Live recording of premiere performance, March 11, 2017
Carlos Kalmar, Music Director
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon
Aspects of an Elephant draws inspiration from the timeless parable of the so-called Blind Men and the Elephant, of which various versions have appeared throughout Asia and Europe since the 13th century. I was especially drawn to the version in Rumi’s epic collection of sacred Islamic texts, The Masnavi. In this retelling, the men are not blind, but are simply in a dark room with an elephant they can’t see, feeling the mysterious beast in order to describe it to each other, with only faint light from a small candle in each man’s hand.
Naturally, they each come up with a very distinct impression of the elephant that differs greatly from all of the others. For example, the man feeling the tusk declares “the elephant is a spear!” while the man feeling a leg is convinced the elephant is a large tree. A heated argument ensues in which they each feel so obviously right, they can’t imagine any other perspective being remotely accurate.
This conflict escalates almost to the point of violence until the men, who have now encroached on each other’s physical space, realize the combined light of their individual candles has now revealed the true nature of the elephant, and that, indeed, they were all partially correct in their assessments.
I found this story engaging for a number of reasons. Without going into detail, its relevance to today’s deeply divided political climate is fairly obvious. Musically, it also seemed to lend itself particularly well to the many different colors of the orchestra- which I feel is, in itself, a compelling metaphor for a collection of diverse elements finding common ground and uniting to achieve beauty that transcends those individual labels and differences. In this sense, Aspects... is, if not officially a "Concerto for Orchestra," certainly a celebration of the orchestra- and specifically, of the musicians of the Oregon Symphony, to whom this work is dedicated.
- New Classical