Symphony Preview: For the final 'Music You Know' concert, there's something old, something new ('Cyrillic Dreams' from Mizzou)
By Chuck Lavazzi
You might have noticed that there's no Friday, April 29, performance this weekend of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert featuring William Kraft's Timpani Concerto No. 2 and Schubert's Symphony No. 9. That's because Friday's "Storytelling" program is the last of the season's Whitaker Foundation "Music You Know" concerts. David Robertson is on the podium, SLSO violinist Celeste Golden Boyer is the soloist, and here's what you can expect.
Bernstein: Candide Overture -- Leonard Bernstein's 1956 operetta Candide, based on the satire by Voltaire, has been through almost as many changes as its titular hero. By the time it opened on Broadway, it had already gone through a string of lyricists (including Dorothy Parker and James Agee) and over a dozen revisions by Lillian Hellman of her original book. Various incarnations of the show continued to pop up for the ensuing decades, including a 1973 Harold Prince "revival" that jettisoned half of the score and (after moving to the Broadway Theatre the following year) ended up over $150,000 in the red despite a string of Tony and Critics Circle awards. Somehow, the lively and tune-filled overture has remained largely intact.
Ponchielli: "Dance of the Hours" from La Gioconda -- Fans of Disney's Fantasia will, of course, recognize this as the music that accompanies a zoological ballet, while fans of the late Allan Sherman will immediately think of his hit "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp)." Some of us think of both simultaneously, but that's another story. In Ponchielli's opera (which still gets performed now and then, especially in Italy), the title of which translates literally as "The Happy Woman," the ballet sequence comes towards the end of an otherwise dramatically grim Act III, the action of which includes the apparent suicide of the protagonist.
Vitali (orch. Charlier): Chaconne in G minor for Violin and Orchestra -- The chaconne is a series of variations on a repeating figure in the bass line. The form was popular during the Baroque period, which is when Tomaso Antonio Vitali (March 7, 1663 -- May 9, 1745) was composing. This chaconne is just about the only one of his works which is played with any frequency these days--which is somewhat ironic, given that it's not entirely clear whether or not he actually wrote it. This arrangement is by Léopold Charlier, about whom even less is known than about Vitali. Celeste Golden Boyer will be the violin soloist.
Humperdinck: Prelude to Hänsel und Gretel -- Engelbert Humperdinck (the original German composer, not the 1960s singer who appropriated his name) was a protégé of Richard Wagner, so it's not surprising that the prelude to his 1893 opera sounds more than a little bit like the one his mentor wrote for Die Meistersinger (note, in particular, the contrapuntal section towards the end). It's big, complex music for a modest fairytale story.
Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice -- Speaking of Fantasia, Paul Dukas's popular 1897 tone poem has, perhaps, become far too closely associated with a certain animated rodent for its own good, so it's always good to hear it live, in an environment in which those delicate opening measures can emerge from complete silence. The inspiration for both the music and Disney's animation was a 1797 poem by Goethe, Der Zauberlehrling. Dukas wrote other works that deserve at least as much attention as this one, by the way. His 1896 Symphony in C, for example, is a very dramatic and colorful piece that deserves far more attention than it has gotten.
Stefan Freund: Cyrillic Dreams -- The "Music You Know" concerts always include at least one work that you probably don't know, but should. This time around, that work is by a composer who is an associate professor at the University of Missouri, the cellist and one of the co-founders of the new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, artistic director of the Mizzou New Music Initiative, and the principal conductor and music director of the Columbia Civic Orchestra. Which is not a bad collection of accomplishments for someone in his early forties. The composer is quoted in Eddie Silva's program notes as saying that Cyrillic Dreams was inspired by a series of dreams in which he was surrounded by the daunting and foreign letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, as well as by "the colorful domes and clamorous bells of Moscow and St. Petersburg," which he visited in 2008.
As my friend Dean Minderman pointed out to me in a recent email, this is one of just eight works by living composers on this year's schedule, and marks the second time in three seasons the SLSO has played a work by a Missouri composer. The last time it was Stephanie Berg's entertaining Ravish and Mayem back in 2014.
Wagner: "Ride of the Valkyries" (arr. Hutschenruyter) from Die Walküre -- Maybe you associate this music with the words "kill da waabit." Or possibly with "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." Or maybe just with the image of women in helmets singing very forcefully. It is, in any case, an integral part of the musical DNA of the Western world and an appropriately rousing final work for the concert.
The Essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with violin soloist Celeste Golden Boyer on Friday, April 29, at 8 p.m. The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand.