“Music in 3D: The Sequel” Concert Preview No. 3

Before each concert, we share Manny’s Musings, thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the final edition of the Musings for the 2014-15 season. We hope you enjoy this preview of “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Modest Moussorgsky (1839-1881) and his Pictures at an Exhibition orchestrated by Maurice Ravel occupies a cornerstone of the orchestral literature both as a masterwork of inspired composition and brilliant orchestration. There are over two dozen versions of the Russian Moussorgsky’s piano piece but the popularity of this orchestration by Ravel endures as the favorite of concert audiences. To be fair, it is the most often-played version and most people have not heard the other versions. A partial listing might include the first orchestration by Mikhail Tushmalov or Sir Henry Wood or Leopold Stokowski. There’s an arrangement for brass choir by Elgar Howarth for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. In 1977, I went on tour as principal trumpeter for the rock trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer and played their version. Even a version for solo trumpet and organ was written by the American trumpeter Vincent DiMartino. Clearly, the music is evocative enough to bring clear images to the mind and compelling enough to incite musicians to try their hand at making their own personal statement. But cream does tend to rise and Ravel’s orchestration continues to be the favorite world-wide.

You may remember from our previous discussions of Borodin that Moussorgsky was one of a group of Russian composers known as “The Five” who tasked themselves with creating concert music that would be representative of a Russian musical language and style. Moussorgsky’s modal key centers and free use of changing time signatures stays within that language in an exemplary fashion. It was then up to Frenchman Maurice Ravel to set about doing what he did best as one of the pre-eminent orchestrators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and bring Moussorgsky’s piano music to life with vivid instrumental color.

The pictures from this particular exhibition came from the mind of a recently deceased painter and friend of Moussorgsky named Victor Hartmann. After Hartmann’s death from an aneurysm, Moussorgsky was driven to honor him with a piece of music depicting several of these Russian-themed paintings. Hartmann’s paintings aren’t the only depiction, however. The piece begins with a Promenade which is repeated in a variety of keys and characters throughout the 40-minute work. These Promenades have in common changing meters and strategically placed eighth notes that portray a less-than-graceful awkwardness. They fairly represent Moussorgsky’s moving from one painting to another with a heavy limp that revealed his own physiognomy. It may have even given us a peek at the alcoholism that began upon learning of the death of his mother, a passing which affected him greatly. Sometimes the Promenades precede each picture. Other times, Moussorgsky seems to be standing in front of two pictures and steals a gaze at one before completely finishing looking at the other. Ravel challenges the listener to hear sounds not always associated with a symphony orchestra such as a saxophone singing the ballad of a troubadour before an old castle. Then there’s the tuba in the altissimo register providing us with the complaints of an old ox pulling a loaded cart. A piccolo, snare drum, and tiny cymbals peck at an egg shell before the newly-hatched chick falls in exhaustion, his work accomplished. Snarling brass make a gnome seem larger than life. Seeing the pictures themselves is far less important than the pictures you conjure in the same way as Shakespeare exhorted you to “work your thoughts” (Henry V) in order to see the magic created by Moussorsgky and then Ravel many years later after the composer’s death.

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Music in 3D: The Sequel” featuring Sara Melissa Aldana, winner of the CodaBow prize at the Mary West Solo Competition, as soloist. The concert takes place on Sunday, April 19 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To learn more about the concert, click here, or to order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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“Music in 3D: The Sequel” Concert Preview No. 1

Before each concert, we share Manny’s Musings, thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. Please enjoy this concert preview and check back next week for more of “Manny’s Musings”!

The story of Le Chasseur Maudit (1883) comes to us from a poem by Gottfried Berger, a German writer from the late 1700s who had borrowed and altered the original Norse legend of “The Wild Hunter.”

Cesar Franck, composer

Cesar Franck, composer

From the start, let’s be clear about one thing: the “Accursed Hunter” Frenchman Cesar Franck portrays in his tone poem has not a particularly winning personality. A devoted Catholic church organist, Franck provides for us a vivid musical cautionary tale about observing the Sabbath. The Huntsman has a fairly odious habit of going hunting on the Lord’s Day despite the presence of a White Knight who appears to admonish him not to do so for once but an influential Black Knight helps the Hunter choose otherwise.

Strike one.

On his way to the forest he is beseeched by an old woman to not travel through her field with his entourage of horses and men for it would surely ruin her harvest. Once again, the White Knight appeals to him to do the right thing only to be subverted by the Black Knight. The Hunter runs roughshod over the woman’s field and ruins her future meager earnings.

Strike two.

The Hunter finds his prey in short order, a beautiful stag, who seeks refuge in the home of an old hermit. The hermit makes an impassioned plea on behalf of the animal but the Hunter’s heart is tainted beyond repair and remorse. He orders the old man’s house burned in order to smoke the animal out so it can be taken as his prize.

Strike three

Strike three.
The Hermit is killed in the fire and at the moment he dies the Hunter finds himself changing, his very soul transfiguring into that of a phantom. He is surrounded by the most evil of spirits but particularly those of his once-loyal dogs who have now been charged with chasing him through eternity with a yearning to tear him to shreds.

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Music in 3D: The Sequel” featuring Sara Melissa Aldana, winner of the CodaBow prize at the Mary West Solo Competition, as soloist. The concert takes place on Sunday, April 19 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To learn more about the concert, click here, or to order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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“Three Singing Masters” Concert Preview No. 3

Today, we share the thoughts of Manny Laureano, the Bloomington Symphony’s Music Director and Conductor, with our audience, in advance of our concert “Three Singing Masters” on Sunday, October 5. This is our final edition of Manny’s Musings for this concert. Please join us at the concert, and check back to our website in a few weeks, to learn more about the pieces on the November concert program (Copland, Barber and Ives, for those looking to whet their appetites!)

Symphony No. 1 in D Major
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

If Richard Strauss teaches us how to exit “this mortal coil,” then it can easily be argued that Gustav Mahler shows us the way into a boisterous and unabashed symphonic existence! He was, like Wagner and Strauss, one who loved the possibilities and expressive power of the human voice and wasted no time in writing much of his first works for the voice and orchestra. In fact, parts of his Songs of a Wayfarer serve as thematic material for this first symphony, written immediately after the premiere of that song cycle.

He was taken with the music of Wagner and, in short order, became friendly with luminaries of the day who were Wagner’s associates, such as Hugo Wolf, though that relationship ended abruptly with Wolf accusing Mahler of stealing his ideas. Of interest to the young intellectual born of Jewish parents in Bohemia, were Wagner’s philosophical ideas, as well as his music. As did Strauss, Mahler became an opera conductor very drawn to Wagner’s music.

If the First Symphony sounds like a bit of a mad rush in places, consider that it took the young, seemingly possessed composer only six weeks to write the 50-minute work. One often comes away from a Mahler symphony feeling as though each “story” he tells is somewhat autobiographical. Mahler seems to be obsessed with going from darkness into light and back again pausing every so often to embrace the charm of youth and the times in which he lived. He takes us from what could described as a journey that begins before the dawn of a fresh spring day. He seems to determined to pack his bags and set off for the country dance that awaits us in the second movement, both gruff and sweetly beckoning. The ironic funeral march seems more like the Jewish funeral processions he saw as a young boy growing up in Iglau, a part of the Austrian empire. With mock solemnity, the cortège marches respectfully until they are out of sight, where they pick up the pace until the weary pall bearers set for a moment to enjoy the day as the body and casket wait for them to regain their energy to continue.

The final movement is a stormy description of an infernal nightmare that gives way to a respite of sensual beauty. This push and pull of pain and pleasure finds its way to the triumphant close that seemingly quotes the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. It is almost as though Mahler were out to prove his D major celebration of joy can outdo Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. You be the judge!

Please join us for this concert, “Three Singing Masters,” on Sunday, October 5 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To purchase tickets in advance, please visit our online box office here. Tickets are always available at the door (cash or check only).

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“Three Singing Masters” Concert Preview No. 2

We are thrilled to share the thoughts of Manny Laureano, the Bloomington Symphony’s Music Director and Conductor, with our audience, in advance of our concert “Three Singing Masters” on Sunday, October 5. The first Musing, on Wagner’s Overture to Die Meistersinger, is posted here. We will post future Musings in the days leading up to the concert. Please be sure to visit again soon and learn more about the program!

Four Last Songs
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Richard Strauss, composer

Richard Strauss, composer

Richard Georg Strauss occupies a rare place in musical history as a composer whose works spanned two centuries and enjoyed success in both. He wrote in virtually every genre of composition, some forms more successfully than others. From chamber music to lieder, symphonies, concerti, tone poems, and opera, Strauss proved able to manipulate his musical talents from mere forays to defining a genre. Not only was he a composer but he was a respected conductor of opera and symphonic works as well. During his lifetime he could have planned an entire concert around his music and included one of many overtures, an oboe or horn concerto, followed by an opera aria or two, and finished off with one of his symphonies or a 45-minute tone poem.

He had many influences as he grew, but an important one was the music of Richard Wagner. While he never met Wagner, he did find that Cosima Wagner favored his music enough to let the young composer/conductor interpret her late husband’s music. The richness of Wagner’s orchestrations was to forever influence Strauss as he mastered the ability of transparency despite a seemingly thick orchestration.

The Four Last Songs were written in 1948, a year before old age and failing health would take him. The songs speak with great sentiment yet never approach a saccharine quality. Perhaps the sweetness that characterizes this last, posthumously published work comes from a familial influence as his wife, Pauline, was a celebrated soprano and his father, Franz Joseph, an equally revered horn player. Both voice and lyrical horn melodies are a feature part of this collection.

For those that attended the BSO’s performance of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration last season, there is a gentle melodic surprise in the last of these songs which ponders whether the settling dusk is actually the embrace of death. Try to hear the theme as it wafts by.

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Strauss’ Four Last Songs will be performed by Minnesota native Sofia Ardalan. Please visit our Soloist page to learn more about Sofia.

Sofia Ardalan, soprano

Sofia Ardalan, soprano

Please join us for this concert, “Three Singing Masters,” on Sunday, October 5 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To purchase tickets in advance, please visit our online box office here. Tickets are always available at the door (cash or check only).

 

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“Three Singing Masters” Concert Preview No. 1

Welcome to the first edition of Manny’s Musings for the 2014-15 concert season! We are thrilled to share the thoughts of Manny Laureano, the Bloomington Symphony’s Music Director and Conductor, with our audience, in advance of our concert “Three Singing Masters” on Sunday, October 5. We will post future Musings in the days leading up to the concert. Please be sure to visit again soon and learn more about the program!

Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

RichardWagnerThose of you who are regular attendees of BSO concerts will recall that Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi was performed as part of our programming last season. It was an early work about an Italian subject. This season, the Overture to a mammoth opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, propels us forward more than two score and four years to see a middle-aged Richard Wagner who has developed his sense of chromaticism on the heels of his opera, Tristan and Isolde. He chooses for this opera a German subject that is steeped in the reality of an annual singing contest that was held in Nürnberg.

Interestingly, Wagner gives the chromaticism that mark the success and curiosity of Tristan a bit of a rest and settles into a style that is more diatonic and “listener friendly.” This was to be the opera that preceded his most illustrious work, Der Ring des Nibelungen, where his creative powers become almost a plaything for him. Die Meistersinger has, at its core, the requisite hero who wishes to win the hand of a local maiden, not through swordplay or deviousness, but through song.

The overture is a proper overture, in the sense that there are many themes that are represented in the opera, unlike Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro or even the miniature overture that begins the Nutcracker ballet. Virtually every note heard in the overture is reflected in the course of the opera either as a full-fledged theme or a more brief leit motiv, from the stately march of the masters, to the prize song offered by the hero, Walther, to a fugue based on the light-footed dances of the apprentices. The constant and smooth shifting of character in this overture and its ability to achieve transparency in the midst of presenting themes on top of themes is a testament to Wagner’s skills of orchestration.

Please join us for this concert, “Three Singing Masters,” on Sunday, October 5 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To purchase tickets in advance, please visit our online box office here. Tickets are always available at the door (cash or check only).

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2014-15 Concert Season Announced!

The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra

The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra

Bloomington Symphony Orchestra Music Director Manny Laureano has assembled four concerts with a variety of well-known classics and a few pieces that may be new to some in the audience. The 2014-15 concert season will feature a young soprano, a seasoned cellist and the BSO solo debut of our new concertmaster. Click on the link to learn more about each concert.

2014-15 Concerts

October 5, 2014 – Three Singing Masters: Wagner, Strauss & Mahler

November 16, 2014 – Anybody Here Speak American?: Copland, Barber & Ives

February 15, 2015 – Melodious Tchaikovsky: Three pieces by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

April 19, 2015 – Music in 3D: The Sequel: Franck, TBA & Mussorgsky/Ravel

Tickets:

Season tickets (one ticket for each concert) are available for purchase through the Bloomington Box Office (only). You can click here to order tickets online or you can call 952-563-8575 or stop by the Box Office in person  at 1800 West Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington.

Can’t make it to every concert? You can still get the discounted price by purchasing in advance, four or more tickets to any of the concerts. Season and four-ticket packages are $48 for adults and $40 for seniors.

Single tickets are available in advance or at the door for $14 for adults and $12 for seniors. Students are always free, thanks to our generous donors.

For more information about any of our concerts, please contact our General Manager, Sara Tan at info@bloomingtonsymphony.org

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“Music in 3D” Concert Preview No. 1

Prior to each concert, we will post a preview of the concert program, by sharing notes written by our Artistic Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. 

Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Richard Strauss, composer

Richard Strauss, composer

Over the centuries concertgoers have been treated to a variety of music. From oratorios that celebrate a Biblical event or historical figure or to concertos featuring one or more instruments to fugues that challenge the ear to follow a progression of musically structured events, audiences have been given the opportunity to listen and make sense of collections of sounds. That opportunity was never greater than in the tone poems of Richard Strauss. To be sure, Strauss did not invent the idiom. Anyone who is familiar with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Heinrich Biber’s Battaglia or Wellington’s Victory of Beethoven understands that the idea of telling a story using musical lines, harmonies, and effects predates Strauss considerably. But a strong argument can be made in favor of his having set a new standard in how vivid a tone poem can be.

Strauss was already quite successful as a conductor of operas and symphonic works that were popular in the day. He was also ready to present his premiere of his first tone poem, Don Juan… when he had just finished his second, Tod und Verklarung or Death and Transfiguration. The speed at which he wrote is not surprising, however, when one considers that he had already written dozens of works by the time he got around to writing the kinds of music for which he would become best known. What is surprising is how well he found himself able to capture through melody and harmony a picture, a moment, a sentiment and have it become a boilerplate for so many that followed. It is even more surprising that he would do so well on the subject of the afterlife since he was not particularly religious himself. From its quietly painful opening to the transition into a C-major of childlike simplicity, Death and Transfiguration is cleansing to the listener after going though such palpable tumult with the subject of the story: The ailing elderly man who is, at first, so afraid of death but finds the peace he sought by finally embracing the path to which he is led.

Whether it is the seductive portrait of Don Juan the lover, Till Eulenspiegel’s infectious laugh, Don Quixote’s delusional nobility, the eerie stillness of a climber on a mountain before a storm in the Alps, or the clear passing of a human being from this world to the next, Richard Strauss stands alone in his ability to create the scene in your mind through well-chosen melodies, harmonies, and perfect orchestration.

Please join us for this concert, “Music in 3D,” on Sunday, April 13 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To purchase tickets in advance, please visit our online box office here. Tickets are always available at the door.

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“The Passion of Rachmaninoff” Concert Preview No. 1

This “Concert Preview” will provide background information on the pieces the BSO will perform next. Each Concert Preview is written by the BSO’s Artistic Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. Look for the next Concert Preview on February 6.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Richard Wagner

While it can be argued that the music of Richard Wagner should be “blamed” for the direction 19th century music took toward a lack of tonality, the truth of the matter is that Wagner started off in a rather traditional fashion. In fact, it’s interesting to note that, unlike many of his musical predecessors, his first love was writing the written word rather than music itself. He was so moved by the works of Shakespeare and Goethe, for example, that he was compelled to try his hand at writing at the age of fourteen. It was at that time that he went about the task of attempting to write music for his tragedy, Leubald. He spent the next many years perfecting his musical craft for the sake of accompanying the great stories that stirred his heart, at first, alone, and then with help from teachers such as Christian Weinlig, of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

Rienzi was Wagner’s first successful opera. He already had a few junior works to his credit from piano sonatas to a Symphony in C major. He had already written operas (Die Hochzeit and also Die Feen) but it was not until he completed Rienzi that he took his foothold into prominence during a time of nationalistic musical fervor in Germany. Wagner’s use of chromaticism continued a natural transition in music history that started with Hector Berlioz in Paris and continued with him. It was that use of chromaticism that opened the gates for new modalities in subsequent composers.

The Overture to Rienzi

Normally, one would think of a trumpet calling soldiers to war to be involved in a complex set of flourishes. But in this immensely popular overture, Wagner decides that a single note, swelling and fading, should be the signal to battle for the Collonas, a family featured in the opera. But the call to action gives way to a solemn prayer from the fifth act of the opera rather than an act of miltarism. This foray into grand opera in the French tradition of the time is wonderfully tuneful yet it offers a glimpse into the ascending chromaticism that would mark the unique quality of Wagner’s subsequent work (if you think you hear a bit of The Flying Dutchman in various transitory and developmental passages it is for good reason for it would be the opera that followed Rienzi by a year!). All the ingredients for a 19th century grand opera on Italian themes are present: corrupt government officials, forbidden love, dueling families, a burning city, and, of course, vendettas accompanied by mobs thirsting for blood. But none of this seems quite so horrific when people are singing at the top of their lungs!

Please join us for this concert, “The Passion of Rachmaninoff,” on Sunday, February 16 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To purchase tickets in advance, please visit our online box office here. Tickets are always available at the door.

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