Taking Hold Of The Enduring Old

June 25, 2020
 

I’m not so sure I wanted to be there. Nevertheless, I was sort of on the edge of my seat reading about it and trying to imagine what it would have been like.

Andrew Mellor of London’s The Grammophone reported on the very first concert that took place in Europe in months – on Sunday, June 7th. It was a program presented by the Royal Danish Opera at the new opera house in Copenhagen.

He mentioned that all of the upper levels of the hall were closed. And on the main floor, every other seat had been sealed off with a red ribbon so that patrons were sitting one meter apart. Mellor admitted that as unusual as it all seemed, the elbow room and sight lines were most welcome.

He went on to say about the Royal Danish Orchestra that “...few ensembles can put a crisis in context like this one. As the oldest orchestral institution in the world, it was well over 200 when the Great Plague ravaged London in the 1660s. The hiatus of 2020 is the longest its musicians have been apart for nearly six centuries and few works could have sprung it from that prison of silence with more verve or resonance than the overture to Maskarade by Carl Nielsen.”

Nielsen is Denmark’s most revered composer. So it’s no surprise that his music was chosen for the program that would initiate the resumption of live concerts in that country. It also happened to take place a couple of days before the 155th anniversary of Nielsen’s birth. He was a second violinist with the Royal Danish Orchestra for some 16 years and conducted it at times. 

Many consider the opera Maskarade (Masquerade) to be one of Nielsen’s finest works. Otherwise, I would have wondered whether the Royal Danish Opera chose the overture because it suggests masks – though of a different sort. That must have come to mind. At the very least, it’s a timely coincidence.

In case you’re wondering, the Royal Danish Orchestra traces its origins to 1448. At that time it was the trumpet corps at the court of King Christian I.

Recently, I played selections from a CD featuring 18th century organ concertos by George Frideric Handel. I noticed that it was recorded 35 years ago at the Bethlehem Church in Papendrecht, Netherlands. I was curious about the town and learned that it’s in the western part of the country in the province of South Holland. Papendrecht was first mentioned in 1105. It’s become urbanized in recent years. But one of the town’s attractions is a linden tree that’s 180 years old.

It’s interesting that the treasured tree wasn’t around yet when Handel wrote the concertos in the 1730s. I saw a drawing of the town from about 1600 with a church included. But a photograph of the church in which the recording was done gives me the impression that it was built more recently. And it made me wonder if in 1985, when organist Peter Hurford and the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra from Amsterdam came to town with a technical crew, it was the first time that those works were played in Papendrecht for the tree and everybody else to hear.

Somehow, these stories about the Royal Danish Orchestra, the linden tree in Papendrecht and the organ concertos by Handel all helped to put the past few months into perspective. That’s in spite of the fact that those months have seemed like years at times.

Maybe that’s what makes classical music so welcome at the moment. In addition to the musical qualities of every composition and performance, there’s something reassuring in music that has endured for centuries. It almost invites taking hold of it with your thoughts and emotions. So much of that music continues to attract the attention of musicians who want to perform it and listeners who want to hear it hundreds of years after it was written.

Imagine a contribution to WILL as part of a community-wide effort to continue to keep that enduring music in central Illinois. The end of our fiscal year is coming up on June 30th. By that time, all of the money for next year’s programs and services has to be in the bank. We’re ever so close to meeting our fiscal year-end fundraising goal. If you’ve been a part of this year’s support, thank you very much! If you haven’t yet had the chance - and if you’re able, please consider making a gift today. Call 217-244-9455 or contribute online at willgive.org.


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These programs are partially sponsored by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

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