Music News & Reviews

A heroic evening of firsts for the Lexington Philharmonic

US composer Philip Glass is seen after performing his La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) film concert, as part of the Budapest Spring Festival in the Palace of Arts in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, March 22, 2014.  (AP Photo/MTI,Balazs Mohai)
US composer Philip Glass is seen after performing his La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) film concert, as part of the Budapest Spring Festival in the Palace of Arts in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/MTI,Balazs Mohai) ASSOCIATED PRESS

The very non-scientific view of a black hole references a void that lures unwary journeymen into an abyss of inescapable nothingness.

But apply a dash of science, a hero rooted in Greek mythology and a multi-media concert work that serves as a first for nearly every party involved and you have the exact reverse of that theory.

The Lexington Philharmonic's two-night presentation of Heroes: Eroica and Icarus will offer an aural and visual space-age flight into the heart of possibility.

The repertoire pairs Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the Napoleon Bonaparte-inspired Eroica, with the orchestra's first-ever performance of a Philip Glass composition: Icarus at the Edge of Time. The latter will be performed to a screening of the 2010 Al + Al film of the same name with live narration from Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker. The narration written by physicist Brian Greene and playwright David Henry Hwang was read by LeVar Burton in the original film.

"Beethoven, the Eroica, had always been in the plan," says Lexington Philharmonic music director and conductor Scott Terrell. "So we thought, 'What is the context? What does the idea of 'heroic' mean? I've known about the Glass piece for awhile and thought it would make a good pairing from a very thematic point of view. They're very different, obviously, stylistically. But as we're doing a lot more in terms of outreach, this was also the driver for our educational programs for the year about technology, science and engineering, and their very strong relationship with music."

Such a combination also intrigued Walker, who has served as executive director of the Governor's School for the Arts as part of his extensive list of education and literary credentials.

"Just as an artist, the idea alone of this project is exciting to me," Walker says. "But then the part of me who is an educator really sees the arts education opportunities for kids in this community. I really hope that schools will figure out that this conversation about science, physics, space and black holes can be had in the same space as music and literature."

Though the Philharmonic and Walker have long been aware of each other's work, Icarus represents the first time they have collaborated.

"We talked about why we chose this work, the story, why it's important, about breaking barriers and breaking molds musically and aesthetically from a performance standpoint," Terrell says. "It just led to a very nice discussion. Frank was obviously aware of the story, but he was also very interested in the music of Philip Glass. He kind of jumped at the chance to do it, so this is kind of new territory for both of us.

"You know, often artists live in the same community but don't ever cross necessarily. This provided a real opportunity."

"When (the Philharmonic) invited me to participate, I think they thought it was going to be a harder sell than it actually was," Walker says. "For me, something like this helps me make sense of all my interests. But the project is also a collaboration between art and science. I don't think we get that a lot, especially around here, so I said yes pretty quickly. I believe in collaborating."

But perhaps as daring as the mythical Icarus' flight to the sun, which is modernized to a child racing through space into a black hole in the film of Icarus at the Edge of Time, is the realization of a Glass composition on a Philharmonic program. A still-controversial figure in late 20th and now 21st century music, Glass compositions have grown from minimalist compositions for keyboard-dominated ensembles to expansive and emotive symphonies, soundtracks, operas and more.

"I always think with Philip Glass that music and film must co-exist," Terrell says. "But to be blunt, Icarus is a very accessible way into Philip Glass, which is one of the reasons why I picked it.

"Often when you put a composer out there, particularly one an audience might not know, you don't necessarily want to give them the most difficult score they ever wrote. You give them an introduction of what the aesthetic is, a way in to their musical world. Because Icarus has music elements that can draw people in, it offers another means by which they can access the story."

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