OK Mozart Festival
2 p.m. Sunday
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker
Beauty can be born from the darkest places.
Such is that case for the Life Symphony, premiering Sunday in Oklahoma City as as the grand finale of the OK Mozart Festival’s second annual OKC series.
In 2007, Edmond composer Callen Clarke was just a day away from premiering his first symphony when word broke of a young man randomly opening fire in an Omaha, Neb. shopping mall, killing eight people and then himself: a scary proposition for an expectant father.
“I had just found out my wife was pregnant with our third daughter, and I was shocked,” Clarke said. “There was this anxiety and fear. Someone needed to do something.”
Wrapping his mind around the concept of humanity and the fragility of life, he turned his lofty ideas into a sweeping, seven-movement symphony.
“I thought that I could write a piece of music that could make somebody want to live instead of want to die,” he said. “It came from outside of myself. It’s the best motive to write music, to show the value of the human experience.”
Enlisting the help of longtime collaborator, violinist Kyle Dillingham — who will perform Life Symphony alongside the Amici New York Orchestra — to chip away at this massive undertaking.
“It gave me this feeling inside that this music was something extraordinarily special,” Dillingham said. “I’m looking most forward to how the audience is going to enter in and respond to the music.”
After nearly half a decade of work, Clarke and Dillingham are equal parts anxious and excited.
“This is the biggest demand we’ve ever made of an audience: an hour-long symphony. It’s huge, and honestly, a huge risk. We could fall flat on our faces with the biggest flop of our entire careers or our greatest success,” Clarke said. “I happen to think it’s going to be the latter.”
Life Symphony is just another piece in the greater picture of what Clarke and Dillingham consider a revolution of sorts. While classical music and symphonies long have been viewed as the pastime of the stodgy rich, quietly slipping the minds of each passing generation, the two aim to bring the art form to a wider audience, not only in Oklahoma, but the world.
“Symphonic music can be reinvented and revived and made more powerful than it ever was, right here in Oklahoma,” Dillingham said. “We are striving not to create pop music, but to make symphonic music popular. It’s not about depleting it of its depth or meaning, but tapping into what made it meaningful in the first place.”
To do just that, they founded Symphonic Revival in 2008. Obstacles stand in the way, but the duo thinks they are manageable.
“We both believe that if symphonic music is going to thrive and go into the future, it must also be entertainment,” Dillingham said.
Added Clarke, “The idea that art and entertainment are mutually exclusive is moronic. It’s like owning a car and not being able to drive it.”
The two certainly have done their part, debuting crowd-pleasing symphonies like Wiley Post, a tribute to the famed Oklahoma aviator, at last year’s OK Mozart, and The Mary Rose, which saw Prince Charles send delegates to its premiere at the Enid Symphony Center. With their hard work and diligence matched by numerous, like-minded others, they hope the Sooner State will go down in the history books for restoring the art of the symphony to its former glory.
“We want it to start here. We want Oklahoma to get the credit for embracing and supporting symphonic music,” Dillingham said. “This isn’t called the State of Creativity for nothing.”