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SYMPHORIA IN CONCERT

Join host Bruce Paulsen for this performance, broadcast on WCNY Classic FM.

Classic FM is available on 91.3 in Syracuse, 89.5 in Utica/Rome and 90.9 in Watertown, the North Country

 

 

Performed on May 18, 2019 at Crouse Hinds Concert Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor

Performed Side by Side with the Symphoria Young Artists Orchestra

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH

Festive Overture, op.96

 

 

Performed on November 3, 2018 at Crouse Hinds Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor; William Hagen, violin

SERGE PROKOFIEV

Violin concerto No. 1, op. 19, D major

  1. Andante
  2. Scherzo: Vivacissimo
  3. Moderato

 

 

Performed on September 15, 2018 at Crouse Hinds Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor

NICOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV

Scheherazade, op.35

  1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
  2. The Tale of Prince Kalendar
  3. The Young Prince and The Princess
  4. The Festival at Bagdad; The Sea; The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock

 

Thanks so WCNY for supporting these Symphoria concert broadcasts!

PROGRAM NOTES

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: Festive Overture
We open the concert with the Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Originally composed in 1947 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, it
wasn’t performed until 1954. Unlike other Shostakovich works that were kept under wraps for their musical or ideological transgressions, however, this piece is musically straight-forward and apparently apolitical. Inspired in part by Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture, it opens with a stately fanfare that seems to announce a work of some gravity. In fact, though, the fanfare is a modified version of the opening of a whimsical piece ...
DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: Festive Overture
We open the concert with the Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Originally composed in 1947 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, it
wasn’t performed until 1954. Unlike other Shostakovich works that were kept under wraps for their musical or ideological transgressions, however, this piece is musically straight-forward and apparently apolitical. Inspired in part by Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture, it opens with a stately fanfare that seems to announce a work of some gravity. In fact, though, the fanfare is a modified version of the opening of a whimsical piece from his Children’s Notebook called “Birthday,” and in the Overture, it leads to a jolt of irrepressible forward energy that is more likely to remind you of the Keystone Kops than the Kremlin. The piece has become one of Shostakovich’s most popular, but it’s usually heard without the optional extra brass parts he
throws in. Tonight, with the assistance of the Symphoria Young Artists Orchestra, you’ll have a rarechance to hear it in its full glory.

SERGE PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1
… Prokofiev is anything but a predictable composer, and in fact, as you’ll realize from the heart-stoppingly gorgeous opening, the First Violin Concerto represents yet a third response to the temper of the times—what our soloist Will Hagen describes as “an escape.” As a youngster, Will wasn’t particularly fond of Prokofiev’s music. It was only after playing Cinderella— “the most gorgeous thing I’d ever heard”—in a student orchestra at Aspen that he came to understand what he calls Prokofiev’s “fairy-tale” aspect. “When I listen to Brahms or Mozart, I hear real life, things that could have happened to you today or yesterday. Prokofiev takes you to a new place, a fairy-tale magical world. I sense that Prokofiev is always ‘escaping.’ I use the word escaping on purpose—he did not live in a good time.”

Will is especially taken with the way this piece ends: “I love the bookends feature of the concerto. How many concertos end like that, such a beautiful ending, coming back to the very opening?” Yet the music is hardly non-stop beauty: In the second movement, there is some “rough stuff sul ponticello, right near the bridge, so if I don’t make some ugly sounds, then I will have let everybody down.” For the violinist, that is technically the most challenging part of the concerto. For the orchestra, the composer himself suggested that major problems are balance and character: he points, for instance, to the last movement where the tuba needs to “emerge...like an endearing bumpkin.” But as a whole—and Will insists that it “feels like a one-movement piece, even more than other pieces”—it’s hard not to agree that the work has the aura of escape. Certainly, it provides a respite between the pieces around it, which are more explicitly attuned to the horrors of the times.

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade
…Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) composed Scheherazade, inspired by 1001 Nights, in 1888. The trombones shout out a theme representing the Sultan Schahriar who, as Rimsky puts it, “convinced of the perfidy and faithlessness of women, vowed to execute each of his wives after the first night.” Within a minute, however, we hear the solo violin representing the voice of Scheherazade, his story-teller last wife whose savvy ability to draft cliff-hangers convinces the Sultan to let her live so she can continue—and eventually wins his love (for what it’s worth). Scheherazade’s mercurial spirit is brilliantly conveyed by the differences in the violin solos throughout the work.

Beyond this general outline, however, the score’s program is vague. Rimsky intended the score less to suggest particular stories than to nourish subjective flights of fancy. Yes, each movement has a programmatic title (although, at times, Rimsky wished to eliminate them), but they refer to general situations, rather than particular events. Thus, while the first movement, “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” evokes the sea and its changing colors, it doesn’t call up any particular story. And the love music in the third movement, “The Young Prince and the Princess,” beautiful as it is, isn’t attached to particular individuals the way the love music in Tchaikovsky’s
Romeo and Juliet is. The one exception is the shattering climax of the last movement, when a ship “breaks up against a cliff” (thus bringing the concert full circle to Rachmaninoff’s and Lermontov’s cliff), leading to a peaceful conclusion.

Scheherazade has been an audience favorite in part because of Rimsky’s skill as an orchestrator; in fact, almost nothing composed before that time—other than perhaps Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique—has as much coloristic ingenuity. But the piece is also popular because it allows an orchestra to show off its identity as an ensemble. It does so in a superficially contradictory way. On the one hand, it’s full of solos for first-desk players, and, as conductor Larry Loh puts it, “You want all the soloists to have freedom to do their own interpretation.” At the same time, though, “They have to work together, so that their worlds match.” It’s the ability to navigate this combination of individuality and community that marks the best orchestras, where the players really know and listen to each other—and that ability will be clearly on display tonight.

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Have comments or questions? Contact me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org


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