Maryland Symphony to perform 19th-century music program

February 16, 2000|By Elizabeth Schulze

This weekend Maryland Symphony Orchestra will perform a program of 19th-century French music ranging from the glittery world of theatrical artifice to the fantasy-driven utterances of an unconventional genius.

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While the first and last works on the program were written within a few months of each other, they couldn't be more different. In 1831, Ferdinand Hrold was at the peak of his career when he composed his opera "Zampa" (also known as "The Marble Bride"). Strongly influenced by Italian opera, especially Rossini's, Overture to Zampa is a brilliant tour de force for the orchestra, full of catchy tunes and a balance of fast and slow sections.

Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" (1830) occupies another realm altogether - that of new ideas, new sounds and a true sense of Romantic expression. His is the music of extremes: of love and hate, elation and grief, tenderness and violence. Rarely do we find perfect balance or proportion in his melodies - but who cares? It is as if Berlioz takes as long as he needs to say what he wants, no more and no less. "Symphonie Fantastique" stands out in the history of music as the occasion when the modern orchestra was born. Never before had orchestral instruments been used in such unusual combinations. Berlioz exploited the extremes of range and color of each instrument and introduced new instruments like the ophielide and serpent (now replaced by contra bassoon and tuba) to the standard makeup of the orchestra.


In between these two works of the 1830s lies one of the finest compositions by Camille Saint-Sans, his Concerto No. 4 for piano and orchestra (1875). The piano soloist for this weekend's concerts is guest artist Seung-Un Ha. I have had the pleasure of working with Ha on two occasions, and each time I was impressed with her mastery as an artist and as a virtuoso.

Saint-Sans' compositions epitomize clarity and proportion, qualities prized by the French in the 19th century. He was a child prodigy, perhaps even more prodigious than Mozart, to whom he often was compared. He once said that he composed music "as an apple tree produces apples."

In many of his works, the listener will feel his fluency and untroubled approach to musical composition. Indeed, Berlioz once said of his younger colleague, "he knows everything, but lacks inexperience." In this concerto however, Saint-Sans digs deep and comes up with a remarkable work of thematic transformation over four interlocking movements.

Each of these works requires the utmost in brilliance and depth of expression from the musicians. This program is perhaps the most ambitious one of the season. Come hear Maryland Symphony Orchestra live up to the challenge.

Elizabeth Schulze is Music Director of Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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