KEEPIN’ IT CLASSICAL: Heritage, love and war

By on July 21, 2015

American folk music, ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and Napoleon at GTMF

150722KeepinItClassical

GTMF PRESENTS: Mark O’Connor – American Classics, 8 p.m., Wednesday, Walk Festival Hall. $25, students free, $15 day-of

Violinist and composer Mark O’Connor is widely recognized as one of the most talented and influential musicians of the time. Internationally heralded as both a moving performer and idiomatic voice of 21st century American music, O’Connor’s background in fiddle and jazz studies allows him the insight to produce contemporary works steeped in aural tradition with a distinguishable modern style. O’Connor will perform with his wife and fellow violinist Maggie O’Connor, a Peabody Institute graduate who, in recent seasons, appeared as a guest soloist with the renowned Singapore Chinese Orchestra and the Santa Rosa Symphony. She also has presented recitals in Baltimore and appeared as a member of the Aspen Festival Orchestra. Together, the legendary O’Connors will perform selections from Mark O’Connor’s albums “MOC4” and “American Classics,” accompanied by the Jason Hardink on piano. Hardink is the principal symphony keyboardist of the Utah Symphony and the artistic director of the NOVA Chamber Music Series. The evening will delight bluegrass and classical aficionados alike.

Chamber Music: Hovhaness, Dohnányi & Mozart, 8 p.m., Thursday, Walk Festival Hall. $25, students free, $15 day-of

Piggybacking off of Mark O’Connor’s Wednesday night performance, Thursday’s concert is a string affair. The event begins with Alan Hovhaness’s “Duet for Violin and Cello, op. 409.” Hovhaness was an American composer of Armenian descent and prolific creative output, having composed a total of 67 symphonies and 434 opus number works over the course of his career. That number likely does not reflect the real number of works he wrote. During the 1930s and ‘40s, Havhaness famously destroyed much of his early writing, claiming to have trashed around 500 pieces and more than one thousand pages of manuscript. Although not as much of a household name as his counterpart composers John Cage, Lou Harrison and Henry Cowell, Hovhaness was an important figure in the 20th century’s classical music revolutions, namely looking to non-Western music in Japan, India and Korea for inspiration in structure and theme. Hungarian composer Erno Dohnányi’s “Serenade in C Major, Op. 10” follows, emblematic of the composer’s quirky and folk-influenced style, and W.A. Mozart’s “Clarinet Quintet in A Major” concludes the evening as one of the composer’s most admired works.

Festival Orchestra: Classical Masters – Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven, 8 p.m., Friday; 6 p.m., Saturday. Open rehearsal 10 a.m., Friday., Walk Festival Hall. $25-55, students free, $15 day-of; $10 open rehearsal

This weekend’s concert opens with one of the most recognizable pieces in music history – Mozart’s overture from “The Marriage of Figaro.” The overture is bubbly, festive and entertaining in its own right and is the perfect introduction to the opera’s 1786 premiere in Prague, where the opera was an instant box office sellout. “The Marriage of Figaro” was a continuation of French playwright Beaumarchais’ “The Barber of Seville” (1773), and is a comic story of scheming, manipulation and romance along the lines of the time’s French aristocratic taste. Notably, none of the overture’s themes appear elsewhere in the opera.

Romantic era German composer Johannes Brahms’ “Violin Concerto in D Major” is the second work of the evening, featuring world-renowned guest artist James Ehnes on violin. The concerto is the only one Brahms wrote for violin, and it was written for his friend and violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms did not play the violin himself and collaborated with Joachim on the composition of the concerto, acquiescing to all of the soloist’s notes on the score except to those making it less technically difficult. The work is considered among the four greatest violin concerti of the 19th century. Brahms suffered some criticism for the dramatic nature of the work – with the great conductor Hans von Bülow declaring it not a concerto for violin but a “concerto against the violin.” It’s dramatically demanding for the ear, while also effusing an underlying feminine, seductive lure.

Beethoven’s timeless and iconic “Symphony No. 3,” known as the “Eroica” or “Heroic” symphony, concludes the evening’s programming. Beethoven began work on the symphony in 1798 when he first learned of a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte whose democratic ideals matched also his military genius. The character of this young political revolutionary so deeply inspired Beethoven that for five years the composer marinated on how to portray the young leader’s character through music. Finally between May 1803 and sometime early in 1804, he composed “Symphony No. 3” and wrote Napoleon’s name at the top of the work. However, when Napoleon named himself Emperor of France in May of 1804, an enraged Beethoven declared, “So he is just like all the rest, after all. He will stamp out human rights and become a greater tyrant than the others.” Beethoven ripped up the first page of his score, and after a few more name revisions to include “Grand Symphony, entitled Bonaparte,” and  “Sinfonia Eroica,” the composer finally settled in 1806 on “Heroic Symphony, Composed in Memory of a Great Man.” The symphony is easily one of the great musical works of all time, full of electrifying musical imagery of bravery, idealism, youth, love, war and adventure.

Inside the Music: Simply Classical

8 p.m., Tuesday at Walk Festival Hall, free

This week’s “Inside the Music” is a special treat of musical instrument buffet offerings. From solo harpsichord (Marcello’s “Harpsichord Sonanta in A Major”) to solo timpani (Carter’s “Canaries” from “Eight Pieces for Timpani”), the evening is as varied in sonic texture and musical color as the festival could make a single concert bill. The program also will look at Copland’s “Four Piano Blues” and selections from Beethoven’s “String Quartet No. 16” and contemporary composer Anna Meredith’s “Songs for the M8.” This program is free and a great educational opportunity. Festival musician Barbara Scowcroft hosts the evening with informative notes on the background of each piece. PJH

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