The October program in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s Moxley Carmichael Masterworks series features music that is very appropriate for the Halloween season. Guest conductor Sameer Patel pointed out that fact during his comments between Night on Bald Mountain and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Both thrilling pieces were featured in the film Fantasia.
Maestro Patel urged the audience to take time during intermission to read the program notes for Symphonie Fantastique, which was still to come. Composer Hector Berlioz had a bizarre life that included plans to murder a fiancee who jilted him. The symphony’s five movements portray an artist’s obsession with a woman and his descent into madness. In the fourth movement, the artist poisons himself with opium and dreams that he has murdered the object of his desire and is executed for his crime. Patel and the orchestra received a well-deserved standing ovation on Thursday night.
After the concert, my wife and I happened to see an acquaintance who works for the Symphony. She offered to introduce us to Maestro Patel, who was having a “meet & greet” with some of the evening’s sponsors. He said we could call him Sameer.
We complimented Sameer’s interpretation of the music, which led to an interesting discussion about the creative arts versus the re-creative arts. Sameer said that a conductor is like a film director. Their job is to recreate what someone else has written. He encouraged me to read the “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, upon which Dukas based the symphony. The fourteen-stanza poem is almost like a script for the Mickey Mouse segment of Fantasia.
I asked Sameer how a conductor gets a musician in his orchestra to do something differently. Sameer said that the six basic commands of conducting are louder, softer, faster, slower, shorter, and longer. However, he said that the Knoxville musicians were receptive to more detailed instructions. He explained how he wanted to tell a story with the music, even wanting a snippet of a waltz to sound more French and less Viennese in the second movement of Symphonie Fantastique.
Sameer related a story about a time that Leonard Bernstein played Symphonie Fantastique in a Young People’s Concert. The great conductor and composer used the opportunity to warn his audience about the dangers of drug abuse. Bernstein said, “You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”