Rivers of sound resonate in MSO concert

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Rivers of sound resonate in MSO concert
Visions of Native America, Copland and more in the spotlight!

Jackson, Mississippi — Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s “Alluvial Soundscapes” concert, 7:30 p.m. March 9 at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, explores the connective currents of civilization in an evening devoted to watershed works. A new piece focusing on the pre-Columbian Native American culture in the Mississippi River Valley is among the highlights.

Visions of Cahokia by James Lee III premiered with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra just over a year ago and this marks only the third performance venue to date. Lee’s composition ties into the collective tribes’ journey and arrival at Cahokia near current-day St. Louis. It celebrates the ancient city’s spiritual importance as well as the games and festivities of cultures gathered at the thriving settlement that was the center of Native American Mississippian culture.

“I was surprised when I found out that there were a lot of different tribes that converged on that area, to make this civilization,” Lee said of his research into the breadth of the metropolis once active at Cahokia Mounds (now a National Historic Landmark). He was intrigued by the Choctaw word for God, “Chihowa,” its similarity to “Jehovah” and its closeness, too, to the Nigerian Igbo language where “Chi” means God. “That was an influence for my second movement, especially, Na Yimmi (Choctaw for faith),” he said.

Two visits to the site provided more inspiration for this atmospheric composition. Climbing up Monks Mound (the Americas’ largest prehistoric earthwork) and looking around, he tried to imagine the metropolis of that time. He sets the mood with piece’s percussive aspect at the outset. “That was a religious center, where certain ceremonies were held.”

Listen for the bass drum and sleigh bells, and the flute as an imagined extension of the human voice. The more playful final movement calls to mind a powwow. Woodwinds and cymbal scrapes mimic the disc and spear game of chunkey, and high flutes summon the sound of singing. “The title Chukoshkomo (Chickasaw for game, play or frolic) has to do with something that’s very alive and that’s very exciting, so you’re witnessing different conversations and activities, all happening at the same time,” Lee said. It builds to an exclamatory, joyful celebration.

“All of that is captured in the music. It’s just very evocative,” said MSO Maestro Crafton Beck, who finds personal resonance in fond childhood memories of arrowhead finds on family farmland in the Arkansas delta. The work strikes a historic chord in Mississippi with the Chickasaws and Choctaws who first made this area their home. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will bring those powerful echoes into the present with their engagement through attendance and a lobby presence on concert night.

The concert opens with The Moldau by Bohemian composer Bedrich Smetana, a symphonic poem following the river’s flow through the Czech countryside, from its start in mountain springs, past hunters and villages, through turbulent rapids and more.

“It holds a special place in my heart,” said MSO President and Executive Director Jenny Mann of The Moldau. “It’s the first piece in my music history class that really grabbed my attention and sucked me in,” she recounted, along with its purposeful story, recurring river theme, and vivid imagery. “Smetana draws pictures with the instruments.”

MSO Principal Clarinet Ken Graves will enjoy a jazzy spotlight in Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, originally written for renowned clarinetist Benny Goodman and among the American composer’s most lyrical works.

The spellbinding appeal of Claude Debussy’s La Mer brings the evening to a lush and satisfying close.

MSO’s Bravo Series is presented by the Selby and Richard McRae Foundation. The season is supported in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

The on-site box office will open at 6:30 p.m. on the evening of the concert and a free pre-concert lecture by Tim Coker, emeritus professor of music at Millsaps College, will be held at 6:45 p.m. on the mezzanine of Thalia Mara Hall.

Individual tickets start at $29 for adults, and are $5 for students, kindergarten through college (with valid student ID). Visit msorchestra.com for advance tickets and information.

What: Alluvial Soundscapes, MSO Bravo Series concert
Who: Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9, 2024
Where: Thalia Mara Hall           255 E. Pascagoula St. Jackson