Western Civilization Lives

We are the inheritors of the most profound culture the world has ever known, and not even the modern barbarians can destroy it.

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Western Civilization lives. I saw it peeking through the broken concrete three times last week; four times if you include orchestrated Beatles as Western Civilization, and I do, hey, hey, hey, and I do.

First up was Canto Vocal, an international school of opera headquartered in Northern Virginia but with programs in Toulouse, France and Zagreb, Croatia, along with other overseas points. They have trained hundreds of young opera singers.

What we saw on a recent Friday night in a small performance space at Lake Anne in Reston, Virginia, was simply divine. I say this as someone who is, to say the least, opera-challenged. Like you, perhaps, I have wanted to like opera, but I never have. It’s my fault, not opera’s. I know that, too. But sitting close and seeing the faces and expressions of the singers has had a profound effect on me.

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Backed by Lucy Arner—who has conducted and performed with opera companies around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York—four singers performed various arias; it was astounding what the human person can coax out of their throats and their souls. I turned to a lady sitting beside me and said, “This is simply impossible.” She agreed.

The utterly charming Reyna Sawtell sang the seductive “Seguidilla” from Bizet’s Carmen, where she is trying to convince her captor to let her go. The song initiates the ruination of his life and hers. Amanda Wyand was both fierce and coquettish as she sang “Olga’s Aria” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Samuel Ng sang a duet with the luminous Hiroko Soshin about love and love potion from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore. There was so much more, including a few songs from the Great American Songbook.

Here’s the thing: with the exception of “So in Love” from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate and “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, I had no idea what was going on when these vocal magicians wove their vocal magic. Samuel Ng clutched a wine bottle to his breast and sang to it lovingly. Soshin seemed to scold him. I assumed he was a slosh more in love with his booze than his wife. Turns out he thought the wine was an elixir that would make her fall in love with him. I had to look it up. Still, it was all mesmerizing and delightful.

A few days later, we attended the premier performance of the Great Falls Philharmonic, created by young conductor Derek Maseloff. Forty-six musicians crowded into the sanctuary of a local Lutheran Church. What they did was quite simply breathtaking. Do not think for one moment this was amateur hour. This is a professional orchestra. Soprano Catherine Nardolillo—The New York Times calls her “exquisite”—sang the lead in Gustav Mahler’s love songs, Rückert-Lieder. They followed this with Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor. The conductor was a little too happy in this Lutheran Church that Mendelssohn’s 5th celebrates the Protestant Reformation.

A few days later, we attended a performance of a Beatles tribute band called Classical Mystery Tour, who were accompanied by the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. The band opened with an exact replication of the Beatles’ first concert in the United States, which took place in a boxing arena in Washington, D.C., sixty years ago this month.

And then, for the second half, the band reappeared in extravagant ’60s regalia and was joined by the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, which proceeded to blow the doors off Capitol One Hall in Northern Virginia. I have to admit, I wept. It was interesting to hear music live that the Beatles never performed live—and with full professional orchestration.

It occurred to me during this whirlwind of local culture that Western Civilization lives—and that it can never die. We are the inheritors of the most profound culture the world has ever known, and not even the modern barbarians can destroy it. Certainly, it lives in the grand palaces of culture like Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where tickets are exorbitantly expensive. But it lives locally, too: in a small space at Lake Anne, at a Lutheran Church in Great Falls, and in a performance hall at Tysons Corner. This testifies to the fact that Western Civilization lives even luxuriously.

Consider this: all the musicians in the Great Falls Symphony Orchestra are young twenty-somethings. One had blue hair. Another had the most extravagant dreadlocks. They must have heard but utterly rejected the notion, “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Western Civ has got to go.” Instead, they say, come and see it.


tagged as: Art & Culture

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