SMC orchestra brings the passion of Brahms to The Broad
Unfulfilled love and dark passion enveloped The Broad Stage last Sunday when the Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra performed the music of Johannes Brahms. Assistant conductor Fang-Ning Lim opened the concert by leading the orchestra through a performance of Brahms' "Tragic Overture, Opus 81."
The orchestra is composed of both experienced and beginning students. Preparing for the concert required fast, hard work, Lim said.
"It's all about repeating it over and over until they grasp the idea of what the music is saying," Lim said.
The music of Brahms is considered by classical music scholars to be a deep window into the heart of a genius torn by forbidden love.
Brahms' music was inspired by his love for his friend's wife. This uneasy passion comes across in Brahms' music, and Lim conducted it with great ferocity.
"That's what the piece was asking for," she explained. "It's named 'The Tragic Overture.' He was in love with this amazing concert pianist. He was admiring her so deeply but the three of them were great friends."
For Lim, the sounds Brahms composed are timeless.
"What I draw from it is the intensity and the depth that you can apply to any era," Lim said. "In Brahms's music, there can always be three ideas at the same time."
Lim recommended that SMC students turn off the Top 40 hits and check out the classical masters. "I know pop or rock have intricate rhythms, but classical music is so much more complex and not for the sake of being complex," Lim said. "It sweeps you away and takes you somewhere else. It cultivates you as a listener."
The Concerto Aranjuez by Rodrigo followed Lim's introduction and was played by guest guitarist James Hudson. Brahms returned when lead SMC conductor James Martin led the orchestra through the dark, emotional "Symphony No. 4."
After concluding the performance, Martin spoke about Brahms in an interview.
"He is a musician's musician," Martin said. "He isn't all that showy. He's interested in details. He really wants dynamic contrast. It's the details in Brahms that I grew to realize, 'What a craft guy!'" Martin waited five years to even attempt performing Brahms with the SMC Symphony Orchestra.
"It has gotten better technically," he said. "They have gotten better at following the music."
Also Martin can see the prominence of Brahms' forbidden desire in his music.
"He was surely in love with her, and she was 14 years older and already had seven children," he said. "She must have meant a lot to him. In today's world, they would have been in bed already for sure. In that world we don't know for sure, but they loved each other, no doubt about that."
"It wasn't unrequited love, it was unfulfilled," Martin added.
The audience that evening was given a taste of what that can sound like.