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Warnings About A Most Peculiar Planet

New York
Symphony Space
02/13/2014 -  
“Music Of Now: The Crossroads Project”
Laura Kaminsky: From "Rising Tide"
Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in B-flat Major "Sunrise", Op. 76, No. 4: First movement
Leos Janácek: String Quartet No. 1 "Kreutzer Sonata": Last movement

Fry Street Quartet: Robert Waters, Rebecca McFaul (Violins), Bradley Ottesen (Viola), Anne Francis Bayless (Cello)
Dr. Robert Davies (Conception/Commentary), Rebecca Allan (Painter), Lyman Whitaker (Sculptor), Garth Lenz, Lu Guang, Joel Satore (Photographer), Camille Litalien (Movement Artist)
Post performance discussion: Dr. Gavin Schmidt (deputy director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

The Fry Street Quartet (© The Crossroads Project)

After a day of sleet, rain, sheets of ice, a foot of snow, temperatures rising and falling like yo-yos, people sliding and cars colliding, I fantasized how Dr. Rob Davies would introduce last night’s unique musical/verbal exegesis about the environment and climate change.

“I was going to tell you how to save the earth,” he would say, his head dripping icicles, “but after today’s series of meteorological cataclysms, I’ve changed my mind. Let's vote which mammals, fish, trees, flowers and insects to keep for succeeding generations. But for heaven’s sake, it's time now to wipe out both the climate and the environment.

“They’re just too damned annoying.”

But no, Dr. Rob Davies, who conceived “The Crossroads Project” with composer Laura Kaminsky, and the surprising Fry Street Quartet, didn’t take the bait. Dr. Davies is part poet, part NASA scientist, an expert on the fundamental nature of light and information–and a most persuasive communicator on “climate change, energy and sustainability.” (These words from the program’s “about the artists”, for Dr. Davies is very much the artist.)

Why do I say the Fry Quartet is surprising? Perhaps it is my own ignorance, for I had never heard of them before, but in their three works (two of them truncated), they were energetic, spirited, each of them delightful soloists and, in the new work, as persuasive as Dr. Davies.

The first work was appropriately the “sunrise” movement from the Haydn quartet, taken from the soaring violin solo by Robert Waters. Quite lovely until one realizes that composer makes the sun rise four times in this movement. Was Papa Haydn playing Our Heavenly Father Haydn?

The second truncation was the magnificent Janácek finale from his “Kreutzer” quartet. This was the coda of a full 75 minutes of music interjected with Dr. Davies talk, and was appropriate indeed. For Dr. Davies had given a full history of the earth, its idiosyncrasies, its fluxing and flowing, and most of all on its inter-dependence. The finale of the ”Kreutzer” has just this kind of ebb and flow and intensity, and the Fry Quartet gave it a sound much more ecstatic than its notes would indicate.

L. Kaminsky (© The Crossroads Project)

Dr. Davies had conceived his talk under six basic titles: “H2O”, “Bios”, “Forage”, “Societas”, “Re-imagine” and “The Machine”, the first four of which Laura Kaminsky had written some very intense music. I hadn’t realized until later that each movement was a sonic picture of the talk itself, so didn’t picture the words. Rather, she had written a concentrated, emotional (sometimes agitated, sometimes more complacent) work which held its own.

R. Davies (© The Crossroads Project)

But it was Dr. Davies who held the center of attention here. He was not a sermonizer, not a polemicist, not a do-gooder (in the ordinary sense of the word). And while I used the word “interject” before, I should say that his words were antiphonal with the music.With the logic of a rocket engineer (more than a physicist), he explained the reason for the crossing of music and speech (added by excellent photos) of the Crossroad Project.

First, it was a famous violinist, Albert Einstein, who had said he was inspired by music. (Dr. Davies could have added the alpha and omega of physics–Pythagoras and the String Theory, but that would have lengthened an already fairly lengthy talk). Second, that everything–everything–begins and conceivably could end with the two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen.

From water we emerged, and from the pollution of water we could end. He spoke of our “system science”, how it isn’t Humankind which has evolved, but that we are all co-evolving with our planet. That we don’t have a single endangered species or tree or one of the hundreds of thousands of still un-discovered species. But that we are a tapestry.

And as every rug-merchant knows, every thread in a tapestry depends on every other thread. His other science cum poetry was equally engrossing, telling, evocative. Yet his basic thesis was still that we are all inter-connected. Not in ethics or philosophy or history–but in nature itself.

Granted, there was a lot to take in here. Oh, how I wish that his talk was on YouTube (perhaps it is), or even in an antiquated form of communication called “print.”

Naturally, with this talk which seamlessly used science, poetry, physics and good sense, he ended with some simple aphorisms. Simple, yet worthy., First, like Voltaire’s Candide, told to make his garden grow, we must choose one thing, and make it better. Second–and he emphasized it–that “bigger is not better”, that we should improve rather than increase.

Finally, a seemingly ordinary statement, but a revelatory one, repeated several times, “We must believe what we know.”

We can hear the stats, read the knowledge, get the sermons. But the actual belief is the only way it can work.

After these 75 minutes, there was an intermission and later discussion. I, however, was too overwhelmed not only with fact–but thinking of the coming sleet storm and ice which would not only decelerate my journey home, but make it a nighttime nightmare.

So with the opposing beliefs of wishing to save the earth and wishing to destroy yesterday’s abominable environment, I thanked the good doctor and his minstrels and began the trudge through our most peculiar planet.

Harry Rolnick



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