Beginning this installment of Behind the Notes with Maestro Raffaele Livio Ponti, Maestro Ponti welcomed everyone, and before getting to the music set for March 6, described another exciting upcoming concert entitled Get Happy! Joan Ellison Sings Judy Garland. This concert takes place at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center on April 24, 7:30 pm. He noted that the musical orchestrations used for this special event are the originals, not reductions or simplified versions frequently heard these days. The audience will experience authentic Nelson Riddle arrangements, still considered among the best in the music business.
On the large screen was a paused video of the Overture from Gioacchino Rossini’s opera L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers). Maestro Ponti described some attributes of Rossini’s family in Italy, Rossini’s wit, joie de vivre, and comedic personality, and cited his nickname of Senor Crescendo, attributed to his effective use of dramatic crescendo effects in his music. His first use of the “Rossini Rocket,” as this device was also called, was in his opera La Pietra del Paragone (1812). This classic Rossini tool ended the Overture and first acts of his operas, tantalizing audiences to anticipate upcoming dramatic events. Ponti also pointed out Rossini’s admiration for Joseph Haydn, and the resulting musical surprises heard in his works. This practice is akin to the musical exclamations of Haydn’s famous Surprise Symphony, where after a sustained quiet passage, a loud chord emerged, waking, to Haydn’s delight, dozing patrons. We listened to the Overture and followed the music on a scrolling score projected on the screen.
Ponti explained how some patrons tend to mill about the theater socializing in Italian opera houses. An overture provides the perfect venue to remind them that the opera is about to begin and that they should find their seats and settle down. He also mentioned Rossini’s habit of finishing his overtures at the last possible moment, sometimes doing so the night of the performance.
Paul McCartney’s orchestra work Spiral was the next subject of listening and discussion for the upcoming Sunday concert. Remembering McCartney’s gift for creating text and music, we were introduced to this impressionistic example of melody and dissonance using a string quartet and full orchestra. Spiral is an excellent example of what might be called “sound painting.” As this was a beautiful Florida day, I could not help but think of Frederic Delius’ delightful orchestral work Florida Suite (1887).
Elegy for String Orchestra by Samuel Jones followed. Ponti spoke of his initial connection with Jones that began at a summer music festival. He noted Jones’s long-time Dean post at the Rice University School of Music. This work is the product of Jones’ personal expression in reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It poetically emotes suffering and conflict and is commensurately haunting, reflective, and melancholy. The subtle release of its denouement affords a final measure of peace.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Walker’s Lyric for Strings was written to emote his feelings after his grandmother’s passing. Unlike Jones’ work, this piece possesses and expresses sentimental, pleasant memories.
We viewed an interview with composer and educator Howard Hanson (Dean of the Eastman Conservatory, U of Rochester) from 1968, where he stressed the values of the arts, particularly in an era of increasing automation. While Dean at Eastman, Hanson created the Eastman Rochester Orchestra to provide students with symphonic experiences on the stage and in sections with professional musicians. This interview preceded listening to Hanson’s Symphonic Poem: Pan and Priest, Op. 26 (1926). In his role as a faculty member of Music Composition at Eastman, Hanson was also directly connected to composers and former students Samuel Jones and George Walker.
Igor Stravinsky’s superb neo-classical orchestral work, The Firebird (1910), completed today’s focus on music for the upcoming concert. Incidentally, the 1919 version of this piece is planned for Sunday’s program. Ponti described Stravinsky’s rich orchestrations, its echoes of late 19th-century romanticism, and compelling creative use of orchestral color, rhythm, and unique textures. He noted examples such as the double bass section divided and simultaneous playing a passage both pizzicato and bowed.
Guest speaker and Punta Gorda principal double bassist Laurence Glazener arrived. He reflected on his years as a professional musician, including as principal double bassist for the renowned Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at New York’s Lincoln Center. Glazener shared anecdotes and insights from his time at the MET. He talked about the many conductors who led the orchestra like James Levine, and spoke of his association with MET Orchestra principal trumpeter for many years, Mel Broiles, with whom this writer had the privilege of studying trumpet performance some time ago. He also spoke of the many gifted opera singers with whom he came in contact. He mentioned that his wife, violinist Judith Yanchus, also a former member of the MET opera orchestra, now plays in the Punta Gorda Symphony.
This program left the audience charged in anticipation of the Punta Gorda Symphony concert’s Sunday, March 5, 2022.
For the 2021-22 season, the Behind the Notes events are held at FSW Campus, Rush Auditorium, 26300 Airport Road, Punta Gorda. Tickets can be purchased online at www.PGSymphony.org/Community. Run time 2 hours.
You can purchase tickets for the remaining upcoming events here or at the Orchestra’s website at https://www.pgsymphony.org/. For their season calendar, go here or to https://www.pgsymphony.org/calendar/
For other reviews of Maestro Ponti’s work, click here.
Readers may also enjoy the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Immersive Experience, Organ and Orchestra by the American Symphony Orchestra, and The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space.