music for the eyes

Here’s a fun one: My local community/university orchestra will be premiering a new piece this weekend. Stanford University composer Mark Applebaum has composed a work for orchestra with a special, unusual soloist: a florist.

The Concerto for Florist and Orchestra riffs on the traditional notion of a concerto, where one or more virtuoso solists duke it out musically with an accompanying ensemble. In the new work, the orchestra will play and the florist will…presumably array flowers and leaves virtuostically all over the stage. Some musical concerto soloists have reputations for being high-strung individuals, and to my mind the new piece also riffs on the idea of florists sometimes having a reputation for being just as high-strung.

The work’s soloist will be James DelPrince, Associate Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences with a specialization in Floral Design and Interior Plantscaping Design at Mississippi State University. On his campus biography page DelPrince writes, “The aesthetics of horticulture involve recognition of the intrinsic beauty of plants and flowers along with the practiced skill of floral design and interior plant placement. I enjoy and value the opportunity to bring understanding and appreciation of floral and plant design to people.” And this weekend’s performance–the second time DelPrince has worked floral magic with Mark Applebaum’s music to accompany him–seems like a great way to bring some of that appreciation to a different sort of audience than people looking for something to decorate their wedding.

If you want more traditional fare, the all-concerto concert opens with Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, with Hannah Cho, winner of the orchestra’s 2009 Youth Artist Competition. Closing the evening will be another “conceptual concerto,” Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, a concerto with no soloists at all other than members of the orchestra, all of whom will have to work pretty hard to play the score.

One of my music profs from many years ago, Robert Erickson, was famous for shutting his eyes when listening to performances. He wasn’t bored; he just didn’t want the visuals to get in the way of truly hearing the music. You won’t want to shut your eyese for Saturday’s and Sunday’s performances.

The La Jolla Symphony performs. Steven Schick conducts.

9 thoughts on “music for the eyes”

  1. Yes, do tell … what did you think? Elbeth Liebenberg says she prefers to call herself a floral artist. Have been to a few fascinating demonstrations – where they talked us thru , the concept and the design.

    Mariolijn went to Pakistan, then showed us the Himalayas. A few years back … but a piece of bark laid horizontally for the foothills, then cat’s tail asparagus for the conifer trees, and those diaphanous silk scarves for the swirls of cloud on the mountain tops. More I can’t remember, but the whole stood as tall as she did, and we saw, the Himalayas.

  2. I think my nephew may be playing in that – he’s a cellist with the La Jolla Symphony. Thanks for the alert – I’ll have to find out more!

  3. That sounds interesting! I hope there will be some stills to help us get some idea of what happens. I hop eyou are going and will share your impressions?

    I rather like Bartok, have done ever since we studied some of his piano pieces for a music exam. I started off hating it and ended up loving it.

  4. Susan, yes, I’m going tonight. I’ll definitely have something to say. Maybe even some pictures…

    EE, I think “floral artist” might be a better name for what this person will end up doing tonight, but I think “florist” got picked for its shock(?) value. (Definitely more shocking than “flautist”!

    Stacy, small world! Hopefully you’ll get the inside scoop on the orchestra’s experience performing the piece.

    Janet, I’ll try to have something intelligent or at least semi-amusing to tell after the concert. Will it be just a stunt? Or will it actually make sense? I’m looking forward to the Bartok Concerto–that final movement really kicks!

  5. Fwiw, I asked my nephew about the concerto after the dress rehearsal, and he said it was quite a tricky piece – like Webern in the first movement, Boulez in the second, and Xenakis in the third. I.e., even for a 20th-century music buff like him, the piece held water. But he said it also had a fun tongue-in-cheekness throughout, as in the gong-cued, giant pruning-shear “snips” the florist made at the end of the piece. He thought it would definitely be an “experience” for the concert-goers (something that *had* to be experienced live), but as a player, there wasn’t much actual interaction between orchestra and florist, even though the florist soloist 🙂 seemed to have a good sense of rhythm. (He also said that the stage smelled *fantastic.*)

    (And he also waxed eloquent and enthusiastic about the La Jolla Symphony’s programming in general.)

    1. Stacy, thanks very much for the behind the scenes look at performing the piece. I did make it, and took some photos, and hope to getting around to posting a brief concert review. All in all I enjoyed myself, but thought that the soloist was an unnecessary distraction from the music, particularly since, as you point out, there was minimal interaction written into the score. I think the music held up fairly well, except for the last 2-3 minutes where things just fell apart. (It wasn’t the performance, it was composed that way.) Anyway, more later!

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