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‘Traveling to Scotland’
Imagine it is 1829, you are German, 20 years old and already a brilliant musician.
You are invited to travel to an obscure place off the coast of Scotland where you visit a dangerously beautiful cave and are inspired by its echoes on a particularly stormy night.
You attempt to transform the cave’s atmosphere of complete loneliness and solitude into music while also depicting the sound of the sea’s rolling waves.
Classical composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote “Die Hebriden,” or the “Hebrides Overture Opus 26,” commonly known as “Fingal’s Cave Overture” inspired by such echoes.
The overture premiered on May 14, 1832 in London.
The Island of Staffa cave in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland was at that time approximately 35 feet high and more than 200 feet deep, filled with colorful pillars of basalt.
“In order to make you understand how extraordinary the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there,” Mendelssohn wrote to his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn included his first sketch of the overture in the letter to his sister.
Whidbey Island audiences will have a chance to hear that piece when the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra performs its “Traveling to Scotland” concerts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center and Oct. 7 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.
The music, though labeled as an overture, is intended to stand as a complete work and set the precedent for what would come to be known as a “mood” piece rather than one that tells a complete story.
Also on the program are Malcolm Arnold’s “Four Scottish Dances (Op.59),” a set of light musical pieces composed in 1957 for the BBC Light Music Festival.
The four dances are inspired by Scottish country folk tunes and dances intended to evoke the music of Scotland, and utilize sounds intended to imitate bagpipes, the reel and Scotch snap rhythms. The dances also contain comic elements such as a “tipsy” middle section in the second movement.
Another highlight of the concerts will be special guest soloist Randolph Kelly performing the West Coast premiere of Michigan-based composer Braxton Blake’s 1997 “Viola Concerto” based on a reconstruction of works by J.S. Bach.
“Bach was the reason why I fell in love with music,” Blake said.
“It was a life-changing experience in which I found the meaning of the universe at the age of 13, kind of like finding girls.”
I always go back to Bach, and the tradition of reconstructing another composer’s work is a rich and interesting one,” he said.
Stravinsky, Mozart, Berio, Mahler and Busoni all reconstructed, arranged and otherwise reworked the works of other composers, drawing parallels to what is commonly done in the world of jazz and popular music.
“I have attempted to preserve Bach’s musical palette and practice ... the inventiveness, energy, and expressiveness of the original sources are easily heard and are undeniable delights,” the composer said.
Beyond working with the mastery of Bach’s music, Blake is honored to have such a world-class violist perform his piece.
“Writing for Randy Kelly is a treat,” Blake said.
“He’s a warm and wonderful musician and a master of the instrument.”
Kelly is the principal violist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and will be accompanied by the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra, including his sister, Roxallanne Medley, the orchestra’s concertmaster.
“This is a terrific opportunity for us to share the stage and make music together,” Medley said.
“Our careers have been separate for over 50 years. We are thrilled to finally be playing together, especially on Whidbey Island, a place loved by both of us.”
Legh W. Burns has been the music director of the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra since its inception in 2007 under the sponsorship of the Island Arts Council.
Like the lucky coincidence of having such an accomplished violinist as Medley living on the island, the ensemble is comprised of musicians from all corners of Whidbey Island who have held or currently hold positions in some of the most prestigious national orchestras, regional and community orchestras and various musical ensembles.
Burns, being an accomplished trumpet player and conductor himself, often speaks of his lot as maestro of such a group as if he’s fallen into an enchanted dream.
“It’s an honor to stand in front of this talented group of friends and neighbors and share this quality music with the residents of Whidbey,” Burns said.
In addition to sharing such talent with island audiences this season, Burns is also keen on presenting music lovers with a preview of the 2008/2009 program with the “Prelude to a Concert” series.
The first prelude conversation about the music of “Traveling to Scotland” will be at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5. at the Open Door Gallery + Coffee at the Bayview Cash Store and is open to the public.
“It is my hope that these ‘Preludes’ will be an occasion for our community of music lovers to gather and discuss the concert pieces a bit more in depth than can be achieved through program notes,” Burns said.
“Attending our concerts should not only be fun, but also informative, and if we can enhance it further by giving the audience a new way of listening to a piece, then we have accomplished our purpose.” he said.
On display in the gallery during the discussion will be “Ceol,” Gaelic for “music,” a mixed-media work donated by local artist Paul McClintock to be raffled off as part of the orchestra’s fundraising efforts.
The Prelude to a Concert series is free.
Tickets for the “Traveling to Scotland” concerts cost $20, $18 and $15 and are available for the Coupeville concert at Bayleaf in Coupeville and Oak Harbor. Tickets for the Langley performance are available at the WICA box office at 221-8268 or 800-638-7631 or Click here. For more info call 221-2353.