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Carmina Burana

This week I conduct Carmina Burana with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. It’s the big closing to our season! It’s epic, it will have the Grand Philharmonic choir, three great Canadian soloists, and more! It will sell a lot of tickets, people will dig it. There’s just one problem.

I kind of detest Carmina Burana.

How can I explain this? Let’s just say I look at this piece the way Werner Herzog looks at a shark attack.

I find this piece kind of “eroticizes” and makes pretty some nasty things that we human animals do. I’m not even going to get into the fact that this piece was written in 1930’s Germany (whoops, I just did). Now that may not really be fair. A lot of art eroticizes violence and makes it pretty, and I like quite a bit of it. Maybe I personally can deal with it in the movies (Quentin Tarantino, etc.) but get a little queasy when it gets mixed up with orchestras. Maybe orchestras are my mental and moral territory for the higher aspirations of humanity. Maybe it’s my problem. But the fact remains: Carmina Burana rubs me the wrong way. It’s creeps me out.

All of this however, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t conduct it or program it. Whether I like it or not, this piece gets my mind and emotions going. In fact, in all of my years watching concerts and being behind the scenes, I’ve found that sometimes artists do the worst performances of the the music they care about the most. They overthink and get lost in the details. On the other hand, when a performer has an ambivalent relationship with a work, truly fascinating things can happen in the performance.

So what am I going to do with Carmina Burana? First, I’m going pair it with a piece of music that also has a lot of banging and clanging, but celebrates PEACE and BEAUTY (Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan).

Second, I’m gonna go really primal with the Orff. And my hope is that it will creep you out too.