Music with a heart prevails in February

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This month brings heartfelt crossover music to the Walla Walla Valley.

Leading off is the trio of Kristin Vining, Amy Dodds and Phill Thompson. They will perform works by Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, Gwyneth Walker and Paul Schoenfield on Feb. 6 at 12:15 p.m. in St. Paul’s Church, 323 Catherine St.

The trio, ideally, lays out its music with bold clarity. The best trios are economical, keeping each instrument true to itself.

The violin, with lyrical melodies, soars high over the others while the cello does the same on the low end of the scale.

The piano is in a different modality, rolling out chords and arpeggios (“unfolded” chords) plus melodies and bass lines.

These qualities shine in Gwyneth Walker’s “A Vision of Hills.”

That it starts out sounding like a folk melody is no surprise; it’s based on an Irish tune, “Be Thou My Vision.” The original is dated to perhaps as early as the 6th century — “traditional” for sure!

Lush textures and voicelike lines dominate as slow, lyrical passages alternate with more vigorous, spirited sections.

It ends by drawing down smoothly from a climax that recaps the opening, and summarizes all the deep engagement of the music in its varied moods.

The name of the piece, therefore, has at least two meanings: the view of the Vermont hills from the composer’s studio, and the spiritual vision alluded to in the original hymn tune.

Another favorite is here, too, Paul Schoenfield’s “Café Music,” a sparkling contrast to Walker’s “Vision.”

Like Walker, Schoenfield was born in 1947 and remains active. And like her, he focuses on the melding of classical and folk idioms, in his case the Hassidic music of eastern Europe.

Next week at St. Paul’s they’re only playing the first movement of this delightful piece, but who can complain of getting to hear it at all? Donations are accepted.

At Whitman College on Feb. 11, the Walla Walla Symphony performs its pops program in Cordiner Hall at 7:30 p.m. A pre-concert talk will take place in the Reid Campus Center at 6:30 p.m.

Like the two composers just mentioned, symphony Maestro Yaacov Bergman has chosen to pull popular melodies into the classical repertoire, this time a whole concert of movie music.

I love good movie music. Film is one of those realms where the classical world has remained vital, transforming itself to meet the needs of new media, new habits of thought.

But the question arises: Why do we have movie music at all?

I asked composer John David Earnest, a film composer himself, if he could name good movies that have no musical score. He listed several, including “Executive Suite” (1954).

He calls it taut and beautifully written, about “power, corruption and the struggle for integrity,” both personal and corporate. (Timely?) But no music.

The effect, as John David points out, is to intensify the few music-like sounds we hear — mainly the tolling of a bell.

My favorite music-less film is Franco Piavoli’s “The Blue Planet” (1981). It lacks not only a score but also any dialogue.

All we hear are the sounds of nature, and of people working the land. And so we start listening in new ways, to the sounds of daily life as if they were a musical score, accompanying the narrative we call life.

If this is so, what can music add? The answer seems to be, plenty.

As we all discover, well-crafted film music adds an emotional or psychological dimension, sometimes showing viewers some aspect of the dramatic reality, an aspect of which the characters themselves remain unaware.

This gap between our knowledge and theirs, even if we don’t realize it, creates the desired tension. It exposes, in other words, the heart of the story.

The symphony’s “Night at the Movies” program includes some classics: music from “West Side Story” and “The Magnificent Seven”; the “Colonel Bogey March,” from “Bridge Over the River Kwai”; and “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Ticket information is online at www.wwsymphony.com.

Also in February, the symphony is presenting Whitman’s new faculty member, pianist David Hyunsu Kim, in recital on Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m. at Chism Hall. Though I don’t know the program, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Ticket information for symphony events is online at www.wwsymphony.com.

Finally, at Walla Walla University, Concordia Choir from Concordia College in Minnesota will perform at University Church on Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

The evening’s program includes “Aurora,” a stunning a cappella piece dedicated to the victims of the 2012 shootings in a theater in Aurora, Colo. The piece is by film composer Hans Zimmer, whose many credits include “The Dark Night Rises,” the Batman movie that was playing when the gunman opened fire on the audience.

John Jamison teaches in the Quest program at Walla Walla Community College and serves on the board of the Walla Walla Symphony. He retired to Walla Walla in 2003 from a teaching career in Seattle. He can be reached at john@studiodosrios.com.

Comments

BandJ 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you for your articles about the music going on in this fine valley.

Having recently moved here, it is great to have a preview of some of the many musical events.

Hope to attend the Thursday lunch-time concert at St. Paul's this week. I particularly like the melody of "Be Thou Thy Vision" and have a couple of fine piano arrangements of it that I enjoy playing and hope to share here in the future.

It is pretty neat that the composer of the film music that was playing at the theatre in Colorado has composed a piece in memory of those that were lost there.

Keep up the good work!

Brian Mantle

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