If music be the food of love, play on…
Start googling for the source of that well-worn phrase and you’re led to the 1998 publication by Dr. Gary Chapman on the five “languages of love”. Although the good doctor’s book was meant for couples counselling, its universal wisdom applies well to any passion pursued by amateurs- literally “those who engage in a pastime for the love of it, not for payment”. And in the last London Community Orchestra concert of its 2015-16 season, the languages of love were heard and spoken throughout.
At what other event do you get a spontaneous hug from a first violinist, thanking you for coming- and promising to work around a new job schedule next season so that she can return to play in LCO…”I just love doing this!” And that love- for the music, for their director, and for each other is part of the enjoyment shared with their audience by the musicians of this “amateur” orchestra.
The concert began with Quartettsatz in C-minor- yet another unfinished work by the procrastinators’ favourite composer- Franz Shubert. He wrote fifteen string quartets- many of them for the Schubert family who performed them in the home, Franz playing the viola (and making the cello parts easier for his father!). The Quartet No. 12, however, is one of his later works, intended clearly for professional musicians in its technical difficulty. All that Schubert completed, however, was the “torso” of a work. In the love language of service, however, LCO conductor Len Ingrao arranged the quartet into a beautiful selection for string orchestra- and demanded much from his string players, young and old. The piece begins with the violins in a racing, tremulous figure, giving quickly to a lyric second idea in A-flat major. Keys change easily in this late Shubert work, and the strings of the LCO made it sound sensitive and masterful.
A similar gift of love is Bruch’s Opus 88 Concerto in E-minor, originally composed for clarinet and viola. Bruch’s son was a clarinetist and this piece, written for two solo instruments whose ranges are almost identical, was performed by guest artists Scott St. John and Sharon Wei in its violin and viola version. What greater gift of love can a violinist give his wife than performing a concerto in which the viola gets the first word, playing a rhapsodic passage punctuated by orchestral chords? When the violin joins into the main melody, Bruch has provided a pattern of phrase trading- small duets- between the two soloists. The concerto is made challenging and beautiful by long-held notes, nostalgic and haunting in the performance of these consummate musicians. Bravo to LCO’s stunning brass who open the third movement with a fanfare joined by swirling passages by the strings, picked up soon by the violin and viola soloists. If love is shown by words of affirmation, the bravos and the standing ovation were the audience’s pleasure to give.
After the intermission, the full orchestra seemed eager to begin the famous “Scottish Symphony” of Mendelssohn. The inspiration for the work (although it was composed thirteen years later) was an 1829 journey taken by 20-year-old Felix through the Highlands, inspired by the family’s love of Sir Walter Scot’s novels and the poems of the (fake) 3rd century bard Ossian. The multi-talented composer kept a diary/sketch-book of the journey, and his 30 dated sketches from the journey make his enchantment with the country evident. In the evening twilight we went today to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved…The chapel close to it now is roofless; grass and ivy grow there, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything around is broken and mouldering, and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today in that old chapel the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.”
It is easy- and tempting-to trace throughout the symphony musical references to Mary herself, to the ferocious battle music in the Finale, to happy folk tunes in the Scherzo, to Ossian’s harp…but Sunday’s performance was, simply, one of the finest I have heard from this orchestra. Clearly, the language of quality time was given by each player to both practice and rehearsal, because the demands of this beautiful symphony are great on all instrument sections. The introduction is dramatic in woodwinds and violas- the violins held off enticingly until bar 17 – when they are joined by the clarinet in pianissimo. The E-minor continues into the second subject, dramatized by the cellos. And surprise awaits the listener in every movement. Even the coda is arresting, beginning on the lower strings and the doubled woodwinds at the bottom of their range, rising like Highland mist into a sunny blaze of the brass, ringing above the full orchestra. You should ‘a been there!!
And next season, already in the planning by Maestro Ingrao and his Music Committee, will give everyone who loves the finest music performed by the most devoted of musical “amateurs” four more chances to receive the gifts of these exceptional Londoners.
Daina Janitis is a Londoner by choice, living in a woodlot just across the city limits, reveling in retirement by volunteering for many of the music groups of the city. She taught English for 33 years in area high schools, planned school travel through Pauwels, managed the London Youth Symphony, and was the last president of the Volunteer Committee of Orchestra London. She continues to be delighted by the unique bounty of creative arts available to Londoners.