We all have a piece of music that takes us to a different place… that helps us make our Great Escape We asked for the stories behind the pieces that kicked off your love of classical music, so it’s only fair we share ours! Scroll down for stories from the KUSC staff.
When I was a college student, I visited Eastern Europe for the first time as part of a concert tour. During the performances, two of our professors would join the college chamber orchestra for this work, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in c minor. And now every time I hear it, it takes me back to all the little churches we performed in across the Czech Republic and Hungary.
When I need a great escape from a hectic day, I turn to Stravinsky. The same composer who gave us explosive power in The Rite of Spring also created one of the loveliest lullabies ever, the Berceuse from his ballet The Firebird. A simple melody plaintively played by the bassoon, the lushness of the strings. Sheer beauty.
One of many (can’t choose one!) Great Escape pieces for me is The Lamb by John Tavener. I first heard it on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning Italian film, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty). The movie is a paean to Rome and captures unforgettably the magic of that wonderful and confounding city. This haunting choral work is by the late English composer, John Tavener, who was called “The Holy Minimalist”. I love the way the music floats in and out of dissonance, made all the more affecting by the ethereal sound of the boys’ voices.
There are so many…but this year, for me, I kept coming back to this performance of The Fairy Garden, from Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose. This music encapsulates so much of what we’ve been through the past 14+ months. It’s wistful, poignant, and most importantly, hopeful. Myung-Whun Chung leads a performance that just revels in the beauty of the music. The tempo is deliciously slow. It’s almost as if everyone is so entranced by the gorgeousness of each note that they are reluctant to leave that note and move on to the next. But when they do, the beauty intensifies. I get goosebumps and misty eyes every time I listen.
John Van Driel
This piece pretty well says it for what this past year has meant. Such peace, such joy, such hope…I’m overcome by the power of the music every time I hear it. Imagine over 17,000 voices, united in one song. Music that unites…something we desperately need right now.
Living near the Northern California coast during the pandemic, my partner and I found ourselves, most days, heading out to the beach or one of our favorite hiking trails leading to a glorious view of the ocean. You never know what mood you’ll find – tempestuous waves, the flat sky-blue morning water stretching for miles out to the horizon, playful afternoon breakers on the shore, gusty winds that can sweep you off your feet. In a meditative mood, we count the waves to 100, watch the pelicans diving for dinner, throw a frisbee for our dog Maizy, walk the length of a long beach till sunset and beyond as the ocean turns blue-black.
Claude Debussy caught the changeable moods of the sea in his tone poem, La Mer, following it through the placid morning, to splashing afternoon waves, to a conversation between wind and water. His music and the timeless, endless expanse of the ocean are our peaceful and soul-stirring Great Escape.
It’s hard for me to choose just one Great Escape piece; there are so many pieces of music that transport me. But today, I’m choosing music by Leonard Bernstein: Make Our Garden Grow from Candide. It’s music that fills me with hope and joy and carries me away. Truly, I feel my heart expand with this soaring melody, and the sentiment this song expresses: that we can choose, in the smallest, simplest ways, to make our world a better place:
And let us try, before we die, to make some sense of life. We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good. We’ll do the best we know. We’ll build our house and chop our wood, and make our garden grow…
Sometimes, after spending all day under headphones listening to great music, you just need to escape from it all. I mean REALLY escape from it all…… For that, there’s nothing quite like John Cage’s 4’33”. Each experience is unique — a reminder to be present and take in the gentle beauty all around you.
Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis is a piece that is rarely performed live – mostly because assembling 40 singers to each sing a different part is a huge logistical hurdle. But this work, written to be sung in the churches of England in the late 16th Century, actually takes me to an art installation I saw (and heard) a few years back: Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture. It’s an audio installation – a ring of 40 speakers facing in around a circle, that allows visitors to hear the entire work, concentrate on each of the 8 choral quintets, or even individual parts at a time. It’s breathtaking when all forty voices sing after a pause (7:12 in this video).