The final Symphonic Hits of the season is upon us, and in fact, it's the final week of the Indianapolis Symphony Orcehstra's Classical Season. Next week, summer officially begins with the Indianapolis Symphony's move out to the Prairie. For this last concert, we're hearing Beethoven's final two symphonies led by Music Director Emmeritus, Raymond Leppard. These two works are as different as they could be. The 8th Symphony is bubbly and delightful (it even lacks a slow movement), and imitates the simpler and more elegant style of the 18th century. The ninth is large, brooding and groundbreaking with its introduction of a chorus into the symphonic world. Ten years separate the premiers of the two symphonies (1814 and 1824), and during this interval, Beethoven's life is in turmoil. This stretches over the time from his obsession with the often mentioned Immortal Beloved (some of you might remember the 1994 movie of the same name), to a nasty custody battle over his nephew, as well as through many illnesses. This tumultuous life (not to mention his difficult personality) along with his deafness, has made him one of the most discussed and written about composers in history. As a reflection of this, this week the ISO has partnered with book clubs from across Indianapolis to read the book Beethoven's Hair before coming to hear our performances. The book simultaneously follows Beethoven's final years, as well as the journey of a lock of Beethoven's hair which falls into the hands of two Beethoven enthusiasts with the unforgettable names of Che Guevara (no, not the Cuban revolutionary), and Ira Brilliant. They have the lock DNA tested and the book describes their findings in terms of what they discover about Beethoven's health and cause of death. It's a fascinating book for anyone interested in learning more about Beethoven the man, and just one example of the volumes of great stuff that has been written on Beethoven. For a closer look at the Ninth, I would also recommend this book, The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824, which chronicles the premier of the symphony (something I will be talking about quite a bit at Sound Off this week) as well as the conditions in Vienna and around Europe when this seminal work was written. We hope to continue this partnership with local book clubs next year, so stay tuned for more info. This weekend's performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday night at the Hilbert Circle theater and 7 p.m. at the Palladium in Carmel. Hope to see you there.
"Give it more vowel," Assistant Artistic Director Michael Davis implores the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. "A little longer - really full," he coaxes. "Keep everything going." This past Tuesday I found the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir hard at work, preparing for next week's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Watching them, I was struck by how much time and effort goes into preparing for a work as grand as this one.
The work starts weeks, months, and in some cases, years before the performances. It really begins with the hours of work all musicians put in to learn their craft, but more specifically it involves individual practice on the Beethoven, to make sure all the notes are learned. The orchestra puts in time with their parts, the chorus learns text and music, the vocal soloists coach the roles with their own staff, and the conductors study the score, playing it through at the piano and analyzing the form and structure.
Finally, when we get close to the performance, the chorus gets to work first, rehearsing on their own, as I found them this past Tuesday night. They then meet with Maestro Raymond Leppard, the Indianapolis Symphony's Conductor Laureate, next Tuesday before finally getting with the orchestra on Wednesday. Don't forget the chorus consists entirely of volunteers who give their time and energy to our performances. Next week they will be rehearsing or performing six out of seven nights. Many of them come directly from a full day work and still give 100% through the three hours of warm-up and rehearsal. We couldn't perform these great choral masterpieces without their dedication!
Once we get everyone together, the hard work is out of the way. Since everyone knows their own parts so well, Maestro Leppard will then be able to take the time to mold the 200 or so musicians into one unit, as well as put his own interpretation on the work. By Friday night everything will be set, and we can relax (hopefully!) and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Next week we have an extra challenge of playing in two very different theaters, the Hilbert Circle Theater and the Palladium. Because the sound is so different between the two, the players have to make adjustments on the fly, using their best judgment as they hear the sound coming back to them in the room. Luckily, we do have an extra rehearsal in Carmel since this is the first time Orchestra and Chorus will perform together in the Palladium. Wherever you choose to hear this performance, you won't want to miss our season finale! The ISO and ISC perform Beethoven's Symphony Nos. 8 and 9 conducted by Raymond Leppard June 17 and 18 at the Hilbert Circle Theater (7:30 PM) and June 19 at the Palladium (7PM).
I'm gladly turning over my blog to our very own Principal Viola Michael Isaac Strauss, who performs as soloist this weekend alongside ISO Concertmaster Zach De Pue. Mike and Zach will be playing Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. This will be the first time the pair has played this piece together.The Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra in E-flat major, K. 364 (320d), is a work that is dear to my heart. I have played the work with over half a dozen violinists. These performances with Zach De Pue are the first time I've played the work with him with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and represent the third ISO violinist that I've played with, as I previously performed the work with Hidetaro Suzuki and Philip Palermo. The difference this time is that we do not have a conductor with us. It will be more of a chamber music effort with the orchestra. That in itself will be very exciting for us as performers.
It is amazing to me that Mozart wrote this work when he was 20 years old. We have this perception that when he put his mind to a composition, he automatically came up with perfection. In this case, it is not true. He actually fooled around with this work for quite awhile before finally settling on the format of using the violin and viola only along with a small, string dominated orchestra. His conception for this piece probably came from his good friend and chamber music partner Carl Stamitz, who was the founder of the modern school for string playing in Mannheim, Germany... labeled "The Mannheim School." Mozart apparently tried incorporating a solo cello into the mix, different orchestrations and the like before settling and completing his masterpiece as we now know it. An interesting fact about the orchestration is that there are actually two tutti viola parts, which splits the viola section in half. But hey, the more the merrier I say, especially with regard to the violas.I have a love for Stamitz as well, as I had the opportunity to record one of his concertos for viola, and his son Charles' Concertante for Violin and Viola a number of years ago in Chicago with my good friend, Desiree Ruhstrat. The experience of studying the composers that were participating in this new, "modern" way of approaching the instrument has been a great one for me. The list of the "classical" music world's composers associated with the Mannheim School, that have written Viola Concertos that I have performed, are Carl and Charles Stamitz, Zelter (Mendelssohn's teacher), Dittersdorf, Wanhal, Hoffmeister and Mozart. The ironic thing some 250 years later,is that we have labeled all serious concert music, from Monteverdi through Philip Glass, as "classical music." In fact, at the Indianapolis Symphony, we are also at fault by using the label with regard to our "Classical" series. The general population generalizes that this is a correct label, and that this music is "old," sedate and stuffy. In fact, the Mannheim School of music making that dominated the "classical" period was actually a hugely controversial and revolutionary movement in music that broke with a multitude of ingrained habits, and tried to create a voice for the popular culture of its time. Classical music making had everything to do with bravura, technical fireworks, and introducing modern topics that were considered scandalous in public. This piece by Mozart was one of the shining examples of this kind of daring music making. From its heart-on-sleeve harmonies, to its romantic love duets, and finally with its "Mannheim School" stamp at the end of the piece, it was instantly successful with the general public.Listen for Zach and I to play these crazy, rising arpeggios at the end of the third movement, that culminate with a final declaration. This technique was labeled a "Mannheim Rocket" back in the day, and created quite a frenzy in the audience whenever anyone attempted it. I assure you this piece is anything but sedate and stuffy. Eh, don't take my word for it, come downtown and hear for yourself. This piece will give you a different ear for the word "classical." The performance will definitely give you a different look and listen for what the ISO is capable of on stage!
Title: Sinfonia concertanteArtist: Mozart
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