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Music for Peace in a Time of War

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Provided by José Daniel Flores-Caraballo

Dr. José Daniel Flores-Caraballo previews Albany Pro Musica's final concert of the season.

Rob Brown: The final concert of Albany Pro Musica's current season explores Music for Peace in a Time of War. Sunday, May 7th, at 3 p.m. at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Albany Pro Musica's Opalka Family Artistic Director, José Daniel Flores-Caraballo joins me now to talk about it. Welcome. Thank you so much. How are you? 

José Daniel Flores-Caraballo: I'm doing great. Thank you for having me, Rob. 

RB: If there is one thing we as a species have always done, it seems it is wage war. And you have two very different approaches to the question of war and peace from almost 150 years apart on this concert. I want to ask you about the music, but first, why this concert now?

JDFC: Well, what you just said is a true statement which I find it to be outrageous. Not the statement, but the reality that we seem to be at war all the time. It's like we have not learned any lessons. You know, of course, in response to your question, what triggered this concert was precisely the fact that we are again this time involved in the Ukraine war. And when I see the images on TV, you know, your heart breaks, of course. Because when I think of war, I don't think of statistics, which is the way we tend to look at war and who wins or who doesn't. But to me, I just think of the human cost. I think of those lives that are lost, sacred lives, that they could be our own family, our own friends, as has been the case. 

When I planned this concert, I wanted to have a perspective from two different centuries, Haydn from the 18th century in Austria, and Ralph Vaughan Williams from England in the 20th century. You have these two composers in their own time concerned about the same thing that we are concerned about. And they use music as a way to express their pain, their fear. And, you know, I feel like music has a marvelous healing power. And we as artists have a responsibility with our audience and with ourselves, I would say, to use music and that healing power in the best way that we can, and I hope that that would be the case with this concert.

RB: Sunday at three at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Music for Peace in a Time of War, or for all of the information. I'm speaking with José Daniel Flores-Caraballo about the concert. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1936, the Dona Nobis Pacem, a plea for peace with the buildup of World War II all around him. How do you approach this work?

JDFC: Well, you know, this is a work that the more I study it, the more it affects me. It has this incredible impact on the listener because of even the way it starts, you know, the soprano starts with this cry asking for peace with the chorus very subtle or just behind her. And then the poems that he used in the voice of the baritone are so, so poignant that I would say I approached this work a little bit hesitant because I feel, you know, a conductor needs to detach a little bit from the music to do a good work. And I find it difficult with this piece. I find it affects me so profoundly that I almost tremble when I conduct this work. But at the same time I feel a little bit of exhilaration because there's this thrilling ending, you know, it's like this glorious explosion on a praise hymn at the end that gives us a hint of hope, which we all need.

RB: A hint of hope at the end. Have you conducted it before?

JDFC: No, it is my first time. I knew of the piece, of course. And I always wanted to do it. And I love his music, but I needed to wait for the right forces. And we have that in Albany Pro Musica. It's going to be really spectacular.

RB: I look forward to that very much. How about the Haydn? Had you conducted the Haydn before?

JDFC: I had several times. And in fact, I prepared one of my choruses to perform it at the Esterhazy Palace. And, you know, the Esterhazy Palace has an acoustic and even a look very similar to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. I was there with my mentor, Don Moses, who was the director of the School of Music in Urbana-Champagne, in Illinois, when I was there. He brings great memories. After that, I’ve performed this work in every of the different jobs I have had as a conductor because I love it. It's simply, it's so beautiful. And, you know, as you know, Haydn was the architect of this classical style. And it's the kind of work that grabs you from the beginning to the end. And both performers and audience will be really delighted with it.

RB: It's the second or third in that group of six big final masses that he writes, right? And ostensibly for the name day, but this is very much a political statement.

JDFC: Yeah, no, of course, you know, this piece was written as well as a commission, right? For the father of a man called Joseph Hoffman, who was ordained to be a priest. And he wanted to celebrate that. In fact, that performance was for that celebration. And his father was a bureaucrat for the Imperial War Department. So that explains the war musical language, right? The character, which is heard in the trumpets and the timpani. But it's also a little bit ironic, I would say that that language is really very, very vivid in the last movement. “Dona nobis pacem” is what he said in the last movement. So I think Haydn was struggling with his desire to be perhaps politically correct in exalting and elevating the troops of his country, while at the same time saying, you know, enough of this, it's time for peace.

RB: Time for peace. I'm into that. Speaking with José Daniel Flores-Caraballo, performances at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Music for Peace in a Time of War. Tell us about the soloists who will be performing.

JDFC: So I'm very excited about the soloists. We are sharing two of the soloists for both works. In fact, Evangelia Leontis, who is a professor in Vermont, and Philip Lima, which our audience saw just recently in our October concert, and he’s phenomenal, coming from Boston, he's a baritone. The tenor is an old friend, Daniel Mojica from Puerto Rico, and the mezzo-soprano coming from New York City, her name is Kara Dugan. She performed with us when we did the Mozart Mass, and Daniel Mojica performed before, when we did Haydn's Requiem. The four soloists are simply fantastic.

RB: That's great. Some returning friends. You mentioned you have conducted this a number of times. Is there a moment that you find yourself anticipating really looking forward to every time?

JDFC: Yes, and it is the last moment. This piece is so energetic, the Haydn. Haydn uses this style that is now known as a classical style of music throughout the piece. Then when he gets to the Agnus Dei, it begins with a solemn prayer. I think it's a little cathartic when you get to that point. After all the energy of the work, we get there and we start with the last prayer of this last movement. When we say “Agnus Dei,” there's a big fermata, a big pause. It's a moment in which all these emotions come to a pause of reflection. But then he doesn't finish there. He goes back to this allegro con spirito when he says, actually demands, “dona nobis pacem,” grant us peace. And so he ends up on a big exuberant note. And that's really very exciting.

RB: Music for Peace in a Time of War. Albany Pro Musica, Orchestra Pro Musica, and soloists performing Sunday, May 7th at 3 p.m. at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for all of the information. or TroyMusicHall.orgJosé Daniel Flores-Caraballo. Thank you so much.

JDFC: Always a pleasure. Thank you.