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San Antonio Symphony, Mastersingers, Lang-Lessing
Meyers Simplexity Prelude
October 10-11, 2014
Conductor Lang-Lessing’s fleet, tautly conceived account, handsomely
executed by the enormous orchestra, the Mastersingers chorus,
mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor and soprano Nadine Sierra. The
orchestra and the women of the Mastersingers opened the concert
with the first of the season’s 14 brief commissioned works, Randall Meyers’s “Nr. 1 Simplexity Prelude.”
The two vocal soloists, singing from a position behind the violas, projected beautifully and rode easily above the orchestra. Ms. O’Connor’s radiant instrument and sensitivity to the text — its progression from despair to ecstasy — were deeply pleasurable in “Urlicht” (lovingly shaped by Mr. Lang-Lessing), as was Ms. Sierra’s consoling warmth and gleaming high register in the finale.
As the title of Mr. Meyers’s “Simplexity Prelude” suggests, the work explores the interweaving of opposite ideas — on the one hand, busy, spiky, bubbling and earthy; on the other, calm, atmospheric and ethereal. The piece packs a lot of music into a scant few minutes. Both the composition and the performance were masterfully made.
MY STORY BLOG
A TRUE STORY
Children have an uncanny sense for problem solving. By desiring the impossible, with insatiable curiosity, they inadvertently stimulate an unknowable, even an out of the ordinary, chain of events for those who take them serious and try to satisfy their request. Like dominos or coloured wooden blocks, tumbling to the floor with laughter, one whimsical wish from a child can in seconds resolve psychological and domestic problems which their parents spend weeks, months, sometimes even years of therapy and argument trying to determine. There is something instinctive, even A-causal, about the child’s way of foreseeing future events.
When I asked my eldest daughter Minka, just short of a week before her seventh birthday, what she wanted for her birthday present, she answered in a calm matter-of-fact tone, as if her request was the most normal she could ask,
‘I want an elephant, papa!’
Since I had travelled in India and love elephants to this day, I must admit that I revelled in this obviously impossible request. There was also the rather painful issue of my fresh divorce from her mother and a pending custody spat that so confuses and distresses small children (and their parents), that made me want to say YES with all my heart. But, with regret, I rationalized.
‘Oh, you mean a stuffed toy elephant – right? Not a live one?’
She looked up at me rather disappointed as only a small child can do and said:
‘No, Papa, I want a real live elephant!’
Then began all the mental reasoning’s for why this cannot be, which children, by the way, never completely buy into.
‘But where will you keep an elephant? I mean an elephant is really big and can’t possibly fit into your small apartment.’ I said falteringly.
‘I could keep it in the cellar...and bring it food down there.’ she said with a genial little smirk.
‘Sweetheart,’ I said, being as tender as possible and trying hard not to squelch her dream, ‘elephants are wild animals and need a lot of free roaming space. They would be the saddest creatures on earth closed up in a cellar...plus they eat a house full of grass and hay every day...there’s not even space down there for their food let alone the animal!’
She just looked at me, thinking and suspicious, but nevertheless considering all the new information I had presented as well as her own options. Just like the cornered father I was, I asked;
‘Is there anything else that you want for your birthday?’
‘It’s okay, she said; and the discussion ended there.
We arrived at her mother’s apartment door, rang the bell at the main entrance and waited for the automatic buzzer to open it. We hugged and kissed goodbye. Before disappearing behind the closed door and her father’s despair she looked up and said;
‘I like elephants, but I like rabbits too.’ I hugged her once more, and kissed the top of her perfumed head whispering ‘I love you sweetheart.’
She scurried up the steps with her backpack bobbing up and down in rhythm with her pink rubber goulashes squeaking along the floor.
The door slammed.
A couple of days later, it must have been a Sunday because theatres and bars were closed Sundays in Norway, as I was walking down a back street into the centre of town window shopping for my daughter’s first nice watch, (I had decided that a watch was the suitable present for a Seven year old), I happened upon a tall fence surrounding a circus – Circus Merano, it was Sept. 1984. As I stood there staring through the wire mesh, it was a typical drizzly grey Norwegian day, I spied at the far end of a dirt path, tents and campers on each side forming a kind of muddy corridor, a stocky man busy hosing down two elephants. There was a large and small animal and both were relishing the water and attention. The circus was closed and the fence locked, but I being me, on impulse, began climbing the metal barrier separating me from elephant man at the other end of the camp. I was twenty-nine and really hoped that my crazy new idea would work. I walked nonchalantly up the man and his elephants – acting like all was fine in paradise. I said hello in Norwegian and he answered me in German. Since I studied music 4 years in Vienna my German was good and I quickly shifted gear and used this linguistic opening to squeeze my way into a conversation. He said that the place was closed I said I know but that I wanted to ask him a question. He waited absolutely open to my presence and even seemed to enjoy my improvised intrusion. I asked carefully, falteringly, ‘Uh...is it legal to take these animals out and...uh...well, walk them down the street?’ ‘Ja, selbstverständlich.’ Unbelieving I continued...’I mean take them down the street in town...to someone’s house – is that allowed?’ Laughing a little he answered; ‘Na’ ja natürlich...aber warum?’ Then I opened up my heart like a flood lock and told him all about my daughter’s birthday wish, my love for elephants and, to completely nail down my case, the whole story of my divorce and unfair visiting arrangement and on and on...He stretched out his hand and said ‘Mein Name ist Herr Spindlers (we shook hands), wann ist der Geburtstag Ihrer Tochter?’ I answered that her birthday party was going to be on Saturday in just three days...he said no problem as long as it was before their evening show, and that he’d bring along his daughter dressed up like a clown riding on top!! Too good to be true!!! ‘Only one problem,’ I said; ‘I have no money...I’m broke!’ At this comment he just scratched his head. But before I lost the whole deal, enthusiastically, I blurted out: ‘But I’m happy to come and shovel elephant shit for a week to repay you!’ He calmly said that this was not possible because the animals didn’t know me and it could be dangerous. Then he asked me what my job was...I answered that I was a composer, a musician. To my surprise (and it’s only because he was German that it turned out this way), he smiled from ear to ear and raising his hands in the air saying; ‘That’s great, a real stroke of luck...because I need some new music for my elephant dance number – maybe you could make this for me?’ I said, yes I can and will and it will be the best circus-elephant-dance-music ever written – I PROMISE!!! We then arranged that I should come the next day and meet the “Orchestra” so I could get the instrumentation right...A great deal, a great day, a great man with great elephants...and I was as happy as a hippo!
This rag-a-tag motley group of music makers definitely changed the concept of what an orchestra should be and how it should sound. My high-brow classical music education gave me no help here but my blues-jazz beginnings fortunately did! There were five guys in the band...oh, I’m sorry, orchestra. If I remember correctly the drummer played on the trombone, the double bass was playing guitar, the violin took the double bass, a clown was on accordion plus violin and the trumpet player played a contraption the likes of which should have been patented. It was a long horizontal flat bar with his three sizes of trumpet, a kazoo or two, whistles of all sizes and sounds, including a slide whistle, and to top it all off he had a one-man-band percussion setup attached to his head, shoulders, mouth, feet and knees. Wires were connected to bass drum, cymbals of all sizes, wood blocks, snares and a siren machine. That was my orchestra...and I have never since composed for a more stimulating group of free spirited maniacs!! (Only once later, working with drunken gypsies in a very expensive studio, recording a film score...where with every new take they, and I, had to drink more Vodka...divine decadence!!).
So, on the day of the party I went ahead of the elephant truck to my X’s apartment. The arrangements were in full swing, and I entered with two small packages, the watch and a doll, but wanting to surprise my daughter I told her and her mother that I had invited a couple of friends to stop by as the “big” present for my daughter. My X went ballistic at the idea that I would invite more people without asking her first. I calmed her down (sort of) by saying that there are no worries because one of them is so over weight that I’m sure that she won’t come in. Then, in secret, I whispered to my daughter that when I rang the outside bell twice she should go to the kitchen window and look down to the street...I didn’t say more. Then I left telling my X that I’d be back shortly. She was pissed...but then X’s always are!
Once out on the street again, I saw the circus truck drive up the road at the end of the walkway. Herr Spindlers opened the back of the truck and out came this beautiful creature...the elephant was decked out in colourful cloth and dangling strips of beads. His daughter hopped up on its back dressed like a clown with face painted and they started down the sidewalk. On both sides of the walkway were tall birch trees and the elephant, stretching her long trunk, stripped branch after branch of coloured leaves – a tasty snack before feeding time. I told them to walk slowly while I got my daughter to the window and ran to ring the bell. As the elephant walked down the sidewalk people in the surrounding apartment buildings started hanging out of their windows watching this completely Luis Bunuel like parade down on their street. My entourage couldn’t have been more out of place, nor could we have timed it better! My daughter was ecstatic and not at all afraid. She and all the other children came down amazed and were hoisted up on the elephant’s back and allowed to ride around a little on the walkway. My daughter also got to ride all the way back to the truck at the end. She did an amazingly beautiful thing along the way...she put her hands under the elephant’s big ears and hugged her. She said that it was so warm there...she rode all the way with me tagging along by her side so she wouldn’t fall. When I hoisted her down from the elephant she put her arms around my neck and squeezed hard, saying that this was the best present she had ever gotten!! She was seven years old and one dream came true, or close to it. The rest you can imagine.
I thanked my new friend Herr Spindlers and his lovely daughter for their help and promised to come by with his music in a few days. He was happy, I was happy, my daughter was happy, even the elephant seemed happy to break her routine and do something different for a change. I went home after the party and began composing this bizarre Felliniesque commission. I loved every minute of this task and delivered three pieces entitled: 1) Clown Gags 2) The Elephant Dance 3) The Horse trot Dance. Later, much later, I used these themes in three different feature films, years apart from one another, unbeknownst to the respective directors. Now I am publishing a string orchestra version of all three works in one volume called Circus Music (see; www.randallmeyers.com music).
A child’s dream, when taken seriously, can lead to the most amazing experiences.
Walking down the street one day, wrapped in my thoughts, I bumped into an old astronomer friend I had known since years. He came up to me with such an excited edge and action that I was sure that he’d made a certain discovery of importance of some sort. Ecstatic and smiling radiantly, he reached out and took hold of my shoulder, clasping tight. His eyes were beaming with fervor and creativity as he said;
“I’ve just made a great discovery! I’m going to be famous!!
Somewhat doubtful, like any good scientist would be, I said;
“Wow, so what is it – please fill me in…”
“Can you keep a secret?”
He asked suspiciously, as I said;
“Sure, of course!” Knowing damn well that I wouldn’t and that I’d corroborate his discovery with every astronomer I knew.
Leaning forward, with a quasi covert whisper, he said:
“I now have absolute proof that there is intelligent life on other planets in outer-space.
“My god,” I said, “that’s shocking – epoch changing!” Looking straight into his eyes I asked; “So what is your proof?”
“As simple as pie,” he said snickering like a cunning fox; “so simple that it has eluded humanity since the beginning of time.”
I was used to astronomers always talking about time in these vague, grand-swooping phrases, but now I was getting anxious to know what in hell his proof was all about.
“So come on, tell me, what is it that has eluded all us other mortals…that you have finally uncovered?”
“Okay, ok;” he waited a couple of beats savoring the moment for dramaturgical emphasis, then blurted it out: “the proof that there is intelligent life on other planets is simply…is simply, that they have NEVER contacted us!!!”
I was shattered by the depth of his discovery…and oh-so true!
RM…(never stop laughing)