Symphoria opens its 10th anniversary season with Valerie Coleman’s beautiful Umoja: Anthem of Unity. William Hagen returns to Syracuse performing Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 closes out the night.
Join us at The Everson Museum before the concert for drinks and hors d’oeuvres in celebration of the Opening Concert of our 10th Anniversary Season! Turn the concert into a complete experience in the elegant Sculpture Court of the museum and outdoors on the museum podium if weather permits. Music Director Lawrence Loh will be making a toast to Symphoria and all of you!
$50 per person (without concert ticket) or $95 per person (including best available concert ticket)
Catering by Oh My Darling with a Cash Bar
Stylistically, though, they eventually moved in diametrically opposite directions. Rachmaninoff remained loyal to romantic ideals, to music as emotional expression. Stravinsky, in contrast, was a committed modernist increasingly concerned with abstract musical form. He once called Ravel a Swiss watch-maker—but the description could apply as much to him, especially in his later works. Of course, neither Rachmaninoff nor Stravinsky was as pure as that. Rachmaninoff, especially in such later works as the Symphonic Dances and the Third Symphony, experimented with more modernist techniques. Stravinsky, as you will see tonight, was never as chilly as he was sometimes alleged to be. But we chose them to open our season precisely because they play off against each other so well.
Rachmaninoff wrote his Symphony No. 2 in E Minor in 1906 in Dresden. Nearly a decade earlier, his First Symphony had suffered a disastrous premiere. The failure was due to an inadequate performance rather than to any inadequacy in the music; even so, the debacle threw the young composer off balance for years. With the help of therapy from Dr. Nicolai Dahl, however, he recovered; and propelled by the immense success of his Second Piano Concerto, and energized by his marriage and the birth of his first child, he regained the confidence necessary to take up the symphonic genre once again.
Under the circumstances, you might imagine a fresh, optimistic work. As I’ve said before, though, there’s no easy connection between a composer’s actual emotional state and the spirit of his or her music. Yes, the Second does end in resounding triumph. But elsewhere, starting with the somber opening of the first movement (which introduces material heard in various forms throughout the work), the Symphony is brimming with the kind of music that would serve to confirm Stravinsky’s supposed description of Rachmaninoff as a “six and a half foot scowl.” Indeed, as in much of Rachmaninoff’s music, the Dies Irae often casts its shadow. This theme, the plain-chant setting of the “Day of Wrath” from the Latin Requiem Mass, haunted Rachmaninoff throughout his life, appearing, often as a threat, in many of his compositions. It’s heard here most clearly in the second movement, where the horns announce it almost as soon as the movement starts.
Yet while much of the Second is gloomy, its combination of voluptuous harmonies, rich orchestration, and (especially) succulent melodies has made it one of Rachmaninoff’s most beloved works. Its melodic abundance, in fact, may be unmatched by anything else he wrote. For many listeners, the third movement Adagio—which features what’s arguably the most exquisite clarinet solo in the standard orchestral repertoire—stands out (no surprise that this movement has been taken up by several pop and jazz musicians). But in fact, there’s more ravishing melodic material in this one symphony than many composers produce in a lifetime. Even the momentum of the hard-driving second-movement Scherzo is interrupted twice for a melody of heart-stopping splendor, one that almost seems to come from a different world.
It would be hard to imagine anything more different than Stravinsky’s snappy Violin Concerto in D. Certainly, the two works are different in stylistic orientation. If Rachmaninoff’s hyper-romantic work takes Tchaikovsky as its North Star, Stravinsky’s neo-classical effort is guided by the spirit of Bach. (The Double Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra was especially influential.) The two works are dramatically different in color, as well. If Rachmaninoff’s has deep luster, Stravinsky’s has a bright sparkle. What makes the Concerto’s lightness especially remarkable is that Stravinsky’s score calls for a larger brass-and-woodwind contingent than any other violin concerto in the standard repertoire (in fact, it’s marginally larger than what we find in the Rachmaninoff Second). Yet Stravinsky creates a delicate, chamber music sound, using his large orchestral complement to create a dazzling variety of colors rather than to generate the sheer weight and plush that Rachmaninoff favors.
Then, too, the works differ in scale. Rachmaninoff’s score is expansive. It’s by far his longest orchestral work—sufficiently so that, in the days before the composer was fully accepted into the canon, conductors used to introduce cuts. Stravinsky’s is about a third as long. (Each of its four compact movements, by the way, is introduced by a striking chord—which appears elsewhere in the piece as well—that Stravinsky called the Concerto’s “passport.” It stretches so widely that Samuel Dushkin, the violinist for whom the work was written, at first thought it unplayable.)
Most important, the Rachmaninoff, like nearly all his works, is profoundly serious. The Stravinsky is, in the words of tonight’s soloist Will Hagen, “so much fun. It’s a really comedic piece—so quirky, a groovy piece. If you play it as if it’s the second movement of the Beethoven”—or, for that matter, as if it’s the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony—“you’ve totally missed the point, and it’s going to fall flat.”
True, says Will, there’s some seriousness in the third movement, a moment of supreme melodic beauty. Bach may have been the immediate influence, but it’s hard not to think of Tchaikovsky as well. Indeed, only a couple of years separate the Violin Concerto from Stravinsky’s ballet Le baiser de la fée, based on themes by Tchaikovsky. On the whole, though, the Concerto is what Will calls a “dancy” piece, and he promises that he, conductor Larry Loh, and the orchestra will be “having a party.” The dance elements should be no surprise. Stravinsky competes with Tchaikovsky as the greatest composer for ballet; and even though the Concerto was written as an abstract concert work, George Balanchine saw its dance potential and used it as music for two different ballets. One of them, coincidentally, is returning to the New York City Ballet next week.
Our opening work, Umoje, by flutist and composer Valerie Coleman (b. 1970), has a strong dance impulse, too. Umoje is the Swahili word for Unity, the first principle of Kwanzaa—and the music started out as a simple song for women’s choir. Over the years, Coleman produced multiple versions, including an enormously popular version for wind quintet. But in 2019, it was significantly expanded into a full-orchestra work for the Philadelphia Orchestra with a more complex musical outline and a richer sonic palette (note, for instance, the use of bows on the mallet instruments at the very beginning). At the heart of the piece is still the same infectious melody, which, in the composer’s words, “dances and weaves throughout the instrument families.” But in the new orchestral version, it’s threatened by “dissonant viewpoints” representing “the clash of injustices, racism and hate.” In the end, though, affirmation triumphs: “Now more than ever,” says Coleman, “Umoja has to ring as a strong and beautiful anthem for the world we live in today.” Its dedication to community makes Umoja a perfect opener for our tenth anniversary season.
Peter J. Rabinowitz
Have any comments or questions? Please write to me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org
Hagen’s 2018-19 season features performances with Carlos Kalmar, Peter Bay, Brett Mitchell, David Danzmayr, and Alexander Prior with the San Francisco Symphony; his 2017-18 season featured debuts with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra (HR Sinfonieorchester) conducted by Christoph Eschenbach and the Seattle Symphony directed by Pablo Rus Broseta, and return engagements with the Utah Symphony under the direction of Matthias Pintscher and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra led by Andrew Gourlay. He performed recitals with pianist Albert Cano Smit in Chicago, Aspen, Darmstadt, and at the University of Florida.
In previous seasons, William performed with conductor Nicolas McGegan both at the Aspen Music Festival and with the Pasadena Symphony, made his debut with the Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar, performed with the Brussels Chamber Orchestra in Beijing and at the Aspen Music Festival with conductor Ludovic Morlot, and played recitals in Paris, Brussels, Virginia and at the Ravinia Festival. He played chamber music concerts with Steven Isserlis at the Wigmore Hall in London, with Tabea Zimmermann at the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, with Gidon Kremer, Steven Isserlis, and Christian Tetzlaff at the “Chamber Music Connects the World” festival in Kronberg, Germany, and in New York City with the Jupiter Chamber Players.
Since his debut with the Utah Symphony at age nine, William has performed with conductors such as Marin Alsop, Christian Arming, Placido Domingo, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Michel Tabachnik and Hugh Wolff, and with the symphony orchestras of Albany, Buffalo, Fort Worth, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Oregon, and Utah, among others. Abroad, he has performed with the Brussels Philharmonic, the National Orchestra of Belgium, the ORF Radio-Sinfonieorchester in Vienna, the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, and in Japan with the Yokohama Sinfonietta and the Sendai Philharmonic.
A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, William first heard the violin when he was 3 and began taking lessons at age 4 with Natalie Reed, followed by Deborah Moench. At age 10, he began studying with Robert Lipsett at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he studied until the age of 17.
After studying at the Juilliard School for two years with Itzhak Perlman, William returned to Los Angeles to continue studying with Robert Lipsett at the Colburn Conservatory. He is currently enrolled at the Kronberg Academy in Germany, where he is a student of Christian Tetzlaff. William is an alumnus of the Verbier Academy in Switzerland, the Perlman Music Program, and the Aspen Music Festival, where he spent many summers.
Mr. Loh’s previous positions include: Music Director of the West Virginia Symphony ...
Mr. Loh’s previous positions include: Music Director of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Syracuse Opera; Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra; Associate Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Associate Conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra.
Mr. Loh is active as a guest conductor, both in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to annual concerts in Pittsburgh and Dallas, his recent engagements include the Boston Pops (Tanglewood), North Carolina Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Florida Orchestra, Pensacola Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, National Symphony, Detroit Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Albany Symphony and the Cathedral Choral Society at the Washington National Cathedral. Past engagements include the National (Washington D.C.), Indianapolis, Tacoma, Utah, Rochester, Naples, Knoxville, Florida, El Paso, San Luis Obispo, Edmonton, Colorado, Charleston (SC), Malaysia, Daejeon (South Korea) and Greater Bridgeport Orchestras. His summer appearances include the festivals of Grant Park, Sun Valley, Bravo Vail Valley, Aspen, Mann Center in Philadelphia, Breckenridge, Las Vegas, Hot Springs, the Kinhaven Music School and the Performing Arts Institute (PA). In the summer of 2016, he made his debut at Tanglewood, conducting Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Orchestra and returned to Tanglewood in 2017 to conduct the Boston Pops.
Having a particular affinity for pops programming, Mr. Loh has been engaged for repeat performances with Chris Botti, Idina Menzel, Ann Hampton Callaway and more. He has assisted John Williams on multiple occasions and conducted numerous sold-out John Williams tribute concerts. He is particularly adept at conducting concerts synchronizing live orchestral music with film, and he has lead Jurassic Park, Pixar in Concert, Disney in Concert, The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain, among other concert productions.
Mr. Loh received his Artist Diploma in Orchestral Conducting from Yale, his Masters in Choral Conducting from Indiana University and his Bachelor of Arts and Certificate of Management Studies from the University of Rochester. Lawrence Loh was born in southern California of Korean parentage and raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Jennifer have a son, Charlie, and a daughter, Hilary. Follow him on instagram @conductorlarryloh or twitter @lawrenceloh or visit his website, www.lawrenceloh.com.