The Legacy of Camille Saint-Saëns

Utah Symphony Artist Logistics Coordinator Erin Lunsford takes care of the many guest artists and guest conductors that perform with the orchestra. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Bassoon Performance from the University of North Carolina, and still enjoys playing bassoon and studying music history in her spare time.  

LEGACY OF A CARNIVAL

When one thinks of the music of 19th-century French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), what comes to mind? Perhaps the sultry Middle Eastern melodies of Samson et Delila, or the triumphant, brassy finale of the “Organ” Symphony. Perhaps even the glittery, whimsical tunes that permeate Carnival of the Animals. These are all fantastic examples of Saint-Saëns’ unmatched musical style, but there is so much more to this composer than his few most famous works.

Saint-Saëns left an immense musical legacy behind, having written five symphonies, five piano concertos, several operas (and operettas), incidental music, a wide breadth of chamber music, and numerous works for solo piano and solo organ. The Saint-Saëns Project focuses mainly on the composer’s five symphonies; only one of which is regularly performed by American orchestras (Symphony No. 3, his final attempt at the form). Additionally, the Utah Symphony will record some of his more well-known, shorter orchestral works, including Bacchanale from Samson et Delila, Danse macabre, and ‒ perhaps his most famous work of all ‒ Carnival of the Animals.

Saint-Saëns occupied a particularly unique stylistic space in his compositions; bringing the influences of the composers he most admired (Liszt, Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven, to name a few) as well as the musical idioms of far-flung destinations (including Egypt, Algeria, and Japan) into the sphere of French Romanticism. Similar to the Romantic Movement that took hold in Austria and Germany in the mid-1800s, French Romanticism was marked by a preoccupation with drama on a historical and an individual level, a heightened interest in national identity, and a general expansion or rejection of existing musical structures. As some of his late-19th-century contemporaries were forging new paths at the edges of tonal music, Saint-Saëns was firmly rooted in the classical conventions of French composers before him, making him an unusual figure within the framework of the Romantic period. Despite this, his signature use of colorful harmony influenced the French Impressionist composers that would rise to popularity toward the end of his life. The confluence of these seemingly disparate stylistic attributes is what makes Saint-Saëns’ music so intoxicating and irresistible. He is able to seamlessly weave unusual, exotic harmonies and melodic lines into ingrained musical forms, simultaneously surprising and delighting the listener’s ear.

SAINT-SAЁNS RECORDING CYCLE

Saint-Saëns’ music is clearly worth learning and exploring, but why record so much of it? As our Vice President of Operations and General Manager, Jeff Counts, wrote in a playbill feature last year, recording raises the level of artistic excellence and focus in an ensemble. Beyond that, recording also allows an orchestra to put its distinct interpretation of a work into the world, to stand and be judged among other orchestras’ interpretations. In the case of Saint-Saëns, however, some works have rarely been recorded at all. For example, his Trois tableaux symphoniques après La foi – another non-symphonic orchestral work that will be included in the recording project – has been commercially recorded less than ten times. This recording project on European label, Hyperion, will make the Utah Symphony the first American orchestra to record all of Saint-Saëns’ five symphonies, giving the orchestra the extraordinary opportunity to become a leading voice in the interpretation of Saint-Saëns’ works.

While many contemporaries and students of Saint-Saëns considered him to be a genius, his influence is certainly felt less in the orchestral world today.  For this reason, recording three discs worth of his music will be no easy feat, especially because this music is both technically and artistically difficult. Due to the logistical challenges of live recording, most of the repertoire that will be recorded is piled into consecutive weeks. Recording weeks are exhausting, as players are operating at the highest possible level of artistic awareness. Nevertheless, our musicians are certainly up to the task. Over the past five seasons, the Utah Symphony has taken on many symphonic cycles, covering some of the most revered symphonists in history (Beethoven and Brahms) as well as composers who challenged the very idea of what defined a symphony (Mahler and Ives). It is now time to shift the focus to a composer whose works, as Music Director Thierry Fischer has pointed out, truly embody the artistic identity of the Utah Symphony in their audacity, spunk, excellence, bravery, creativity, and – perhaps most importantly – their balance between tradition and diversity. How fitting a challenge to further Saint-Saëns’ legacy.

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Simple, Yet Not: Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7

The art of writing music and making notes blend into a seamless piece of wonder is beyond my talents. I don’t think I would ever call a symphony “simple.” The word has been used to describe Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7, which the Utah Symphony will be performing this weekend.

This symphony was the final symphony written by Prokofiev in 1952 (Prokofiev died in 1953). It is often called the “Children’s Symphony” because of Prokofiev’s attempts to keep the music simple and because it was written for the Soviet Children’s Radio Division. He is well known for writing music for children including the score of Peter and the Wolf which the Utah Symphony will be performing in March 2015. There are many places where the notes are fun and simple. There are marches in the first movement and the final movement. And a reoccurring theme in both movements invoke Prokofiev’s fantasy and imagination, well suited for a children’s symphony.

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev

Contine reading

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Valentine’s Day

The one time I managed to convince my husband to go to the opera (Georges Bizet’s Carmen) with me, I thought that he would hear the songs and music and see the set and costumes and say, “You know, this is really good. We should do this more often.” Instead, right in the middle of the Toreador song, he leaned over and whispered, “Hey, this is a ring tone.”

My husband is not inclined toward the symphony or opera, but he went to see Carmen with me because he loves me. I plan to exploit that love this Valentine’s Day and drag him to the upcoming Utah Symphony performance. Sure that there will be some resistance; I will tell him that there will be music that he will recognize because the featured songs are consistently made into ring tones.

Probably the most recognizable will be the Overture from the opera The Marriage of Figaro, which was my ringtone when I very first got a Nokia flip phone, a fun comedy written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is a sequel to the opera The Barber of Seville and is full of revenge and lust when the Count attempts to delay Figaro’s marriage to Susanna because he wants the woman for himself (this opera was banned in Vienna because of its lickerish themes).

The ever-popular “Wedding March” written by Felix Mendelssohn for the William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream will also be performed. This piece has definitely been used as a ring tone, and it is played in almost every wedding scene in Hollywood movies as the newly-wedded couple walks down the aisle in a shower of confetti.

Practically every part of the Nutcracker ballet suite written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky has been turned into a cell phone ring tone. At this performance, the symphony will be playing “Waltz of the Flowers,” which is performed near the end of the ballet during the celebration given in honor of Clara.

For my husband, there will be a selection of music from Carmen as well, and I’m sure he’ll recognize the ringtones from that opera, including the Toreador song and Les Voici, which is probably one of the most popular ringtones from the days of flip phones.

One piece that you may not have heard as a ringtone before is Gustav Mahler’s “Bouquet of Flowers”. This piece received such harsh criticism that it was removed from Mahler’s symphony and wasn’t found or performed again until 1966. This lack of more than a hundred years of history is probably why it has never been turned into a cell phone ringtone, but with the technology of phones now, if you end up liking it, you can add it as your own ringtone.

If you, like me, have a partner reluctant to go to the symphony, just promise them they will recognize the music. And make sure they turn the cells phones off and listen to the original pieces. –Traci Grant

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2014-2015 Utah Symphony Season Announcement

Maestro Thierry Fischer has announced the Utah Symphony’s 2014-15 season! If you didn’t attend the subscriber announcement event or follow the live tweets, now is your chance to see what’s coming!

The 2014-15 season marks the beginning of the Utah Symphony’s 75 year anniversary celebration, to honor this milestone and the legacy of former Music Director Maurice Abravanel, Maestro Fischer will conduct a full Mahler symphony cycle over a two-season period.  In addition to this undertaking, the season will also feature accomplished guest artists, new compositions, and many other beloved works.

Here’s a short-and-sweet list of the things you can look forward to:

We understand, with so many exciting events coming up, it can be hard to choose which ones to attend. Lucky for you, we offer subscription packages, call 801-533-6683 or visit utahsymphony.org and get hooked-up before all the good seats are gone.

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Composer of the week – Engelbert Humperdinck

Happy Birthday to German opera composer Engelbert Humperdinck!

Attention: There is a huge different between Engelbert Humperdinck the opera composer and Engelbert Humperdinck the pop crooner. They were born about 80 years apart on completely different continents. So yeah, two completely different guys, I promise.

Humperdinck (The opera composer. He’s the only one I’ll be talking about from here on out), had a pretty great musical career, even though we only really know him for one work, his opera Hänsel und Gretel. When he was in his 20’s he befriended Richard Wagner, and ended up helping him out on a production of Parsifal, and also tutored Wagner’s son, Siegfried, in music.

Join Utah Opera for Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, January 15-23, 2011.

Hänsel und Gretel was premiered when Humperdinck was 39, and Richard Strauss conducted it. It was a huge hit because it had some influence from Wagner, but also used a lot of traditional German folk melodies. It’s a standard for opera companies, and was the first complete opera broadcast on the radio (Royal Opera House, London) and the first opera to be broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera.

He spent his adult life composing and teaching, but none of his other works gained the same popularity as Hänsel und Gretel.

This is probably the most famous moment from the opera, the Evening Prayer, with an amazing performance by Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Stade.

And here’s a performance from the Royal Opera House. Jump forward to 8:30 for the witch’s “Hurr hopp hopp hopp” aria.

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Music Trivia – The Death of Lully

I have a small fascination with the different ways composers have died. With all the discussion and speculation about what caused Mozart to die, I wanted to share the accidental death of another opera composer, Jean-Baptiste de Lully.

Lully’s death in March of 1687 was due to disease, but not one you’d necessarily expect. Two months earlier he was conducting an orchestra, but in those days, rather than using a baton, conductors would bang a large stick on the floor to keep time. In his excitement he struck his toe, rather than the floor. The wound went gangrenous, but he refused to has his toe amputated, so he died two months later from blood poisoning.

He’s the overture from one of his most famous works, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.

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Composer of the week – Claude Debussy

Happy late birthday to Claude Debussy, who was born on August 22, 1862.

Debussy was a hugely talented pianist and composer, who attended the Paris Conservatoire, and the Académie des Beaux-Arts. He was quite adventurous and experimental, even as a student, and his use of dissonances and strange intervals was not enjoyed by his teachers. Of him, French composer Jules Massenet said “He is an enigma.” Quite a good summary of the man, and his music.

This is the first movement of his String Quartet in G Minor, one of his earlier works, performed by the Cypress String Quartet.

Debussy started to compose one of his most famous works, La Mer, in 1903 in France and completed it in 1905 on the English coast in Eastbourne. (He was in England at the time because his fashion model wife tried to kill herself after he abandoned her for his also-married lover, who was carrying his unborn child. Quite the scandal.)

This is the third movement of La Mer, performed by Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic. Join us February 4-5 as the Utah Symphony perform La Mer, conducted by Julian Kuerti.

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Composer of the week – Antonio Salieri

Happy Birthday to one of the great villians of classical music – Antonio Salieri. Salieri was born on August 18, 1750, but instead celebrated the day of his baptism (August 19) as his birthday. So acknowledge him today or tomorrow; either works!

Salieri was a Venetian composer, but he moved to Vienna at the age of 16 and spent almost 60 years there before his death, so most of his contemporary musicians and critics considered him to be a German composer.

Salieri was primarily an opera composer (with 37 operas to his credit), but he wrote some great chamber music and sacred music as well. In his later years, once he stopped writing, he was still in high demand as a teacher, and he counts Beethoven, Liszt, and Schubert among his students.

Salieri probably would have disappeared into near musical obscurity if it weren’t for the famous play and movie Amadeus, with it’s fictional portrayal of Salieri out to crush his musical rival, Mozart. As they were both working in Vienna at the same time they did compete as rivals for different composition and teaching jobs, but evidence shows that they supported each other as colleagues and even friends.

At one of his big appointments, Salieri revived Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, rather than write a new opera himself. And although the work has since been lost, Salieri and Mozart even composed a piece for voice and piano together.

So here’s a couple of musical clips from Salieri’s operas. Enjoy them and know that Salieri wasn’t really the bad guy the movie made him out to be!

Here’s the overture to his opera Il Talismano, performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra with Michael Dittrich conducting.

And here’s the first movement from his Piano concerto in C major, performed by Aldo Ciccolini with the Solisti Veneti, conducted by Claudio Scimone.

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Composer of the Week: Enrique Granados

This week was the birthday of Spanish pianist and composer, Enrique Granados. He wrote in a very nationalistic Spanish style, with great rhythms, lyric melodies, and the influence of zarzuelas. His most famous work is a suite for piano, Goyescas, which was based on paintings of Goya.

Granados died at the relatively young age of 48 during World War I, when the ship he was traveling on was torpedoed. He jumped out of his lifeboat to try and save his wife, but they both drowned.

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Composer of the Week: Ernest Bloch

I’m a little bit early, but this weekend would be the birthday of Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch, who was born on the 24th of July, 1880.  If you’re not familiar with Bloch’s works, I encourage you to check them out! He wrote absolutely beautiful lush parts for strings, both in his solo works, and orchestral music.

Here’s the first part of his work for cello and orchestra, Schelomo, performed by Rostropovich and the Orchestre Nationale de France conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

And here’s a movement from his Concerto Grosso No. 1 for String orchestra with piano obbligato.

Aram Gharabekian conducts the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia.

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