The Unfettered Critic – July 2015

The Britt Classical Festival is about to begin. And we’re ecstatic!

Once again, one hundred-plus of the world’s finest musicians will take time from their tuneful day jobs to join us here in Jacksonville. We’ll welcome them into our homes and they’ll join us at our bistros and bars. But that’s only the social part. Let’s talk about some of the music they’ll perform.

Music Director Teddy Abrams has scheduled familiar favorites and newer compositions that will shake the cobwebs out of our brains—including a piece written by Abrams himself (“Visceral”) that he’ll debut at the Britt!

We’re particularly excited about two compositions the Maestro has chosen for the Festival’s Opening Weekend. Each is a benchmark in 20th century classical music—one a hit since the day it premiered, and the other the focus of a riot at its debut!

First, the hit: On Friday, July 31, the Britt stage will be brimming—perhaps overflowing—with performers. To share the spotlight with the orchestra, Britt has assembled a 150-member chorus and three guest soloists to present Carl Orff’s 1937 twenty-four part cantata, Carmina Burana.

Orff’s composition is one of the most well known pieces of the 20th century, particularly the opening (and closing) movement, “O Fortuna.” Trust us: you’ll know it when you hear it. Carmina Burana has been featured in countless motion pictures, television shows, and commercials. The thought of hearing it in person, in all its thundering glory, actually gives us goose bumps.

The lyrics to Orff’s masterwork come from a collection of medieval poems that relate the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, eating, gambling, and (ahem) lusting. In short, all the good stuff. It premiered in Orff’s native Germany, and quickly became popular with audiences there and throughout the world. The lyrics are primarily Latin, some of them reportedly quite bawdy. The Nazi regime was squeamish about the erotic tone of some of the poems, but they, too, came to embrace it (perhaps because “O Fortuna” sounds so darn good for riding into battle).

The next night, Saturday, August 1, we’ll hear the composition that drove concert-goers into chaos in 1913 Paris: Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The piece initially accompanied choreography by famed dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. But from the first cluster of notes—a bassoon solo played in a manner completely unfamiliar to that era’s ears—the audience broke into catcalls and whistles. They hated the music, and they really hated the dancing. Within minutes the mood descended into shouts and fistfights. Happily, Paris police arrived at intermission in an attempt to bring order, and the show went on.

Historians still debate over what incited that first audience. Perhaps listeners were startled by Stravinsky’s revolutionary use of the instruments, and the piece’s loud, pulsating, dissonant chords. At later performances—with different choreography or no choreography at all—critics began to hear the piece for what it is: a game changer in modern classical music.

Many of us today first heard The Rite of Spring when Walt Disney used it as the riveting backdrop to the rise and fall of the dinosaurs on Earth in his 1940 animated classic Fantasia. As we recall, there were no catcalls in the theater. (Mickey Mouse—who appeared in the movie—probably wouldn’t have put up with that.)

That’s only the Opening Weekend, friends—the first of three. We suggest you pay attention. And admission, too. And don’t forget: lawn seating at the family friendly Symphony Pops Concert on Sunday, August 9th is just five bucks.