Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The “Enigmatic” Serendipitic Connection ‘twixt Surgery and “A Sea Symphony”…

…or do you really gotta have surgery to hear the Sea Symphony?”

"English Ships in a Light Breeze" (oil painting by Charles Brooking) from my EMI recording


Two of my very favorite works of British symphonic music are the Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams magnificent “A Sea Symphony.”

The latter is a work involving a large chorus, two soloists in verses by Walt Whitman, and a very large orchestra. When performed in a great concert hall, it is a stunning experience. Whether experiencing it live or on a fine audio system, it is most definitely on my special list of “goose-bump-raisers.” Perhaps because of the large forces required, one does not get the chance to enjoy it live all that often (at least not around here).

Or maybe it’s just the fact it’s not by Mozart or Beethoven?

The wonderful Enigma Variations enjoys a bit more frequency in terms of live performance hereabouts, but still not often enough for me. Oh, well, that’s why we have CDs, LPs, and large stereo amplifiers pushing fine loudspeakers.

While I’d loved “A Sea Symphony” for years (and played it often on my programs when I was hosting classical music on the wireless), it wasn’t until 2004 that I got to enjoy it live in the concert hall.

In April 2004, I underwent surgery to rebuild my left thumb joint. The operation, I’m happy to say, was a complete success, and as I was recovering and still several days away from having my big hand cast sawed off, I heard radio spots for an upcoming performance at the Kennedy Center of the “Sea Symphony.”

Fortunately, it was April, so no bulky overcoat would have to be negotiated with the “Royal Blue Monster Claw.” Thus, as quick as one could say “Vaughan Williams,” I was on the phone to the Kennedy Center to reserve my seat for that Sunday afternoon performance. Even splurged on a Parterre Box seat up front on the left side of the Concert Hall to get as “up close and personal” with the orchestra, chorus, and soloists as possible for this first live hearing of this monumental work.

What a memorable concert, and a very nice treat I gave myself as a post-surgery present!

In the years that followed, I always kept an eye out for a performance of “A Sea Symphony” (also known as the Vaughan Williams Symphony No.1). But, unless I missed notice of it, as far as I know, it lay dormant, at least in terms of a Washington or Baltimore performance.

Now, here is the “Enigmatic” serendipity…

It’s eleven and a half years later, and I’m a couple weeks into recovery from an operation to repair an inguinal hernia.

You guessed it, didn’t you? Radio ad for a performance this Sunday by The Washington Chorus  of “A Sea Symphony” at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Not only “A Sea Symphony” but the chance to enjoy - on the same program! - a performance of Elgar’s masterful “Enigma Variations.” It too, especially the (highly Elgarian!) final variation is on the “GBR” list.

Care to guess where I shall be this coming Sunday evening?

And a special thank you to Dr. Martin Paul at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, whose deft laparoscopic surgical touch earlier this month would ensure I’d not miss this “traditional” post-surgery musical treat.

Oh, yes, if you’re wondering what I meant by the goose bumps reference above, why not sample a bit of this special treat from the 2013 BBC Proms performance at the Royal Albert Hall as Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo (who, you can tell, really enjoys  British music!) conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Proms Youth Choir and soloists Sally Matthews & Roderick Williams.  

This is where I want to be when next I immerse myself in “A Sea Symphony!”

Gee, d’you suppose I might be able to do that one without the surgical prelude?

©2015 Steve Ember

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