Rands’ Dream Premiere

As I prepare to head back to Hong Kong, I wanted to offer some overall thoughts, a review of sorts, on the premiere of Bernard Rands’ Dream with the Chicago Symphony and Music Director Riccardo Muti. This is a mature work of a composer who has nothing to “prove.” Because of this, there is a restrained quality to certain aspects of the work; nothing is overdone. The final chord, for example, a romantic swell surging to silence, occupies a register that extends only as high as the F above middle C; thus many instruments are excluded from its presentation. For another composer, this would have been a moment to offer a grand, glorious ending, but for Rands this is a time to revel in a kind of unfinished warmth. Are there more notes or chords to this melody yet to come?

The final swell which ends the piece, as well as the overall ending section—in which a lyrical melody is presented in its full form for the first and only time with a displaced chord progression in the background—recall for me the music of Sibelius, another highly “restrained” composer I adore. There is the ending swell to a C major chord and elemental melodic movement from B to C at the end of the Seventh Symphony, as well as the extended yearning string melody amid a churning brass chord progression at the end of the Fifth Symphony, among other recollections that emerge.

As I wrote in a previous post, this is a piece in which musical ideas emerge in unexpected and seemingly spontaneous ways. What is more fascinating to me, having heard the piece, is how the rate or degree of this change affects our experience of the work. It is a very subtle thing to talk about and—like so many musical phenomena—likely an impossible sensation to precisely quantify, but the kinds of changes that take place—from one bar to the next or one beat to the next—are one of the most personal and elusively poetic aspects of the piece and something I enjoyed so much.

Through the three performances I heard, I was impressed with how quickly the orchestra understood the music, not just the notes and rhythms—that is to be expected from such musicians—but the narrative of the work, the sense of storytelling—in this case often interrupted storytelling—that defines the piece, and how every nuance and type of balance contributed to it.

There was something slightly operatic about Muti’s approach, an aspect of interrupted arias and interrupted recitatives, especially in quick mood shifts that start the work, and this sense of drama made the conclusion of the piece even more satisfying. What a pleasure it has been to witness the premiere performances of this work, as well as the rehearsals that made it possible. I look forward to exploring Rands’ work in more depth, and the philosophies and technical processes behind it, in a more extensive upcoming article.