Advertisement

Letter from the podium

November 14, 2002|by Elizabeth Schulze

If there is a thread running through this weekend's concerts, it is that of formidable challenge. Each of the three works on the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's second MasterWorks program call for the highest level of technical virtuosity from the musicians. This program allows the spotlight to shine squarely on the orchestra as an ensemble of excellent players. It also offers an opportunity for our audience to hear the fine musicianship of one of the orchestra's distinguished principal players, Wayne Wells, who will perform as soloist in Henri Tomasi's Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (1956).

A 20th-century French composer, Tomasi established his reputation with works for stage and ballet, though he is perhaps best known today for his compositions for brass instruments. Expertly trained in the music conservatories of his country, Tomasi's knowledge of the orchestra and instrumental color was consummate. It is not surprising that world class instrumental soloists frequently sought him out to write concertos for them. The resulting 16 concertos for various instruments are an unusually large output for any composer writing in the last 200 years.

Advertisement

All of these works call for the utmost in color, tone and technical virtuosity from the featured instrumentalist. In fact, I suspect that this concerto will break all of your pre-conceived notions of how a trombone sounds, or what it is supposed to play. For this weekend at least, this versatile instrument won't be bringing up the rear of the band!

Inspired by the "orchestral sonorities" of the famous gypsy bands which he heard frequently as a youth living in the small village of Galnta, in western Hungary, Zoltn Kodly looked to gypsy music to form the basis of his best known work, Dances of Galnta (1933). This tour de force for orchestra will open our program. Cast in a rondo form the work moves dramatically between poignant melancholy and breath-taking exuberance.

To most musicians, Kodly is a hero who devoted his professional life to education and music-making in equal measure. He spent his early professional life in the collection, transcription and preservation of the folk music of his country. A pioneer in the field of ethnomusicology, he held that the folk song not only told us of our past, but provided a foundation for the future of new music.

His dream as an educator was to use these folk materials as the basis for music education. The resulting "Kodly Method" is internationally respected as one of the most effective tools in teaching musical literacy, and even found its way into Steven Spielberg's movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," as the musical language chosen by the aliens to communicate with humankind.

Another musical giant, Johannes Brahms, will be the focus of the second half of the program. His sweepingly romantic and vivid Symphony No. 3, in F Major, Op. 90 (1883) is his shortest symphony but, by far, the most technically difficult of all his orchestral works. Intricate passage work, rhythmic and phrasing complexities, and a wide variety of tone colorings give this work a richness and depth appreciated by performer and listener alike.

The best loved and received of all his symphonies during his lifetime, its intricacies and complexities do not prevent its immediate accessibilty. Here, the external language of musical gesture is sincere, passionate and direct in expression. It has always remained a puzzle and a pity that its quiet ending has convinced programmers to shy away from this symphony, for fear of disappointing their audience's expectation of a "slam-bang ending." In fact, the last moments of this work are among the most magical in all of music: a well-earned peace and transcendence after a struggle that seems both titanic and personal.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|