GAINES:  Concerto for Euphonium and Orchestra (1987).  Symphony No. 1 ("Esperanto") (1998).
Jiri Vydra, euphonium; Kimball Wheeler, mezzo-soprano; Moravian Philharmonic Orch/Vit Micka, cond.

MMC RECORDINGS   MMC 2113 (F) (DDD) TT:  52:09

Mostly harmless. David Gaines studied composition at Peabody. For those who think it matters, he writes tonally. He claims influences from a number of very individual composers, including Hovhaness, Harrison, Hindemith, Górecki, Copland, and Stravinsky. I once found myself in a momentarily trendy restaurant. On the menu were three dishes, two of which varied another. It was essentially a baked crab casserole. The first variation added andouille, and the second added cheese on top of that. By the time you got to the last variation, the dish didn't taste like much of anything. The flavors of the various ingredients canceled each other out. I would say the same of Gaines's music. The euphonium concerto is well-written (Gaines himself studied euphonium and bass trombone), but there's nothing that really compels you to listen. One longs for a cheap moment.

This also holds for the symphony. Gaines is hipped on the language Esperanto. My teen-age nephew Jack was once hipped on the language Klingon. To each his own. Esperanto, however, carries with it a measure of idealism. Esperanto speakers are usually as single-minded as an infestation of termites. They believe that if everybody speaks this synthetic language (which is built from several languages), there will be less chance of miscommunication and people around the globe will have more in common with each other. History, however, rather inconveniently tends to counter these hopes. The main problems with Esperanto are:

1. Its grammar is essentially European, and what this means for speakers of Hebrew, Chinese, and Tagalog

2. You actually have to know several languages to make sense of Esperanto. It was created by language scholars, and it shows.

3. It's not messy enough. Since every word is consciously constructed, it can't keep pace with the changes of natural language

4. Language both rises from and shapes a culture. Esperanto has the second without the first. Esperanto is really a lingua franca, and we have had those before: Latin, French, English, to name a few. What generally happens with a lingua franca is that locally it deviates from standard, often by quite a bit. Romance languages in general come from local dialects of Latin. A native English speaker from Sandusky, Ohio, probably doesn't understand Pidgin. Cajun French and Parisian French have difficulty figuring each other out. There's no reason why this shouldn't happen to Esperanto.

5. It assumes that people use language solely to be understood. It makes no provision for play. I can't imagine, for example, hip-hop Esperanto or Esperanto equivalents for f**k, swive, roger, spank the monkey, inandout, stroke, making out, mattress dancing, getting off, rock 'n' roll, and jazz.

By now you've probably figured out that discussing Esperanto is more interesting than listening to the symphony. The performances are as good as they have to be, as is the sound.

S.G.S. (April 2003)