Friday, September 25, 2009

Dvořák's New World: The Video

The Harrisburg Symphony will be performing Dvořák's New World Symphony at the opening concert of the season - along with Rossini's Semiramide Overture and, joined by violinist Alexander Kerr, a violin concerto by Astor Piazzolla, "The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires." Performances are Saturday, October 3rd, 8pm, and Sunday, October 4th, 3pm, at the Forum in downtown Harrisburg.

You can read more about Dvořák's Symphony in one of my "up close & personal" posts here - with more information about Dvořák's time spent in the United States, here.

Here are videos (posted at YouTube) with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World," by Antonin Dvořák, recorded in 1985. (Because of time limits to video-posts of 10 minutes or so, the 2nd & 4th Movements are broken into two parts.)

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The 1st Movement begins hesitantly with a slow introduction with fits and starts, including some fragments (motives) that will become important once the main part of the movement begins at 2:01 with its horn-call theme. A secondary theme begins at 3:10, contrasting in its narrower range but leads to the "real" second theme which begins with the flute solo at 4:16, a theme that might remind you of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." It's not that much of a contrast to the main theme: the rhythms are very similar and both are built on triadic motion rather than something more linear. At 5:01, the solo horn begins developing these ideas with fragments tossed around from each of these three musical ideas, becoming increasingly more unstable, harmonically and dramatically until - at 6:32 - the opening main theme returns quietly in the horn. The narrow secondary theme returns at 7:14 and the real second theme at 8:19 (both in the flute).

At 8:48, the composer brings back a fanfare-like version of the 2nd Theme but combines it with the opening of the main theme at 8:56, bringing this first movement to well-rounded if dramatic close. We'll hear more from these musical ideas - even if just suggestions of them - in other movements of the symphony, as well.
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2nd Movement (Part 1) - after mysterious chords begin the slow movement, the English Horn enters at 0:50 with the famous "Largo Theme" which later became a popular arrangement called "Goin' Home," inspired by the similarity of Dvořák's tune to what sounded like a Negro Spiritual. At 4:52, a contrasting section begins, followed at 8:24 by a new, lighter dance-like interruption that ends the first clip but continues in the next one.

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2nd Movement (Part 2) - begins with the 'dance interruption' that builds to the return of the main theme of the first movement combined with the first phrase of the English horn theme, which then returns at 0:57. At 1:26, Dvořák gives the last part of the theme to the concertmaster: one of those great smaller moments is that "catch-in-the-breath" at 1:42 as if we're saying good-bye to an old friend.

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The 3rd Movement - Scherzo - is a dance movement that Dvořák says was inspired by a scene in Longfellow's Hiawatha, where the guests at the feast begin to dance. Today, it might sound more like Bohemian peasants to us. At 1:49, a contrasting lyrical theme is introduced by the winds but at 2:34, the initial rhythmic dance-theme returns. Another contrasting dance, more typical of Czech folk-dances, begins at 3:38. Then at 5:38, we start going back to the opening section again, the first contrasting theme, after a switch from the minor key to the major key (note the 'raised eyebrow' at 6:38) returning at 6:39 to round off the dance with reminiscences from the 1st Movement starting at 8:01.

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The 4th Movement begins with a series of chords before stating its main theme - at 0:16 - that has the flavor of a folk song: in the key of E Minor, it should have a D-sharp in it, according to the traditional "rules" of classical music, but like many folk songs, it has a D-natural instead. At 1:15, there's a new idea, "skipping" along with a lot of D-naturals as well. At 1:53. a new contrasting lyrical theme is announced in the clarinet. Then, at 2:44, he introduces another idea in the violins (usually overshadowed by the fanfare in the trumpets). Then at 3:14, there's yet another fragment introduced which nobody ever suggested should be a quote from "Three Blind Mice," but hey... With that, he ends the opening "Exposition" of the movement, and begins tearing all of them apart and remixing them in the "Development" which begins at 3:45 - note the reappearance of the first theme, menacingly in the horns at 3:52. Hear how he takes the opening of that first theme at 4:13, then answers it with a fragment of the "skipping" theme two seconds later. That's how he builds unity out of the material but keeps pushing your forward, expanding the material into further directions.

But what's going on at 4:34 in the woodwinds? Isn't that the theme from the 2nd Movement, now played in a faster tempo? Underneath that, the strings are quietly playing a variation on the stately opening theme that now almost bounces along like "Yankee Doodle"! He's bringing back ideas from the other movements to tie the whole symphony together in the finale.

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Moving on to the second clip from the Finale - it starts off with Dvořák sneaking in a re-statement of the main theme of the first movement in the basses just before reaching a climax with the finale's main theme in the brass at 0:14 and again at 0:31. After that, it breaks down to a more subdued, lyrical passage. At 1:16 the strings play the finale's 2nd theme (see 1:55 from the first clip) but reverses the roles: originally, it was in the clarinet with a sprightly answer in the cellos; now the theme is mostly in the cellos, with the sprightly response in the woodwinds. At 2:07, the Largo theme returns in a nostalgic mood, capped by the horn theme from the first movement in the horns at 2:48. One dramatic outburst at 3:07 leads to those chords at 3:49 - trying to ignore the timpani, have you heard them before? They're the chords that mysteriously opened and closed the 2nd Movement - but what a difference a finale makes! Winding down again, the Largo theme floats almost like a memory at 4:15. Oh, and do you recognize the little woodwind blips at 4:18? That's from the main theme of the third movement, the scherzo! Two more climactic statements of the finale's main theme occur at 4:51 - lots of pulling around that D-natural or should it be D-sharp - and again at 5:08, this time supported by the first movement's main theme in the horns, bringing the symphony to a dramatic close - and a unified one - in E Minor, rather than switching over to the brighter Major key as most minor-key symphonies would normally do for a triumphant conclusion.
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By the way, if you wonder what conductors bring to performances of the same work over different performances across the years, here is a clip of the New World Finale which von Karajan conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1966, about nineteen years earlier!
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No matter where it was written, no matter what may have inspired Dvořák to write it, it still basically sounds like a Czech symphony full of Bohemian folk elements which shouldn't be so surprising, after all. Wherever Dvořák may have been living at the time, his roots were still in his native Bohemia. Call it cross-pollination, if you want, but the stimulus of living in New York in 1893 no doubt helped it become what it is - one of Dvořák's greatest works and one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire today.

- Dr. Dick

Dvořák in the New World: Part 2

Up Close & Personal with Dvořák's New World Symphony, continued...

The Harrisburg Symphony performs this famous work on the first concert of the season, Saturday, Oct. 3rd at 8pm, and Sunday, Oct. 4th at 3pm, at the Forum.

In our podcast conversation, Stuart Malina and I talk about the program and especially the use of the term "war horse" which always has a negative connotation. It's a masterpiece, certainly, but it's become a "war horse" because of its popularity, as if that's a bad thing. I prefer the original German expression which translates as "Parade Horse." Though it can have the same implications about popularity, at least it sounds a little more celebratory.

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How much American music Dvořák had experienced that first academic year isn't clear. Certainly, he never left New York City except maybe to go to Boston to conduct his Requiem while he was working on the symphony. That summer, he went to Spillville, Iowa, recommended by friends because of its large Czech community. After sketching it out in three quick days, it took twelve more days that June for him to compose a string quartet that became known as “The American” Quartet, later premiered in New York City on New Year's Day, 1894. (It's curious and somewhat disconcerting now to note that the 1950s edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music listed this quartet with a nickname using the “N-Word”).

Three days after he completed this quartet, he began a string quintet that is also sometimes known as “The American” Quintet and which was, at least in part, inspired by the appearance in Spillville of a visiting medicine man from the Kickapoo tribe and his wife, though one source describes it as “a phony traveling show” aimed at tourists rather than authentic music.

Along with the Violin Sonatina he also composed there that summer, not to mention what would soon become one of his greatest hits, the little ditty known as the Humoresque, whether these works were inspired by Native-American or African-American music is immaterial: it was the natural beauty and small-town peace-and-quiet that brought forth a stream of spontaneous creativity that Dvořák, the country boy, had found absent living in the bustling city on lower Manhattan. He wrote to a friend that, walking through the woods and fields along Spillville's Turkey River, he had heard the birds sing for the first time in the eight months since he'd arrived in the United States (see photo, above, of the Dvořák Memorial in Spillville's Riverfront Park). There is probably much to be said for the inspiration of homesickness, as well, whether it was a conscious or subconscious factor in his outpouring of “American” works that year.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Thurber was trying to encourage new works from young American composers, following Dvořák's example and influence. She inaugurated a prize for American composers in 1894 with some of the later winners being George Whitefield Chadwick, Horatio Parker, and a woman named Marguerite Merington (for her opera Daphne).

Curiously, Horatio Parker went on to teach at Yale where he had some difficulties with a strong-minded undergraduate student who had different ideas about what constituted an American sound: but the influence of Dvořák - whether imitation is a form of flattery or not - can still be heard in the symphony that Charles Ives composed as his senior graduation piece.

Part of Dvořák's legacy was this sense of building a national voice out of the study of the nation's folk music. That may be easy in Bohemia in the 1890s as it had been in Russia in the 1870s when Rimsky-Korsakoff and his colleagues of the Mighty Handful had done the same thing. But in America, in the 1890s or even now, what IS actually “American folk music”? For most Americans, it was the music they brought with them from the Old Country, whether they were ex-patriot Czechs living in a small Iowa farm town or Italians living on the lower East Side of Manhattan.

Many White musicians took Dvořák's idea at face value and began, for instance, composing elaborate rhapsodies on Indian themes that to us sound little different than Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies sound when compared to what was then considered Hungarian “folk” music: Gypsy music was a form of urban pop-music of the day and people listened to it in smoky taverns the way many Americans listened to jazz in smoky bars and night-clubs. Most genteel urban audiences in this White-centric racist era saw no need to bring the world of Black America into the concert hall and many orchestras dismissed works with disparaging commentary, like Henry F. Gilbert's “Dance in Place Congo,” written in 1908, just four years after Dvořák's death.

The issue that was overlooked was one of cultural context: for Dvořák, his use of Czech folk songs was a natural consequence of his personal environment, music he learned and played as a child growing up in rural Bohemia. It may not have been quite the same thing for well-to-do Russian composers from urban centers like St. Petersburg to quote Russian folk songs in their music or for Hungarian composers like Bartok to absorb the authentic folk music of the ethnic Hungarians which was almost unknown to the urban population, but at least one could say it was part of their heritage.

But the music many of these young American composers adopted was exactly that: it had no bearing on their own ethnic context. If it sounds insincere to us today, how far was it going to go to form a national musical language if it was no more than putting on a musical costume: did it sound to audiences then like “a phony traveling show aimed at tourists rather than authentic music”?

There was a young woman in Boston who rejected this argument outright: she composed a symphony based on the folk songs of her own ethnic background, the Irish and Scots songs of her New England ancestors. Amy Beach called it her “Gaelic” Symphony and it was, by the way, the first symphony composed by an American composer who was also a woman.

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Meanwhile, Dvořák was not entirely happy in New York, especially when it became clear there were financial troubles affecting the stability of his employment. Due to the Financial Panic of 1893, brought to the surface by the collapse of the railroad industry's “bubble” (it was precipitated by the Reading Railroad going into receivership), Mrs. Thurber's husband lost millions and faced imminent bankruptcy: the future of more than just the conservatory looked dim. Dvořák reluctantly signed a new contract in 1894. However, when Mrs. Thurber was unable to pay him his salary, he informed her that he would not finish his agreed-upon term, even though he didn't actually mention the money or the fact that since she had been unable to uphold her part of the bargain, why should he?

He had just been elected to the most prestigious music organization in Europe, Vienna's Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and he was offered a position to teach composition in Prague. So, between family issues and professional foresight, he left New York before the end of the school year. Though he had now completed that setting of “The American Flag” originally intended for his arrival, he didn't bother to hang around long enough for its first performance.

These subsequent years in America had not been as productive as that first season: the only other major work he wrote here was the B Minor Cello Concerto, still unfinished when he left New York City to return home, not that anyone ever felt like calling it “The American” Concerto. However, it had come about because of another performance in Carnegie Hall.

Victor Herbert, a busy conductor and cellist – not yet famous for his operettas – had a new cello concerto that Dvořák liked very much. Concertos for the cello were very rare, mostly because of the balance issues between the projection of sound and the lower register of the instrument against the backdrop of a full orchestra (none had ever been written by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms). But Dvořák was so taken with Herbert's score that he decided to try one himself. And cellists have been grateful ever since.

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Without Dvořák fronting the National Conservatory, the school's image fell on hard times. The economic crisis was not helped by the new President, Grover Cleveland, who did little to help the situation, although thousands of businesses were ruined and more than four million were left unemployed (he believed, like most people of both major political parties, then, that the business cycle was a natural occurrence and should not be tampered with by politicians).

But the slow fading of the school was more the result of the loss of energy by Mrs. Thurber (see left) than from any single event. It limped along, dealing with an upstart school that would eventually become the Juilliard School of Music, though at times she still lobbied for her idea of a National Conservatory in Washington founded on Old World models.

Finally, the stock market crash of 1928 dried up what money had been available to operate what was left of the school. By 1930, there were no records of any students even though the school was finally declared defunct by the State of New York only in 1952.

The school where Dvořák taught was torn down in 1911 to make room for a new public high school. The house two blocks away where he wrote the New World Symphony was torn down – over the objection of Czech President Vaclav Havel – in the 1990s for a hospital's addition to house patients living with AIDS.

Still, if Mrs. Thurber and her dream had never existed, the world might be the poorer for not having the music Dvořák composed while he was her guest in the New World.

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There is some confusion about the numbering of Dvořák's symphonies.

Many people think he only wrote three – the 7th, the 8th and the 9th – since those are the only ones played with any regularity. People may run across older references (or copies of scores and recordings) that mention the Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, 'From the New World.' This is all the result of works that he'd composed earlier but never published.

In Dvořák's lifetime, his Symphony No. 1 was really his 6th Symphony. His first international success, the 7th Symphony in D Minor, written for London, became his Symphony No. 2. Three years later, on the basis of the D Minor Symphony's success, he managed to publish his 5th Symphony as No. 3. So when the 8th and 9th Symphonies were composed, they became No. 4 & No. 5 respectively. All this was made more confusing by Dvořák's own numbering of them in their manuscripts: he had lost his very first symphony, and so he started over by calling the 6th No. 5 (even though it was published as “No. 1”) and so on.

Though the original 2nd, 3rd and 4th symphonies – all rather Wagnerian affairs – came to light some years after his death, it wasn't until a copy of that very first symphony, written when he was 24, surfaced that the real confusion began. It had been found in a German used book-shop years after it had been rejected by an orchestra for a competition (Dvořák always figured it had been lost). A young man also named Dvořák found it in 1882 but had no idea this particular Dvořák was a soon-to-be famous composer. No one knew about it until this man's son inherited the score in 1923. The composer himself had never heard the work performed: in fact, no one had, until 1936. Still, it wasn't published until 1961 by which time all the symphonies were now going to be re-numbered. This led to a whole generation of confusing recordings, listing it as “Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (Old No. 5).” It certainly makes sense, in the long run, compared to calling such an early and immature work his “Symphony No. 9” just because it took almost a hundred years for it to get to the publishers...

- Dr. Dick

Dvořák in the New World: Part 1

The Harrisburg Symphony opens the new season on Saturday, October 3rd (8pm) and Sunday, October 4th (3pm) at the Forum. The program is entitled "Old & New Worlds," and Stuart Malina will conduct a concert that opens with the overture to Rossini's opera Semiramide, continues with a violin concerto from Argentina's Tango King, Astor Piazzolla, a tribute to Vivaldi called "The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires" (with soloist Alexander Kerr returning to the Forum) and concludes with Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, "From the New World."

(You can hear a podcast of my conversation with Stuart about this first concert here, and a similar conversation about the whole 2009-2010 season, here.)

In this post, you can watch a video of the entire symphony - the 1985 recording of Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic on Telemondial - and follow along with a musical analysis timed to the video clips.

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Antonín Dvořák's “New World” Symphony is probably one of the best known “American” works in the repertoire even though the composer never thought of himself as an American composer. Yes, the work was composed here – in fact, mostly at 327 E. 17th Street in New York City, just a few blocks from the National Conservatory where he was teaching – and it was given its first performance at Carnegie Hall, that great palace of American culture, in December of 1893, just two years after the building opened its doors for its first concert (which included Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky as one of the conductors on that program).

Dvořák's new symphony was the first world premiere of a work by an internationally famous composer to be given by the New York Philharmonic, then in its 51st season (and officially known as the Philharmonic Society of New York City). It was conducted by the recently appointed music director Anton Seidl who had been Richard Wagner's assistant conductor at Bayreuth and who had been a friend and supporter of Dvořák's in Vienna.

American or not, Dvořák was very important to the development of an American voice for young composers of this country in the 1890s.

Until 1875, when John Knowles Paine finally succeeded in convincing Harvard University to establish a music department (the faculty felt it was not a subject worthy of being included in their academic pantheon), any American composer needed to go to Germany to study. In 1885, Jeanette Thurber (see right), wife of a New York industrialist and millionaire, established the National Conservatory of Music which was housed in two renovated homes on the 100 block of Manhattan's E. 17th Street. It was her dream to have a federally funded music school that would allow American musicians to study in America and even though legislation incorporating the school on a national level was passed by Congress and signed by President Benjamin Harrison in 1891, it never occurred.

She needed, she felt, a “figurehead” to attract students and contributors to the school, so through contacts in England, she connected with Dvořák who, with some reluctance, agreed to accept her offer of $15,000 and leave Europe behind him, at least for two years. He was to arrive in October, 1892, after making a farewell tour playing his “Dumky” Trio and conducting his latest work, a set of three overtures which included the famous “Carnival” Overture.

His arrival was to coincide with the 400th Anniversary celebrations of Columbus' Discovery of America but the text of the work he was to conduct upon his arrival, the libretto for a choral work called “The American Flag,” didn't arrive in time and so he composed a more generic Te Deum which he conducted on October 21st, shortly after his arrival.

In addition to “heading” the school – she was the school's official business administrator, so there was little for him to “run” – she expected Dvořák to found an American school of composition. She also wanted him to write an American opera, preferably on the story of Hiawatha which never got beyond a few sketches, though surprisingly some of them may have ended up in his new symphony. He taught composition and instrumentation, conducted and performed his music.

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On a very cold day that January, looking out onto E. 17th Street, he began writing what would eventually become this. It's the opening (see left) of his Symphony in E Minor which he called – at Mrs. Thurber's suggestion – the Symphony “From the New World” and which we know more familiarly as the “New World” Symphony. He completed it in May and the New York Philharmonic premiered it that December. Each movement was met by wild applause and cheers. Dvořák wrote home that he felt like royalty, the way the New York public treated him.

Dvořák filled many sketch books with his ideas and the ones from his first months in New York are full of themes he would still use even years later (or some, not at all). The main triadic motive of the “New World” Symphony's first movement was originally “rather stiff” and in F Major, not E Minor. The Largo was originally in C Major, a rather bright-sounding key, but when he came up with a chord progression he liked, he found it could modulate from the first movement's E Minor to D-flat Major, so he transposed the sketch up a half-step to this new key where it then stayed: the mellower sound of D-flat, especially in the strings, has such a profoundly different effect than the same passage would in C Major, it would seem to us – at least in hindsight – to have been a no-brainer. But such is not always the case.

One of the conservatory's students that year was an African-American singer and composer, Harry T. Burleigh, a native of Erie PA. He won a scholarship to study at the National Conservatory and was an assistant to Dvořák if not an actual student of his. He sang some “Negro spirituals” for him and his students and the story goes that Dvořák found in this music a whole wealth of possibilities on which composers could build an American voice.

One of Burleigh's responsibilities was to help Dvořák with his manuscripts: he copied out the parts from Dvořák's manuscript of his new symphony.

Some have said that the famous English horn solo in the slow movement, the “Largo,” is taken from a song composed by Burleigh, called “Goin' Home.” This is not quite accurate: “Goin' Home” was later arranged by another of his students, William Arms Fisher, who added his own lyrics to Dvořák's theme, publishing it in 1922.

In an article published in the New York Herald the day before the symphony's premiere, Dvořák wrote,

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"I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint and orchestral color."
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He said the slow movement was initially a sketch for a scene from a proposed cantata or opera based on Longfellow's Hiawatha and that the third movement was suggested by a scene where the Indians gather at the feast and dance.

Another article that year quoted him as explaining the similarities between Native American music and the music of the African-American, both of which he found similar to Scottish music – perhaps, at least, in their use of the pentatonic scale (something also in common with, say, Chinese music) or a rhythm called the "Scotch Snap" (also found in some folk music from Lombardy in northern Italy). Not that they were interchangeable but they had, in some respects, common roots: it was this music Dvořák recommended to his students as a resource for finding their own voice, just as he had found his voice not in the Germanic style he was trained in at school but in the folk songs and dances he had grown up with in his native Bohemia.

It is odd, today, listening to this piece in hindsight for the melodies and rhythms sound nothing like what we consider “American” music to sound like – Native-American or African-American – as much as it sounds like a symphony by a Czech composer inspired by the fingerprints of his native culture and who was, quite definitely, more than a little homesick.

To be continued...

- Dr. Dick

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Start the Season: October's PodCast

May I have a drum roll, please?

The first concert of the new season - Old & New Worlds - is coming up on the first weekend of October. Alexander Kerr will be the soloist for The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla. The concert opens with Rossini's Overture to Semiramide and concludes with one of the most-loved symphonies in the repertoire, Antonin Dvořák's "New World."

Stuart Malina and I got together for a conversation about the new season (you can hear that season preview podcast, here) as well as the first concert.

You can hear the OCTOBER PODCAST, here.

Performances are Saturday, October 3rd at 8pm and Sunday, October 4th at 3pm at the Forum in downtown Harrisburg.

You can read one of my up-close & personal posts about the Dvořák symphony here and watch a performance of the entire New World Symphony in this video montage with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (from a 1985 Telemondial recording) where I've pointed out musical highlights timed to the video clips.

- Dr. Dick

A Season Preview: Podcast & Survey

It's time to get ready for the new season with the Harrisburg Symphony, another year of great Masterworks concerts at the Forum.

Well, it's the end of summer, according to the calendar, though it was a chilly fall-like day when I arrived on Stuart Malina's door-step a few minutes early and caught him practicing the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto.

Not surprising: he'll be playing it with the orchestra at the February concert, just one of the many things he has to prepare - and look forward to - as the new season begins in just a couple of weeks.

So we settled down to chat about the up-coming 2009-2010 Season with the Harrisburg Symphony and what we might expect during his 10th Anniversary Year with the orchestra.

You can listen to the SEASON PREVIEW PODCAST here.

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The Season begins in a little over two weeks with "Old & New Worlds" during the first weekend of October. The "New World" part refers to the Dvořák Symphony on the program known as the "New World Symphony" (more formally, "Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, From the New World") but it also refers to a work by Astor Piazzolla from Buenos Aires, Argentina (founded in 1536, it's one of the oldest European settlements in the New World). His violin concerto, "The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires," pays homage to the Old World view of the Four Seasons, a collection of four violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. Old World Europe also implies the overture Gioacchino Rossini wrote for his opera Semiramide, a typical operatic tangle of love, passion, murder and revenge set in an even older world, ancient Babylon.

Alexander Kerr (above, right) returns to the Forum to perform the concerto by Piazzolla. You can hear more about him in this podcast as well as the next one, previewing the opening concert.

In November, it's one of the great choral works in the repertoire. Haydn's monumental oratorio, The Creation (sung in English) will be performed with the Susquehanna Chorale, the Wheatland Chorale and the Messiah College Concert Choir joining the orchestra and soloists. After Haydn had completed his 104 symphonies and some 80 string quartets, he wrote mostly settings of the mass for the newest generation of the Esterhazy princes who had employed him since 1761. Following his visits to London, he became intrigued by the English oratorio. In 1798, the world first heard what many regard as his masterpiece, The Creation. It became one of the most frequently performed large-scale choral works across Europe during the remaining decade of his life. He was regarded as the greatest living composer when he died in 1809, two hundred years ago.

At the end of January, Augustin Hadelich returns to play the Beethoven Violin Concerto. In the podcast, Stuart talks about how the orchestra was so taken by his playing of Mozart's "Turkish" Concerto a few seasons back - and he thought Hadelich's nobility of style would suit Beethoven's concerto perfectly: a larger, more epic kind of concerto, it follows in the tradition of Mozart rather than the more virtuosically focused concertos that became the standard in the 19th Century.

Also on the program will be "SkyLine," the opening section of Jennifer Higdon's multiple-movement orchestral tribute to Atlanta called "City Scape." If you remember the enthusiasm Harrisburg audiences had for her Percussion Concerto and "Blue Cathedral" from past seasons, you'll enjoy this lively concert opener. For lovers of lush Romanticism, there's Rachmaninoff's valedictory Symphonic Dances, a belated farewell to the great 19th Century dances, even though it was written in 1940.

Then in February, it's "Spotlight on the Maestro." What better way to celebrate Stuart Malina's 10th Anniversary?

Usually, when concerto soloists come to town, they do the concerto and that's it, sitting around backstage during the first piece, waiting and trying not to feel nervous, and maybe afterward, sitting around backstage waiting for the rest of the concert to be over. Stuart won't have that chance: he'll start by conducting Jacques Ibert's delightful send-up, the Divertissement (originally composed for an Italian wedding farce called "The Italian Straw Hat"), then come out and play Mendelssohn's 1st Piano Concerto, conducting the orchestra from the piano (speaking of multi-tasking), then after intermission come out to conduct one of the great (and long) symphonies in the repertoire, the "Great C Major" Symphony by Franz Schubert (that's not why it's called 'Great' but the name has stuck: if the shoe fits, &c &c). He may be exhausted by the end of the weekend, but it was his idea...

Myth & Magic are the subject for the February concert which starts with two film-scores. The suite Prokofiev wrote for a film called "Lt. Kije," is about a man who exists only because people were too afraid to correct the Russian Emperor when he mispronounced a name (they create a fictional person to go along with the mispronunciation but when the tsar announces he'd like to meet this hero, they have to concoct his untimely demise). Then, the classic film score Leonard Bernstein wrote for "On the Waterfront," one you don't hear very often in concert. It's Bernstein's only true film-score, written for Elia Kazan's 1954 film starring Marlon Brando, best remembered for its famous line, "I coulda been a contender."

The second half of the concert features two "tone-poems," one usually relegated to children's concerts though it's really a very fine score on the adult level. Paul Dukas' musical telling of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice” may be better known for its use in Walt Disney's original film, Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse as the hapless apprentice battling the brooms in a spell gone very very wrong. The last piece, then, quite different, is Richard Strauss' “Death & Transfiguration” with its transcendent conclusion.

Another great symphony is on the program for the April concert – Brahms 2nd – which will feature another member of the orchestra as the soloist. This year, it will be principal cellist Fiona Thompson (see left) playing the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Camille Saint-Saëns. A special feature of this performance will be the instrument she'll be playing: new to her, it's played in the orchestra for decades, having belonged to former principal cellist John Zurfluh who died just a couple of years ago.

Kevin Puts' Symphony No. 2 “Island of Innocence” opens that program. Stuart describes the work as a musical response to the events of September 11th and how things changed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Harrisburg had a chance to hear the world premiere of a new work by Kevin Puts (see right) this past season with Concertante.

The final masterworks concert includes two very well-known 19th Century favorites, with Berlioz' “Roman Carnival Overture” and the Piano Concerto by Robert Schumann, performed by a recent prize winner, Daria Rabotkina, winner of the 2007 Concert Artists Guild International Competition (you can hear her play in this Concert Artists Guild video-clip).

The concert concludes with a gorgeous symphony by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams whose music you might remember from past performances of his “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” or the choral work, “Dona nobis pacem” that had been paired with Beethoven's 9th a few seasons ago. Vaughan Williams' 2nd Symphony, known as “A London Symphony” takes the season full-circle: after opening with a Czech composer's evocation of the excitement he felt being in New York City in 1893, Vaughan Williams brings us back to Old World London with a loving tribute in his symphony, written only twenty years later in the innocent days before the First World War.

For more information about tickets for the new season, check out the website or call 717-545-5527.

- Dr. Dick

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photo credits: The Harrisburg Symphony from the Forum Stage by Carl Socolow, and Stuart Malina at the piano by Alan Weycheck, both from Stuart Malina's website; Alexander Kerr, from the Indianapolis Symphony; Augustin Hadelich, playing the Beethoven concerto with the Santa Barbara Symphony, by David Bazemore of the Santa Barbara Independent; Fiona Thompson's photo, courtesy of the Harrisburg Symphony; Kevin Puts' photo by Andrew Shapter; Daria Rabotkina's publicity photo by Christian Steiner, from the artist's website