Tuesday, October 23, 2012

COSA begins

Carlos Izcaray, courtesy of the artist
The Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio begins Friday night at Pearl Stables with a concert called The Perennial Contest. Classical Spotlight host John Clare posed these questions from conductor Carlos Izcaray.

1. What sort of questions come to mind as you think of this program, “The Perennial Contest”?
This is a very interesting question, and quite a first question to ask! In the most obvious sense, the perennial contest deals with the seemingly endless debate regarding the aesthetics of tonality and its relevance in today's classical music world, that contest which is majestically inscribed without words in Ives masterpiece The Unanswered Question. This opener also leads to our "time travel" program that expands through almost 5 centuries, which also gives a sense of perennial or everlasting. But as the question also relates to "what comes to mind", then from a personal perspective I also add the fact that the separate words, perennial and contest, represent whole worlds in themselves. Perennial in the philosophical sense as it can relate to the concept of philosophia perennis, a term linked with the underlying traditionalist school of thought (Guenon, Schuon, Coomaraswamy, Hossein Nasr), as well as the writings of more popular thinkers such as Huxley and Osho. Then there is the other word, Contest, which on one side symbolizes the ongoing debate of such principles with modernity, and on the other side the much related topic of tonality vs. atonality. In other words, I believe there are esoteric and exoteric philosophical components to the title of the program.

2. How exciting is it to lead the first concert of COSA?
I am extremely excited about this wonderful opportunity that I have been entrusted with. At my age I believe I'm experienced enough to see when a music organization has a fresh outlook on matters such as the important role of culture and the arts in society. Fortunately that's the case here. On more than one occasion, I've observed organizations that have sadly fallen in the "same old, same old" approach to their performances and overall identity, and then curiously enough they wonder why they go though such perils as chronic financial instability and cultural irrelevance. In my conversations with the leadership at COSA, though, I've found a vibrant and in-tune attitude to what this event means for such an important city as San Antonio. To add the fact that all of this is being accomplished within these uncertain times is nothing short of miraculous. These wonderful people have been working arduously for years to make this happen, so it's quite an honor for me to be given the opportunity to kindle what I hope will be a great road ahead.

3. Are there different approaches to the music of different ages (Ives to Monteverdi?!)?
In a way all music must be approached the same way, meaning the search for homogeneity in sound, intonation, balance, beauty and exalting expression. The search for the latter two - beauty & expression - diversify the approach on how to tackle certain passages in the music at hand. When one is asking oneself "how should I play this piece?", one strives to attain the most sincere result by absorbing as many historical, aesthetic, and philosophical elements as possible that would have led to the creation it in the first place. One wants to hear that the Muse sang within the psyche of the composer. In the end, though, the approach of trying to understand how and why a piece is performed is intrinsically the same.

4. The ensemble varies in size in these works, is it difficult to arrange rehearsal and timings for these varied works?
Many of the great conductors I've been fortunate to meet and work with have told me the same thing: "The easiest part about conducting is conducting!". This is obviously not meaning to say that conducting is actually easy, but since it's such a pleasure to experience it once one is on the podium, specially if one's passionate about the art, then other aspects such as logistics become a heavier challenge. In this case, we've had to think a little extra regarding time and space management, but fortunately nothing to stress too much about.

5. What’s the philosophical bent for the JC Bach symphony? Other than a friend of Mozart, I don’t see/hear the connection.
There is a huge and important connection between JC Bach and Mozart. On top of being a good friend to Mozart, he was also a great mentor to the younger genius. Bach's departure from the aesthetics ruling over his father's mostly God-inspired perfectionist and baroque style, lead him to a lighter approach that would lead toward the "Stile galante", the classical concerto, and of course, Opera. This would be a great influence on Mozart, both aesthetically and personally. You can also hear the beginnings of the Sonata form in this Sinfonia which is also basically a pre-Classical symphony without the corresponding 4th movement. Regarding the "genius potential" of composition, obviously Mozart is quite apart from JC Bach, but that could be said about Mozart vs. most other composers in history.

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