CLC concert to honor Ukraine
The spring concert is at 7 p.m. May 10 in the Chalberg Theatre at the Central Lakes College Brainerd campus.
BRAINERD — When Jonathan Laflamme saw how his high school band students reacted to hearing “Pictures at an Exhibition” years ago, he vowed to one day conduct a band to play it.
That goal is finally being realized this year, but the performance has turned out to be so much more than just a concert.
Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky wrote “Pictures at an Exhibition” in 1874 as a piano suite inspired by famous paintings.
A graduate student and high school band teacher in Pierz at the time, Laflamme was in awe of how his students connected with the piece at a band festival.
“I remember thinking, if I ever get a band that is graduate school level, I want to play this piece,” Laflamme said during an interview April 25.
He is now the instrumental music director at Central Lakes College and conducts the CLC wind symphony, which went from a novice community band to a semi-professional ensemble with 68 members. Late last year, Laflamme decided the group was going to play the last movement from “Pictures at an Exhibition” at its spring concert. That movement happens to be called “The Great Gate of Kyiv.”
Painted by Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, “The Great Gate of Kyiv,” is an actual 11th century landmark that still stands today in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
While Laflamme chose the piece well before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, it has brought new meaning to the spring concert, which will be dedicated to Ukraine and all those affected by the war.
“In the fall we dedicated an elegy piece that we were playing for COVID, and so I think any time we can make — other than just playing great music — if we can have even more purpose behind what we’re doing, I like to do that,” he said.
While Laflamme said the piece is very technically difficult, he feels the musicians now have even more of a motivator to learn it really well. Because it will be livestreamed for those who can’t attend in person, he told the band members it could theoretically be broadcast anywhere.
That comment really made Scott Sater stop and think.
“I heard that, and it really went into my head, my mind, my heart, my soul, and I kind of thought, you know, I’ve got some time, I’m going to just try to take a deeper dive,” Sater said.
A former band teacher in Pine River-Backus and Shakopee, Sater plays clarinet in the CLC wind symphony and saxophone in the jazz ensemble.
In his free time, he started reaching out to everyone he could think of to get the concert streamed in as many places as possible.Sater managed to connect with Ukrainians both abroad and in Minnesota through social media to spread the word. He contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents Minnesota’s 4th District, and heard back from a staffer interested in learning more about the concert and sharing it with the State Department. Sater called various legislators and sent concert links to United Nations refugee agencies in Poland and Washington, D.C., as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ukraine and Washington.
While Sater knows the 7 p.m. concert may not be conducive timewise to those overseas, he figured it couldn’t hurt to share it anywhere the music could be uplifting.
“I feel in my heart and soul that music is the universal language,” he said. “... I think sometimes the non-verbal, non-word, non-lyric music allows people to feel emotionally without being forced and shaped into what the text is telling them.”
And in today’s world with what Sater is calling the four horsemen of the apocalypse — invasion, infection, global warming and racism — he feels having something uplifting like this concert is important.
“Here is a beam of light, here’s a beacon of hope, here’s something we can actually radiate,” he said. “We can’t stop Putin the tyrant from doing what he’s doing, but we can provide hope and energy.”
And energy certainly abounds in the “Great Gate of Kyiv,” which Laflamme described as a dynamic piece.
“It’s one of those pieces of music that I think has something for everyone,” Laflamme said. “It is very large in scale. The sound is huge. It’s slow, it’s fast, it’s grand, it’s delicate. It’s extremely emotionally moving and very technical as well. There’s a lot of ‘wow’ moments.”
Laflamme and his band are putting their own little personal touches on the piece, as it was originally written for piano.
“We’re having a section of the piece being played just by piano and mallets to kind of honor Mussorgsky and the origin of the piece.”
Sater hopes those who listen to the piece and are connected in whatever way to Ukraine can hear the love the musicians pour into their work, almost like a musical prayer.
“This became a combination — a coming together, if you will — of my passion for music and friendship with so many who share that same passion,” he said, “and then actually putting it towards something good.”
A Ukrainian flag will hang as the backdrop to the spring concert, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, at the Chalberg Theatre on CLC’s Brainerd campus.
The spring concert, featuring the jazz ensemble and wind symphony, will be livestreamed at youtu.be/7UVmWZhWlzM and can be watched after the fact as well.