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Evan Hazard: An epiphany in G major and the music inside us

To me, all Bemidji Symphony Orchestra concerts are a must, but I really looked forward to “Homecoming Celebrations” on Nov. 10. I’m a Dvorák fan, and the concert included two favorites:  his Symphony No. 8 in G and his ‘Cello Concerto in b. As many of you would expect, I was particularly anticipating Eric Haugen’s performance in the concerto.

Seats are not reserved, so I got to the BHS auditorium half an hour ahead of time, because I knew where I wanted seats for two. My friend arrived shortly, spotted me, and we were all set. The concert opened with a new work, “Wretched Bloomed” by James Young, a young composer who was in the audience.

Another emeritus science prof from New York City that I know has little use for 20th century composers in general, much less 21st century. I’ve not pursued the issue with him; after all, several 19th century composers lived into the last century, including Dvorák (died 1904), Debussy (1918), Fauré (1924), Saint-Saëns (1921), Glazunov (1936), Ravel (1937), Richard Strauss (1949) and Sibelius (1957). Though born in the 19th century, Vaughn Williams and Respighi were 20th century composers, as of course was Copland, born in 1900, really the last year of the 19th century. For my money, all are fine composers. However, like my hometown colleague, I find many recent compositions at best tiresome.

What about Young’s “Wretched Bloomed?”  It’s a strange, dark work. It was not atonal (I think), which is good. It was intense, worked its way up to and back down from a sustained crescendo, and would be worth listening to again. I seldom find that true of “new” music, even when it’s a half century or more old.

Next up was Dvorák’s 8th, a favorite. I really have not found any Dvorák that I don’t like, and Beverly Everett and the BSO did a fine job. It is special: my younger son Stuart, back in the early ’70s, played in a band version of it, along with hundreds of other students at one of the then popular summer BSU band clinics. He plays French horn, and I’ve learned to listen for the horn trills in certain passages in the last movement. On some records/CDs, they don’t come through well. They came through well Dec. 10.

After intermission, Eric Haugen soloed in Dvorák’s “Cello Concerto.” It was superb. Incredible as it might seem, in this small northern Minnesota city, we’ve come to take for granted that the BSO and many of its soloists will be tops. Most of us realize that an incredible amount of work is involved, but there is more skill involved than one might expect:  in the music director, the orchestra members and the soloists.

Something else happened that afternoon. An understanding surfaced that may have been there but unrecognized for ages. The epiphany occurred during the second movement of Dvorák’s 8th.  I was listening and watching intently, and abruptly realized I almost knew it by heart. As you may remember, I cannot read music. Nor is there any way I could produce it or describe it in sequence to your satisfaction. But I had a deep familiarity with the whole symphony from beginning to end, and a deep sense of joy as this familiar thing unfolded.

This was also true of  Dvorák’s ‘Cello Concerto, though I’ve heard it less often than the symphony. Reflecting on past concerts and recitals, I realized this has probably been true of many works I’ve heard and seen. And it has generally been a source of deep content, but this was perhaps the first time I consciously realized that, and there was joy in knowing all this great music was literally in me, though I cannot read a note.

One might infer that this deep joy is only present when Evan is comforted by old, familiar works. Not so. When I first heard Vaughn Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” on the radio I was enthralled, though I had no internal blueprint to check it against. Also, the first time I heard “Viens, Mallika” (the flower duet) from “Lakme” by Delibes, sung by a soprano and a mezzo at a banquet in BSU’s Hobson Ballroom, I was blown away. But the epiphany was that Sunday, when the pieces came together, and I recognized an internal well of joy.

Do a web search for “pleasure, happiness, joy.” Many sites show up, mostly from diverse religious outfits:  Join my ashram, sect, coven, focus group, congregation, etc., and joy will come. Some are shallower than others. But both these and secular sites often agree that pleasure and happiness may be fleeting, while joy is or can be continually there, even in difficult circumstances. Maybe so. Perhaps joy is a basic, spiritual part of this confused person. Whatever, I’m grateful.

EVAN HAZARD, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes “Northland Stargazing” the fourth Friday of each month.