COLUMBIA — The piece is a ballet named “La Création du Monde” by Darius Milhaud. On stage, dancers playing animals from the African Savannah wear Cubist, African-inspired masks and stomp around flat-footed. Trombones and trumpets blare rambunctious jazz that suddenly shifts into traditional classical music.
It may look like an avant-garde version of Broadway’s “The Lion King,” but it is France in the 1920s; and although Odyssey Concert Series will perform solely the music from the ballet, the musicians hope to convey the full original spirit.
Tonight, the Odyssey Concert Series is having its season finale, titled “Creation of the World” after Milhaud’s “La Création du Monde.” In addition to the piece by Milhaud, the concert will feature a number works by 20th century composers as well as a pre-concert recital.
Written in 1923, “La Création du Monde” outlines the creation of the world according to African folklore. Milhaud, who traveled from his native France to Harlem in 1922, tried to write a symphonic work that drew on his experience of hearing authentic jazz in the United States.
“The piece combines popular culture with the high culture,” said Leo Saguiguit, the MU professor of saxophone who will conduct the work. “That is one of the focuses of the avant-garde art movement in France.”
Saguiguit said the piece was one of the first works he played with a professional ensemble and that he was excited to bring it to Columbia.
“I love playing but thought conducting the piece would be something I would like to do,” he said.
The work was the first to use jazz in a classical setting and was written a full year before Gershwin’s famous “Rhapsody in Blue,” Saguiguit said. It combines jazz and traditional idioms such as a jazz version of the Baroque fugue that is supposed to convey the chaos of creation.
A pre-concert recital will feature a clarinet sonata written by MU student-composer Anthony Hernandez. A junior composition major, Hernandez wrote the piece during the fall semester and is excited to hear it played live.
“It’s always cool going from hearing your piece played by MIDI (sound reproduction system) to hearing musicians play it,” said Hernandez. “It’s a surreal experience.”
Hernandez’s piece had its first public hearing in a recital at MU last week.
“The first time it was premiered,” he said, “I hadn’t heard it played in its entirety — so you are always a little worried it will fall apart.”