Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 18, 2011

Symphony tells stories through music

Medea, Oedipus, boogie-woogie all figure in Sunday


TRAVERSE CITY — The music originally came with a ballet, or a play, or at least some lyrics, but performing it without those elements takes it to a new level, said Kevin Rhodes, conductor of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra.

"The story takes a different level of importance than if you were going to see the work in its full context," he said about the "Music for the Theatre" concert by the symphony, Sunday, Nov. 20.

Still, he'll explain two of the more dramatic pieces, William Schuman's "Night Journey," which tells the story of Oedipus and his mother, and Samuel Barber's "Cave of the Heart," a retelling of the Medea myth.

"The reason these two pieces exist is that Martha Graham had them commissioned," he said. Both were originally ballets and Rhodes has watched several performances of "Night Journey" in preparation for the 1 p.m. concert in Interlochen's Corson Auditorium. A taped performance of the Medea piece doesn't exist, he said.

The two Graham-commissioned pieces are among Rhodes' favorites, he said.

"I really, really love the deep psychological underpinnings of the music. The music can take you away," he said. "It definitely will be an experience. I love how you can be in the safe confines of the concert hall and get to experience all sorts of things that you wouldn't in everyday life."

That said, Medea "does a boogie-woogie" in the Schuman piece.

Sandwiched between the darkish pieces will be "The Suite from The Threepenny Opera" by Kurt Weill, including "Mack the Knife," and Aaron Copland's "Music for the Theatre." Both were written during the 1920s and reflect the "Jazz Age" as well as the spirit of the Roaring 20s.

Jazz "pops up once or twice a season" in TSO concerts, Rhodes said, but gets a classical interpretation.

The Threepenny Opera features Rick Jaissle on banjo. Jaissle, normally a bass player in his 11th season with TSO, plays a four-string tenor banjo, with the strings tuned like a guitar.

"It's scored like a typical Berlin band in the '20s," Jaissle said. "They used banjo because it was loud." He's played banjo with the symphony two other times -- when this piece was performed in 2006 and during a Broadway-themed show for the overture to "Mame."

Tickets for the concert range from $20 to $38, plus fees, and are available at or by calling 947-7120.