Saturday was a good day for Spoleto Festival resident conductor John Kennedy. At the first Music in Time program, Lydia Brown, the assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, knocked it out of the park with Kennedy’s solo work for piano, Naturali Periclitati, a melancholy abstraction about the things being lost in the natural world as well as those disappearing from human culture.
He got to conduct a fair portion of the Festival Orchestra in Ingram Marshall’s A Peaceable Kingdom and, a few moments later, for international celebrity conductor Osvaldo Golijov, who is fairly ubiquitous at the festival this first weekend and who, once again, cheerfully dropped names like gold coins.
The little ditty being presented for the program was a piece called “ZZ’s Dream,” which he’d composed for a 2007 film by some guy named Coppola called Youth Without Youth. Golijov introduced the work with a bemused, what-this-old-thing? casualness: the piece, he explained, was a musical interpretation of the famous metaphysical head-scratcher of a poem by Zhuang Zhou:
Once upon a time, I, Zhuang Zhou,
dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither.
I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhou.
Soon I awoke, and there I was, veritably myself again.
Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly,
or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
It should be noted that Golijov is an irrepressible, elfish little sprite of a guy who, despite being horrifyingly talented, successful, and, one presumes, wealthy, is impossible not to like right away, the bastard.
Basking in his proximity to international superstardom, Kennedy then went on to conduct a world premiere of his own new work, Garden Winds, which drew raves — a happy circumstance for him because — did I mention this was a Very Good Day for Kennedy? — National Public Radio was in attendance and recording the whole program for future broadcast. Kennedy wrapped the afternoon with by submitting to a congratulatory interview with Performance Today host Fred Child. Kennedy seemed not to know whether he was a man dreaming of being the King of the Universe or the King of the Universe dreaming he was John Kennedy.
The only thing that could have made all of this better: not a single cellphone rang the entire time.