By Dr. Cody Birdwell
University of Kentucky Wind Symphony Director
The performance of American composer Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” on Nov. 19, featuring The Lexington Singers, the University of Kentucky Chorale, and the University of Kentucky Wind Symphony, is the first in Lexington since my arrival at UK in 2004. When UK Choral Director Jefferson Johnson suggested a collaboration between our two ensembles with Stravinsky’s monumental composition as the centerpiece for the program, I was elated by his suggestion and knew that our ensembles would sound incredible together under his baton. The performance will present more than 200 musicians on stage in the Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall, and will also bring to the podium British conductor Timothy Reynish who will conduct Christopher Theofanidis’ “The Here and Now” with text based on the writings of Rumi. The concert will open with the UK Wind Symphony performing John Mackey’s award-winning composition “Aurora Awakes.”
Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms,” the best-known of his religious works, is
formidably devout but never confessional. A double fugue suggests the way of God – not majestically baroque, but factual, inexorable, Byzantine. A timeless “Aleluia” clinches the final impression of metaphysical grandeur and repose. A request by Serge Kussevitzsky for a symphony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1930 resulted in the composition of the “Symphony of Psalms.” It was preceded by the dramatic works “Oedipus Rex” and “Apollo,” which resemble religious works in their grandeur and musical composition, although pagan in subject matter. There is no doubt that Stravinsky’s faith was authentic at the time the “Symphony of Psalms” was written. He had become a regular communicant of the Orthodox Church in 1926. The work represented Stravinsky’s need to express his faith and desire to do homage to God. However, the fact that he was a devout believer did not mean that the work ought to be looked upon as a personal confession of faith. It can be understood as a projection of Stravinsky’s own faith through the imagined faith of an anonymous congregation. It remains a highly dramatic work nevertheless. In May 1930, he gave an interview in which he asserted that “the more one separates oneself from the canons of the Christian Church, the further one distances oneself from the truth,” but also “the overflowing of the framework in art testifies to a lack of internal discipline, which weakens the work.”
This is a concert not to be missed!! For the audience, the performance will present the unique opportunity to experience first-hand the amazing talents of the University of Kentucky School of Music’s finest musicians, and the extraordinary talents of our very own Lexingtonians that comprise the membership of The Lexington Singers.
We’ll see you 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18. Be sure to get your tickets today!