Photo: El Sodre en la Antártida.
Sometime yesterday, a chamber ensemble from the Orquesta Sinfónica del Sodre, the Uruguayan orchestra, landed at a Chilean base in Antarctica. From there, the musicians set off by land toward the Artigas Base, a Uruguayan scientific outpost, where they are scheduled to give a concert today. I'm not sure how many classical ensembles have performed in Antarctica before, but the organizers describe their expedition as "unprecedented." The program includes the final movement of Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, Vivaldi's "Concerto alla rustica," the Boccherini Minuet, the Fuga y Misterio from Piazzolla's María de Buenos Aires, and various works of César Cortinas, Eduardo Fabini, Gerardo Moreira, Violeta Parra, Carlos Gardel, and the Chicago-based composer Elbio Barilari — whose news alert about the event was forwarded to me by Andrew Patner. Residents of Chilean, Chinese, South Korean, and Russian bases were also planning to attend. Those who read Spanish can follow a dedicated blog. The concert is linked to the hundredth anniversary of Roald Amundsen's arrival at the South Pole and to ongoing celebrations of Uruguay's bicentennial.
Antarctica may seem a silent continent, but it has other musical resonances. The inset photograph shows Beethoven Peninsula, on Alexander Island, which lies off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. It's the bulbous, whitish form in the right-center of the picture, with swirls of black in the middle. Some features of the peninsula are the Brahms Inlet, the Rameau Ice Shelf, the Verdi Ice Shelf, the Bach Ice Shelf, the Mendelssohn Ice Shelf, Ives Ice Rise, the Boccherini Inlet, the Franck Nunataks, the Arensky Glacier, and mountains named after Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Schumann, Strauss, Borodin, Gluck, Copland, and Grieg (1052 meters, the tallest in the area). To the south of the Bach Ice Shelf lie the Shostakovich Peninsula, the Stravinsky Inlet, and the Monteverdi Peninsula, the last including Rossini Point, the Britten Inlet, and the lovely Fauré Inlet. Many other composers, Mahler and Bartók included, reside elsewhere on the island. Messiaen was overlooked, but he has a mountain in Utah. As the son and grandson of geologists, I feel duty-bound to direct the reader's attention to C. M. Bell's 1973 paper on the geology of the peninsula ("A vitrophyric palagonite-tuff from Mount Strauss has a groundmass of pale brown vesicular palagonite," etc.).
How did all these mountains, inlets, and ice shelves acquire their names? A couple of years ago, I contacted David Searle, son of Derek Searle, a leader of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey in the nineteen-fifties. The younger Mr. Searle explained: "[My father] was responsible for the names with Dr. Brian Roberts of the Foreign Office and the Scott Polar Research Institute.... He was base commander at Horseshoe Island in Marguerite Bay (north of Alexander Island) from 1956 to 1957 and surveyed that island. Because there were so many unnamed features on Alexander Island, they chose to have the theme of classical music for consistency and because much of the landscape was very grand. My father was not classically trained, but did enjoy his classical music." He died in 2003, at the age of seventy-five. There is, of course, a mountain named after him.
Previously: The corner of Strauss and Stravinsky.