"Beethoven's score conveys a confidence that the world can be made a better place,
that we are capable of creating a better life for everybody.
The Rwanda story isn't about that.
I decided that sometimes the words would have to contradict
the exuberance of Beethoven's music."
BEETHOVEN'S RWANDA DALLAIRE
Griffiths also changed the work's conclusion
-- it originally ended with the Victory Symphony --
to better reflect Dallaire's experience in 1994.
"It was hard to be optimistic."
A musical tribute to Canada's national hero
A poem set to a Beethoven symphony to honour Roméo Dallaire
by Patricia Bailey, Globe & Mail, Jan 13, 2007
When Montreal's star conductor Kent Nagano first asked a renowned librettist to write a tribute to Roméo Dallaire set to an exuberant Beethoven symphony, the writer didn't want to do it. "I thought it was impossible. Beethoven's music is powerful and optimistic. And the Rwandan story is about despair and indifference," says Paul Griffiths, a musicologist and former music critic for The New Yorker magazine. Ultimately the music historian couldn't pass up the chance to write about current events against the backdrop of music that's nearly 200 years old: the Egmont Overture, a work Beethoven composed in 1810 to accompany a play by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Griffiths's piece, The General, honours Dallaire's attempt to prevent the Rwandan genocide while he was head of the UN peacekeeping mission in 1994 and will be performed by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) on Tuesday and Wednesday. The text, which takes the form of a lengthy poem, will be read by actor Colm Feore over Egmont excerpts.
The General is part of an OSM series to honour Canadian heroes and was developed by Nagano, the youthful, high-profile American conductor -- he was the former music director of the Los Angeles Opera -- hired to rejuvenate Montreal's premier symphony last year. The OSM's reputation, and its relationship with its audience, had suffered after a bitter and protracted labour dispute in 2004-2005.
In November, the OSM honoured Terry Fox with a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. "Much can be told about a culture by who they recognize as their leaders. Typical heroes in other countries are often tied to movements of social change or military action but Canada seems to have different heroes. Canada seems to deeply respect great humanitarians," says the conductor, who has been studying Canadian and Quebec history since he first began working with the OSM in 2004. "The stance Dallaire took in Rwanda had an impact that changed the way the UN thinks and how it approaches similar social crises. This qualifies him in a special way as someone who people can look up to."
Nagano picked the Egmont Overture to honour Dallaire, now a Canadian senator, because the music explores how intolerance can lead to brutal violence. Goethe's tragedy recounts the tale of a Flemish count, Egmont, who was beheaded after speaking out against the Spanish occupiers of his country. "There are parallels in the Egmont story with what happened in Rwanda. There is an inability for the two sides to communicate. A resolution is not found," says Nagano.
But unlike the tragic Rwandan massacre, Goethe's play ends triumphantly; Egmont's stance and death ultimately inspire a successful rebellion against the Spanish, which liberates Flanders. Because of the overture's message, that freedom will reign, writing an accompanying text about Dallaire's experience in Rwanda became a very challenging task, says Griffiths. "Beethoven's score conveys a confidence that the world can be made a better place, that we are capable of creating a better life for everybody. The Rwanda story isn't about that," the long-time writer admits. "I decided that sometimes the words would have to contradict the exuberance of Beethoven's music."
Griffiths also changed the work's conclusion -- it originally ended with the Victory Symphony -- to better reflect Dallaire's experience in 1994. "It was hard to be optimistic. I didn't feel at the end of this piece I could solve the future of mankind, so the finale is a sequence of questions." Griffiths also decided the piece would be more powerful and relevant if he didn't specify names or places. "These types of conflicts aren't over. They are still happening around the world. This isn't just about Rwanda."
Griffiths's approach has Nagano bursting with superlatives. "He's done something amazing. What he ended up writing is really beautiful poetry. Rather than deal with Rwanda, it deals with human cycles of life and death." Colm Feore, who will bring the text to life, welcomed the opportunity to honour Dallaire. "The more ways of creativity [used in] getting the message across about this the better. It's a horrifying story and one that we all share responsibility for," says the well-known stage and film actor, now best known in Quebec for his co-starring role in the buddy comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop.
For Nagano, The General also demonstrates how music written in the 19th century is relevant today. "This music has a direct application to today's or any day's headlines. It has deep meaning for us. I can't imagine a more contemporary composer than Beethoven." The General will be peroformed Tuesday and Wednesday, January 16 and 17 at 8pm, pre-concert discussion 7pm, at Montreal's Place des Arts.
MYTH OF SAINT ROMEO and RWANDA'S GOOD MAN KAGAME
17.Falsification of Past
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