Conductor hopes music will raise spirit

Classical Music

October 16, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

As a New Yorker, the scenes from the World Trade Center so shocked and affected conductor Benjamin Loeb that he felt he had to do something.

So he organized a free concert at the Peabody Institute, where he is finishing up studies for a graduate performance diploma.

"The sole function of music is to elevate the human spirit," he says. "That's what I want to do with this concert."

Of all the musical responses made so far locally to the events of Sept. 11, this one is perhaps the most unusual.

"I have had my sights on conducting Bruckner's Seventh Symphony for a long time," Loeb says. "After the tragedy, the work suddenly seemed to me to be a metaphor for everything that has happened."

Loeb hears in the first movement not only images of a colossal building rising up, but also attempts to destroy it. The second movement, originally intended as a memorial to Wagner, now suggests to Loeb a memorial for all those lost in the terror attacks.

More provocatively, the conductor is reminded of the terrorists themselves when he considers the third movement.

"It opens with a devilish little dance," he says, "but the quieter music [in the middle section of the movement] shows us the human side of the same people. After all, the terrorists were not aliens from another planet."

As for the triumphant strains of the finale, Loeb hears in them the message that "we will overcome and rebuild, our spirit repaired."

Whether you buy this scenario, Bruckner's Seventh certainly has much to offer listeners at any time, let alone after an immense tragedy. But there's more to this concert than Bruckner.

The conductor contacted a young composer friend in England, John Traill, and asked him to write four short pieces - three to be played in between the movements of the Bruckner symphony and another as a postlude.

"He uses themes from the symphony in a post-modernist context," Loeb says. "I know it's a very risky thing for me to do, but I wanted to have a contemporary statement in the concert. It is so important for composers to compose again after what happened."

Next, Loeb rounded up more than 80 Peabody students and a few area musicians to form the orchestra. They all will perform without fee. Peabody is providing the use of the hall; the Metropolitan Opera generously is loaning the ensemble a set of the Wagner tubas (a special kind of tuba) required in Bruckner's Seventh.

The collective title of the new works is In Memory , and it will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Peabody's Friedberg Hall, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place.

Season openers

Last weekend saw two more music organizations, both with long roots in the area, open their 2001-2002 seasons. I caught a portion of each event.

Candlelight Concerts launched its 29th year with a recital by pianist Joseph Kalichstein on Saturday at Howard Community College in Columbia. Although his technique may not be the most virtuosic around, Kalichstein always has had the instincts of a true keyboard artist.

In Brahms' Op. 119, his elastic rhythmic allowed for all sorts of sensitive shadings. And the pianist's incisive look at Schumann's moody Kreisleriana gave particular satisfaction for its overall sweep, telling details of phrasing and colorful dynamics.

Baltimore's leading period instrument ensemble, Pro Musica Rara, focused on baroque repertoire to commence its 27th season Sunday afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

There was more academic earnestness than a true baroque lift (or consistent polish) to the initial performances on the program, but Doug McNames followed those with an admirable account of Bach's D minor Cello Suite.

McNames combined the best of historical concerns with an affecting spontaneity and considerable technical poise. The lean tone of his baroque cello, occasionally enriched by vibrato, kept the most florid lines clear; the tender Sarabande emerged with particular expressive power.

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