Hit the Bend for Mozart tonight
Classical music for the Bayou: Brad Sayles turns to the trees
Looking for new musical ideas, Houston composer Brad Sayles keeps his ears and his eyes open. While classical composers have sought to express the natural world in music for centuries — from Beethoven’s epic Pastoral Symphony (No. 6) to Respighi’s invigorating The Pines of Rome — it’s often difficult for the average listener to hear the exact connection between the two.
It seemed evident to me that Sayles’ latest work, The Buffalo Bayou Suite, would mimic or develop the wildlife sounds of its namesake. But in an interview this week, the composer explained that during his dreamy canoe day-trip, “The birds don’t make too much noise out there in the bayou.”
Further into our conversation, Sayles said that in any event, he wasn’t trying for a literal interpretation of the location. It was the trees that first captured his imagination: Large cypresses, huge willows, many of them emerging from dense and winding root systems. “They are a true feast for the eyes,” Sayles says, “so immediately I thought of all those dark, woody, reedy instruments.
"Oboes, bassoons, clarinets. Instead of imitating what I heard, I tried first to capture the visuals.”
“Without warning,” Sayles continues, “a fish jumped out of the water and nearly scared me to death, so I have a big surprise moment in the score.” It will be guest conductor Robert Moody’s job to bring that shocker to life, along with the players of The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO), who are presenting an encore of The Buffalo Bayou Suite this evening at the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens.
The program includes Mozart’s 35th Symphony and Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances.
This is yet another piece in what might be called “engaged’ art, namely, creative work that helps to serve the community in a practical way. ROCO’s founder and principal oboist Alecia Lawyer already had a mission, in her words, of “creating personal relationships through the language of music.”
In this case, she introduced Sayles to folks from Endangered Species Media Project, the creators of an ongoing film documentary about Buffalo Bayou. The larger goal is to promote preservation and public understanding of the Bayou. It’s a refreshing stance for the classical music world, which is often fraught with elitism and a disconnection from the daily lives of average individuals.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t yet ready for inclusion in this weekend’s performance. And in a break from his usual methodology, Sayles said he had to compose without responding directly to the film images. Rather, he went on the impulses gained during his canoe trip, the “film in his head” as he described it, and now the filmmakers will have his work as their inspiration.
As composer, sound editor, and recordist for five prior film projects (he even appeared as an actor in Nathan Todd Sims’ 2005 Echoes of Innocence), Sayles is certainly ready for this new approach to film scoring. At the heart of all his work is a great love of melody.
He could be termed an “engaged” composer as well. Sayles sees his role as leading audiences towards new ways of thinking, or as he put it, “to draw the listener into a new experience of music, while still holding the old school of music structure and melody, but moving the boundaries, and giving the listener new places to go.”
The Buffalo Bayou Suite
6:30 p.m. tonight at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
Tickets: $25 general admission, ($10 for students with a valid ID)