Schubert’s Ghost

Franz_SchubertThe 32nd-note runs were sparkling today, as were the articulations and phrasing we had been working on for weeks. Things were falling in to place, much where they should be with only two rehearsals remaining before the concert. Yet, something else seemed different. It was as if a presence had entered the room.

No, it wasn’t the Dean of the College, who actually did happen to pop in to observe rehearsal. A bemusing thought occurred that maybe he was avoiding his next appointment, but….no, it wasn’t the Dean, although we are certainly honored he stopped by.

The presence we felt was more visceral. And it has happened before. It takes hold of an orchestra when the conditions are right. Some might explain it away as mere excitement. But I suspect that it is more of a real thing.

Schubert’s Ghost!

“…we see what we see because these ghosts show it to us, ghosts of Moses and Christ and the Buddha, and Plato, and Descartes, and Rousseau and Jefferson and Lincoln, on and on and on. Isaac Newton is a very good ghost. One of the best. Your common sense is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of these ghosts from the past.” – Robert M. Pirsig

Ok, ok….not really “Schubert’s Ghost,” despite the fact that us musicians can be a superstitious lot. The presence I am referring to is actually something created by the ensemble itself. It is a construct of the collective mind, in this case the experiential mind of the University of Utah Philharmonia.

We cannot really know Schubert, of course. He died almost two centuries ago. We rely on musicologists and biographers to put his life and music in perspective, and also music theorists to explain everything in detail. We can dissect his every phrase, psychoanalyze his intentions and deconstruct his creations. The corpse is laid out for us to inspect. If we only view the music this way, however, we risk losing the essence of the work.

“When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process.” – Robert M. Pirsig

I disagree with the quote in a certain regard. The analysis and critical history can both be illuminating as well as limiting. Insights of others can enrich the experience as well as squelch it. Reading Schubert’s biography has been extremely helpful to me as I work towards developing an interpretation. On the other hand, doing something against musical intuition just because an expert “said so” can also hinder creativity. Sometimes what Schubert ate for lunch has no bearing in the performance of his music.

What I am getting at, or perhaps dancing around, is that while we cannot know Schubert as Schubert knew Schubert, we are nonetheless the next to enter the stream of tradition, passed down through generations of musicians, scholars and listeners. The Schubert who visited us is our own Schubert, yet molded from our collective experience. And we created this Schubert through informed experiences and engagement with the music.

As a professor and conductor, it is both a great honor and an immense responsibility to guide the students and ultimately the audience to understand and enjoy “our” Schubert. We are the creators of our particular Schubertian reality, but also represent the legacy of musical tradition. Every aspect of our Schubertian education and experience is funneled through others. As musicians we assimilate our myriad of experiences and fine tune the collective creation into something that is both representative of the past as well as rooted firmly in the present. Schubert’s ghost is a very personal spirit indeed!

You are welcome of hear “our Schubert,” Thursday, February 5 at 7:30 p.m. Schubert’s ghost is very much alive. He sparkles with youthful energy!

___________________________________________________________________________

Utah Philharmonia @ Libby Gardner Hall

Schubert: Symphony No. 3 in D Major; Gershwin: Cuban Overture and Selections from Porgy and Bess; Still: Prelude and Dances from Troubled Island. Tickets: $10 general admission, Free for HS Students and University Students with Arts Pass. For tickets call 801-581-7100

Copyright, 2015. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

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