short, seasons, and saint-saens

This week’s classical series program is quite an interesting one, at least to me. It begins with a symphony of Aaron Copland that is still seldom performed, the Second Symphony (also known as the Short Symphony). It’s a slight, three movement work, which could be compared to neoclassical works of Igor Stravinsky such as his Dumbarton Oaks or Symphony in Three Movements. It is instantly recognizable as Copland, but it predates the so-called Americana pieces (Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring, etc.), so there is not the folk music influence that one might expect. It is rhythmically complex, with the time signatures changing often in the course of the outer movements. This rhythmic complexity, along with the transparent orchestration, led to some cancelled premieres by Stokowski’s Philadelphia Orchestra and Koussevitsky’s Boston Symphony due to a lack of adequate rehearsal time. Copland wrote this about the piece:

In [this work] I continued the effort, begun with the Piano Variations, to expand my style, both harmonically and rhythmically. The Short Symphony’s preoccupation is with complex rhythms, combined with clear textures. Sonority-wise, the most rhythmically complex moments have a certain lightness and clarity. The work is in three movements (fast, slow, fast) played without pause. The first movement is scherzo-like in character. The second movement is in three brief sections—the first rises to a dissonant climax, is sharply contrasted with a songlike middle part, and returns to the beginning. The finale is once again bright in color and rhythmically intricate.

Click here to listen to a 1980 NPR interview with Copland followed by a performance of the work by the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas.

The next piece on the program is Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Estanciones Porteñas), which was originally written (between 1965-70) for Piazzolla’s own ensemble, a quintet of violin (doubling viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneón. In 1991 it was arranged by Jaques Morlenbaum for the ensemble of woodwind quintet, three cellos, and double bass. Finally, around 1999, the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov made an ingenious arrangement featuring solo violin with string orchestra which combined the forms and gestures of Vivaldi’s original with Piazzolla’s South American seasons. The soloist for these concerts is an audience favorite, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Click here to listen to a performance by violinist Steven Copes with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Finally, we come to one of the enduring warhorses of the symphonic repertoire, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony “Organ”. It will feature a huge electronic organ that actually does a fair job of imitating a pipe organ (if you’ve heard the work at the Schnitz before, then you’ve heard this same organ used). I actually like this piece quite a lot. It gives our winds and brass a chance to really shine, and the big organ chord that opens the finale is always fun to hear (and to watch the audience react to).

The last interesting feature of this concert? It marks the first classical guest conducting appearance of former PYP music director (and now music director of the Memphis Symphony) Mei Ann Chen. It will be great to see how she’s grown in her years since being in Portland, and should be a nice homecoming for both her and the orchestra.

3 Replies to “short, seasons, and saint-saens”

  1. PYCO, the preparatory full orchestra for PYP had a great rehearsal with Mei-Ann tonight.  She worked with us on the fourth and second movements of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, which we’re performing May 20.  I loved working with Ms. Chen!  I bet the concert’s going to be great.

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