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Culture news
A plight described in music
02.03.2006 18:13

clarinet_concert A new clarinet concerto by St. Petersburg-based British conductor Peter Dyson that premiers at the Kolonny Hall of Herzen Pedagogical University on Sunday has been inspired by the plight of the city’s homeless people

“Conversations and Observations: Reflections of a Homeless Newspaper Seller in Winter” is drawn from Dyson’s memories and observations of local homeless people who have been hit by cars, left without help, selling magazines on the street or wandering through the snow barefoot.

Ten years ago at the age of 47, Dyson left the U.K. for St. Petersburg and switched careers from civil servant to composer. He came to study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Boris Tishchenko, widely known as the favorite pupil of the composer Dyson admires most, Dmitry Shostakovich.

Dyson’s works have been played in St. Petersburg and smaller towns in Northwest Russia with some frequency, winning critical acclaim and encouraging reviews from classical music publications such as Gramophone magazine.

Dyson’s work was composed for the clarinet although the violin might seem to be the instrument that most fittingly conveys the piercing cold, biting wind and stinging frost that the homeless experience in St. Petersburg in winter.

“The clarinet seemed to be the right instrument in these circumstances,” Dyson said. “It has got a big range and a very mellow, low voice, and a very high piercing voice as well.”

The composer wanted an individual sound to evoke be the person on the street.

“It could be a man or a woman, and I deliberately left that vague,” the composer said. “The story that begins the piece is actually going to be read by a woman.”

Dyson’s idea is to incorporate a written narrative into the performance to help the audience realize that the music is the voice of a homeless person and they are listening to their thoughts.

A person stands on a corner, watching, talking, describing what he sees, and then the music starts: the piece is meant to create a visual image. For instance, the sound of horns is meant to resemble the blaring of car horns. The composer had particular images in mind.

“It is my street, and my road junction, and what goes from there, and the near misses,” Dyson explains, adding that he actually saw the accident featured in the story. A homeless man was hit by a car in early January, just before the recent cold snap that hit the city.

“I felt helpless,” Dyson said.“I was annoyed watching the man sitting in the road in the cold waiting for an ambulance to arrive, and then by the militia cars that went by. My linguistic skills are useless, and there was a sense of frustration and not being able to contribute anything useful in the circumstances, other than being a witness I suppose.”

“Sometimes the music comes before the story, sometimes the story suggests the music,” he said. “But it is not that I have written a documentary film score. It is about how you feel in your situation.”

The work’s musical language makes smart use of dissonance and evokes thoughts of alienation — something that new music and homelessness perhaps share to a certain degree — and being an outsider.

“The horns punctuate things which are not really part of the main plot, a bit like the relationship between motorists and pedestrians,” Dyson said.

The forthcoming premiere, is part of the 10th New Music International Initiative series of concerts and is performed by the Klassika orchestra conducted by Roman Leontyev, is not simply an arts event. Dyson hopes the work will encourage compassion towards the city’s many homeless people.

Homelessness statistics vary dramatically. The government-run City Homeless Registration Center lists 6,500 homeless individuals in St. Petersburg, while City Hall’s Social Affairs and Labor Committee has reported that there over 25,000 homeless people in the city. According to estimates of Arkady Tyurin, chief editor of “Put Domoi,” the city’s only magazine largely devoted to and distributed by the homeless, that there are however at least 54,000 homeless people living in the city.

Yelena Korneyeva, spokeswoman for “Put Domoi,” welcomed the concert.

“A piece of classical music and Dyson’s very personal attitude will appeal directly to people’s hearts, which is exactly what is needed,” she said. “We would like more ordinary people here to start thinking what they can do. For instance, in January, after we staged a performance on the Road of Life, people started bringing warm clothes for the homeless.”

The magazine will be distributed before and after the performance which takes place at Kolonny Hall of Herzen Pedagogical University on the Moika on Sunday at 4 p.m.

By Galina Stolyarova

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