In this time of war, D.C. concert series reflects on peace

One piece is based on Walt Whitman's poetry


Theater Music Dance

April 14, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

During the course of the next four evenings, the Catholic University of America will be the site of a remarkable examination into one of humankind's most unfortunate activities.

"Waging Peace: Music in the Time of War," conceived by Murry Sidlin, dean of the university's school of music and former assistant conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will reflect on conflicts from the Civil War to the Korean War and beyond.

The series begins tonight with a program called "Souvenirs," offering popular music that came to be associated with this nation's wars, including "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" from the Civil War era; "Over There" from World War I; "The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy" from World War II; and songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" that captured opposition sentiment during the Vietnam War. Members of CUA's Musical Theatre Company will be featured in the concert.

Tomorrow night, "Lessons" illustrates ways artists have dealt with the horror of war. The program, performed by the CUA Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kate Tamarkin, offers two of the most profound musical responses to World War II - Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor From Warsaw and Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.

Also in the concert will be the Three Meditations for cello and orchestra from Leonard Bernstein's Mass, which was imbued with anti-Vietnam War sentiments (Robert Newkirk will be the soloist), and Symphony No. 3 by Henryk Gorecki, one of the most performed and recorded works of the past 25 years.

Gorecki's "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," as it is subtitled, contains extraordinarily haunting soprano solos that seem to speak for anyone who has ever lost loved ones in war. One of the texts was found scrawled in the cell of a woman imprisoned in a Gestapo building in Poland.

Saturday's program, devoted to chamber music, includes the world premiere of Songs of the Forgotten War, commissioned by the school of music. Nineteen composers from around the region have each contributed a minute-long piece, representing the 19 soldier statues of the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington.

Filling out the evening will be War Scenes, a song cycle by Ned Rorem based on Walt Whitman's Civil War poetry; a piano sonata by Viktor Ullmann, who perished at Auschwitz; and the Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor by Dmitri Shostakovich, who poured out his contempt for fascism and anti-Semitism in this compelling work from 1944.

The concert features the Rome Trio (violinist Jody Gatwood, cellist Robert Newkirk, pianist Marilyn Neeley), pianist Ivo Kalchev and baritone Stephen Gaertner.

To close the four-day reflection, Sidlin will conduct the CUA Symphony and Chorus in a "concert/drama" he wrote that adds readings and video to a complete performance of the most stunning anti-war creation of them all - Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

That 1962 work for soloists, chorus and orchestra combines the Latin Mass for the Dead with the unforgettable poetry of Wilfred Owen, who was killed in World War I. "My subject is War and the pity of War," Owen wrote. "The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn."

Every performance of Britten's War Requiem constitutes another warning. It has yet to be heeded.

"Waging Peace: Music in Time of War" is at University Center, Catholic University, 620 Michigan Ave. N.E., Washington at 7:30 p.m. today through Sunday. Tickets are $10-$25. Call 202-319-5416.

For more classical music, theater and dance events, see Page 34.

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