BARATI: Symphony No. 1 / Chant of Darkness / Chant of Light

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George Barati (1913—1996)

Symphony No.1 (1963) • Chant of Darkness (1993) • Chant of Light (1994/95)

From Bartók to Ormandy, Ligeti to the Budapest String Quartet, the rich contribution of Hungary to twentieth-century music has been disproportionate to the small political stature of this nation of only ten million inhabitants. This was partly the result of an ongoing diaspora of the country’s intellectual and artistic elite, which began during the Fascist period of the 1930s, continued through World War II and the aftermath of the 1956 civil war, and to some extent is still seen in the Hungary of the late twentieth century. The United States reaped enormous benefits from this flow of immigration, as musicians like Bartók, George Szell and Joseph Szigeti enriched immeasurably the cultural life of their new land–and were enriched in turn, spurred on by fresh hopes and possibilities.

Less well known than these figures, but hardly less significant, was George Barati, a composer, conductor, and cellist who exerted an impact on American life from the moment he took up residence in New Jersey in 1938 until his death recently at the age of 83. Born in Györ in northwestern Hungary, the 25-year-old Barati arrived in the United States a full-blown musician, having been well prepared at Budapest’s Franz Liszt Academy, where his teachers included Zoltán Kodály and Leo Weiner. Yet despite his eventual importance as conductor and composer, initially Barati made his mark as a cellist, serving in orchestras and other ensembles including the Budapest Symphony and Opera Orchestra, where he was principal cellist during his last two years in Hungary.

Arriving in Princeton, Barati first took up compositional studies with Roger Sessions, a composer whose density of thought and texture gradually found its way into Barati’s music, but primarily he busied himself with performance: he was co-founder of the Pro Ideale String Quartet in Princeton and was hired to establish a string department at the city’s Westminster Choir College. During these years (1938—1943) he also taught the cello at Westminster and at the New Jersey State Teacher’s College. Barati became an American citizen in 1944, just in time for a short period of last-minute war service: from 1944 to 1946 he led the Alexandria (Louisiana) Military Symphony. Moving to San Francisco after the war, he played the cello in that city’s orchestra under Pierre Monteux. Before long he was a key figure in the musical life of northern California, and at the end of his career as at the beginning, it was clear that his life as performer was essential to his compositional life.

Barati became a conductor of the first rank, and throughout his life he asserted the vital importance of this activity for his creative work. "It’s like hearing music from outside-in," he said, "versus from inside-out." In 1948 he founded the Barati Chamber Orchestra, and two years later was invited to become music director of the Honolulu Symphony — a position he held until 1968. Later in life he led the Santa Cruz County Symphony, the Villa Montalvo Chamber Orchestra, and the Barati Ensemble, which he founded in 1989. During all this time he was also guest conductor for some 85 orchestras worldwide.

Among Barati’s honours were the Naumburg Award for the Chamber Concerto, which was recorded by Eugene Ormandy and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1962, a Guggenheim Fellowship (1965-66), a Ditson Award for the performance of contemporary American music, and a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Hawaii. He also received grants from the U.S. State Department for performance and research tours abroad. In 1991 the University of California at Santa Cruz established a George Barati Archive.

The present disc juxtaposes one work from Barati’s ripest maturity, the important and previously unrecorded Symphony from 1963, with two companion pieces from his final years. In all these can be heard the dominant trends that characterized the composer’s output throughout his career: a vigorous working-out of motivic material, at times in an expressly Bartókian fashion, an intensity of rhythmic energy, and a conductor’s mastery of orchestral texture that is seldom heard in the music of his contemporaries.

Having travelled much during his life, Barati characterized his music as responding to "a diversity of influences" from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Polynesia, which merged with his own traditional European and Hungarian background. This multicultural outlook and attitude, as he wrote, "have induced a highly personal style which allows influences from Beethoven, Brahms, Berlioz, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Bartók — all the way to jazz and Schoenberg — to blend naturally with sounds beyond the Pacific Ocean."

Indeed, Barati’s music reflects a variety of experience, including Bartók’s explosive rhythms, 1920s neoclassicism, and the iconoclasm of the 1960s, in addition to the folkloric sounds absorbed during his Hawaiian years–what Barati called "the characteristic rhythms, the accelerating tempos, and the passionate songfulness of the native music."

This is not to imply that his music is easily approachable. "Any piece must include complexity and mystery," he wrote, "for further revelations upon re-experiencing." Barati said that his goal was "to delve into the deeper regions of the soul … which may make the texture of my music complex rather than simple — arousing questions but also hopefully providing answers to those questions too." Though he was not a twelve-tone composer, Barati allied himself with the atonalists. "I have great respect for the enormous intellectual power that goes into twelve-tone compositions," he wrote, "and occasionally I use some of its devices. But I like to combine them with more personal and expressive elements." His outlook was a sane one: "I think the system will be of service to the music of the future … but I don’t think the mainstream lies in that direction."

This is relevant to a discussion of Barati’s magnificent Symphony, for its materials touch upon serial methods, which are treated with an intentionally unsystematic freedom. Written in 1963 during a stay in Switzerland, this piece contains much of the scenic splendor of the Alps.

Barati’s Alpine Symphony was produced while the composer and his family were living in the village of St Cergue, in which is nestled a splendid ski resort, during a period in which the composer travelled as a conductor throughout Europe and Asia, returning to Hawaii for his concerts there. Barati later said this Swiss experience was what he imagined a similar stay in the Rocky Mountains might have been like: breathless vistas, sparkling streams, natural wonders at once massively imposing and filled with the most minute detail. Barati even appears to have replicated the delicate whistle of the train that climbed the mountain up from Lake Leman every day.

The first of the symphony’s three movements, marked Maestoso is a grand organic structure, the daunting complexity of which has been mitigated partly through a dance-like rhythmic vitality. After the brief fanfare opening, strings and woodwinds announce the quirky opening theme, which quickly gives way to a subsidiary theme of equal interest, first heard in oboes and bassoons. Muted trumpets and horns announce in whimsical fashion the arrival of the mountain train, which travels smoothly toward a section of developmental materia
Item number 8559063
Barcode 636943906323
Release date 12/01/2001
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Barati, George
Barati, George
Conductors Kovacs, Laszlo
Valek, Vladimir
Kovacs, Laszlo
Valek, Vladimir
Orchestras Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra
Disc: 1
Chant of Darkness
1 Maestoso
2 Andantino tranquillo
3 Allegro con fuoco
4 Chant of Light
5 Chant of Darkness
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