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Magnificent Midori plays Korngold’s film score-inspired Violin Concerto; plus, Bramwell Tovey leads Pacific Symphony in Holst’s “The Planets” and Debussy’s sublime “Clair De Lune”
Orange County, Calif. — March 16, 2016
Mesmerizing virtuoso, former child prodigy and so famous she goes by one name—Midori—joins Pacific Symphony to perform Erich Korngold’s achingly beautiful Violin Concerto, which the composer reimagined from four of his acclaimed film scores. The exquisite program is led by Grammy and Juno award-winning music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey, of whom Musical America has called: “One of the most versatile and charismatic musicians in the world.” Tovey also leads the orchestra in grand and thrilling music inspired by the galaxy—Gustav Holst’s dramatic interpretation of the cosmos, “The Planets,” enhanced by the voices of the women of Pacific Chorale (John Alexander, artistic director); plus, Debussy’s luminous piano piece, “Clair de Lune,” orchestrated by the legendary Leopold Stokowski.
The concert takes place Thursday through Saturday, April 28-30, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets range from $25-$110. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“I love Korngold’s music and am delighted to play it with the great Midori,” says Maestro Tovey. “I first heard Midori as a 14-year-old soloist at Tanglewood in 1986. I’d gone to observe Leonard Bernstein’s master classes (incidentally, I remember meeting Carl St.Clair the same week and chatting about Bernstein’s extraordinary charisma). And a couple of years ago, we worked together with my orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony.”
Midori, who last performed with Pacific Symphony for the first classical concert of the 2009-10 season, stunning the audience with her rendition of Tchaikovsky’s memorable Violin Concerto, also opened the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2006, playing Beethoven’s breathtaking Violin Concerto. Midori now returns for another magnificent performance, this time of film composer Korngold’s lush and lyrical Violin Concerto.
The son of an influential music critic, Korngold was a Viennese composer born in Moravia, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time (now the Czech Republic), who gained early fame as a child prodigy. Gustav Mahler called him a “musical genius.” By the time he was in his 30s, he was a successful opera composer and teacher in Vienna. Korngold went on to become a pioneer of the Hollywood film score, a career that began in 1934 when director Max Reinhardt asked him to adapt Mendelssohn’s music for a new film of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”—and off he went to Hollywood. As World War II raged, the Jewish composer decided he would compose nothing but film music—until Hitler was defeated.
The 1938 movie “The Adventures of Robin Hood” regenerated Korngold’s career. He won the Academy Award for best original score and was later nominated three more times. However, some charged that by working in Hollywood, he had traded his integrity for success. This made Korngold determined to prove himself and at the end of the war, he retired from films to concentrate on concert music. The Violin Concerto was the first such work that Korngold wrote. From then on, he continued to write concert music in a rich, chromatic, late Romantic style, with the Violin Concerto among his most notable works.
Before John Williams’ “Star Wars,” there was Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”—as big and ambitious as anything that came after. With the luminous night sky for inspiration, Holst (among the best loved of 20th-century English composers) took on the universe by setting it to music. Epic and thrilling in every sense, “The Planets” is a “Suite for Large Orchestra” and includes a chorus of swelling, wordless female voices. More astrological than astronomical—despite Holst’s denials that it had any connection to the Zodiac other than the names and traits of the planets he chose to include—the music conjures strong mythological images. Still, it is a powerful suite that provides the swirling energy of deep space.
“This work has had an enormous influence on succeeding generations of composers, not the least of whom is John Williams, whose superb movie scores bear witness to the influence of this composer,” says Tovey, who first conducted “The Planets” in 1974 when he was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Holst’s universe is represented in seven movements: “Mars, the Bringer of War”; “Venus, the Bringer of Peace”; “Mercury, the Winged Messenger”; “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity”; “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”; “Uranus, the Magician”; and “Neptune, the Mystic.” His planets are distinct and contrasting musical treasures. “Mars” is a whirling dervish, full of virility and power with pounding rhythm, while “Neptune” is mystical and static, conveying a sense of endless space. “Venus” is serene and celestial, bringing a sense of peace, and “Uranus” is a vulgar prankster, smart-alecky and unpredictable. “Mercury” is light and playful, conveying darting speed, while “Saturn”—Holst’s favorite—is heavy and plodding, on a life’s journey. Finally, “Jupiter” is full of wholesome cheer and the charm of traditional English folk tunes.
“The less famous movements are worth closer attention,” continues Tovey. “Hear Mercury flying past at high speed but with a lightness of touch that bears no relation to the flying Valkyries of Wagnerian fame. In Saturn, the struggling tread of old age and the willful battle with a failing body—this is the emotional core and shows Holst at his most transcendent. Uranus, with its homage to Dukas’ famous ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and terrifying climax, which more or less collapses into Neptune, the Mystic, whose fabric of seeming gossamer mist supports the distant voices of the female choir, music so simple, yet so very difficult to sing.”
Also atmospheric and visual—in a completely different way—is Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Called “the father of musical Impressionism,” for obvious reasons, Debussy’s music suggests color, light and water. Evocative of mood and tones, and full of meandering harmonies, the music functions as light does in Impressionist paintings—rendering impressions rather than solid objects. Originally composed as the third movement of a piano suite of four movements, called “Suite Bergamasque,” the new title for the movement came from a poem by Paul Verlaine and means “moonlight.” “Clair de Lune” is by far the most popular, and has been excerpted and orchestrated more than any of the other three. It’s also been a staple for movie soundtracks.
Oddly, though the term “bergamasque” refers to rustic dances from the Italian town of Bergamo, “Clair de Lune” doesn’t suggest country or dancing but, rather, is elegant and luminous. Though Debussy edged away from traditional major and minor keys, he did not eliminate traditional tonal centers, but “blurred” them. Yet, like Impressionist paintings, after a moment, the images take shape before our eyes.
“Our concert begins with Stokowski’s transparent and economical orchestration of Debussy’s piano masterpiece,” says Tovey. “Stokowski, who is so often associated with bombast, as in his Toccata and Fugue orchestration which opens Disney’s ‘Fantasia,’ chooses to use the orchestra in a very fragile and delicate manner, in direct contradiction of his known reputation for extravagance.”
Pacific Symphony’s classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from the Avenue of the Arts Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCaL.
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