Friday, March 30, 2012: Sound as History & Landscape

Opus Osm Music for Shah of Persia

Sound-pictures can take you far away -- all the way to the ruins of Persepolis.

Using Sound as History and Landscape: Music for the Shah of Persia

Heralding in the new spring, the Prague Symphony Orchestra re-launched its Sunday Family Series on Mar 18 with Zdeněk Liška’s Music for the Shah of Persia suite. The six pieces were composed by Liška for the Shah Reza Pahlavi between 1971-1978 as a celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy.

Liška is known better as a composer for film than for the symphony, and his suite for the Shah does have something of a cinematic quality.

With broad sweeping atmospheric tones from the choir, off-set by melodic leitmotifs from solo instruments such as the harp or the harpsichord, Liška simultaneously captures a sense of open space and passing time.

The first movement of the suite Legacy of Ages (1971) features a wonderful soprano solo that lifts above the symphony. The solo voice acts as a guide through the history of the Persian Empire. In another piece, the harpsichord keeps retuning the melodic progression of the symphony back to a simple five-note leitmotif as the trumpets and timpani then swing out in broad, nearly dissonant, strokes.

While dynamic and grand, with a full choir, two harps, and an intense percussion section, the suite is also a bit bombastic with high-contrast soft and loud tones, disruptive outbursts of atonal chords that resolve to a sweet solo melody, only to get swept up again in a full orchestra outburst of sound and disharmony. Liška does indeed capture a sense of space.

Overall, however, the suite did not seem particularly well-suited to the Family Series program. Some children covered their ears when the drums and horns were in full swing, and the performance was an hour and a half without break.

Nonetheless, live music is always a special experience. The authentic sound of twenty violins all plucking at the same time is unlike anything that can be captured on an audio recording. At the same time, there is no way to predict, especially with lesser known music, just how the sound will fill a space, strike an audience, or create an atmosphere unique to that particular space and time.

The next Family Series segment has three pieces, all featuring soloists. It should be a nice way for younger audience members to get a sense of the individual sound of symphony instruments. And for older listeners, one of the pieces is Zdeněk Lukáš’ Concerto Grosso III for Six Solo Violins and Chamber Orchestra. Mr Lukáš was first introduced to Opus Osm readers in an article published May 10, 2011. You can read it and enjoy a short video sample of Zdeněk Lukáš’ music by clicking here. — oo

– Katie Perkins

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