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The Revolution Will Not be Televised: T@MS presents an evening of ‘canceled’ string orchestra pieces

photo: Sydney Krantz and Brightwork newmusic

It’s a little after 8pm at Monk Space, where the final and sold-out show of this year’s Tuesdays at Monk Space (T@MS) is about to take place. The orchestra heads from the back of the narrow hall to the blue-lit stage, single-file, through the center of the packed crowd, trying not to hit anyone with their instruments. Anthony Parnther greets an audience of “a lot of familiar faces” brimming with anticipation as he explains in a rich baritone that the pieces to be played on tonight’s concert were all ones he had previously agreed to conduct elsewhere, but for some reason or another (“politics or something else”) were canceled. The title for the evening’s concert is already starting to reveal its relevance.

Carlos Simon’s “Elegy: A Cry From the Grave” is the first piece on the program, and is dedicated to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown; three names that ring out with a lot of impact since the events of the summer of 2020 and the BLM movement. Parnther introduces the piece with all the gravitas one would expect given the subject matter, but also lets the audience know that the piece is more “optimistic in tone” than one might expect. Indeed, between the lush, romantic melodies; exuberant outbursts from the cellos on top of violin tremolos, and dramatic swells that suddenly become silence, Elegy does seem to suggest a sort of peace as it lands on its final major chord after several quasi-Romantic harmonic shifts.

Perhaps one of the most delightful moments of the evening happened when Parnther introduced the second piece, Leilehua Lanzilotti’s “with eyes the color of time,” for which she was named a Finalist in the Pulitzer Prize competition last year. To Parnther’s surprise, Lanzilotti was present in the audience, which was even more special because this was apparently only the second group ever to perform the piece live. Lanzilotti explained that each movement of the piece is named after a work of art that used to be in the now-closed Contemporary Art Museum of Honolulu, where she would run around as child because their apartment was too small. As each movement played, a picture of the corresponding artwork was projected overhead. For this writer who has known Lanzilotti virtually for several years, and has adored this piece ever since finding the score-follower video, this really was the perfect way to experience the piece live for the first time. The viola’s sul pont. long tones and 4-3 suspensions that open the piece made the entire room suddenly feel enchanted, as if the entire audience was holding their breath. Over the next six movements, Parnther and the orchestra adeptly execute the wild variety of string colors
that is so emblematic of Lanzilotti’s music, from scratching sounds and pitches so faint the audience almost wondered if they were real, to full on sul pont bariolage by the violins that get disrupted by the cellos violently throwing their bows against the strings, and (spoiler alert!) the percussion and vocal hums that are sure to catch an audience at a string orchestra concert off-guard. After all, she’s somewhat of an authority on wild sounds. A long line of fans waits to greet Lanzilotti (including yours truly), many telling her how deeply the piece affected them as we break for intermission.

After intermission, Parnther’s own work (from which the evening’s title was taken) throws politics back in to focus. He explains “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” takes its name from the 1971 poem by Gil Scott-Heron, and both the poem and tonight’s namesake are addressing the state of affairs in the country at the time; namely, that we are currently watching a slide into fascism take place in the US. Amidst the recent smattering of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, both this work and the evening’s theme as a whole suddenly take on a painful poignance. Thankfully, Parnther offers us another moment of levity with effortless charisma before introducing Dwight Trible, the narrator joining the orchestra for this piece. As a mellow percussion beat takes hold, the strings enter with frantic glissandi, before Trible begins powerfully narrating over angular pizzicato and vocal “ch-“ sounds from the orchestra. Suddenly, the entire orchestra builds to a frenzy as Trible booms “will NOT be televised” repeatedly, before stopping on a dime, and then a final growl from Trible: “The revolution will be LIVE!”. The audience appears to agree as they uproariously applaud.

The final piece is an arrangement of Shostakovich’s “Chamber Symphony in C Minor” by Barshai. Unusual in that of the five movements, three are “Largo”, the Chamber Symphony, as Parnther explains, was written by Shostakovich for string quartet in 3 days while living in Dresden, Germany in 1960 and is dedicated to victims of fascism and war. He explains that this piece contains several allusions to previous works, and asks the first violinist (Alyssa Park) to play Shostakovich’s name motif for the audience “D-Eb-C-B” or “Dssch” in German. The name motive does indeed permeate most of the piece quite audibly, opening the first movement before Park’s haunting, highly chromatic violin solo over the rest of the orchestra suspended on one note. The second movement begins furiously with wild runs and repeated, screeching downbows that recall Hermann’s score for Psycho and is the first real head-banger of the evening. In the following movements, the orchestra moves seamlessly through off-kilter waltzes (2 nd mvmt), violently repeated chords in bursts of 3 (4 th mvmt), before Park begins the 5 th movement with
another solo answered by the low strings. The cellos eventually circle back to the name motive, which begins to disintegrate, and the ensemble seems to evaporate on its last D-Eb half-step. A tremendous accomplishment for Parnther, this entire roster of string players, and a triumphant season finale for T@MS, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised will also not be forgotten anytime soon by those who were lucky enough to witness it.

Conductor, Music Director, and Bassoonist Anthony Parnther curates an evening at T@MS for conducted string orchestra featuring music inspired by courage, strength, and resistance to oppression.

8:00pm. Tuesday Jun 26, 2023

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