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May 2024 | Blooming Brilliance

Some concert programs are meticulously planned for perfect, thematic continuity. Consider “On the High Seas” with Debussy’s La mer, Beethoven’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, and Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony. Or “The Wild, Wild, West” with Copland’s Hoe-Down and Billy the Kid, Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven, and Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite.


Our “Blooming Brilliance” concert on May 5th is unencumbered by this type of careful planning. It is a collection of wonderful pieces that have absolutely nothing in common, which should probably never be performed together in the same program. And yet, serendipity has provided us with a tremendously exciting afternoon.


The original idea was to present Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloë Suite No. 2. This huge, complex, dynamic, lush score is one of the greatest of all orchestral works. Many composers have asserted that this is the finest use of orchestral instruments ever composed and Ravel’s finest work. It is also one of the most difficult of all orchestral pieces. Ravel even adds a choir – not for text or narration, but simply as an added instrument, in much the same way later composers might have used a synthesizer. The orchestral suite is written in three sections. The first, a depiction of the rising sun and break of day over the hills of ancient Greece, is unforgettable. Next is Chloë’s tantalizingly sensual dance while Daphnis plays his reed flute, here performed by Principal Flutist Deliana Broussard. In the final scene, the young couple is married at the altar of the nymphs, followed by a frenzied bacchanale in a furious five beats to the bar. What could be more fun?


Since Daphnis requires our chorale on stage, I asked Choral Director, LeeAnne Campos, if she had a favorite piece to conduct. She chose Brahms’s very beautiful Schicksalslied or Song of Destiny. Director Campos writes,


“While vacationing with friends in the summer of 1868, Johannes Brahms discovered Friedrich Hölderlin’s poem, Schicksalslied.  The deeply moving text so inspired the composer that he abruptly ended his vacation to hurry home to work on the score. Despite his determination to quickly compose the piece, it took Brahms three years to complete it, due to his dislike of the pessimistic ending of the poem.


The poem is essentially written in two parts, and poses a comparison between contented, fortunate Gods, and ill-fated, unfortunate humanity. The music in the first part is quite descriptive of the serene beauty and happiness in which the Gods exist. The second part, however, becomes very dark and agitated; we are made aware of abounding human misery from which there is no escape. It is this profound despair that Brahms sought to rectify, offering hope for the future of humanity. 


With that goal, Brahms’ third and final section returns the listener to the beginning melodic theme, allowing the orchestra alone to provide the final ending to the story.  Brahms craftily modulates the key from the original E flat Major to the epiphanic C Major, thus delivering his happy ending.”


What does this flowering of late German romanticism have in common with Ravel’s impressionistic Daphnis and Chloë? Absolutely nothing.


“Blooming Brilliance” refers to the incredible talent just manifesting itself in the teenage winners of our Young Artists Competition. This season, they bring us four disparate pieces, which have nothing in common and even less connection with the two orchestral works already selected. We will feature a cellist, a pianist, a clarinetist, and a saxophonist.


Leah Everling brings us the very classical Haydn Cello Concerto in C. James McCourt will perform Carl Maria von Weber’s early romantic Clarinet Concerto No. 2. Isaiah Beyer will play a relative rarity, the rapid-fire Concertino da Camera for alto saxophone by Jacque Ibert. And finally, Alec Rodriguez will present one of the great piano showpieces of the middle 20th Century, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.


Think of this as a great collage of unique and dissimilar, but very entertaining elements which lead to a thunderous climax with over 100 musicians on stage for the finale of Daphnis and Chloë.  


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