Join Us for Our Wide-Ranging Jazz Series
We invite you to join us next season for our 2022/23 Jazz Series — to live the moment and be reminded once again just how special it is to experience incredible live performances together.
We look forward to sharing performances by jazz masters at the forefront of the genre, including Wynton Marsalis, Aaron Diehl, Maria Schneider, and Cecile McLorin Salvant.
Packages start at just $190 for all five performances and as a subscriber, your concert-going experience will be made easy with perks like:
- Access to the best seats at the best prices, before individual tickets go on sale to the general public
- Risk-free ticket returns, refunds, and exchanges
- Installment billing and payroll deduction options
- Free parking when you buy at least six events
- Great discounts on all UMS events all year long!
Listen to our Jazz Series Playlist on Apple Music or Spotify:
Friday, October 14 // 8 pm
Wynton Marsalis’s All Rise combines a symphony orchestra, a jazz orchestra, and a chorus in a 12-movement arc built on the structure of the Blues, moving from uplifting and energetic to dark and distressing, and finally to Marsalis’s vision of the “togetherness and ascendance” of humanity.
Residency Sponsors: Elaine and Peter Schwetizer
Supporting Sponsor: Anthony Reffells and Jay and Christine Zelenock and the Zelenock Family
Sunday, October 16 // 4 pm
Since 1988, Wynton Marsalis has led the 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which simultaneously honors the rich heritage of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong while presenting a stunning variety of new works. Following Friday’s performance of All Rise, the group returns in its big band format for an afternoon of jazz.
Residency Sponsors: Elaine and Peter Schwetizer
Supporting Sponsor: Anthony Reffells and Jay and Christine Zelenock and the Zelenock Family
Friday, January 27 // 8 pm
This performance showcases Diehl’s fluency in both classical repertoire and dynamic jazz improvisation. He and his trio explore the connections between J.S. Bach’s counterpoint and the vocabulary of bebop, interspersing solo sections from The Well-Tempered Clavier with music by jazz composers such as Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and Diehl himself.
Permanently Endowed Support: Helmut F. and Candis J. Stern Endowment Fund
Saturday, March 11 // 8 pm
“Maria Schneider is a national treasure,” proclaims National Public Radio. The 2019 NEA Jazz Master, 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist (for her 2020 album Data Lords), and seven-time Grammy winner brings her 18-member collective to Hill Auditorium for their long-awaited UMS debut.
Friday, April 14 // 8 pm
A UMS favorite since her 2017 debut, Cécile McLorin Salvant continues to defy expectations with her genre-obliterating virtuosity. The singer, composer, and visual artist has a passion for storytelling and finding the connections between blues, folk traditions from around the world, theater, jazz, and Baroque music.
Supporting Sponsors: Peter Toogood and Hanna Song
Ann Arbor History: Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock in Hill Auditorium
We are devastated that Chick Corea, one of the most prolific jazz greats of our time, passed away on Tuesday, February 9, 2021. UMS first presented Chick in 1994 at the Power Center, and most recently in 2019 as part of his ‘Trilogy’ tour with Christian McBride and Brian Blade. In addition to his seven UMS appearances spanning nearly three decades, Chick’s remarkable discography of nearly 90 albums includes a special connection to Ann Arbor and Hill Auditorium.
On Thursday, April 16, 2015, UMS presented An Evening with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock at Hill Auditorium. Two “nested” grand pianos with their lids removed adorned the stage at Hill Auditorium as a sold-out audience eagerly anticipated the forthcoming music. Some audience members in attendance may have remembered that this was not the first time that Chick and Herbie appeared alone together on the Hill stage; one would have to dive back to a winter night in February 1978 that ultimately resulted in side four of the now-classic album, An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert.
Please enjoy revisiting this musical gem of Ann Arbor history:
In 1978, jazz legends Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock were brought to Ann Arbor by Eclipse Jazz, a University of Michigan student group that existed from 1975 to 1987. Eclipse brought world-class jazz musicians to Ann Arbor for concerts, lectures, and workshops, and presented such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Sun Ra, Oscar Peterson, Mary Lou Williams, Sonny Stitt and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
We asked Lee Berry, former director of Eclipse Jazz and current Chief Development Officer at the Michigan Theater, to tell us all about the epic concert.
Hancock and Corea’s first show together at Hill Auditorium was scheduled for January 26, 1978, a date that might ring some bells for those who were university students during this time, because it was also known as the Great Blizzard of 1978. The University shut down due to snow that day.
Says Berry, “I think we learned that school was being cancelled, and then they called and said that [Herbie and Chick] couldn’t get out of New York.” The only reschedule date that worked for the musicians, Eclipse, and Hill Auditorium was February 26, 1978. The sold-out performance was to occur that day during the day time. Still, most of the 4177 ticket holders showed up, and, as Berry puts it, “it was a beautiful, beautiful show.”
The encore of that Hill Auditorium performance is side four of An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert, an album that Berry describes as a departure from the electric keyboard and fusion style of jazz that Corea and Hancock were known for before that album, and as a return to the acoustic piano and older, more collaborative style of playing that is the kind of jazz that has survived and is still thriving today. The recording, featuring two jazz greats changing the course of jazz’s future, was a moment in history. As Berry remembers, “Not too long after is when Wynton [Marsalis] came out, maybe ’81, and it was like old-school was back. This was kind of like a link between those two periods.”
For further reading:
Joyce DiDonato Sings “Silent Night”
“My hope is that in silence, we can find peace. And in that peace, we might be able to ignite some light and hope. Wishing you a deep sense of peace as we go into the New Year.” —JoyceDiDonato
Enjoy this very special arrangement of “Silent Night” performed by Joyce DiDonato and Àlex Garrobé. Joyce’s #SingForToday series is co-produced by UMS and Princeton University Concerts.
Listening Parties with Spektral Quartet & Tarek Yamani
On two consecutive evenings, the Spektral Quartet and Tarek Yamani opened up their creative process as they began their UMS Digital Artist Residency together. They shared music with each other — and our audiences — that has shaped their artistic backgrounds and formed their artistic identities.
Enjoy both listening party experiences on demand below, as well as our accompanying playlist on Apple Music & Spotify:
The Many Faces of the String Quartet
Thomas Adès, Arcadiana, Op 12 (1994)
III. Auf dem Wasser zu singen
Performers: Danish String Quartet
Album: ADÈS / NØRGÅRD / ABRAHAMSEN
Released on ECM Records, 2016
Available on: Spotify | Apple Music
Christopher Trapani, Isolario: Book of Known Islands
Book II: Mamoiada (2019)
Performers: Spektral Quartet w/ Max Bruckert, electronics
Live Concert Performance
Available on: Vimeo
On Both Sides of the Quarter-Tone
Al Qorbi Nasnas
Performer: Abu Bakr Salem
Available on: YouTube
Rashiq Al Qad
Performer: Ensemble Morkos
Album: Cedre – Arabo-Andalusian Muwashah
Available on: YouTube
Huseini Saz Eseri
Performer: Goksel Baktagir (qanun) with Yurdal Tokcan (oud), Ozer Arkun (violin), Baki Kemanci (keman)
Album: Sounds from the Ocean
Released: Hayalgibi Müzik Yapım, 2000
Available on: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube
#UMSplaylists: Chamber Arts (yMusic Takeover)
Listen Now on
In advance of their November 1 performance, yMusic has “taken over” UMS’s Chamber Arts playlist with works of their own discography, including collaborations with Paul Simon, Ben Folds, and Regina Spektor.
Hear the virtuosity and variety of sounds, ensembles, and works by composers featured in UMS’s Chamber Arts Series. This playlist updates with new tracks regularly, so be sure to follow/subscribe on your preferred streaming service!
Daniel Hope on ‘The Four Seasons’ and Max Richter’s ‘Vivaldi Recomposed’
Violinist Daniel Hope shares thoughts on Vivaldi’s masterpiece and its modern new take before his upcoming performance with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra on November 16.
I first experienced Vivaldi as a toddler at Yehudi Menuhin’s festival in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 1975…
One day I heard what I thought was birdsong coming from the stage. It was the opening solo of “La Primavera” from The Four Seasons. It had such an electrifying effect that I still call it my “Vivaldi Spring.” How was it possible to conjure up so vivid, so natural a sound, with just a violin?
In 1723 Vivaldi set about writing a series of works he boldly titled “Il Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’invenzione” (The trial of harmony and invention), Opus 8. It consists of 12 concerti, seven of which — “Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn” and “Winter” (which make up The Four Seasons), “Pleasure,” “The Hunt” and “Storm at Sea” — paint astonishingly vivid, vibrant scenes. In “Storm at Sea,” Vivaldi reached a new level of virtuosity, pushing technical mastery to the limit as the violinist’s fingers leap and shriek across the fingerboard, recalling troubled waters.
In the score, each of the four seasons are prefaced by four sonnets, possibly Vivaldi’s own, that establish each concerto as a musical image of that season. At the top of every movement, Vivaldi gives us a written description of what we are about to hear. These range from “the blazing sun’s relentless heat, men and flocks are sweltering” (Summer) to peasant celebrations (Autumn) in which “the cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.” Images of warmth and wine are wonderfully intertwined. When the faithful hound “barks” in the slow movement of “Spring,” we experience it just as clearly as the patter of raindrops on the roof in the largo of “Winter.” No composer of the time got music to sing, speak and depict quite like this.
Today The Four Seasons, with more than 1,000 available recordings, are being reimagined…
Astor Piazzolla, Uri Caine, Philip Glass and others have all created their own versions. In Spring 2012, I received an enigmatic call from the British composer Max Richter, who said he wanted to “recompose” The Four Seasons for me. His problem, he explained, was not with the music, but how we have treated it. We are subjected to it in supermarkets, elevators or when a caller puts you on hold. Like many of us, he was deeply fond of the “Seasons” but felt a degree of irritation at the music’s ubiquity. He told me that because Vivaldi’s music is made up of regular patterns, it has affinities with the seriality of contemporary postminimalism, one style in which he composes. Therefore, he said, the moment seemed ideal to reimagine a new way of hearing it.
I had always shied away from recording Vivaldi’s original. There are simply too many other versions already out there. But Mr. Richter’s reworking meant listening again to what is constantly new in a piece we think we are hearing when, really, we just blank it out. In fact, working with Vivaldi Recomposed since 2012 inspired me to finally record The Four Seasons last year! In this program with UMS on November 16, pairing Vivaldi’s original with Max Richter’s brilliant new take, I feel both works inform and reflect on each other to create fresh and exciting connections.
— Daniel Hope
Remembering Jessye Norman | Playlist
The entire UMS family is deeply saddened to learn that Jessye Norman, legendary American soprano, five time Grammy Award winner, National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and University of Michigan alumna, who passed away on September 30, 2019 in New York at age 74.
We honor Norman’s 39-year performance history in Ann Arbor with a playlist of 10 signature recordings of works she performed with UMS, between her first appearance in 1973 with the Philadelphia Orchestra and her final Hill Auditorium recital in 2012.
Listen now on your preferred streaming service:
An Interview with Paul Neubauer, viola
A 33-year history with UMS…
Violist Paul Neubauer is set to make his seventh UMS appearance since 1986 with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on October 11. 21st Century Artist Intern Karalyn Schubring recently interviewed the distinguished musician about his history with the ensemble and his memories of performing in Ann Arbor.
How did you you first came to play with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center?
“While I was a member of the New York Philharmonic, I was invited to take part in a CMS tour — which included a stop in Ann Arbor! After I left the Philharmonic, I joined CMS as a regular member. I have had countless memorable experiences in my time as part of this esteemed ensemble. Over the years, it has been amazing to study and perform interesting repertoire together around the world, during ‘Live from Lincoln Center’ broadcasts, and of course in our home at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.”
CMS operates under a “collective” model, where different artists from their large, star-studded roster come together to play depending on the needs of each concert. What is it like to play with different collaborators all the time?
“I have been playing chamber music with hundreds of different collaborators since I started playing the viola. Everyone you work with adds to your knowledge of music as well as your own personal musical history and growth.”
The first time you came to Ann Arbor with CMS was in 1986, and this will be your sixth time back since then. Do you have favorite artists that you’ve worked with in Ann Arbor?
“Some of the programs I’ve been part of in Ann Arbor include two of my favorite singers, Anne Sofie von Otter and Heidi Grant Murphy. I also see some of my wonderful long time collaborators like violinist Ani Kavafian and cellist Fred Sherry.”
This season’s program, which features 13 CMS artists, celebrates composers who have contributed to our idea of the “American” sound in the 20th century, including Copland, Bernstein, Dvořák, and his student, Harry Burleigh. Is there anything about this program you’re excited to share with us?
“This is all great music and it looks like a wonderful combination of pieces. The Dvořák Viola Quintet is one of my favorite chamber works. This is sometimes called Dvořák’s ‘American’ Quintet since he wrote it during his stay in Spillville, Iowa, and you might hear an influence of Bohemian and American folk music in the work.”
What’s an important life lesson you’ve learned from playing chamber music?
“You always are working to be the best diplomat as possible when you are working with other players.”
Do you have a favorite thing to do in Ann Arbor, or whenever you’re on tour?
“Ann Arbor is of course a vibrant and exciting college town, but when you are on tour, you rarely have time to get the full flavor of a city. The usual routine is to arrive the morning of the concert, head to the hotel and try to sleep or relax, then head to the hall for a rehearsal and concert. But more often than not, there’s a party or dinner where we might celebrate the evenings performance. Maybe this visit, I’ll have more time to enjoy Ann Arbor!”
Interview conducted by University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance composition major Karalyn Schubring, who spent Summer 2019 in New York City working with Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center as part of her 21st Century Artist Internship.
Carl Grapentine’s Sports & Music Playlist (Spotify and Apple Music)
More than 100,000 fans are about to be welcomed home to “The Big House” by the beloved, booming voice of Carl Grapentine, who has been the Michigan Marching Band announcer since 1970 and the official game announcer for Michigan Football since 2006.
Grapentine is also an alumnus of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and was a host of Chicago’s WFMT-FM classical radio for 33 years. To celebrate the start of a new season at Michigan Stadium, he’s combined his expertise to curate a playlist of sports-inspired classical works and film scores. Choose your preferred streaming service and learn more about each track below:
About the Music
Arthur Honegger’s musical depiction of a rugby match, composed in 1928 and filled with energy and power.
Mozart “Kegelstatt” Trio,
According to the autograph score, Mozart wrote this delightful trio while playing a game of skittles (a pub game related to bowling) at a local Kegelstatt—a skittles parlor.
John Williams “The Quidditch Match” from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
In the first match of the season, Harry caught the golden snitch giving Gryffindor a thrilling victory. Final score: Gryffindor 170—Slytherin 60.
Arnaud Bugler’s Dream
The French composer Leo Arnaud wrote this for a 1958 recording. But it’s forever associated with the Olympic games ever since ABC began using it for its 1968 Olympics coverage.
R. Strauss Olympic Hymn
Richard Strauss had a complicated relationship with the Third Reich. He composed this for the opening of the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin — the games we remember for Jesse Owens’s heroics.
Suk Towards a New Life
Did you know that the Olympic games once included competition in music composition? This was the silver medal winner (no gold was awarded) at the 1932 games in Los Angeles.
American composer Michael Torke wrote this in 1994 on a commission from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics. Premiered by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, it was also played at the opening of the 1996 games in Atlanta.
Puccini “Nessun dorma” from the opera Turandot
When the 1990 World Cup final was played in Rome, three soccer fans — Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras — joined forces to give an outdoor concert. Thus, the worldwide phenomenon of The Three Tenors was born. And the BBC used this aria with its climactic “Vincero” (“I will win”) for its World Cup coverage.
Sousa The National Game
John Philip Sousa was an avid baseball fan. He wrote this march for the 50th anniversary of the National League in 1926.
Horner Soundtrack to Field of Dreams
James Horner’s evocative score for the 1989 film starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, and James Earl Jones.
Randy Newman “Wrigley Field” from The Natural
Randy Newman’s sometimes “Copland-esque” score for the 1984 film starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close.
This ballet by Claude Debussy begins with three characters searching for a lost tennis ball. It was written for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. The premiere took place in Paris in May of 1913, two weeks before the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
Elbel The Victors
Composed in 1898 by Michigan student Louis Elbel, in celebration of Michigan’s 12-11 victory over the University of Chicago giving Michigan the Western Conference championship. Hence, “Champions of the West.” The first public performance was given by John Philip Sousa’s band in Ann Arbor in 1899.
11 Virtuoso Pianists to Know in 2019
UMS’s 2019/20 season welcomes back legendary classical and jazz pianists to Ann Arbor, and introduces incredible new talent to our stages. Enjoy listening to our guest artists on our ‘Piano Virtuosos’ playlist, and learn more their upcoming appearances below.
1. Emanuel Ax
In his seventh UMS appearance since 1978, the esteemed pianist joins violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cello superstar Yo-Yo Ma for an evening of Beethoven Trios.
2. Chick Corea
The jazz piano legend brings together bass powerhouse Christian McBride and drum master Brian Blade for a special concert that revisits their acclaimed Trilogy album.
3. Aaron Diehl
The virtuosic jazz pianist joines forces with vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, both returning to Ann Arbor for two intimate sets in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. The program features the Great American Songbook, among other compositions growing from that tradition and history.
4. Hélène Grimaud
Renowned French pianist Hélène Grimaud makes her UMS solo recital debut, performing music from her latest album, Memory, featuring works by Debussy, Chopin, Satie, Schumann, Sylvestrov, and Rachmaninoff.
5. Benjamin Grosvenor
“Benjamin Grosvenor may well be the most remarkable young pianist of our time,” according to Gramophone Magazine. The electrifying 27 year-old British virtuoso makes his UMS debut this Spring.
6. Isata Kanneh-Mason
The Royal Academy of Music postgraduate and multiple prizewinning pianist has had a stellar year in 2019, with a new album from Decca, and an international touring schedule alongside her brother, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason.
7. Martin Katz
“The gold standard of accompanists” (The New York Times) returns to UMS for a special two-night program, bringing Hugo Wolf’s 53 songs set to the poetry of Eduard Mörike to life alongside four singers in this season’s What’s in a Song.
8. Denis Matsuev
One of most prominent pianists of his generation, Denis Matsuev returns for his third recital and sixth UMS performance in a program of virtuosic works by Liszt and Tchaikovsky.
9. Anne-Marie McDermott
Adding to a 25+ year career as an concert pianist and recording artist, McDermott has championed artistic leadership roles with the Bravo! Vail and Ocean Reef Music Festivals. She joins the New York Philharmonic String Quartet in recital this season.
10. Cédric Tiberghien
An exceptional chamber music collaborator, Tiberghien joins soprano Julia Bullock in the premiere of Zauberland (Magic Land) — a music/theater story of migration from war-torn Syria staged by Katie Mitchell, featuring Schumann’s Dichterliebe performed alongside 16 new songs by Bernard Foccroulle.
11. Tarek Yamani
The Beirut-born pianist and composer taught himself jazz at the age of 19, and brings his Trio to Ann Arbor — fusing the genres of African-American jazz and classical Arabic music.
#UMSplaylists: Classical New Releases
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing (July 20, 1969), launch into the UMS Rewind archives with 10 moon-inspired works performed over the course of our 140+ year history.
Listen to our ‘Moon Tunes’ playlist on your preferred music service, and discover their respective programs below:
Pianist Vladimir de Pachmann performs Beethoven’s famed Moonlight Sonata, the work’s first of many times appearing on a UMS presentation. The sonata has been on numerous recital programs by legendary pianists, including Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Alfred Brendel, and Ursula Oppens.
View all programs
Finnish composer and conductor Ossi Elokas leads the Polytech Chorus of Finland in his own work, titled “Kuutamolla” (Moonlight).
Italian lyric soprano Renata Tebaldi sings “O luna che fa’lume” (Oh moon that makes light) by Vincenzo Davico in her Hill Auditorium recital.
Tebaldi also performed Bellini’s “Vaga luna che inargenti” arietta in her 1959 recital, which was featured again on programs by Luciano Pavarotti in 1976 and by Cecilia Bartoli in 1995.
View all programs
The Nekrasov Russian Folk Orchestra performs Variations on the theme of the Russian Folk Song “Shining Moon” — a work that was presented again 10 years later in 1989 with the Osipov Balalaika Orchestra of Moscow.
View all programs
American baritone Thomas Hampson sings “Look Down Fair Moon” by Charles Naginski.
View full program
Percussionist Evelyn Glennie and The King’s Singers present Return of the Moon by composer Peter Klatzow.
Jazz legend Bill Frisell and his New Quartet perform an arrangement of Henry Mancini’s beloved “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Schoenberg’s famously dark melodrama Pierrot lunaire is performed for the first time in UMS’s history, with soprano Lucy Shelton. The work has only been presented once again, 10 years later in 2009.
Broadway legend Audra McDonald performs “Stars and the Moon” by Jason Robert Brown, in her first of seven UMS appearances.
Introducing UMS Playlists on Apple Music and Spotify
Open your ears to new listening experiences:
Presenting our global artists featured in the 2019/20 ‘Traditions & Crosscurrents’ series.
Fall in love with solo works performed by classical and jazz pianists who appear in UMS’s 2019/20 season.
Discover the virtuosity and variety of sounds, ensembles, and works by composers featured in UMS’s Chamber Arts series.
- A celebration of young composers by yMusic, featuring works by Caroline Shaw, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, and other luminaries
- Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who makes his Ann Arbor debut this Fall
- Max Richter’s global chart-topping “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
UMS presents modern jazz masters this season, whose collaborations and unique sound push the ever-evolving genre into new sonic territory.
- Brooklyn based jazz/funk collective Snarky Puppy opens the season with music from their new album, Immigrance
- Tarek Yamani brings his hypnotic fusion of American jazz and Arabic tarab in his UMS debut
- Multiple Grammy Award winning Chick Corea Trilogy joined by an all-star lineup
- UMS favorites Cécile McLorin Salvant and Aaron Diehl join forces in two sets, improvising on the Great American Songbook
Sign up for UMS’s weekly newsletter to get notified about new playlist updates and releases. In addition to “guest list” takeovers, UMS will have dynamic playlists that update regularly with new tracks, including:
A preview of upcoming performances at UMS, updated the beginning of each month during the concert season.
Be adventurous. Open your mind and ears to bold new works — in a safe space to listen.
Celebrating 140+ years of UMS’s history presenting legendary artists on the University of Michigan’s great stages.
The Way We Remember War
“This is not the 1812 Overture, with its make-believe bravado. This is not about imagined valor — it’s about real people.”
Thoughts on Britten’s War Requiem, written by Doyle Armbrust:
I’ve always been enamored with the vivid detail with which people of my parents’ generation can recall the day JFK or MLK was assassinated: their exact location, the temperament of the weather, and the faces of those around them. My variation on that theme involves the Challenger disaster, Operation Desert Storm, and September 11. The indelible memories of the second event on this list include the front page of the Chicago Tribune (which I saved until college), watching battleships blast 16-inch shells into the night on live television, and collecting Desert Storm baseball cards. My first sentient — if safely removed — exposure to war involved deciding whether or not to trade a SCUD missile for a Dick Cheney.
There is often a disconnect between the grandeur of war and the personal fallout from it…say, the distance between the charming stories my great uncle would tell me about being a barber on a Navy ship in the Pacific in the 1940s, and the inaccessible look in his eyes while he spun the yarn. The bridging of these two realities is what makes Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem an indisputable masterpiece.
What are the first three classical music scores about war that pop into your head? For me — setting aside the Requiem for a moment — it’s Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (WWII), Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time (WWII), and George Crumb’s Black Angels (Vietnam). Well, and Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory, which is truly one of the most cringe-worthy pieces not only by Ludwig van, but by any composer, ever (seek it out and prepare for a belly laugh). In any case, the element that each of these three war-themed pieces share with the Britten is the reckoning with the horrors of war on a personal and even spiritual level. This is not the 1812 Overture, with its make-believe bravado. This is not about imagined valor — it’s about real people.
The War Requiem consumed Britten during the years of its writing, and looking back, it’s hard to imagine that a more perfect structure could have been chosen for such a monumental piece or the solemn occasion of its premiere. In 1962, the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, which was erected next to its bomb-ravaged predecessor, was a study in the stirring juxtaposition of “then and now.” Britten, one of the most erudite and deep-thinking composers of any era, parallels this reality by combining the historic Requiem mass (full orchestra and chorus) with contemporary poetry from the point of view of real soldiers by Wilfred Owen (chamber orchestra with tenor and baritone soloists). But he doesn’t stop there. With the inclusion of a children’s choir and organ, the implausible optimism that there is in fact hope for peace in the future merges its way into this landmark work.
I remember talking my way into the recently opened — and sold out for weeks — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum while on a school trip to Washington, DC. What had previously existed as an abstract horror in my mind finally transformed into an experience of millions of individuals. The vast became granular. After Britten’s death, an envelope containing photographs of four soldiers — all casualties of WWII — was found amongst his things. Though merely acquaintances, these tragedies made the war immediate for the composer, rather than a conceptual event. To my ears, and despite its well-formulated structure, there is a kind of emotional whiplash between the three ensembles Britten engages on stage. Keep an ear out for the third section in the opening “Requiem aeternam,” and the way the transcendence of the mass and naivety of the children’s chorus tumbles into the fraught “What Passing Bells for These Who Die as Cattle.” It is abundantly clear that this composer is not going to allow us, the listeners, to escape into warm melancholy or ex-post-facto reveling. We are going to hear from the front lines of this worldwide atrocity.
The War Requiem can project the feeling of being constantly sucker-punched on an emotional level. The most jolting of these for me is the move from the “Requiem Aeternam: Kyrie eleison,” into the “Dies Irae” portion of the piece. In the former, lugubrious, sotto voce waves in the chorus take us to a heavenly realm before brass interruptions usher in the perturbed and breathless “Dies Irae.” Here’s an excerpt of this section by the Berlin Philharmonic:
This is a movement that, for my money, “out-Carmina-Burana-s” Carmina Burana. The contradiction of both mood and writing is nothing short of shocking, and this caroming between the earth and the heavens is the rule in this work, not the exception.
How does one end a piece that is looking to the past in equal measure to the future — one in which neither heaven nor earth provide satisfactory answers? By positing a question, of sorts.
Soon after the Gulf War erupted, I decided to find a pen pal in the US Army. I began writing to a private I did not know previously, and what I recall most clearly is that I was expecting hand-written accounts that mirrored war movie action sequences. What I received were letters honestly recounting the tedium of war. The passing of hours under a blistering sun, miles from the front lines. War was not what I thought it was.
While Britten’s text on paper reads like a closer: “Let them rest in peace, Amen,” the fact that the final words from earth are exchanged between two fallen soldiers (tenor and baritone) revolving around the “pity of war” leave one thinking that there is more to this story than the memories of World War II. Will we always be doomed to repeat this horror, or is there another way?
Perhaps the way in which we remember — or forget — such a cataclysmic event provides the answer…
Doyle Armbrust is a Chicago-based violist and member of the Spektral Quartet. He is a contributing writer for WQXR’s Q2 Music, Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago Magazine, Chicago Tribune, and formerly, Time Out Chicago.
Wynton Marsalis’s Musical Gifts
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra brought incredible musical gifts to Ann Arbor to kick off the Holiday season.
From an inspiring School Day Performance with 2,400 young people to a full house at Hill Auditorium, the legendary ensemble spread joy and good cheer with the debut of their “Big Band Holidays” national tour. Here are seven of our favorite moments:
1. Welcome Dinner
U-M Director of Athletics Warde Manuel and UMS President Matthew VanBesien welcomed Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members to a private dinner to kick off their week of rehearsals.
Guests were treated to a performance with jazz students from Ann Arbor’s Community High School, who also spent time with Wynton and the band members throughout dinner.
2. A surprise guest!
U-M Jazz Studies student Ben Green got quite the surprise — a chance to play lead trumpet next to Wynton Marsalis in three rehearsals! On lightning fast notice, Ben graciously stepped in for a weather-stranded member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
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3. School Day Performance
More than 2,400 K-12 students from 41 area schools, including 318 students from Detroit, brought anticipation and joy to the School Day Performance at Hill Auditorium.
4. Workshops in local schools
Many students participated in free pre-show workshops at their schools, where professional teaching artists introduced jazz and what the students could expect to experience at Hill.
5. Q & A with Students
Detroit High School students had the amazing opportunity to visit with JLCO’s bass player Carlos Henriquez, who shared his own experience of growing up in the South Bronx and how an afternoon school program and his commitment to music helped him become a professional musician.
6. Backstage with Wynton
Tappan Middle School students had a quick backstage “meet & greet” with the jazz great, who enthusiastically supports the ways UMS engages young people at a critical point in their lives.
7. Big Band Holidays!
Vocalists Vuyo Sotashe and Veronica Swift added to the holiday magic and big band sound of Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO.
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A huge thank you to Wynton and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for a week of unforgettable experiences for audiences of all ages! Be sure to follow @WyntonMarsalis and @JazzDotOrg on Instagram as they tour into the new year.