capture the magic of the area, could a symphony?