Odesa Overture, for orchestra (2023)

Choral Spectacular 2023!
April 22 &23, 2023

Odesa Overture, for orchestra (2023)
Bevan Manson

 The city of Odesa can perhaps be called a ‘Paris’ of Eastern Europe (or perhaps Paris is the ‘Odesa ‘of Western Europe? You decide…have opinion, must travel…). It is a center for art and culture. Many of the beautiful buildings of the city were designed by Italian and French architects, as was often the case in the 18th and 19th centuries in the easternmost parts of Europe. Art museums such as the Odesa Fine Arts Museum at the Potocki Palace, and the Odesa Museum Of Western and Eastern Art house many treasures. TheMuseum of Interesting Science (and it truly is), and theOdesa Jewish Museum offer other marvels. World-class music conservatories (such as the Odesa National Music Academy-where such musical giants as Emil Gile ls andDavid Oistrakh studied), art galleries, and cafes also abound.

The people of Ukraine ultimately preserved and developed these venues, so I dedicated this overture to them-and not of course for just those reasons. Perhaps we do not know their individual names. But we can know their sum total of suffering. We can let the world know of that as well as of the beauty that must be preserved or rescued. I also pay tribute to their energy and bravery. They will survive. When KuanFen asked me in January of this year to compose an orchestral overture about Ukraine for these concerts, I started writing in haste, with swirling thoughts of war, resistance, the hope for peace, and the injustice of current events- as opposed to ‘Omnis Terra’ as in so much other music in this concert. I then remembered a New York Times article from 2022 about the Odesa Opera Theater (first opened in 1810!) reopening some five months after the current war began. In the midst of sandbags piled for defense outside, singers and orchestra performed inside.

Art eventually lives and triumphs over chaos and tragedy.And is that not one of the best reasons for our existence? What better praise, ‘Omnis Terra’, to all the Earth then through music, even in perilous, sandbagged times? This lead me to think that perhaps this is an overture to an opera yet to be written. My overture has four themes: first, a five-note figure, slightly twisted, that arises out of a foggy melange of uncertainty from the woodwinds and brass- it gains strength in opposing and nimbly interrupting a march by the enemy. Perhaps with a smidgin of humor also. With increasing momentum, it becomes a second theme incorporated into a longer version first announced by the cellos. Battle ensues. But the theme, perhaps portraying that determination stemming from belief in a true cause, gets stronger when stated by both violin sections. Timpani and percussion, the artillery and ammunition supplied by Western allies, aid the cause. The enemy is repelled. But there has been destruction and desolation. They are whispered in murmurs by woodwinds and strings mostly.Solo clarinet and later solo violin and finally more strengthen sing a third theme, a song of a sorrowful and damaged Odesa. This beautiful city of art, why should it sometimes be shuttered? (The melody I wrote for this is also going to be featured in a jazz/classical ensemble version I made for a future recording). After some reflection, tensions start to resume. But a fourth theme arrives in strength in the brass now there is no doubt, the city will survive. This theme is in fact the music of the national anthem of Ukraine-written in1863 by Mykhailo Verbytsky. I have harmonized it a bit differently with a few subtle jazz elements (us Americans lending a helping hand in the struggle…). As it goes through its form, I add some some hopeful woodwind utterances taken from my second theme. Later, part of the anthem arrives simultaneously with my second theme, after the latter has made another strong appearance. A little development, and the overture ends with a harmonically optimistic snap, crackle, and pop-the sun comes out. There is hope.

I thought of Odesa in two other ways. The shock of recent events reminded me that one, possibly two of my great-grandparents emigrated from Odesa to New York with their families sometime around 1900. What musical memories did they have of Odesa? They must have had some experience with music, as another distant relative-one of their children-became a pianist in New York, playing music for silent films in the 1920’s and early 30’s. It came back tome after decades of forgetting, that my grandmother, once in a while, mentioned Uncle Eddie, playing piano in Brooklyn by ear. In a bygone era, transplanted across the Atlantic as a child. I never met him. But a living relative, a recently discovered cousin (thanks to the internet) recently confirmed that this was the case.Another way I thought of Odesa happened a few months ago. A musical colleague in Los Angeles told me the poignant story of how just part of her family managed to leave Odesa for the United States as violence began. But older relatives remained. It is just another way that made all this more real, more next door to existence in our relatively sheltered West Coast world. Everything is connected, we are connected to more than we know. Not just Odesa toBrooklyn to Camarillo for m through several centuries. To paraphrase William Faulkner, the past is not even past, it connects us to now.

The way themes can overlap are similar to the ways we can overlap- if we are in harmony. And harmony moves, harmony gets things done from one moment to another. So…how do we harmonize with each other? Singing and playing together is always a magnificent start. What if all human interactions had that kind of peaceful cooperation? Imagine ‘Omnis Terra’ then…

-Bevan Manson

Bevan Manson

Bevan Manson has written arrangements for various jazz musicians ranging from Manhattan Transfer vocalist Cheryl Bentyne to N.Y. saxophonist Gary Smulyan, to Orchestra National de Jazz Montreal. His classical compositions and arrangements have received commissions from Sierra Chamber Music, the San Francisco Symphony, First Night Boston, the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra, clarinetist Gary Gray, and L.A. Chamber Orchestra violist Victoria Miskolczy, among others.

He has performed with George Garzone, Cecil McBee, Ira Sullivan, Jimmy Guiffre, Gunther Schuller, Ron Jones L.A. Big Band, Bob Sheppard, Matt Wilson, Darol Anger, Howard McGhee, Walt Weiskopf, Joe LaBarbara, Brad Dutz, The Fringe, and his own trio. He also worked on various TV shows such as ‘JAG’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’ among others.

Bevan’s (mostly) trio album, ‘The Jazz Cave’, featuring vocalist Tierney Sutton, has been released on the Meistero Music label. He has previously been recorded on Iris Records, and A-Records (Netherlands).

Katherine Fink of the Brooklyn Philharmonic premiered Bevan’s ‘California Concertino’ with Paul Dunkel conducting, at the N.Y. Flute Fair. Along with chamber music, a version with soloist Sara Andon and the Hollywood Studio Symphony was released on Albany Records.

Bevan is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music.