MU Composer’s Bicentennial Piece Captures River Life, Music of Travelers |
MU composer Stefan Freund is no longer interested in camping.
“I always say I’m not going to camp because I work too hard to sleep on the floor,” he joked.
But Freund has enough experience to know what it is like to wake up on a freezing morning because the fires have gone out. These memories were useful to him when he conceived the opening of his last composition, “Voyageur Fantasy” for horn and orchestra.
The Voyageurs were French Canadians who transported furs by river during the height of the North American fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. They spent their days on great rivers like the Missouri and Mississippi, paddling almost constantly from dawn to dusk and mostly singing at a pace that matched their paddling strokes.
“It was just this zone of Zen living that they were in to get the job done,” said Roger Kaza, principal horn of the Saint-Louis Symphony Orchestra. “Voyageur Fantasy” was commissioned by SLSO and written for Kaza, who will be the featured soloist at the play’s Friday premiere at the orchestra’s two New Years concerts at Powell Hall in St. Louis.
The start of the play invites the imagination: travelers wake up cold, groggy, and move slowly. Mist rises from the river. In the dreamy gray light before dawn, the men envision their day of nothing but paddling, singing, and smoking breaks – called pipes, Kaza said, as they have blown their pipes before relighting them. . He says he has been interested in the history of the fur trade for decades.
Momentum builds up steadily after this in “Voyageur Fantasy”. “I’ve always liked songs that work this way,” said Freund, professor of composition at the School of Music. “I like the idea that in music we can use time and growth to illustrate this idea of things that emerge, come together, develop.”
The idea for the commission came when Kaza was visiting his girlfriend, children’s book author Kate Klise, at her home in the Ozarks. He picked up a little magazine published by his electric cooperative.
“That’s where I saw this article on the bicentennial. I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting.'” They started talking and Klise suggested an article on the bicentennial with Kaza in soloist.
He didn’t take it seriously at first, but Klise kept raising the idea, and eventually Kaza suggested it to the conductor. In his proposal, he exposed the many musical influences that shaped Missouri over time before and after it became state 24, in 1821: Native American music, Civil War tunes, ragtime, jazz, Ozark bluegrass. , rock ‘n’ roll – and the canoe songs of French-Canadian travelers.
The commission to write the play went to Freund. He said that at the start of the process, he, Kaza and Stéphane Denève, musical director of the Orchester symphonique de Saint-Louis, noted that the songs of the travelers were probably one of the first Western music heard on the banks of the rivers. Mississippi and Missouri rivers and in the Territory.
He decided to build the piece around the canoe traveler’s song “C’est Aviron”, a French tune known in English as “Pull on the Oars”.
The river remains a constant character throughout the 12 minutes of “Voyageur Fantasy”, and that suits both the composer and the soloist. Freund grew up in Memphis, where the Mississippi River played an important role in the development of the city and its culture.
“Here in Missouri,” he said, “I believe we can feel the presence of the rivers around us and their impact on the history of our state.”
This is a theme that has returned to Freund’s previous works, including “con / influences”, which he wrote for the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis, and a piece he wrote earlier. this year, “Waterways”, another bicentennial celebration.
Kaza, meanwhile, is from Oregon and is a whitewater rafter. He wrote in a comment recently submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that during the pandemic: “I have spent more time on the Missouri waterways than I have had in the previous 24 years I have spent time on the waterways of Missouri. I lived here I explored the Ozark streams by kayak I rafted the Missouri River with a group of friends and fellow musicians I even swam in a spring-fed Ozark Pond.
“And every day, I played my French horn,” he concluded. “Water and music supported me, just like French travelers 200 years ago.
Kaza joined the Orchester symphonique de Saint-Louis as principal horn in 2009. Son of musicians, he wanted to be a pianist, but when he was in fifth grade, his parents took him to a music store to try out the horn. At the time, he didn’t know what it was.
“It was my mother’s idea. She was a huge Mahler fan,” Kaza said. Even after 50 years of playing the horn, he continues to be interested in the things the instrument can do.
In “Voyageur Fantasy”, Kaza particularly likes a “semi-stopped” passage, a muted effect created by the placement of the hand in the bell of the instrument.
The half-cut sound is hazy and distant, and in the way Freund marked it, few other instruments play it. “The audience will lean in and listen, and that’s what we want,” Kaza said.
For Freund, this is the most personal part of the play. As the founding cellist of the new Alarm Will Sound musical ensemble, he performed with horn player Matt Marks for years.
They were good friends, and they had all kinds of jokes inside. One concerned Freund’s use – an overuse according to Marks – of the half-stopped technique in horn parts.
“He absolutely hated it, and he complained about it, and I always put it there just to drive him crazy,” Freund said.
Marks died in 2018 in Saint-Louis. “So this section, for me,” Freund said, “is a memorial to Matt.”