Works for harp, violin, and ‘cello, Mount Wilson Observatory
DAVID J BROWN
I’ve a hunch that even with familiarity the thrill is never quite going to go away: after the long, twisting drive up the mountain you get the first glimpse of the great white dome in the distance and then, once parked and with the further half-mile walk uphill behind you (now slightly breathless from the near 6000-foot altitude), you reach the theatrical scene-setting inside. Climbing precipitous metal staircases to the observing floor brings you, now really out of breath, to the seating in semi-gloom… and then the dome aperture rumbles apart, light streams into the space, and with scarcely a sound or sense of movement, the whole dome/floor assembly, carrying the audience with it, slowly revolves into position. What a location!
|Roger Wilkie, Cécilia Tsan, and Marcia Dickson were enthusiastically applauded.|
And so to the music, courtesy of Dan Kohne, Mount Wilson Institute Board of Trustees member and de facto director of development, and Cécilia Tsan, Artistic Director for these summer seasons and principal ‘cellist of the Long Beach Symphony. In this first concert she was joined by Roger Wilkie, the LBSO’s concertmaster, and harpist Marcia Dickstein, around whose instrument the program very much was constructed. First up were two 20th century French works, the Trio for Violin, Cello and Harp by Jacques Ibert and Saint-Saëns’ Fantaisie for Violin and Harp Op.124.
The first movement of Ibert’s Trio, composed in 1944, has a strong unison opening from all three instruments: energetic, slightly unstable rhythmically due to its alternation of 6/8 and 7/8 measures, but of unclouded amiability (as indicated in the unusual marking Allegro tranquillo). It encloses a gentle, slower, middle section introduced by the harp, and this lyrical aspect is deepened in the exquisite slow movement, where a long and rapturously beautiful melody, first introduced by the ‘cello, is sung in increasingly ecstatic flights by the two stringed instruments against rapid dolcissimo chords on the harp. A short Scherzando con moto finale brings the work back to earth, but with the most thistledown of touchdowns.
of Saint-Saëns in 1907.
Saint-Saëns wrote his Fantaisie in 1907 at the age of 72 – fairly late in, but by no means near the end of, his very long career. Despite his already huge compositional output, the work carries not the faintest whiff of staleness; rather it sounds the work of a master composing purely for pleasure, to which Mr. Wilkie and Ms. Dickstein responded eloquently. The Fantaisie’s five clearly delineated but linked sections flow without apparent effort each into the next, entirely side-stepping any hint of sonata-form though with a return near the conclusion to the opening melodic exchange between the two instruments, to tie the structural knot.
Last came the Trio “Bi”, dedicated to Ms. Dickstein, by the contemporary West Coast movie and concert composer Bruce Broughton. According to his own program note, “the term ‘Bi’ simply means ‘two’. As used in this piece, the word refers to the two different performance methods used in stringed instruments: bowing and plucking (bi-functional); to the two movements (bipartite); and more specifically to the use of two scales concurrently (bi-modal).”
|2017 saw the 100th anniversary of the completion of the 100-inch telescope,
while 2018 celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of George Ellery Hale (1868-1938).
100-Inch Telescope Dome, Mount Wilson Observatory, Sunday 6 May 2018, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Photos: The performers, the observatory, and George Ellery Hale: Courtesy Mount Wilson Observatory; Saint-Saëns: Courtesy schubertiademusic; Jacques Ibert: Louis Silvestre, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons; Bruce Broughton: Composer website.