Spoleto overview: From Music In Time to Bela Fleck

It's About Time

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There’s considerable agreement in the scientific community that time, as we think we know it, doesn’t truly exist. This theory says that the universe and existence actually comprise every possible cause and every conceivable effect so that each exists only as an infinite number of permanent and unchanging moments at the Planck scale of time, and our perception of time “passing” from present moment to present moment is merely an artifact of our psychology. According to this view, the seeming movement of past into present and future is only an illusion, similar to the illusion of movement created when one runs a series of still images one after the other at 24 per second.

This illusion felt particularly real at Saturday’s third and never-so-appropriately named Music in Time program. This is partly because the program was dedicated to a single work from Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Paul Moravec, his 2001 The Time Gallery, a piece for a large chamber ensemble. But it was also because Moravec was there in person to introduce and explain, at length and in detail, The Time Gallery and each of its four movements before the music actually began. As Albert Einstein showed us, time is not an independent force or dimension but is in fact relative to the observer. It can appear to move very, very slowly indeed, especially when it is being explained.

CP critic Lindsay Koob was on hand to parse the musical merit of the 45-minute chamber work, and he ranks it the best to date. That may be so, but some of us in the audience never recovered from the 15-minute introduction. As the indisputably talented Moravec was finally wrapping things up, having walked us through a description of the piece one-third as long as the actual composition, I was reminded of a pithy quote from E.B. White: “Explaining a joke,” he once said, “is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.”

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At the Gaillard Auditorium last night, many in the filled-to-capacity crowd no doubt wished they could slow down time, the better to savor the full effect of what Bela Fleck and the Flecktones were dishing out on stage via the group’s collection of banjo, piano, harmonica, violin, and an instrument called a drumitar invented by the group’s percussionist, Futureman, who was decked out in a tricorn hat, dreads and tailed black coat, a fair stand-in for Jack Sparrow.

Stratton Lawrence likened the musical result to seeing a supergroup, in which each of the musicians on stage is among the best of the world at what he does. Bassist Victor Wooten, younger brother to Futureman, at one point quipped of Fleck, the band’s namesake, that he’d recently earned an honorary doctorate from Bowdoin College in Main. “He’s now Doctor Fleck, if you please. He’s now qualified to do all the things a doctor does, including dispensing prescriptions. And that’s nice.”

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