Marvin Repinski: The Austin Symphony Orchestra sustains our souls

Published 4:18 pm Friday, November 5, 2021

On Oct. 31, the Austin Symphony Orchestra brought music to the Austin area and was a bright recognition of the talented musicians that brought fascinating beauty to inaugurate a new season.

Those who have benefited from the presentation of the vibrant productions of the art world, have an enthusiastic appreciation of the artistic Director/Conductor Stephen J. Ramsey, now in his 27th year.

Mr. Ramsey’s  contacts with virtuoso performers was exemplified with the distinguished and nationally recognized bassoonist, Garrett McQueen. Talking with McQueen following his exceptional playing was as moving as his remarks that this instrument has been his flesh and blood for years. He also revealed his appreciation for Austin’s affection.

The music compositions were rendered with a mix of gusto and quiet murmurs. The 20-minute long “Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra” (G. Rossini,1792-1868), enhanced the audience’s appreciation and the Knowlton Auditorium walls answered with their own vibrations.

Following the intermission, one of my favorite composers brought music that went from a silent spring to the rush of the waterfall, and several times chirping birds were heard. Did Kiven Lukes and Millie Masse, co-presidents of the Orchestra, sneak in a cage of birds?

The master of multiple creations, Antonia Dvorak composed music with a spontaneous and irrepressible flow of melody — a sense of instrumental coloring. Despite setbacks and reversals throughout his life, Dvorak retained a simple whole-hearted delight. At the height of his career, he was, “feted from Moscow to the Mississippi, but he never in his life-time (1841-1904) forgot his Bohemian peasant childhood or the Czech people who inspired his music.” (“Great Composers,” pp. 261-262.)

One commentator of the life of this composer, refers to his many passions. For instance, viewing the passing of trains with a mixed ensemble of people. Add to that his fascination with birds. As Director Ramsey stated in his introduction to each piece, this musician would have been at home walking the shores of Austin’s Cedar River.

Those of us making a study of Dvorak’s life and creations, note that the third movement of the “String Quartet in F” is inspired by the song of the scarlet tanager. In his later years, because of his love of nurturing the environment, he excelled in raising pigeons.

Dvorak travelled to the United States several times, having stints in a few of our principal cities. His association with church organists and loyalties sustained people of the theater. His three years of living among a settlement of citizens from Bohemia, in Spillville, Iowa, caught my attention. Of course, I consulted a map. Spillville, near Decorah, Iowa, is in the northeast corner of the state and about 80 miles from Austin. It was a place that brought lyrics and sounds to Dvorak’s works; farm motifs, the pastures, woods and waters and of course, more of the habits of his homeland.

My reading of the history of Dvorak and listening to one of his recordings on a CD I have, overwhelmed me. This man was like a sponge. From his early beginnings his father and mother were butchers for the community, while running a small inn with their son. It provided a very personable surrounding.

That emotional environment eventually prompted, it seems, a broad emotional and sensitive young man. In all of this, he consoled himself as a church organist playing the Psalms.  Not always celebrated was the manner of his music and it being influenced by the culture and the styles of American Indians that he befriended. In his early childhood he became proficient on a number of instruments including the cello, piano, organ and imbibed Czech folk rhythms and melodic shapes. Two sets of Slavonic dances were mentioned, and are given attention by musicologists, along with “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” part of “Gypsy Songs.”

The ability to enlarge his repertoire is evident in the manner of engaging a full orchestra.  Several offerings included different renditions, one with piano, one with violin, and a third with cello.  “I believe it to be the greatest of all cello concertos,” an opinion shared by cellist Robert Battery.

It is an uplifting learning experience to spend a few days researching the life and creation of a world-renowned composer. Music grants a grand expansion of a person’s total life. It’s another reason to recognize the scholarships available to our area’s young students. Both the Austin Symphony and several service clubs offer such support.  Students and parents — you are invited to take advantage.

If travelling abroad, you may wish to visit St. Adalbert Church in Prague where Dvorak was organist (please don’t forget his wife Anna!) where his statue is located. Another statue is located in Stuyvesant Square in Manhattan.

Music may be embraced as a reward. We may apply the sentence from Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  “O sing to the Lord a new song.” ( Psalm 98:1).