Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Springing for the Classics

For our April Masterworks concerts this coming Thursday and Friday the 16th and 17th, we are privileged to have with us guest maestro Vladimir Kulenovic leading us through a program of Smetana, Rachmaninov and Beethoven. Vladimir is the Associate Conductor of the Utah Symphony, and Resident Conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic. That is quite a commute! The repertoire on this concert pair approximately brackets the 19th century, with the Beethoven dating from 1808, the Rachmaninov from 1891 (but revised in 1917), and the Smetana from somewhere in between.

Bedrich Smetana was a Czech composer who lived and worked roughly 20 years earlier than his more celebrated countryman, Dvorak, and the first Czech opera composer of substance. The Bartered Bride (admittedly a highly mockable title), from 1866, is the only one of his eight operas still performed on an international scale. The composer's name is apparently being pronounced incorrectly, as it is widely pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. One source has his name pronounced to rhyme with “piranha.” There is no small amount of gypsy flavor in Smetana's music, and the Bartered Bride Overture is a wild ride from stem to stern. There are actually two different fugues in the work, a fast, perpetual motion deal at the beginning, and a more choppy, syncopated one in the middle. I'm going to be frank here; there are a lot of notes in this piece! In my auditioning heyday, the appearance of this work's excerpts on a repertoire list was a signal for me to steer clear of that audition. So many opportunities (about 12 per second) to sound like a squeaky Greyhound Bus seat! Here's where the beauty of playing in an orchestra, where there is safety in numbers, is evident.

Finnish pianist Antti Siirala will join us for the Rachmaninov First Piano Concerto. There may still be some alive who heard Rachmaninov's final performance right here in Knoxville in 1943, but through the magic of Youtube, we can now hear (but unfortunately, not see) Rachmaninov performing this concerto.

Finally, we get to Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, #6. This is not to be confused with the Pastoral Symphony from Handel's Messiah, which all too often serves as nap music in performances of that oratorio. I am just amazed at how beautiful Beethoven's music is, considering what a complete mess his manuscripts look like, as you can see below. Hard to make out heads or tails from what he left us!

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