By JAEMI LOEB
“Muse of Fire,” an acclaimed one-man drama about about the secrets of conducting, comes to West T. Hill Community Theater on Oct. 10.
Silently, apparently with baton alone, great conductors are like wizards with magic wands, wielding enormous power and perfect control. They “play” the 100 musicians of a symphony orchestra with the same ease others handle a single instrument, while the greatest of them can make the experience of listening so profound and personal, they bring whole audiences to tears.
But what is it, exactly, that conductors do? Are they just waving their arms?
Not according to music director David Katz. To him, great conducting is magical. To learn that magic, you need a sorcerer, and you must become that sorcerer’s apprentice. Then, says Katz, will audiences not only hear but feel music’s life-giving wonder. Professional conductor (Detroit Symphony Orchestra), composer, playwright and actor, Katz conjures both sorcerer and apprentice in “Muse of Fire” his fascinating, funny, and deeply moving one-man drama about the making of a conductor.
“Muse of Fire” lifts the veil on the conductor’s secret life. And the life the play reveals is Katz’s own: a true story about a grand old European Maestro who will stop at nothing—not ridicule, not even death—to mold a student in the flames of his love for music. The young man then discovers that great conductors are not born—they must be forged…in fire.
“Muse of Fire” vividly conveys the power of music to transform the heart and touch the soul, while making the experience delightfully entertaining.
An extraordinary theatrical and musical event, “Muse of Fire” might be most meaningful to music-lovers who will appreciate the classical pieces by Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Schoenberg woven into the play, but “…anyone whose life has been shaped by conflict with a difficult parent or teacher or boss or lover should find Katz’s virtuosic performance moving as well as illuminating,” wrote the Chicago Reader.
Because of its emotional intensity, “Muse of Fire” may not be appropriate for children under 13 years of age. Katz has performed “Muse of Fire” for orchestras, theater companies, schools, churches and universities. The play has been cheered from Chicago to Cincinnati, to Baltimore, New York, Boston and Halifax, (and soon will be seen off-Broadway).
Katz performs in Danville at the invitation of the International Conductors’ Festival – Danville, the Centre College Music Program, and WTH and is delighted to bring “Muse” to Danville.
“Great music speaks across ages and oceans,” Katz says. “It is eternal, an aspect of the divine that can touch us to our deepest core. That is the message of ‘Muse of Fire.’”
“Muse of Fire” is based on Katz’s experiences studying with the legendary (and notorious) Maestro Charles Bruck, perhaps America’s most revered — and most frighteningly funny — teacher of conducting. Bruck ruled over the internationally renowned Pierre Monteux School in Maine for more than a generation and was a maestro from the “old school.” He intimidated students, insulted them, screamed at them, even hit them — going to any lengths to forge them in the crucible of his passion for the art. Even as his rages became legendary, so, too, his acerbic wit and cutting humor, which could make his charges roar with laughter, even as they cringed.
Legendary, too, was his uncompromising belief in the power and importance of music. Undeniably one of the 20th century’s greatest conducting mentors, Bruck was also one of the most feared, imitated and admired.
“Muse of Fire” brings to the stage the raw emotion of this brilliant musician—a man ready to do whatever it takes to make music truly live in the hearts of his pupils. Although there is only one actor onstage, “Muse of Fire” is actually a two-character tour-deforce, so deftly and swiftly does Katz shift from teacher to student and back again. From the moment the young apprentice first experiences the wrath of the man who would become his sorcerer until he last visits him on his deathbed, years later, “Muse of Fire” forms several arcs: from hatred to love, failure to triumph, life to death and beyond.
Along the way, Katz plays a host of other characters, including teachers, conducting students and observers, helping to complete a complex portrait of a commanding, funny and difficult maestro at the height of his strength.
Visit www.museoffiretheplay.org for photos, reviews, synopsis, video clips, background, biographies and more.
Online: MuseofFirethePlay.org; on Facebook:www.facebook.com/MUSE-of- FIRE-192997479762/ timeline/ MUSE of FIRE on TWITTER: https://twitter.com/museoffireplay
Jaemi Loeb is assistant professor of music and the director of instrumental ensembles at Centre College.
IF YOU GO
“Muse of Fire”
8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 at West T. Hill Community Theatre, 117 Larrimore Lane in Danville
Tickets: $10 general admission; for info, call (859) 236-8607 or visit visit www.westthill.net.
SO YOU KNOW
Jami Loeb said during this year’s International Conductors’ Festival-Danville in July, she learned that there are certainly a lot of people around who are interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look at classical music.
“This show offers that kind of look without the expectation that people know anything going in. At its core, this show is about a teacher-student relationship, how education works, and the complicated journey of becoming an artist. I think the audience will come away with a sense of what the experience of professional music makers is like, complete with both ecstatic joy and complete despair. I think even people not especially interested in music will find the show moving and enjoyable because of the very personal nature of the story. When I saw it, I honestly went in skeptical, but found it to be really engaging and poignant.”