The Spoleto Festival is supposed to be about something life-affirming; at least that’s what someone says at the opening ceremonies.
I’ve generally thought of that as just a generalization handily trotted out. Yeah, yeah, of course the arts are life-affirming, except for completely nihilistic works.
Although we hinted at it yesterday, that sunny, breezy beautiful opening day wasn’t the time to bring up the theme that has already emerged in the festival: death. Now it’s not all bad because while it may be about slipping off this mortal coil and the fragility and briefness of this life, it is also, yep, life-affirming.
To repeat a few things from yesterday: this year’s festival is dedicated to its first chairman Ted Stern, who died in January at 100; this is choral music director Joe Flummerfelt’s last festival; and chamber music series founder Charles Wadsworth will give his final public performance at the festival.
The opening chamber concert featured the monumental Quintet in C Major by Schubert with two cellos to make it darker. This was Schubert’s last work, written just two months before he died at 31 in 1828. Talk about the fragility of life and the unfairness; Schubert wasn’t considered a very important composer during his life and this quintet wasn’t performed until 32 years after his death. Schubert knew death wasn’t far off and this can be heard in the works from his final and finest few years.
In the opera Matzukaze, death is more obvious when the ghosts of two sisters appear to a traveling monk. The 2011 opera by leading Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa had its U.S. premiere Friday night in an original production by the festival in conjunction with the Lincoln Center Festival. The ghosts in Matzukaze are not the quiet sort — they’re sopranos. The opera set on a sea coast took on added significance when just months after it was written, Japan was hit by a deadly earthquake and tsunami.