April showers, bring May flowers …. it certainly has been a rainy, dreary week on all fronts. But we know that spring is in the air as Music from Salem’s season opening concert is this Sunday afternoon and features Music from Salem directors, violist Lila Brown and pianist Judith Gordon.
Music from Salem’s 2017 season opener at Hubbard Hall provides a fascinating program of chamber music for viola and piano and solo piano:
- Aleksandr Glazunov — Elegia for viola and piano, Op. 44
- Paul Hindemith — Sonata for Viola and piano, Op. 11 No. 4, “Fantasy”
- Philip Glass — Mad Rush for solo piano
- Isang Yun — Duo for viola and piano
While the program opens with the melting melodies of Glazunov’s Elegia and the romantic Fantasy Sonata by the violist Paul Hindemith, which was very much influenced by Brahms, it also includes what Music from Salem describes as two “unusual” pieces. Perhaps more so for Isang Yun’s work as Glass’ Mad Rush is—in good Glass fashion—a mesmerizing 15 minute solo work for piano. Isang Yun’s composition is gentle, delicate, and expressive by way of Western techniques, but with “Asian sensibility.” *
What is particularly interesting is the program includes works of three composers who felt compelled to leave their homelands and live in exile due to complex antibiosis of the respective political and cultural backdrop in the time of each composer.
In the wake of the 1917 October Socialist Revolution Russian composer Aleksandr Glazunov (1865-1936), who was then director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, managed to establish a sound working relationship with the Bolshevik regime as the institution received special status in the aftermath of the revolution. Yet in trying to balance the latter with what Glazunov perceived as “destructive” internal politics of the Conservatory, he grew tired of his position. Thus, he took advantage of the opportunity to go to Vienna in 1928 for the Schubert centenary celebration. He never returned to Russia and eventually settled in Paris. Various accounts have Glazunov claiming that his “ill health” prevented him from returning to Russia. which enabled him to remain a respected composer in the Soviet Union, unlike Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. *
The prolific German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) had a complex relationship with the politics of the emergence of Nazis Germany. At one point (in 1934), Germany’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels publicly denounced Hindemith as an “atonal noisemaker.” Yet, because Hindemith was including frequent references to German folk music in his compositions, other Nazis officials thought Hindemith might provide an excellent example of what a modern German composer should be.* Nevertheless, the unpredictable consequences of the falling in and out of favor with the Nazi hierarchy in combination with his wife’s partial Jewish ancestry, Hindemith emigrated to Switzerland in 1938. He eventually came to the United Sates and became an American citizen in 1946. While he later returned to Switzerland for a university position, he did not return to his homeland, despite embracing a belief that he served as an ambassador for German culture.
The Korean-born German composer Isang Yu (1917-1995) is described in his November 7th 1995 New York Times obituary as a “composer of powerful, kaleidoscopically scored chamber and orchestral works.” The headline reads:
Isang Yun, 78, Korean-Born Composer Pursued by His Homeland
In the piece Allan Kozinn writes of the challenges the composer encountered, not all because of his artistic pursuits and output.
Mr. Yun, who was admired among musicians for the inventiveness with which he combined Western and traditional Korean and Chinese musical techniques, became known outside musical circles in June 1967, when South Korean agents abducted him and his wife, Soo Ya Yun, from their West Berlin apartment. Because he had visited North Korea four years earlier, Mr. Yun was tried for treason and sentenced to life in prison. His wife was sentenced to three years as an accomplice.
International pressure on South Korea—including a formal protest by the West German Government and a petition from a large group of Western composers and performers, led by Igor Stravinsky–led to the Yuns’ release two years later. They returned to West Germany and became citizens in 1971. A second kidnapping attempt in 1976, during a visit to Japan, was thwarted by the composer’s bodyguards.
To read Allan Kozinn’s full article, click here.
While each composer has his own story each with its own backdrop, it is interesting to bring them together in one program. Despite the similarities and differences between the stories, the program that violist Lila Brown and pianist Judith Gordon have brought together for Music from Salem’s season opening concert points to the inherent fortitude and lasting impact of the creative impulse in bringing the larger “us” together in a room on a Sunday afternoon.
I hope you get to Hubbard Hall to take in the music first hand. After the unfolding developments on the world’s stage this week, the need to experience some great musicking is most certainly there.
It should be noted that tickets are available at the door only. While the suggested ticket price for this concert is $25, Music from Salem welcomes all under its “pay what you can” policy.