The Phoenix Symphony continues its season and celebrates the holiday with a concert tonight which includes two pieces. The first is a work commissioned by the Symphony by contemporary composer Marjan Mozetich’s Procession of Duos featuring solos from various pairs of instruments in the orchestra. The second piece is Orff’s Carmina Burana. This is the concert I have been most excited to see since it was announced on the season schedule.
I’ve heard Carmina Burana in concert twice before and always look forward hearing it again. There are a number of reasons. The opening and closing sections; O Fortuna; are among the most recognizable pieces in western music. It is powerful and dramatic and, for that reason, is often used in film and stage scores. The most memorable of those uses for me was a local production of Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” I worked on in Michigan. The play is set, in part, in a Nazi concentration camp. In that production, the climax of the play was followed by a blackout and O Fortuna. It was powerful in its impact on the audience. For that reason, the music always make me think of the Holocaust, which adds to the emotional power but is also unfair to Mr Orff. His composition is about the fickleness of fate and, while written in the Nazi era, it was composed before the Second World War at a time when what would come to be called the Holocaust was still unknown. Also, the rest of the composition creates a context for a far less grim interpretation.
Carmina Burana; or “Songs from Beuern” is the name given to a collection of 254 poems and dramatic texts written in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. The pieces are bawdy, irreverent, and satirical treatises on, among other things, the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust. Harper’s Other Dad says it’s “smutty”. For some reason that doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment. Go figure! The pieces were written in Latin or combinations of Latin and vernacular German and French as they were in use at the time. German composer Carl Orff adapted 24 of the texts into a libretto and composed music for a piece he also called “Carmina Burana”.
What is most dramatic about hearing it performed live is the combination of the full symphony orchestra with operatic soloists and a full chorus. For tonight’s performance the stage will be shared by the orchestra, soprano Celena Shafer; tenor Javier Abreu; baritone Craig Irvin, the Phoenix Symphony Chorus and the Phoenix Boys Choir. Hopefully the Boys Choir will not be scarred by singing the naughty bits.
Our local production won’t be quite as majestic as this YouTube; at least I hope they aren’t planning fireworks. Our symphony performs indoors.