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ISO's Music of the Earth Festival brings a new interpretation to classics

Krzystof Urbánski shares what stands out at the ISO Music of the Earth Festival

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Krzystof Urbánski
  • Krzystof Urbánski

Last season, Krzystof Urbánski and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra went on a journey through the cosmos, celebrating and exploring all things celestial. This year, Urbánski decided to champion things terrestrial, with a two week long Music of the Earth festival.

In interviewing him, it's clear that his enthusiasm for the earth is much like it is for space; full of admiration, wonder, and respect. "I hope you don't find me too Voltaire, but I believe we live in the best of all possible worlds," he says. "When I look around and see all the beauty, love, and passion, I am always amazed by this extraordinary place we live in."

Urbánski explained that he wanted to visit two aspects of earth: physical, and metaphysical, and planned the concerts as such. In the first week, the physical aspect is manifested in some mountainous works: Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, and Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony. The title Appalachian Spring doesn't refer to a season, but actually wellspring on a hill that was spoken about in a Hart Crane poem, from which the title is derived. The Strauss, while being about an Alpine mountain, isn't just about that. In a video about the work, Urbánski says: "The piece is inspired by mountains. But the fact is, that Strauss is not about rocks, not about mountains. It's about human feelings. There is a hero, a person, I believe it's the composer, who travels through mountains, and his experiences, on the pages of the score. It's what we see through his eyes and through his musical imagination."

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With that, the Strauss leaves the door open for the metaphysical week of the festival.

Mahler's work Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) two voices (Mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke and tenor Paul Groves for these performances) and orchestra made up of six songs, fits that bill ever so aptly.

"Every note Mahler had ever written truly came from the bottom of his heart," says Urbánski. "His music is intimate and sincere. Mahler the composer had to reflect in his music what Mahler the human being was going through. Passion, pain, understanding for the overall process of life as a result of a tragic death of his daughter and terrible disease diagnosis can be heard in his late works." The emotional journey Mahler went on before and through Das Lied is nearly palpable for some, including Urbánski. "Mahler's work is very demanding, both technically and mentally. When I work on Mahler symphonies, my life is consumed by it. I sometimes get depressed because his music is so powerful."

The other portion of the metaphysical journey involves a piece many of us know well, in its original scoring and remixed at a later performance: Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The original scoring for it will be performed at Eskanazi Hospital (Featuring Sherry Hong and Charles Morey as solo violinists); and at Hilbert Circle Theater for the weekend, Urbánski decided to present Recomposed By Max Richter: Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (with violinist Alexi Kenney).

New or remixed, music is a journey that Urbánski feels strongly about.

"I wanted to present an interesting new version," he says. "In Richter's vision, the skeleton of the piece is still there, but there are tiny twists that make it different. The original Four Seasons is so well-known because we hear it in shopping malls, on television, or even in elevators. If someone doesn't know anything about classical music, if you play the first two bars of 'Spring' or 'Autumn', they will recognize it. This nearly three hundred year old composition is already a part of us. Having said that, I think it is very courageous of Richter to give the piece new appeal. We present it to give the listeners freedom to decide how they like this new interpretation.

"The Earth is part of the Universe, but it can be seen as a universe itself," Urbánski explains. "Complexity of our planet and life on it especially in its philosophical aspects fascinates me. I am happy that we can invite our audience for a two week journey to experience the Earth with us."

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