John Plant, composer

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Faustus: a SaxOpera, in Boston

Posted by John Plant on November 14, 2016 at 6:05 PM

It seems incredible that the first performance of Faustus: A SaxOpera happened six weeks ago. Traveling to Boston to attend the dress rehearsal and the performance was a brief but shining moment. I already knew that Dr. Jennifer Bill, the saxophone soloist, had an intuitive insight into my musical, expressive, dramatic intentions; but to find a similar degree of profound comprehension in the conductor, Dr. David Martins, with the ability to convey that understanding into the hearts, minds and fingers of his brilliant young musicians, surpassed my expectations.

 

The first burst of inspiration came when I connected this project to Gertrude Stein's inimitable

version of the Faust myth, a text which I have lived with for well over half of my life. That the saxophone was the ideal voice to personify her wonderfully idiosyncratic transformation of the archetypal principal figures in this myth: Faust himself, the restless, frustrated seeker of knowledge who knows everything except who he is; Marguerite, lost and terrified in the world of her potential desires, longing for clarity of vision; Mephisto, the ultimate deceiver, the bearer of false promises. And the wind ensemble could evoke the dark corners of Faustus's studio and of his soul; the wild wood of Marguerite's terror and desire; the luminous landscape of enlightenment; the self-inflicted solitary torment of hell and the faint, poignant promise of liberation. (For more on the genesis of this work, see my 'SaxOpera' blog.)

 

The marvel for me in those early days of October was to hear how thoroughly and intensely Jennifer, David, and those valiant young musicians grasped the colours and shades of my intention, and projected them so atmospherically into the beautiful acoustic space of the Tsai Center.

 

My joy was immeasurably enhanced by the presence of so much of my family: Helen, Norman, John and Mary Elizabeth from Scotland; Mary and Jim from Arlington; my ancient friend Peter Kovner, whose commission of 'A deep clear breath of life' introduced me to Jennifer and started me on a new and adventurous path, in company with Larry Raffel; and Jocelyne, whose trace is palpable in every note.

 

Some dark days have ensued since those luminous, warm, sunny days in early October, and it seems that a shadow has passed over the land. I am reminded that Gertrude Stein wrote her Faustus in 1939, and her work reflects the darkness of those times, and yet it concludes with a faint intimation of hope, as does the Doctor Faustus of Thomas Mann, another inspiration for my SaxOpera. The fragile wisp of hope in the final notes of my piece is now perhaps more poignant than I intended or foresaw, but I'm glad that it's there.

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