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Classical 101

The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony

Composer Richard Blackford looked to a book by Bernie Kraus to compose "The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony."

Looking ahead to Earth Day on Friday, I'll have some really "wild" music on the next Symphony @ 7, The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony by Richard Blackford.  The title comes from a book by Bernie Krause, "The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places." 

In the book, Krause, who is a trained musician, presents the idea that it was the animals that taught humans to dance and sing when we lived more closely connected to the natural world.  Krause has been recording animal sounds since the early 1980's, and it was after a trip to Kenya that his theory on the origins of music began to take shape.  He noticed that when he reproduced those sounds in the form of spectrograms (visual representations of sound patterns) back in San Francisco, they had a structure that resembled contemporary musical scores.

English Composer Richard Blackford read Krause's book in 2012 and got the idea for a collaboration utilizing some of his recordings, or wild soundscapes, as he called them, in an orchestral setting.  Taking the idea of Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals to another level, The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony incorporates digitally sampled "soundscapes," played on an electronic keyboard, with a full orchestra in a half hour, five-movement work.

The first movement: 1. "Introduction and Tuning," uses sounds from Borneo, Sumatra and The Arctic; 2. "Scherzo with Riffs," sounds of North America; 3. "Elegy," North America--a universal elegy for animals displaced by mankind; 4. "March and Charge," sounds of Africa; 5. "Variations: Song of the Musician Wren," Central America.    

In the first half hour of the program I'll have the Piano Concerto No. 3 of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok.  This was the last music Bartok wrote before his death in 1945 in New York.  It was his assistant Tibor Serly who completed the last 17 bars of orchestration in what is the most immediately engaging of the three piano concertos Bartok wrote.

The soloist for the performance is French pianist Helene Grimaud, who when not performing in concert halls around the world, is a passionate animal advocate for wolf conservation.  The London Symphony Orchestra is led by Pierre Boulez in this 2004 recording.

Join me for the next Symphony @ 7 Thursday evening on Classical 101, and be sure to tune in on Friday when there will be some appropriate animal and nature-themed music all day for Earth Day, as well as special pieces of music recogning the 100th birth anniversary of violinist Yehudi Menuhin.