Zoroaster and the PSO – David DeAngelo

It's good to be back blogging for the PSO.  Last time, I was lucky enough to hear Dana Fuchs at the Point and Mahler 2 at Heinz Hall within a few minutes of each other.

This time it's Richard Danielpour, Mozart and Richard Strauss.  Luckily, there's a thread connecting the music performed tonight – from the evening's program:

Zoroaster, the founder of one of the world's earliest monotheistic religions connects two of the works on this weekend's program: Composer of the Year Richard Danielpour's Concerto for Orchestra (Zoroastrian Riddles) Part I draws its inspiration from Mozart's dual interests in the popular eighteenth-century pastime of riddling and Zoroaster as the emblem of ancient wisdom.  Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra is inspired by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche's colossal treatise of the same name.

The band, conducted by the Latvian Andris Nelsons (who, by the way, turns 31 on Wednesday. Apsveicu dzimšanas dienā, Maestro.), was cookin'.  From the tuning pitch to the end of the applause it was a great evening of some great music.  Indeed the applause at the end of the concert lasted long enough that I suspect it gave Andy Druckenbrod (who usually scoots out the door just as the clapping begins) enough time to make it back to his music-critic desk at the P-G before all the clapping ended at Heinz Hall.  On the downside, I did notice that Nelsons seemed at too many times to be waving at the players more than actually, you know, conducting them.  But I digress, it didn't matter much – the band still sounded great.

The Danielpour was a fine piece (though actually it was just two movements from the work – something that confused both Druckenbrod and his opposite number at the Trib, Mark Kanny).  Clear distinct instrumental tone colors and a driving rhythmic propulsion reflect a composer in deep deep control of the orchestrational forces he so easily musters. 

The Mozart concerto, with it's solo part played throughout with a full round tone by Stephan Jackiw was, like most Mozart, simply lovely.  On a completely unrelated note, could someone please sit Mr Jackiw down and feed him?  The man's thin.  Reed-thin.  Flagpole-thin.  Standing-sideways-he-could-easily-hide-behind-his-violin-case-thin.  That thin.  Just a few donuts a week should do the trick.  Maybe some Ice Cream.  Better yet, both.  Still, he sounded great.  His well-received encore, the prelude from the E-Major Partita (BWV 1006) by Bach, was outstanding.  Remarking on the encore, Mark Kanny gushed:

The cleanliness of his playing is remarkable, with Bach's music showcasing an impeccable bow arm.

See for yourself from this youtube clip from a performance last April in Seoul South Korea.

Then there's the Strauss.  Jeebus, what a piece.  We all know it (or at least its opening gestures) from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey but it's much more than that.  It's Strauss commenting on Nietsche who was recasting Zoroaster, that ancient Iranian mystic.

A word or two on the Übermensch might be in order.  What is it?  The literal translation is "overman" but that sounds a little too clunky in English.  A less literal translation might be "Superman", but that's a little too Kryptonian-refugee in American.  Perhaps we should just leave it as "Übermensch" and find a good definition in usage.  A good place to start might be here

Nietzsche, informed in part by a misreading of evolutionary theory, perceived a next step in humanity's journey. He believed that this next step would be the appearance of the Übermensch or overman. The purpose of the Übermensch was to overcome the man, not externally, but internally. He would literally be more than man. This Übermensch would be an artist, scholar, lover, and philosopher. He would do what most people only dream of doing. He would test himself and his vision against the strength of the world.

More than that, though, the Übermensch would overcome the need for God, which Nietzsche saw as a dead concept. Unlike normal men, who need the fear of an external authority, the Übermensch would be a law unto himself. He would decree his morality and enforce it on himself. He would be a self-contained moral authority. This is at the very core of what the Übermensch is all about. Nietzsche was primarily a moral and social philosopher and his Übermensch was a creation almost entirely directed at moral and social questions.

Whether that morality is Nietzsche's will to power or something else has always eluded me – like much of Nietzsche.  He was, as far as I can tell aiming towards a new morality, casting off the old one in the process.

There's another thread between pieces, as well.  Danielpour referenced Mozart's love of riddles and titled his work "Zoroastrian Riddles."  There's a "riddle" connection to the Strauss as well as we read from the quickly-scooted Druckenbrod:

The concert featured a work examining Nietzche's "world-riddle" of life — Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra" — and also Richard Danielpour's Concerto for Orchestra, "Zoroastrian Riddles." Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, with its mysterious Turkish intrusion, landed in-between [emphasis added.].

What is this "world riddle"?  As far as I can tell, it's the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything (though its answer probably isn't 42).  Of course, like Ives' Unanswered Question, it remains unanswered (unanswerable?) by the end of the piece.

In the end it's less about Zoroaster himself or even about Nietzche's Zarathustra (the book or the Übermensch) as it is about Strauss' reaction to the book.  Indeed, he's quoted as saying:

I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray in music Nietzsche's great work….The whole symphonic poem is intended as an homage to Nietzsche's genius….

Again much of Nietzsche eludes me.  Perhaps it's the fact that I am reading him in English rather than German.  Perhaps I am not smart enough.  Perhaps I am forever put off by the mustache.

One Response to “Zoroaster and the PSO – David DeAngelo”

  1. New to all of this says:

    I attended the performance on Sunday afternoon (also known as the “Early Bird Special”). I thought both Nelsons and Jackiw were fantastic. During the Mozart concerto, they made an interesting pair. When Jackiw was playing, Nelsons seemed to be much more subdued, appropriately so. When he plays, Jackiw appears to have a relatively stationary intensity. When Jackiw wasn’t playing, on the other hand, Nelsons is constant movement, doing everything from from hunching forward to standing upright to crouching low, with upper body movement including swinging arms to go along with subtle gestures of the hand. The visual of the two complemented the music.
    On a less-than-serious point, I would suggest that Nelsons consider a new publicity shot for the programs. His looked a little too much like a magazine ad for an Italian clothing designer. You slap a logo on that picture above the words “New York, Paris, Milan”, and it gets picked up in next month’s trendy fashion mags.

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Nov 14