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Four preludes on playthings of the wind

He was in his late twenties and early thirties and finding a lot of success as an emerging conductor. He had been assistant conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, then principal guest conductor.

He was conducting other orchestras all around the world. He was also writing music and thinking about whether he wanted to focus his career on the podium or writing show tunes mostly his grandparents, the Thomashevskys, were stars of the Yiddish theater. He chose the conductor's path, but has continued to write music along the way.

Michael Tilson Thomas

There's one piece he began in those early days that he says haunted him. It was based on a 1922 poem by Carl Sandburg. Over the last several years, he dug back into his old notebooks and composed the piece as it now exists.

They'll be joined by players from the University of Miami's Frost School of Music to perform the world premiere, Saturday, April 30, on a program with two other world premieres. You can also read the interview here: The name of this piece is "Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind. And in a way, you started working on this piece 40 years ago. What was it about this poem that made you want to use it as the basis for a piece of music? When I discovered the poem, it was a tremendous revelation.

Desperado Philosophy

I had already known it since my early college days, and then in 1976, I thought: Because it's a definite cautionary tale written as Chicago was the booming city of the universe. And in the midst of this, Sandburg says, "Yes, but -- great civilizations have risen and fallen. Tilson Thomas reads a few lines, and then there's a clip of the music with singers singing those lines, but you have to click listen above to hear that.

Michael Tilson Thomas

It's a wry, ironic view of the end of civilization. The rats and lizards at the end of the poem. And that's all there is. The inheritors of everything are crows, rats and lizards. What was happening in your life when this poem first really spoke to you? Well, I was just about 29, 30 years old.

You know, that's still in the late Sixties, early Seventies. Pepper" and particularly the album which at that time was not completed, by the Beach Boys, called "Smile.

Michael Tilson Thomas

A piece from a concept album that never happened, that kind of idea of a piece that moves from one style to another radically as if you were cutting between music recorded in different studios. It lurches backward and forward between these different sound worlds. Between rockabilly and classical and funk and sort of post-punk. You first did an improvised version of this piece in 1976. Was it almost like going back and reading an old journal?

Music is like that.

An Unusual Poem by Carl Sandburg Sparked the Imagination of Michael Tilson Thomas

When I go back to my old songs I can re-experience exactly who I was when I wrote that piece. That's a lovely thing about music.

For me, there were moments that almost evoked " Porgy and Bess. I just wanted to tell you about this moment that I saw in the rehearsal. It careens from so many different styles, and there are moments where it is very funky. And I saw a cellist just rocking out. You conduct so much music. Is this a particularly fun piece for you to conduct? It's very hard to conduct, as I found out. But when I was able to leave the stage today and have Christian Reif, my assistant, conduct, I think I enjoyed that the most.

  • But based on their popularity, it is obvious that audiences find these stories appealing, bleakness and all;
  • There is, however, another reason for their popularity, and it casts a light on some of our deepest and most profound perceptions of life.

It was the most pleasurable just to be able to listen to and think, "Wow, this sounds wonderful, and I don't have to be responsible for doing something in the next bar! I'm glad you got the chance to spend a few moments enjoying it from a little bit of a distance. Click here to find out how to get tickets to the world premiere of '"Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind" on a concert of new works performed by New World Symphony, Saturday, April 3o.