“One of the most inexplicable and magical aspects of human life is live music,” says Roger Waters.
Roger Waters knows a thing or two about moving people. The lyrics from Pink Floyd’s TheDark Side of the Moon and The Wall caused millions to sit back, album covers in hand, and contemplate the subtleties of life. Since leaving the band, Waters has continued his esoteric explorations. This Saturday, as part of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Waters will guide the audience through Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale in the Channing family’s sculpture garden, a playground for the imagination created by the late Walter Channing.
The Soldier’s Tale, originally written around the time of World War I, tells the story of a soldier who sells his violin, symbolic of his soul, to the devil for untold wealth. His life unravels; his mother doesn’t recognize him; he loses his fiancée. It’s an exploration of avarice and power, and love and death—huge life themes that parallel Waters’s own work.
“[It’s about] greed and capitalism and the way we can be seduced by those things,” says Waters of The Soldier’s Tale. “We sometimes give up things that are more valuable in our hearts for things that are less valuable.”
Those are issues that have always fascinated Waters. “As we grow,” he says, “we make decisions about what direction we want to march in. That’s been a theme for all of my work, in Pink Floyd and since I left.”
“All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be.” —Roger Waters (lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”)
That’s why Marya Martin, artistic director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, thought Stravinsky’s work would resonate with Waters, her friend. “I felt that the message [of The Soldier’s Tale], ‘Life is precious, so don’t sell your soul to the devil,’ is very similar to the message in The Wall and The Dark Side of the Moon,” says Martin.
When Waters looked at the score, he immediately connected with it. He updated the text to reflect current times, but the story itself is ageless. “It’s sort of antiwar,” he says, “but it’s a Faustian tale. It’s quite metaphysical and deeply interesting.”
The piece was originally written for a septet and a single voice, although it has been performed with large orchestras and full casts of actors and dancers. The performance at the sculpture garden will consist of the original seven instruments: clarinet, bassoon, trombone, trumpet, violin, bass, and percussion. Waters will do all the voices.
“The narrator tells you what’s happening,” explains Martin, “and then the solider addresses you directly, then the devil addresses you directly, then the narrator picks up again. When Roger does it, he quietly tells you the story. You feel the power. Roger is intimate; he draws you in.”
That’s what music has always been about to Waters: moving people. “If you have musicians in a room,” he says, “it doesn’t matter if it’s a chamber orchestra or a septet. The desire is the same: If there are people listening and watching, can you move them? You move those bits that are inside every human being that are indefinable.”
Waters has always had the talent to reach people, whether at an arena the size of Madison Square Garden or a breezy sculpture garden in Bridgehampton.
“There’s no impediment in the ability to move people,” he says. “You can listen to one man play a simple flute on a mountaintop and be moved to tears just as easily as through an aria. One of the most inexplicable and magical aspects of human life is live music.”
On Friday, with Walter Channing’s sculptures of upturned trees reaching gnarled roots toward a dusky sky and seven brilliant chamber musicians accompanying Waters’s familiar tenor voice uttering words of hope and despair, prepare to be moved. Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, with updated text by Roger Waters, will be performed live for the first time on Friday, August 14, at 6:45 pm in the Channing family sculpture garden. For tickets or more information,go to bcmf.org