From the Podium: Nature’s Majesty

Published on: November 6, 2014

We all have been awed by a sunset, inspired by an amazing landcape, or mesmerized by the power of a storm. Who among us, upon seeing nature’s wildlife, has not imbued it with qualities such as nobility, tenderness, or magic? When we recall these visions, it is easy for us to relive the experience with pleasure. But try to recreate that experience for others – in poetry, painting, or even – music! No easy task is it? Yet, this is the underlying concept in the Peoria Symphony Orchestra’s November 22 concert. You will experience how three genius composers capture for us the intricate sets of images, thoughts, and emotions inspired by nature.

Our connection to nature is utterly primal. Nature was the source of our survival, our existensial challenges, and our sense of awe from the moment we became cognizant beings. Its beauty, its creative and destructive power, and its sheer sublimity became the font of our first wonderments, our first superstitions, and our first spiritual explorations. It was natural for us to want to empathize with it, to explain it, to control it. Whether through science, mythology, or art, nature initiated humanity’s creative genius – from cave paintings to shamans’ tales to stone tools. And, nature continues to inspire us. Even now, as celestial travelers, our science, science fiction, and artforms continue to explore the majesty and mystery of nature. And so we take three wonderful musical journeys on November 22 to experience nature through music’s ineffible magic of description, suggestion, and inspiration.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ beautiful The Lark Ascending was inspired by the pastoral poetry of George Meredith. In a tender irony, Vaughan Williams wrote it while watching troops embarking from England for the Great War – begun only 100 years ago this year. Both the poetry and the music soar effortlessly, mesmerizing us with the peaceful beauty of nature in harmony. One can almost hear Meredith’s poetry, and the scene that inspired it, in the music:

He rises and begins to round,

He drops the silver chain of sound,

Of many links without a break,

In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,

‘Tis love of earth that he instills,

And ever winging up and up,

Our valley is his golden cup.

And he the wine which overflows

to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings

In light, and then the fancy sings.

PSO concertmaster Marcia Henry Liebenow plays the part of the Lark, weaving Vaughan Williams’ melodies into an achingly beautiful symphonic inspiration of the English countryside. After hearing this bucolic masterpiece, one cannot help but look at nature with a deeper appreciation and care. Marcia’s violin itself is a collaborative effort between humanity and nature – centuries in the making. From ancient lands and forests, human hands created an instrument that gives voice to the wood through her caring hands – much as the earliest cave dwellers may have carved instruments from wood and bone and paid homage to nature.

Michael Dicker, bassoon

Michael Dicker, bassoon

John Williams’ Five Sacred Trees evokes through music the mystical relationship between nature and humanity through Celtic mythology and the poetry of Robert Graves. From the mists of Ireland emerge these towering trunks; stand guard over the wellspring of the River Shannon and the door to the “other world” – inspiring the ancient craft, echoing the ancient battles, and inspiring poets. Written to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, Williams’ cinematic style is at its height. You will create your own images as you listen to this virtuoso work for bassoon and orchestra. PSO Principal Bassoon Michael Dicker is our shaman for the evening, telling the story and showing the glory of this enchanted musical forest as if his instrument was hewn from those very woods.

After intermission, we experience the true majesty and magic of Nordic lands. Jean Sibelius wrote his inspiring Symphony #5 (video and music link) as a government commission for an important Finnish national holiday – his 50th Birthday. Imagine your birthday being declared a national holiday – while you are still alive! Sibelius was always interested in the organic unfolding of music as a mirror of nature and the primeval undercurrents of this masterpiece stay close to the Finnish psyche about nature – with images of forests, changing of seasons, and the majestic expansiveness of Finland’s natural beauty. The music will have you soaring above this landscape, as we rise from the Finnish coast at dawn and venture inward to fertile fields, dark forests and soaring mountains. And humanity is there as well! Finding the warm light of a cabin in the winter woods, we enter to a celebration of nature in dance and song. By the finale, our primal selves are once again at one with nature. It is music, and nature, at its most sublime and most noble – beautiful, awe-inspiring, and powerful.

I hope you will join us for this very special evening. As we prepare for our own season of Thanksgiving, it will be a great way to remember and be thankful for the bounty we receive from Nature. I guarantee that you will be inspired – you may even want to go on a hike the next day!



George Stelluto, Music Director of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra

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