In the vibrant, polychrome Covenant Church on Saturday afternoon, Haydn’s Overture to Armida provided the warm-up for the first Vangarde Orchestra. The players delivered a soft, melodious and sonorous orchestral sound in the reverberating space. No early music group, but rather a large, soulful contingent who, under Max Hobart, aptly pleaded for Haydn’s summaries of arias and set pieces from his favorite opera.
The virtual curtain rose as the tame and predictable gave way to the neo-romantic Sturm and Drang turbulence, setting the stage for Baverstam’s Cello Concerto in D minor, a journey through romantic expressiveness, battle songs, mysterious scares, exotic journeys and ironic near-resolutions. Baverstam contains multitudes (Bloch, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Bach, Korngold, Dylan and Max Steiner), but it turns its lyrical impulses and themes into well-developed dramatic incidents. The orchestral score conveyed this multiplicity of voices, like the shadows and ghosts of a vast realm surrounding the cello at its living center. The cello’s quest to find a personal path, rooted in the past but authentically new, formed the deep, unifying core of the three powerful movements.
The fast, slow, and fast movements share the material in new ways, spanning three centuries and at least three themes, but also feeling very much in the moment. Over the course of a brawny 40 minutes, no episode lasts and Baverstam’s spirit with polyrhythms**, exotic colorations and rows of passing pseudo-12 tones contrasts nicely with its authentic, juicy heart-on-the-sleeve chivalry, showing that he is the complete musical omnivore. We happily watch the meeting as the composer and the cellist engage in a romantic Arthurian joust. To learn more about the genesis of the piece, read the story of the creation of Baverstam HERE.
Baverstam writes: “The wonderful woman* concerto is about a struggle to be heard and a destination for empowerment. An ode to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, I believe that everyone is on a journey, and everyone finds fulfillment. This piece represents a journey of all kinds, whether it is an inner discovery or an outer adventure. I dedicate this piece to my mother, the strongest person I know and a true Superwoman. The piece can be seen as a symphonic poem about a hero’s journey, development, personal growth/transformation and victory, the classic tale. I didn’t write it with all that in mind, I just followed the musical logic.
Baverstam’s bardic presence as a performer, composer, explainer and orchestra builder reminds me of Dylan’s praise for the ability:
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no excuses to make
Everything is flowing at the same time
I live on crime boulevard
I drive fast cars and eat fast food. . . I contain multitudes.
Companion BM Inter Anne Davenport agrees with Whitman’s reference, “…but only in the orchestral score – and in dialogue with the austere, ‘individual’ cello; polyglot orchestra, idiomatic cello. The point is that Sebastian doesn’t “imitate never Sibelius, Mendelssohn, etc. Nor does he borrow. He simply lets their voices flow from the instruments of the orchestra, as if they were saturated with centuries of music. And on the other hand, the cello is radically new, speaking in its own idiom of emotion “never heard before but understood by all”.
Another one BM Inter Leon Golub adds:
The cello provided a strong unified center that kept the various voices from fragmenting, while still leaving them with their individuality. I can’t think of another room that has this structure as its main core.
We were left with a lasting impression of Baverstam as an original melodist, an orchestrator with an advanced vocabulary, a structural engineer whose sense of organization kept us looping and a performer with a high-level technique in the service of a communicative soul. . He dominated the stage with a justified confidence that allowed him to share his deepest desire and pride, singing such lively and memorable tunes as some “Nessun Dorma” and leaping over technical obstacles he imposed itself. His duets with the solo violin and his exchanges with sections of the orchestra have kept his palette varied and his dominance flexible.
As moments of exotic orchestral color with cymbals, gongs, xylophones, blocks and yes, contrabassoon blats, contrasting with Hollywood sweeping tuttis, Baverstamomania held its own.
Form your own review after listening to this embedded performance snippet on the right.
F. Lee Eiseman is the editor of the Spy.
*Not everyone knows Nietzsche well enough to interpret him correctly. Nietzsche’s tone is often grandiose, abrasive and annoying. So I think it’s important to make it clear that the “superman” he promotes is really just each person’s “best self” – the creative self, the individual self, rooted in past greatness but capable of move forward with confidence and chart your best path. This is how James Conant, who is one of today’s best Nietzsche scholars, interprets it, emphasizing Nietzsche’s affection for Emerson. Both advocate that we strive for personal perfection. The idea is that democracy should help every human being to thrive and strive for excellence, not reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator. (Anne Davenport)
And if you have an appetite for score analysis, watch Baverstam’s pandemic video referring to its structural summary:
According to the composer, “The piece can be seen as a symphonic poem about the journey, development, personal growth/morphing and victory of a hero, the classic tale. I didn’t write it with all that in mind, I just followed the musical logic.
First movement Allegro Fantasia:
Main theme opening introduction (hero theme) plus second theme 1:30
Main Cello Entry Theme 3:07
Transition to the second thematic area (perhaps the theme of love) 5:30
Development going on a trip 6:30
First Metamorphosis, distorted main theme (conflict) 8:10
Reflection, the journey continues 9:47
More thinking 10:58, final effort on main theme again 11:54
Finally the cello solo plays the core of 2n/a theme played only before in the intro 12:33
Cadenza (monologue) and conclusion, “End of Act I”
Second movement Moderato Mysterioso – Andante Tranquillo:
Mysterious and dark opening, prefiguring the doom of the third movement.
Transitions to some kind of Aria 17:03
A respite from the storm, time stands still, perhaps the hero’s time of growth
The darkness persists somewhat in this movement, however, especially with the Tam-tam rolls, 23:40
Third movement Moderato Tragico – Allegro Passacaglia*:
The introduction opens with a continuation of the prefiguration of the second movement. sort of fake 12-tone style, using atonal in a tonal context maybe 26:36
Introduction of the orchestra to the new theme of the hero 28:20
Second theme, passacaglia style 29:06
Breath before the storm 30:17
Development, another journey 30:52
Unforeseen conflict/battle duel 32:06
Cadence with orchestral accompaniment 34:20
Return of the 12-tone style, fiery search 36:13
Main resolution 37:30 hero transformation completed.
Coda, celebration 37:45
Moral of the story”, main message 39:44
…did the hero really learn???… or did he stay the same?
*I call it a Passacaglia, but it’s not really a Passacaglia. I just think the main themes sound like something that could be used in a passacaglia, and I feel like I’m hinting at that repetitive style of mantra throughout the third movement.
**An example of polyrhythm below shows how the cellist should fit his 3 triplets (nine beats) in 4/4 of the orchestra
“Here the meter is 3/4 but the orchestra feels in 4/4, the conductor is in 2. And the solo cello plays three sets of triplets for a non-tuplet. The main theme and the second theme play simultaneously.