Origins

 

"God help us all, we go on trying to climb that miserable mountain and it is always higher than the last rise we scrambled onto. It seems to me that I have more than I can do and it frightens me sometimes until I think how it would be if I had less than I can do." ­ -John Steinbeck

This image resonated with me all week long, as I watched our pianist sneak out of our lodging every morning at dawn, take the car keys, and climb our literal mountain to get in some solo practicing before our daily rehearsals. Nestled inside Timberline for the week, I like to think of the midnight secrets our borrowed piano must have shared with the mountains, after the music stopped and we locked the doors each night. The silence that exists before and after the music happens, that silence of muses danced with nature all week for me, during our third season of Music in the Mountains.

The first time I came to perform at Powder Mountain in 2013, I very casually put one of the ‘Make No Small Plans’ bumper stickers on my violin case, having no idea that four years later Music in the Mountains would be where it is now: on a new frontier, an intersection between art and community and nature, and inspiring so many.  When I travel for concerts all around the world, people always notice this small salute to our Eden community on my violin case, and I am honored to bear this message.  To envision a mountain which never ceases to rise, to devote your daily life to climbing it.  Every morning I open up my violin case, and start from the bottom once more.  And Powder Mountain continually rises for me to new heights, this gift of being part of something larger than our collective imaginations could even conceive.  As musicians we become vessels through which the dreams of giants reach our audiences, hundreds of years later.  Performing on the top of Powder Mountain feels like a gift wrapped in multiple layers of resonance.

The string quartet is a model where democracy, unity, and transcendent beauty all exist, its members coming together for a greater whole.  Chamber is analogous to what I have experienced of the Powder Mountain community: bringing together great minds and spirits in a unique setting, for an intimate and profound sharing of ideas.  Chamber music is about our humanity.

In our country, a huge portion of society is not exposed to classical music. I count myself lucky that I discovered the violin through my public school system in Los Angeles at the age of five, knowing that so many of our children do not have access to arts education.  Who could have known that by someone placing a violin in my hands in a school gymnasium I would then move to New York five years later to study with my idol Itzhak Perlman.  In my career as a violinist and composer I have the privilege of performing in the greatest concert halls all around the world.  But never have I felt the impact of this music as strongly as when I have performed at a maximum security prison here in the U.S. This is an art form that has deeply spiritual resonance and can reach anyone at his or her core ­ and therefore I feel it is my personal obligation, and my generation of musicians’ obligation, to make classical music accessible to all.  Music in the Mountains is unique because our mission is multi layered: to allow world class artists to flourish through the residency retreat, to expose classical music to new communities, and to present world class concerts for free. The result is a beautiful and lasting dialogue - and being on top of a Mountain doesn't hurt.

 

The future of Music in the Mountains holds great potential in my eyes.  To inspire and challenge one another to never stop mastering our craft, spreading love and empathy through our music, and connecting with audiences and the community in profound ways.  We have started relationships with the Ogden community through outreach performances, in particular at the Youth Futures homeless shelter in Ogden, and this year, with St. Anne's.  In the future, we want to have more community engagement, and curate musical content that is relevant and collaborative, working together with other artists across genres and speakers who visit the Mountain, allowing the concerts to exist within a larger symposium of ideas.

In 2015, our second season, we played the Schubert cello Quintet.  I will never forget our Friday night preview concert in the SkyLodge.  Schubert is one of those rare composers who I feel that I can connect with on an intimate level - "Schubert the man."  Bach sits in a glass encasement on a pedestal for me, Mozart drifts in and out of my imagination, Beethoven is larger than life.  But Schubert.. I feel like I know him, and even farther, perhaps that he knows me.  There is something both delicate and tangible about his music ­- like reading someone’s diary. His music can be incredibly simple, as it makes its home in the deepest part of your heart, in the most honest, simple part of your soul. Schubert died before his 32nd birthday, ill, poor, yet his music exudes unyielding hope in its sadness.  In the final months of his life, he composed so much music that it almost seems like a miracle to us looking back.

This cello quintet is one of his last pieces he wrote before his death, a sick man who knew the end was near.  I had said something to my colleagues the morning of our performance, somewhat in jest... as I expressed that somewhere in the universe, somehow, there has to be an acknowledgement that his music is being played.  There can’t be a way that Schubert, who lived so few years and yet gave us so much beauty, so much beauty which is still speaking to and changing the spirits of humans hundreds of years and millions of times later...there is no way that he can’t know.  Of course my colleagues laughed at my words.  But when we performed the slow movement in the Skylodge that July evening, the rarest of nights for a thunderstorm - the movement opens with a single bass pizzicato framing a sparse and fragmented song in the violin ­- there began the delicate sound of raindrops above our heads.  The slow movement has a middle section which quickly erupts into a volatile storm, and I kid you not, within the first bars of this section the doors of the Skylodge swung open, we could see the picnic benches being moved across the patio by the wind, as a rainstorm accompanied the entire storm section of the movement, retreating away afterward the movement finished.  My colleagues joked with me afterward, “I guess Schubert was listening.”

Playing in the clouds as close to heaven as humanly possible on the top of Powder Mountain, I’m certain he was.

A look into Alexander Scriabin - by Euntaek Kim

On July 15th, pianist Euntaek Kim will be performing Scriabin's 8th piano sonata, directly before works by Messiaen and another Russian composer, Dimitri Shostakovich.

The eighth sonata by the Russian composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) is a product of his late period. The last three sonatas for piano - No. 8, No. 9 "Black Mass," and No. 10 (sometimes referred to as the "Insect Sonata," due to Scriabin's quote about the work: "Insects are born of the Sun... they are kisses of the Sun") - were composed simultaneously, as experimental studies to his grand project for orchestra, "Mysterium," a compulsory topic in discussing Scriabin's late period. 

Before dwelling further on "Mysterium," it is essential to mention that Scriabin was a firm believer of Theosophy. Theosophy, an occultism founded by H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott in New York in 1875, strongly influenced many great artists, writers, thinkers, and politicians alike. To talk about the world between 1870s and 1950s without the presence of Theosophy is as unjustifiable as leaving Christianity out of the medieval period. 

Theosophy examines the nature of the spiritual Truth of the Universe, through extensive studies of all religious texts and theurgic traditions of the ancient, and promotes the "Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, and color." Its teachings are influenced by Neo-Platonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Nietzsche, and Kabbalah. H. P. Blavatsky, a controversial Russian psychic and one of the founders of Theosophy, wrote several books, such as "Isis Unveiled" and "The Secret Doctrine," which explain the Theosophist teachings.

Scriabin saw himself as a Theosophist messiah. He saw that his ability to create music was, by nature, theurgic. Scriabin believed that it was his duty to produce music spiritually powerful enough to bring forth "Akasa," a single vibration, believed by the Vedics, that possesses properties of breath, sound, light, and touch. This powerful vibration would trigger a massive disintegration of all materials, cause ecstatic extinction of all living beings and allow them to be re-born communally on a higher plane.

To bring forth this apocalypse, Scriabin set out to write a ritual of music, poetry, and dance that would last for seven days and nights. It was to be performed by thousands of people at the foothills of the Himalayas, in a temple created not by walls but by the whirling of the clouds of incense. This ritual was to be called "Mysterium." Sadly (and quite obviously), it was never finished. While working on it, Scriabin died suddenly, of a gangrenous infection on a nip from shaving.

Scriabin purportedly had a synaesthetic ability to see colors through sound. He assigned a color to each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale and claimed that these colors allowed him to write music. In his last finished symphony "Prometheus: Poem of Fire," he implements a newly invented instrument called the "color organ," whose keyboard reflects colors onto a screen, instead of pitch. It is now highly debated whether all of Scriabin's claims of synaesthesia are credible. 

Scriabin's music caused serious controversy during and after his lifetime; some considered it "evil,"erotic,"and "pathological," while others revered it as innovative work of a genius. After Scriabin's death, his music remained rather untouched by performers. It was the counterculture movement of the 1960s (with all its LSD-induced trips) that brought Scriabin back to the mainstream.

The correlation between Messiaen and Scriabin is rather clear. They both claimed they had synaesthesia. They were both spiritual mystics, although Messiaen, a devout Catholic, was much more conventional in going about it. More importantly, both of them share the prophetic and otherworldly rhetoric in their music. The listener is left feeling both frightened and mesmerized.

Scriabin called the eighth piano sonata to be the most "tragic" of the three. The piece begins in an uncomfortably slow and dissonant introduction of the main motive, prophetic and profound in character. The said motive is then developed in Allegro agitato within the confines of a traditional sonata form, stretched out. There is a coda, which accelerates to Presto, then Prestissimo. The main motive is still prevailing, although it is now accompanied by flickerings of chords. Instead of the expected strong ending, the piece comes to a close as the main motive is stated one last time in a sad, languid, and dreamy question mark - as if all that was experienced throughout the piece was nothing but a terrible trip, vanished into thin air.

Samuel Barber "Adagio For Strings"

Enjoy this recording of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings,"  by the NBC Orchestra with conductor Arturo Toscanini (1938), and wonderful segment on NPR about the impact of the piece in American culture.   
http://www.npr.org/2006/11/04/6427815/the-impact-of-barbers-adagio-for-strings


2015 Artists performed this last summer to standing ovation at the Timberline Lodge.  

There's just something about playing these American treasures in a setting like Powder Mountain!

Douglas Balliett, double bass / Paul Wiancko, cello / Michelle Ross, violin / Areta Zhulla, violin / Kathryn Eberle/ violin / Jia Kim, cello / Caitlin Lynch, viola

Douglas Balliett, double bass / Paul Wiancko, cello / Michelle Ross, violin / Areta Zhulla, violin / Kathryn Eberle/ violin / Jia Kim, cello / Caitlin Lynch, viola