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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 5 years ago

Music review: Sarasota Orchestra: 'Sinking of the Titanic'

A moving, expressive tribute to the tragic story of the Titanic.
by: Edward Alley Contributor

The tragic story of RMS Titanic has long been a source of inspiration for books, movies and even a Broadway show, but Gavin Bryars’ conceptual sonic landscape, “The Sinking of the Titanic,” as presented Jan. 29 by the musicians of the Sarasota Orchestra, is in many ways more grasping and moving than other efforts. 

Bryars envelops us in a series of sounds, mostly musical, some electronic and some merely suggestive, allowing the listener to virtually relive the final 40 or so minutes before and after the ship sank.

This was not a programmatic narration of events represented by musical surges and climaxes, but more a compilation of sounds that began and ended with faint chimes and calming sounds of strings intoning the Episcopal hymn “Autumn,” which according to a survivor, was played by the musicians in the last moments. There is also evidence that the Titanic musicians played “Nearer My God to Thee” as well, but Bryars chose “Autumn,” with its text “Hold me up in mighty waters” more than appropriate.

“Sinking of the Titanic” is scored only for the lower voices of the orchestra, with violas, celli, basses, bass clarinet, bassoon, horns, tuba, keyboard and percussion arranged stereophonically on the Holley Hall stage, accompanied by a recorded electronic score, at times with voices, creating an atmosphere that is at once moving and expressive. The piece is mostly linear, with more evocative sounds than harmonies, except for those insinuated by the recurring phrases of “Autumn”, but it is never boring.

Playing without a conductor, the 19 Sarasota Orchestra musicians were flawless, capturing the mood and forward motion of the score. They also enhanced the silences, since the soundscape paused to almost let us catch our breath before moving toward its inevitable end. As the onstage music became softer and more distant, it was replaced by the electronic score, as if the music was continuing to be heard from the depths as the ship slowly sank, and then we were submerged in a silence that seemed to last for minutes, until the lights came up slowly, bringing us back to reality after this most moving experience.

In her four seasons as music director, Anu Tali has not only led the musicians of the Sarasota Orchestra to greater musical heights, but she has also enlarged the orchestra’s repertoire and introduced Sarasota to many outstanding musical works, giving us an appreciation for contemporary musical experiences we would never have before considered in our “traditional” Sarasota.

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