Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Haydn’s Farewell and Carmina Burana

The Flint Symphony Orchestra flute section: L-R
Scott Graddy, Alice Lenaghan, Laura Larson
The Flint Symphony Orchestra recently concluded its 99th season with a stunner – Carmina Burana. As magnificent a musical experience as Carmina is, the night was also tinged with a bittersweet sadness. The orchestra began the concert with Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, a tribute to our retiring president, Paul Torre. In case you don’t know why this piece has the nickname “Farewell”, it is traditional to perform it as the composer intended, with musicians leaving the stage in random order throughout the final movement. Only two violinists are left onstage at the end. Haydn composed this as a hint to his employer because the musicians hadn’t had a break in a long time and they wanted to go home to visit their families. It worked! Prince Esterhazy gave the musicians their vacation.

At the Flint concert, after everyone but the final two violinists left the stage and gathered in the wings, Paul was brought up to the front of the stage. One by one, we each gave him a flower and a hug or words of appreciation for his many years of service to the orchestra, then sat in our chairs as the final presentations and speeches were made.

After intermission we joined forces with soloists, the Flint Festival Chorus and the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale to perform a fitting conclusion to the season – Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. In 1935 Orff came across the collection of dozens of secular songs from the Thirteenth Century which had been discovered in 1803 at the old monastery of Benediktbeuren in Upper Bavaria and published in 1847. He organized selected poems into three sections – ‘Springtime’, ‘In the Tavern’ and ‘The Court of Love’ - with a prologue and epilogue as a “scenic cantata” for choirs, soloists, orchestra and “magical tableaux” (mime and dance). When I say secular, I mean not suitable for family entertainment. To give you an example, our fearless leader, maestro Enrique Diemecke decided it would be fun to have the orchestra sing along on the penultimate chorus, “Oh, oh, oh, I am bursting out all over! I am burning with first love!” (English translation from the Latin) and that’s the part with the G rating! Carmina Burana is fun to play and the audience certainly loved it. If you’ve never heard it, go listen to it right now! Actually, if you watch television I’m sure you have heard part of it anyway. Does “O Fortuna” sound familiar?

Flint is a special place. Who would expect the city that has endured hardship after hardship to have a thriving symphony orchestra? All we hear about Flint now is the water crisis. The whole world knows about Flint’s water crisis and how it has tainted the image of a city that was already badly damaged (think of Michael Moore’s film, Roger and Me, struggling schools, and emergency management, to name a few problems in recent memory). But what about the jewels of the city – the cultural institutions?

The Flint Symphony Orchestra has endured for 99 years in its little corner of the cultural center. Yes, we have suffered crises, too. After the recession of 2008 the parent organization of the Flint Symphony, the Flint Institute of Music (FIM), suffered a loss of funding and had to ask us for concessions. We took a huge pay cut, as did many workers at the time, and it took years to climb out of it. When your wages are drastically cut it can influence your self-esteem. I think Paul Torre understood this and frequently came to the rehearsals to voice his gratitude for our sacrifice and for our musical gift to the community.  That didn’t cost him anything. It certainly built up his reputation with the musicians. After the conclusion of one season as FIM was climbing out of the financial hole, every musician who had played that season received a bonus check with a heart-felt letter of appreciation from Paul Torre.

Yes, Flint is a special place and the 99th season of the FSO is a special time. I could feel the energy and enthusiasm propelling us toward the landmark 100th season next year. We’ll be venturing forth without Paul Torre at the helm but our conductor of over 20 years, Enrique Diemecke, will lead us into our next century of inspired music-making. Maestro Diemecke (we all call him Enrique) is the guiding force which gives our orchestra its identity in the community. We are fortunate in Flint to have such a charismatic leader on the podium. You will have to wait for more about Enrique – he deserves a blog post of his own.

Yours Truly in the lobby at the FIM


  1. Thank you, Laura, for taking time to recognize the hard-working musicians of the Flint Symphony Orchestra, the Flint Festival Chorus and the dedicated personnel of the Flint Institute of Music. The season finale was beyond fantastic, and I can't wait to see what the future of these amazing organizations brings! - Scott Graddy

    1. Thanks for your reply on my blog, Scott!