I was tying myself into knots today - unnecessarily, as it turns out
- to be polite in trying to find out from Sofia Gubaidulina why her
mightily impressive "St. John Passion" is as depressing as it seems
to me (http://www.sfcv.org/2009/02/17/music-news-96/#anchor7).
Ahem: "From an outsider's point of view, it seems to me
that one important aspect of religion is to console and
comfort; I didn't hear that in your Passion - was that [with
a discreet chuckle] your fault or mine?" - and while she
was thinking, I quickly added:
"Perhaps you have other religious works I haven't heard yet
that are more, well, comforting?"
And this is what she said, with a perfectly pleasant demeanor:
"There is no comfort in the Passion or in my other works,
only tragedy and suffering."
I waited one beat, then another. Finally:
"Why is that?"
And she said, still pleasantly: "Because I have a tragic
sense of life, similar to what you find in Rilke, Shakespeare,
Greek tragedy. Those who seek comfort, should listen to
But Shakespeare and Greek tragedy provide catharsis; St.
John's doesn't. Was that in my hearing?
"No, it's the music."
Additional data, including warm memories of her moderate mullah
grandfather [her Russian Orthodox faith is from her mother's side of
the family], will be upcoming in stories yet to be written, but here's
something important for potential San Francisco audiences: I can vouch
for both Gubaidulina's upcoming orchestral works ("The Light of the End,"
2/18-21, and Violin Concerto No. 2 "In tempus praesens," 2/26-27) -
they are dramatic, but not tragic, and should not depress... perhaps
to the composer's regret. [http://sfsymphony.org/season/]
Afterthought: the equally downhearted Arvo Part's "religious music"
(which, perhaps, means all his music) has more of an updraft for me than
Gubaidulina's Passion. Perhaps I should ask him whose fault that is.
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