One hour before the concert, Maestro Raffaele Livio Ponti arrived to speak to a large audience about the musical works to be performed that evening. Drawing from his musicological treasure trove of knowledge, he expressed in detail many musical and poetic characteristics of the works and the composers who created them. Ponti dedicates significant energy to ensuring audiences can fully appreciate and enjoy the music they hear. He mixes humor with historical anecdotes to better familiarize audiences with the human side of the artist composer. He extends this effort through his “Behind the Notes” program two days earlier, just before the concert, and before each musical selection. His musical exegesis is motivational and builds anticipation. The audience is responsive, engaged, and vigorously appreciative.
Returning to the stage, Maestro Ponti introduced the first work to the full audience now in attendance. He raised his baton and the concert began with Rossini’s Overture to his comic opera L’ltaliana in Algeri (1813), a welcome melodramatic departure to the years of austere opera serie by other composers. After its premiere at the Teatro San Benedetto, so commanding was its popularity that it was staged almost simultaneously at Brescia, Verona, Venice, Vincenza, and Treviso. As French writer Marie-Henri Beyle (aka Stendahl) noted at the time, “Never has a public enjoyed a spectacle more harmonious with its character.” The Symphony effectively expressed Rossini’s ebullient coruscating comedy with vigor, evoking the imaginings of librettist Angelo Anelli ruminating about a harem mix-up on the Barbary Coast.
Paul McCartney is a fantastic artist, and the Symphony performing one of his works rounds out perfectly apposite programming for every listener. He has publicly explained and demonstrated his seemingly simplistic method of composition, but it is, of course, his genius that shines through in his invention. Many covetous epigones short of intellectual currency have failed to imitate his manner and success. Spiral is another demonstration of McCartney’s lucid, logical, and proportioned creations and a new opportunity for him to experiment with orchestral timbres. You may recall his use of a string quartet in a 1965 arrangement of Yesterday. He has long discovered means to convey otherwise ineffable thoughts or emotions through his music. The Orchestra expressed Spiral as serene, elegiac, poetic, and introspective.
Jones’ work Elegy for String Orchestra and Walker’s Lyric for Strings lend insight into tonight’s tidy celebration of Harold Hanson et al., arranged by our own impresario Ponti, and as both studied with Hanson at Eastman, their works delightfully express a majestic legacy. These two pieces contrast in tone but enable the listener to experience products of harmonic sense, poetry, expression, and depth as intended by their executants.
Hanson’s Pan and the Priest, Op. 26, represents just one example of this essential American composer’s oeuvre. It’s marvelous that the Symphony brings this to the forefront, reminding us of Hanson’s many contributions to the musical arts both through his compositions and role as an educator at the renowned Eastman School of Music, where he touched thousands of lives. His style is described as neo-romantic, and as author and composer John Tasker Howard noted, “is best classified by the much-used term conservatively modern.” Hanson reveals insights into his early inspirations when in his own words, he described the opening of his melodic, romantic Nordic Symphony (1918), “[it] sings of the solemnity, austerity, and grandeur of the North, of its restless surging and strife, of its somberness and melancholy.”
Stravinsky’s musical miracle The Firebird was breathtaking as expected. Through it, Maestro Ponti and the Symphony demonstrated their bravura and instrumental pyrotechnics this evening. It’s a miracle also because The Firebird almost did not happen. It was initially to be composed by Anatol Liadof, but thanks to his dilatory inclinations, Fokine and Diaghileff engaged the 27-year-old Stravinsky in late 1909 because, by chance, Diaghileff had attended a concert in St. Petersburg where he had heard and admired Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3, and Feu d’artifice (Fireworks), Op. 4. By the following spring, the score of The Firebird was complete, and the world heard and saw Stravinsky’s genius expressed in magnificent movement on the stage of the Ballets Russes. The ballets Petrouchka and Sacre du Printemps were soon to follow. Clearly, Stravinsky’s music binds itself seamlessly to choreographic imagery, capturing the imagination of almost any dancer.
The Symphony presented a rich variety of music and styles that included works of important American composers. Ponti led the orchestra, conducting with refinement, verve, and expression. One feels a special gratification with the Maestro’s deliberate selection from the inexhaustible funds of extant musical art. The audience was entertained, moved, and cultivated. Many fine soloists emerged this evening, including the very busy principal oboe, French Horn, clarinet, flute, piccolo, and members of the percussion batterie, just to name a few. The combined power of the brass, winds, percussion, and strings provided the anticipated blazing, magnificent ending Stravinksy intended. Bravo!
Runtime: About 120 minutes, including intermission.
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/
21/22 Season At A Glance
March 6, 2022: Stravinsky The Firebird / CPAC
April 24, 2022: Get Happy! Joan Ellison Sings Judy Garland / Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center
Outdoor Chamber Series
March 27, 2022: Harborside Brass / Laishley Park
Stravinsky: The Firebird / Gergiev · Vienna Philarmonic · Salzburg Festival 2000