Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Introducing March Masterworks: A Classical Symphony by Nicolas Bacri

Nicolas Bacri
Who: The Harrisburg Symphony with Stuart Malina
What: The March Masterworks Concert with cellist Zuill Bailey - Nicolas Bacri's Symphony No. 4, Shostakovich's 1st Cello Concerto (which you can read about, here), and Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D Major (which you can read about, here)
When: Saturday March 19th, at 8pm; Sunday March 20th, at 3pm (with a pre-concert talk an hour before each performance)
Where: The Forum, behind the State Capitol, at 5th & Walnut Streets, Harrisburg PA

Call it March Madness or that unsettled time of year when Winter is reluctant to give way to Spring, but this weekend's Masterworks Concert, as Stuart Malina says, is for those who like their music dramatic:

March Masterworks from Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra on Vimeo.

That said, the first work on the program, by a composer probably unfamiliar to most concert-goers in Harrisburg, might inspire anxiety at the unexpected. Even though Nicolas Bacri's Symphony No. 4 is subtitled “Classical Sturm und Drang” – and that refers to the “storm and stress” style that was popular during the 1770s (Mozart's highly dramatic Symphony No. 25, the “Little” G Minor, is such a piece) – I think the composer may be having a little fun at the expense of those who may be experiencing a little “storm and stress” with another new piece of music.

Considering we think of Romanticism as being super-emotional, this was how the Classical composers of France and Germany dealt with “emotion” in an age pre-occupied with form and content – and it was considered by many of their contemporaries as “modern music” in the way too many people today still fear “modern music.” The Prussian king, Frederick the Great (himself a flutist and composer), loathed this music, calling it noise, but then he had little good to say about either Haydn or Mozart in general.

Perhaps with a nod to the 1st Symphony of Sergei Prokofiev from 1917, his “Classical Symphony,” Bacri's little chamber symphony, composed in 1995, is in four brief, neo-classical movements, each one an homage to some great composer from the other end of the 20th Century: Richard Strauss at his post-Rosenkavalier most classical; Stravinsky in his middle-period style (itself an imitation of classical and baroque styles rather than the more familiar style of Petrushka or the Rite of Spring); Schoenberg in, ironically, the most old-fashioned movement, a minuet that is a little spikier than what most neo-classicists would have been delving into in the 1920s (it reminds me more of something between his Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, nominally in E Major and still very Straussian, and the Minuet from his serial Suite, Op. 25, rather than anything he's more infamous for); and finally, Kurt Weill but not the composer of “Mack the Knife” as much as his 2nd Symphony which, still, is a very classical work but with the edge we'd expect from the composer of The Three-Penny Opera.

The symphony is available in two versions: one, for standard but Classically-sized chamber orchestra, which the Harrisburg Symphony will be performing; and the other, for piano, clarinet, horn and string trio. The only recording I can find on-line to sample for you is this second sextet version, but here's the second movement, the Arietta a la Stravinksy, as an example of what to expect:
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As one writer has noted, quoting from the composer's website, “Nicolas Bacri is an artistically restless composer driven to continuously question the goals of his art and his compositions habits, an attitude that has resulted in aesthetic choices that are consequences of carefully weighed musical reflection and practice (as opposed to the outcome of ideological presuppositions). This is particularly noticeable in his quartet production, which has yielded starkly contrasting works.”

Born in Paris in 1961, Bacri has written a surprisingly large amount of works including seven symphonies, nine string quartets, four violin concertos, cantatas and sonatas and a number of other large scale works. His most recent work is his serenade, “Homage to Fujita,” for flute and string trio, Op.141. That's a very high number for any composer, these days, and he's only 54 years old.

Though I've only heard a little of his music and out of some 140 published works would not know what is to be considered “typical” of his style, I would, however, recommend for anyone interested in other works by him checking out the concluding section of his “Prayer” for violin and orchestra of the mid '90s or his brief Symphony No. 6 of 1998.

You can read about Zuill Bailey and the Shostakovich Cello Concerto, here and about Beethoven's 2nd Symphony, here.

- Dick Strawser

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