Concert Prep

Concert Prep: Northern Lights

Symphoria Presents: Northern Lights

Crouse Hinds Concert Theater
Saturday November 8th, 7:30PM

This concert will feature the West Genesee High School Wind Ensemble at 6:30.

The first item on tonight’s program, featuring music entirely composed in the far northern reaches of the world, is Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op.36. This is quite a beautiful overture, and I like to think of it as being Sheherezade Lite. Just like Sheherezade, Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestrational genius is on full display; you’ll hear all kinds of wonderful instrumental combinations, such as a twittering solo violin joining the woodwinds in creating a chime-like effect, or charming string pizzicatos adding an extra ring to flute lines. Also just like Sheherezade, there are numerous extended solo interludes: the violin, the cello, the clarinet and the trombone all get good long looks in the limelight. Finally, I found the ending (13:45 in the clip above) extremely reminiscent of one of my favorite movies. Do you think that Howard Shore had Rimsky-Korsakov in mind when he wrote this passage?

Carl Nielsen’s unusual Clarinet Concerto concludes the first half of our program, with our own Allan Kolsky playing the solo line. Nielsen’s concerto is in four movements, but they are played attacca – meaning that there aren’t obvious pauses in between movements. This means that in order to tell when one movement ends and the next begins, you have to listen for significant changes in the character of the music. The first movement is characterized by the sturdy opening theme, so it would make sense that the second movement (found at 8:30 above) would contrast with a wandering, slightly morose theme first played by the bassoons. The third movement (13:12) presents a sort of refracted, slinky carousel waltz, while the finale (19:59) is easily identifiable for the crazed, manic character identifiable from the outset.

I would hazard a guess that each of Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies is played more than all of his first three combined over the course of any given calendar year. This kind of programming has proven to be a bit of a lightning rod for critics of the orchestral industry – we only ever trot out the old war horses, they say. Unfortunately for those critics, the fact remains that the last three symphonies of Tchaikovsky, and especially his Sixth Symphony, are just really great pieces of music, showing a much higher level of compositional sophistication than the first three. The third movement of this symphony is a perfect example, as what starts out as a flighty, sprite-like scherzo turns into one of the most rousing marches Tchaikovsky ever wrote. How did he do it? The march theme first enters at 28:30 in the oboes as an accompanimental theme, but doesn’t really take center stage until the clarinets present it in humble fashion at the thirty minute mark. the theme plays around the edges during the intervening ninety seconds in various forms, and while the initial scherzo material is revisited, the march theme carries the music to a triumphant finale that often draws a long ovation from audiences before the deflating finale.

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