Partnership captures a beautiful ‘Dream’ for professors

When Vienna is mentioned, a waltz is often the soundtrack – for good reason: the dances of Waltz King Johann Strauss II are some of the most famous melodies in the world. But not too many people imagine their own waltz playing in Vienna.

However, for two Western professors, that is exactly what will be heard this September.

The Brno Philharmoniker will play a waltz written by Vladimir Hachinski and Jason Stanford in the Weiner Musikverein for the World Congress of Neurology in Vienna Sept. 26. Hachinksi is president of the congress.

The Musikverein is the venue for the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve performances and considered one of the finest concert halls in the world. Appropriately, the piece is called Dream Waltz.

“I have always loved music,” said Hachinski, a Neurology professor at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “When I was growing up, I had the time, but no opportunity to study music. Later, I had the opportunity, but no time. That has not prevented me from enjoying music in its many forms and playing the piano by ear for my own amusement.”

Hachinski also composes by ear at the piano and began to dream about his waltz being played initially at a heuriger (wine tavern) during the neurology congress.

“I discovered later that the planned heuriger evening did not include a band, but that there would be a concert. I then began fantasizing that maybe if the piece was reworked to be more sophisticated, it could be played at the concert.”

A chance conversation at a holiday party with Carol Herbert, a former Schulich dean, led to a connection with Jason Stanford, a Theory and Composition professor in the Don Wright Faculty of Music.

“When I first met with him,” Hachinski said, “we had an extensive discussion about music and after he listened to my waltz on a recording I made on my Blackberry, he thought that it had potential.”

The two met last fall to discuss the collaboration.

Hachinski harbored doubts, however, despite being world-renowned in his field.

“I was skeptical,” he said. “I am very aware that some individuals accomplished in one area are under the illusion that because they have some talent in another area, they can also excel in the latter, forgetting the thousands of hours of learning and the luck that accompanies any successful enterprise.”

The pair met regularly, shaping their ideas and the music.

“It was a non-traditional working method,” Stanford said. “Vladimir is a musician by ear, so he does not read or write. This was an opportunity to think of alternate ways to talk about music in precise detail. I wanted him to have a high level of control and input into the evolving piece.”

Hachinski recorded himself playing the work at the piano, then emailed the audio file to Stanford who transcribed it into notes and began orchestrating.

“He was prolific, sending lots of variations,” Stanford said.

As a result, the piece evolved. The waltz melody became a ritornello, or recurring theme played by the full orchestra, punctuated by variations. It is a form favoured by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

Stanford encouraged Hachinski to write more.

“I imagined a scene for the waltz: In the wine country south of Vienna, after an exhausting day, a young woman falls asleep,” Hachinski said.  “She perceives distant music, slowly getting nearer and nearer and becoming more rhythmic. It is a waltz. She finds herself in the middle of a ball at one of the Viennese palaces. Men line up to dance with her. She smiles, and twirls and flirts. She becomes the belle of the ball. The music becomes more intense, faster and louder; and then, abruptly it stops. She wakes up. It was a dream.

“Jason told me if that is what I had in mind, I would have to compose more.  I took enthusiastically to the task, producing motifs.”

When Hachinski heard the orchestrated motifs, he was amazed at the transformation.

“My composition was made to sound much richer and more enjoyable than I could ever imagine.”

As part of his duties as president, Hachinski traveled to Vienna in March to finalize arrangements for the scientific programs for the World Congress. He took his music with him and met with Norbert Pfafflmeyer, the conductor of the concert.

“I sat across from him while the piece was being played. Within seconds, he exclaimed ‘Ah, a Viennese waltz,’” Hachinski said. “I watched him with a bit of apprehension. However, at the end he simply said, ‘We can play that.’”

The program will also include works by Richard Strauss, Bedřich Smetana and Giuseppe Verdi. “I felt awed by the possibility of having the Dream Waltz in such distinguished company and I asked if it would be possible to play it anonymously,” Hachinski said.

But Pfafflmeyer said no, the work would be featured as a premiere.

“After an awkward, long pause, I realized that it was a great opportunity to highlight the fruitful collaboration between an amateur musician and a professional composer,’ Hachinski said.

Stanford said the education has been two-way. “I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve been able to build bridges of understanding so we can communicate at a high level without years of prerequisite training.”

Hachinski shares that feeling. “I see the parallels between the creative process in science and music. Good science requires creative imagination that is disciplined by methodology and statistics. Similarly in music, creativity has to follow the metronome and the rules of the staves.

“I finally will solve the dilemma of having time but no opportunity or opportunity and no time to learn music. I will make time.”