//Ad libs: Following the muse

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Following the muse

I often wonder whether it's possible as an artist to be truly original. As a writer, I sometimes find phrases flowing out so smoothly that I question whether I've heard them before and am repeating them without meaning to. We can't help but be influenced by the words, images and harmonies we absorb every day.

It's a disheartening thought for someone who tries to create something new. But maybe this unconscious influence makes our work richer, gives it context.

Young composer Beeri Moalem seems comfortable with this concept. Much of his work grows from his Jewish heritage; his first concerto, "Barchu," has its main theme derived from a prayer chant.

"Other themes," he said in a written statement, "are derived from Sabbath blessings over wine, and a melody which I cannot quite trace. I don't yet know whether it is a chant I've heard or sung at prayer, or a melody from my own imagination. The muses often play such tricks on composers."

Moalem used these melodies simply as raw material: he "presented, developed, recapitulated" them, weaving them into a full 15-minute composition.

I like this idea of a muse: a gentle starting point, not a gilt-edged finished product dropped on you from the clouds.

"Barchu" will be performed tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Spangenberg Theatre at 780 Arastradero Road in Palo Alto as part of a Gunn High School Orchestra concert. Moalem will play as guest viola soloist. He also happens to be an '02 Gunn graduate who also earned a degree in violin and viola performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The program also includes Telemann's "Concerto in G Major" (with Moalem on the viola) and the first movement of "St. Paul's Suite" by Holst. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and students; call (650) 354-8264 for more information.