By Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom
Portland, ME, 24 January 2010 "An inspirational and moving program which pairs the heartfelt poignancy of Ravel's exquisite musical lament with the frenetic and brilliant genius of Mozart. Apropos of both "head" and "heart," Headcase is a multimedia musical exploration of living composer Brett Dietz's struggle to regain clarity after a suffering a stroke at the age of 29." (©2010 Portland Symphony Orchestra)
So read the announcement for the Sunday, January 24 performance of the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium. The spontaneous invitation to a dress rehearsal at 10 a.m., at which a collection would be taken for Haiti relief, fulfilled its promise to deliver on the inspired programming, especially with the contemporary multimedia work, Headcase, written by stroke survivor Brett Dietz. Robert Moody conducted the rehearsal, as always fascinating to watch. The perfectly cast baritone soloist was Timothy Jones who unobtrusively participated in the rehearsal, perhaps by recording, but he may have been seated with microphone among the half dozen instrumentalists. I found that preferable to the photo of the actual performance in which he stood near the conductor. It seemed intentionally self-effacing and appropriate.
Interestingly enough, at the rehearsal, the contemporary multimedia work came first. It would end the announced program for the Sunday Afternoon PSO Classical Series concert. Thoughts of the composer/librettist were projected in color on a screen high above the performers and interpreted in contemporary music style by the small instrumental ensemble comprised of members of the Symphony under Moody's baton.
The Maine premiere of "Headcase" is to be rebroadcast on Maine Public Broadcasting Network, MPBN, on Public Radio. At this writing, I do not find that they plan an opportunity to watch a video of the projected visual content, together with the audio on their website. This would be an ideal project for the future to make it possible to share the hope it inspires with Stroke Support Groups connected with Rehab centers and hospitals across the country.
Pleasantly dissonant contemporary music made for easy first listening because its mood expressed emotionally exactly what the words from the convalescent's notebook revealed. It was as if listening to movie background music for those members of the audience who could actually empathize with the struggles of the writer/composer. Completely caught up in the experience, I realized that I had not been taking notes on performance by specific instruments.
Words, such as "Why can't I speak?" were those of the stroke patient as he struggled for healing. The baritone voice demonstrated feelings. When the healing occurs, lovely consonant instrumental music expresses it. At first, it seemed as if the baritone was recorded, but eventually, I decided that the soloist was probably seated at the inner end of a row of musicians, with microphone. I missed rehearsal introductions, as I arrived a couple of minutes after 10 a.m..
After a fifteen minute break, Maestro Moody put the newly assembled full orchestra members through their paces in preparation for the 2:30 p.m. performance of "Pavane pour une infante defunte" (Pavane for a Dead Princess) by Ravel and Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K183 by Mozart. The Ravel seemed a bit hesitant, although lovely to listen to. The Mozart ended our morning session in an upbeat mood. It is interesting to imagine how the audience reception or this new work might differ had this order of programming been followed in the actual Classical Sunday Series performance that concluded with the Maine premiere of Headcase.