An evening of music meditating on the subject of death isn’t usually the first thing you’d prescribe to chase away the mid-February blahs. But the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra has taken this unlikely theme as the focal point for its current program.
Under the direction of conductor David Currie, the group will play three rarely heard compositions: Richard Strauss’s tone poem Death and Transfiguration, Abbé Liszt’s piano concerto Totentanz (The Dance of Death) and Georgian composer Giya Kancheli’s Styx.
“The program is really more about life than it is about death,” Currie says. “Specifically, it’s music that explores the mystery of life’s finite nature and the question of what happens after it’s over.”
Kancheli’s piece, in particular, will be a rare treat for Ottawa music lovers. Named for the underground river in Greek mythology separating the worlds of the living and the dead, Styx is the only one of the three works written by a living composer. Penned in 1999 (a practical newborn in the world of classical music), it has been heard in North America a handful of times.
“It’s a crossover piece between popular and classical music that can speak to everyone in the audience, regardless of their level of musical knowledge,” Currie says. “I’ve had it on my bucket list of compositions to perform since I first heard it.”
Non-classical music audiences can find the prospect of a first-time symphony outing intimidating, feeling they lack the ear to really understand what’s going on. But Currie dismisses that idea.
“Music speaks universally,” he says. “Having a background in classical music can help in understanding a piece within its historical context. But that doesn’t change the basic valid response each individual has to the sounds they experience. Whether you’ve been to a classical concert before, everyone’s been exposed to hundreds of examples of classical music in movies and on television. Just expect beautiful sound, enjoy yourself, and react to what you hear.”
On the subject of universality, Benjamin Franklin once famously quipped that nothing is certain but death and taxes. Which raises the question: does the OSO have plans for a program of music about taxes?
“No plans for that,” Curries says dryly. “There’s nothing entertaining about taxes.”