Photo courtesy of the LA Philharmonic

The composer and his work: Payare and the LA Philharmonic perform pieces from Wagner, Brahms and Still

By Charlize Althea Garcia, April 25, 2023

With a program filled with the classical world’s most prominent composers, Rafael Payare led the LA Philharmonic with a fiery vehemence on April 15.

“Darker America” is an infusion of symphonic and jazz elements and was composed by William Grant Still, one of the country’s prominent composers. Still was the first African American composer to have a symphony performed by a professional orchestra and conduct a major symphony in the country.

The beginning showed no sight of the jazz genre, introducing us to what seemed to be decorated with a pastoral atmosphere with murky undertones. The first movement was then overwhelmed with a creeping of strings that aroused the ear, introducing the jazz theme of the piece. The violin solo, played by the Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour, projected the theme in its full bloom. The piece then ends with a return to the feeling of murkiness but instead is executed with a sonorous sound, shaking the floor beneath us.

The creative expression of music can be ignited by a plethora of things: pain, sorrow and love. Love, alongside pain, are motivators of change. In its own way, these two elements are interdependent with one another, and these elements can be found in Richard Wagner’s piece.

“Wesendonck Lieder” was dedicated to Mathilde Wesendonck, Wagner’s mistress and muse. Wagner and his wife, Minna, escaped to one of his patrons to find asylum during a political uprising. During his time there, Wagner fell in love with Otto’s wife, Mathilde who wrote five poems of which Wagner would compose music to and what seems to be a testament of their deleterious love.

The first poem spoke of angels coming down to the Earth only to a certain call, a call of a broken heart and an ardent prayer. Soprano Dorothea Röschmann recited the poem as if she was dwelling on a heartbreak herself, praying for the release of its torturous consequence through a quiet avidity in her voice. The passion of her cries in the poem can be translated in Röschmann’s elongated notes that crescendo, not into a gratifying release, but almost plummets, with leisure, into defeat.

Photo courtesy of the LA Philharmonic

A shift to an emotive atmosphere, the second poem is an outcry to the entity of Time. Wesendonck expressed annoyance and discontent with the passage of time through a plea for time to stop. Wagner conveyed the vexation naturally through a surge of intensity within the orchestra and voice. The piece resolved into a tranquilized state in which Wagner softens both the orchestra and voice while Wesendonck explained that as time halts it allows for silence. Following the last poem, I believe anguish is consoled with this action, the silence of time permits a condition of emptiness that enables a sense of peace.

The last poem is approached with a dimming brightness from Wagner. Entitled “Träume,” meaning dreams, Wesendonck finds amusement in the fantasies that grow within us. The strings entered with a hushed trepidation and a wavering sound soon accompanied by momentary bellows from the winds. The voice follows and appends a longingness to the orchestra ending in a state of melancholia.

The night ended with a deviation from the impassioned backstory and into another sort of theatrics executed solely in the piece itself, Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. The beginning of the first movement fed the hunger of the ear with the full sound of the strings, winds and timpani paired justly with Payare and his expressive dance-like conducting. It continues followed by a minimalistic repeated rhythm played by the strings resembling a steady breath, almost huffing, adding to the drama.

The second and third movement came to a lull that expressed Brahms’ autumnal aesthetic. Pervading the piece was a feeling of pacification of the first movement. In some instances, the grandiose elements of the first movement like the inclusion of percussive elements and the blaring of winds were substituted with slow peaks into a brightness of sound.

The fourth movement returns to the distinct grandness, beginning with a bellow from the strings and timpani. With a flurry of pizzicato, the movement leaps into anticipation. This jump into different sensations seemed confusing. But with the stillness that Brahms had created in the silence, it prepared the listener for the energy that would soon flood the piece in busy rhythms and the interlacing of the sections of the orchestra. The piece reached its highest peak with unified cries, basking in all its glory.

Payare was a conductor like no other. Embodying each piece as a spirit driven by emotion portraying an affection that translated each piece fluently to the audience. Payare’s liveliness seeped into each section and drove the orchestra into a scene of animation.

Feature image courtesy of the LA Philharmonic

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