Musings from the Artistic Director

Pastiche Oratorio

Robin McNeil, who maintains the superb blog Opus Colorado on all things musical in the Denver-Boulder area,  wrote a wonderful review of April’s performances of “Beat! Beat! Drums!”  Click HERE.

What excites me about this review is that, never having discussed this with Robin, he absolutely nailed what I have been increasingly thinking is the way I want to do concerts: narratively, and with a dramatic trajectory of sorts. He coined a term, “parody oratorio,” (“parody” used in the sense of the Renaissance parody mass – using pre-existing material on which to base a musical work) – and although this is probably not the term I would choose, it is definitely the concept. I might rather call it a “pastiche oratorio” – assembling a group of pieces by a variety of composers, together with dialogue (in this case readings) that tell a story.

The traditional concert, with a collection of works that are either unrelated (think most symphony concerts – an overture, a concerto; then in the second half a symphony. The works have little or nothing to do with each other), or are part of an overall theme (“French Masterworks,” or “Tudor Thomases”), is definitely still the norm, and St. Martin’s has not done the last of these, to be sure. But I quickly tire of an entire season of such concerts, personally. So I am increasingly looking at creating concerts that tell a story; that have, as I said above, a dramatic trajectory; that take the listener from one point to another, narratively and emotionally.

I’ve attempted this a few times before. It started many years ago with the “Literary concerts” – one devoted to Jane Austen, then Patrick O’Brian, then Elizabeth I as a poet – also concerts such as “It is Finished” (a musical Stations of the Cross), “England Expects” (200th anniversary of Trafalgar), and “A Night to Remember” (100th anniversary of the sinking of The Titanic), etc. “Beat! Beat! Drums!” is in this vein, and, according to this review, and audience reactions (as well as my own sense of it), is the most successful so far. It’s my goal to do many more like this.  In fact, in announcing our 2015-16 season in the next couple weeks, you will see many examples of storytelling. More about this anon.