A dose of the romantics is what the world needs right now

Franz Schubert. Antonín Leopold Dvořák. Sergei Rachmaninoff. Three romantics whose lives spanned 150 years of tumultuous European history and whose music forms the backbone of the upcoming concert on Saturday 7 May at 2 pm in the beautifully named Sakharov Hall of Holy Trinity-St Nicholas Church in East St Kilda.

I’m delighted to be sharing the afternoon with great artists and friends in music. Headlined by Ukrainian-Russian musicians: the beautiful soprano Rada Tochalna, and my friend and musical conspirator (with a musical pedigree like no other) Phillip Hamilton joining me on the piano, we have also the wonderful Rina D’Cruz who plays with the Bayside Chamber Orchestra on clarinet and Paul Deakin, a baritone who is lending us his vocal talents for the afternoon.

As happenstance would have it, the program fell into place effortlessly and with great enthusiasm and support. I was mulling this over and wondering what mystical threads were pulling things together so easily, and why we as musicians arrived at this moment to celebrate the Romantics.

The world needs romantics, right now more than ever.

To whet your appetite, here the main elements of the program:

“The Shepherd on the Rock” (German: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen), a Lied for soprano, clarinet, and piano by Franz Schubert which was composed in 1828 in the final months of his short but productive life. He died when he was only 31 years old.

The text has a similarly tragic undertone with both poets (Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Müller, Karl August Varnhagen von Ense) rising from poor and under-privileged backgrounds to literary greatness. One, Johann Müller, dying young at the age of 32, and the other, Karl von Ense, passing from this world at the end of a game of chess. His last words, “I lost.” I have included the English translation of Der Hirt auf dem Felsen after the article here.

The ‘Legends’ of Antonín Leopold Dvořák started life in this form – piano duet for four hands. Later rewritten for orchestra, the clear folk origins of the melodies and rhythms are a delight to play and speak clearly to the romantic ideal of a simpler life.

Dedicated to the legendary Ukranian-Russian soprano Antonina Nezhdanova, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise Op. 15 contains no words and lends itself to our deep contemplation and welcomes the emotional projections of the listener as well as critics and musicians.

Music critic Richard Wright says of the Vocalise, “As a metaphor for nostalgia, homesickness, and erotic yearning, nothing says it better.”

Musicians Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe added, “In the end, the deepest emotions transcend the limitation of language, finding ultimate catharsis in waves of soaring expression.”

Our thanks to the peace-loving people and parish of Russian Catholic Church of Holy Trinity – St Nicholas, Rev Fr Lawrence Cross and Sr Birute Arendarcikas RSM for welcoming us and our music into the aptly named Sakharov Hall.

For those not familiar, Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (Андрей Дмитриевич Сахаров) was a Soviet nuclear physicist, dissident, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and activist for nuclear disarmament, peace, and human rights.

So why Romantics right now?

Europe of the 19th century straddled many of the challenges seen again in Ukraine today. Would-be conquerors, invasions, long wars and conflicts, battles over cultural superiority.  The personal impacts of all of this touched those featured in our program. Some even had to bear arms and according to their poetry, were deeply affected by that experience.

Romantics used art, literature and music to appeal to our humanity and emotions, reminding us of the simplicity and beauty of original culture such as herding sheep and the beauty and deep meaning of folk traditions.

Songs of sadness and hope. Celebrations of Eastern European folk music. Musicians using their talents to contribute to the growing song of peace that the world needs as much now as it did then.

Hope to see you at our concert.

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