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Youth Orchestra program offers emotional connection

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 6, 2013 - There are many reasons to attend Sunday’s Youth Orchestra Concert at Powell Hall: Of course, the budding talent of the musicians is worth the trip. And then there is the fact that it is free.

But the concert promises to be a unique experience full of nibble performance, nuanced selections and noteworthy stories (sorry for the pun).

The three pieces this young orchestra will perform offer a wide range of opportunities for emotional connection and each has its own story of struggle. Both the Bizet and the Brahms offer a traditional take on symphonic orchestrations, and, in both cases, the composer endured criticism for the work.


BIZET L’Arlésienne Suite No. 1 (1872)

INGRAM MARSHALL Kingdom Come (1996-97)

BRAHMS Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98 (1884-85)

The Brahms, however, has become not only well received, but beloved and even revered. One member of the youth orchestra even said that it was not only his grandfather’s favorite, but his own, as well.

The program opens with French opera composer Georges Bizet’s L’Arlésienne Suite No. 1, which he wrote in 1872, when he was short on money. The piece was part of a unrequited-love themed melodrama that was not well received. However, after Bizet refashioned it into a four-movement piece, it earned rave reviews a month later.

Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4  has its own back story of disapproval. At its debut, its complexity, by various accounts, was criticized. Since his death, however, the piece has been lauded, as it was only once in his presence. That was his last public performance in 1897.

The most unusual piece in the selections is contemporary composer Ingram Marshall’s “Kingdom Come,” which St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra Manager Jessica Ingraham used as a teachable moment.

The students were introduced to the piece and told a bit about it. While the title to some may suggest “a religious connotation,” as Ingraham said, Marshall wrote the piece about the death of his brother-in-law in the Bosnian conflict.

After listening to the piece, which includes recordings of street noise, conversations and such that Marshall recorded randomly in Bosnia, the students had the opportunity to Skype with Marshall and write reflections about the work.

Here is some of what the students said:

While listening to Kingdom Come, these words came to mind: intense, depressing, mourning, deep, scary, tragedy, and eerie. I didn't know what would come next. Knowing the title of the piece, I was obviously inclined to think about the end of time, or the end of human existence on earth. My emotions and thoughts were consistent with the idea that it was the end of time for a person or humans in general. I think it's amazing that his music can provoke exactly those emotions. – Hava (8th grade)

While listening to this piece, I found myself immediately drawn away from my surroundings and into the world created by this composition. The raw emotions that the piece provokes made the listening experience affect me in many ways. The opening lines were the most prominent, as they took hold of my listening the moment they began. The entirety of the composition has a mysterious and almost mystical quality about it that I think paints a picture of emotional outrage and pain in a way that feels utterly personal while at the same time reflecting the topics that are bigger than us as individuals such as war and death. – Aisling (high school student)

The whole piece kind of wanders through the darkest areas of your mind. Ingram Marshall completely captured the very essence of war in a way no composer has ever done before. He makes it personal to every listener. – Sarah (high school student)

The structure of Kingdom Come sort of surprised me. The beginning of the work is so beautifully sad, that I assumed the piece would depict a kind of post war desolation. So, the passages of violence came as a shock, even though the tapes give those passages the feeling of remembered violence. I found the juxtaposition of religion, sadness, and violence very haunting. – Jonathan (Washington University)

The best word I can think of to describe this piece is "haunting." The eldritch singing, the stratospheric violin lines, the slowly escalating chanting near the end ... it all makes the listener feel intensely mournful and lost. Yes, some sections lapse into an emotional tranquility, but even these more serene passages sound enigmatic and otherworldly. Amazing piece, but utterly haunting. – Rachelle (high school student)

By listening, I could feel the pain and sorrow of the Bosnian people during the war. It definitely sounds haunted and mysterious, especially when the voices are heard in the background . This will be a fun and challenging piece to play! – Maggie (high school student)

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