“The Life and Music of Maurice Ravel,” a music history lecture and concert, will be presented at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at Vashon Center for the Arts.
Musicologist Michael Tracy will share his encyclopedic knowledge of Ravel, and Seattle virtuoso pianist Mark Salman will play some of Ravel’s most intricate and acclaimed compositions for solo piano. Salman will also accompany his son Jonathan in Ravel’s “Cello Sonata.” Island composer and pianist Christopher Overstreet and soprano Holly Johnson will also present three songs by Ravel set to the poetry of French poet Stéphane Mallarmé.
Ravel lived through a time of major changes, from horse drawn carriages lining the streets of Paris during his childhood to the advent of cars and electric lighting in the 1920s. Despite the changing times, from the beginning of his career, Ravel’s music was “very popular when it came out,” Tracy said.
More than 90 years ago, Ravel (1875-1937) wrote a composition for the Ballets Russes, which became an overnight success when it premiered at the Paris Opéra House in 1928. “Boléro” then garnered world fame.
“‘Boléro’ has never grown old,” Tracy said. “It was so modern when it was first composed. What is remarkable is that it still sounds modern.”
Of all the music composed in the 20th century, a greater amount of Ravel’s compositions are still being played, Tracy said. His work impacted film scores, Broadway musical orchestration — and while Ravel was influenced by American jazz, jazz composers were also influenced by Ravel’s bold harmonies and orchestrations.
An early proponent of recorded music, Ravel was among the first composers to recognize how recordings could bring their music to a wider public audience. Tracy believes that while that was both prescient and beneficial, there is nothing like hearing live music and that his Ravel lecture is an excellent opportunity for listeners to do just that.
“No matter how good your sound system is, it is compromised,” Tracy said. “To hear sound in an acoustic setting like VCA, the music has a visceral effect, you can feel it in your bones and direct connection with the performer. It helps you concentrate. It’s too easy to get distracted at home, but at a live acoustic performance, your eyes watch music come alive, and you hear much more than with a recording. It makes all the difference to be live.”
Sunday’s lecture and concert will be Tracy’s third presentation at VCA in his current series of the life and music of composers, which began with Franz Schubert followed by Claude Debussy.
Tickets are $14 to $18 and available in advance at vashoncenterforthearts.org. Students are encouraged to attend the performance. Their tickets are free, with reduced ticket prices for their parents.