War: What is it Good For?

Most news stories of war show only the tip of the iceberg as to the devastating effects of war, both on and off the battleground. Mark Buller’s War, What is it Good For? wants to show us what’s beneath the surface by combining music with war poetry. Buller selected texts from poets who experienced the horrors of war firsthand, like Brian Turner, Siegfried Sassoon and Walt Whitman. The result is a beautifully orchestrated set of songs that carry all the intimacy of a diary entry and the profundity of a man’s dying wish.

Buller wrote the oratorio with a large orchestra in mind, but this January the Greenbriar Consortium will be giving Buller’s piece new life, offering a lighter instrumentation and a host of new interpretations. Originally, Buller called for a 35-piece orchestra, 16-member chorus of singers and four vocal soloists, which offered a fuller sound and allowed for a wide range of dynamics, from thundering booms of the brass to the lyrical quality provided only by many violins and violas playing in unison. This time around, Greenbriar will take on the same piece but with only a 12-piece chamber orchestra and no chorus of singers to accompany the four vocal soloists. Buller is excited to see “different nuances come to the surface, things I hadn’t thought of before. Plus, with this reduced orchestration, the piece takes on a leaner, Stravinskian feeling, which I’m looking forward to hearing.”

Buller hopes to confront our generally oversimplified views on war and its casualties. The composer feels that “we too often view the inhabitants of the Middle East as our common enemy,” but Buller wants his audience to “see both sides of whatever issue arises, to hold a more nuanced view.” Buller, however, is not taking a stance on either side of the U.S. military involvement. Instead, he simply wants the audience to understand that “whatever choice we make, someone has to pay the price: whether [it’s] the soldier who struggles with PTSD or the parent who has to bury her children.”

7:30 p.m. This presentation of War, What is it Good For? is hosted by the Greenbriar Consortium Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4930 West Bellfort Avenue. For info, visit greenbriarconsortium.com. Free.
Tue., Jan. 27, 7:30 p.m., 2015