Valentina Lisitsa: Interview & Upcoming WVSO Performance!

Valentina Lisitsa will return to perform with the WV Symphony in January. If her 2010 WVSO guest appearance was any indication, it should be a great concert. In the meantime, you can download and listen to an interview with Valentina by celebrated music critic and author Norman Lebrecht at the following link:

Valentina Lisitsa Interview (download page)

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3: Eroica

By Brendan

I am very excited to learn that Beethoven’s revolutionary Symphony No. 3: Eroica will be tackled by Grant Cooper and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra next year. This thunderous work is as exciting as any Rock music. It was also the subject of one of my favorite movies — I think it fitting that Ian Hart has played both Beethoven and John Lennon. You can stream or download 53 minutes of awesomeness conducted by Kurt Masur with the National Orchestra of France here (mp3 download page). If you prefer to go through iTunes, this link includes Symphonies 3 and 5.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 Free Download!

Guest Post By: Brendan

The West Virginia Symphony will present Anton Bruckner’s triumphant Symphony No. 8 on March 1st and 2nd. To whet your appetite, I found the following performance from Berlin’s Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester.

Bruckner – Symphony No. 8 (mp3 download page)

Buy Tickets to WV Symphony

Live Review: WV Symphony Presents “Mozart’s Requiem”

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s “Mozart’s Requiem” concerts were held at The Clay Center’s Maier Foundation Performance Hall this past weekend and I had the pleasure of attending Saturday night. The WVSO performed Richard Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III, Tristan und Isolde,” Johannes Brahms’ “Tragische Ouvertϋre” (Tragic Overture) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s famous “Requiem,” with accompaniment by Marshall University Chorus, West Virginia Symphony Chorus and four featured guest soloists.

During the pre-performance “Preludes” discussion, Maestro Cooper explained the difference in how American singers approach classical vocal pieces (to avoid a “twang” in their pronunciation) as opposed to singers from other countries. One of the more light-hearted moments came when Cooper demonstrated his point by singing a line from a country song. To which tenor Gerald Gray basically told him to keep his day job. Gray also emphasized the importance of proper, “internal” vocal technique over attempting to achieve an external, Pavarotti-like sound.

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a large crowd brave the bitter cold wind and remnants of the previous day’s snowstorm to attend the symphony. I’m obviously not the only one who couldn’t resist the combination of the WV Symphony and Mozart’s “Requiem.”

I’m not that fond of Wagner in general, but I did enjoy the WV Symphony’s performance of his “Prelude to Tristan und Isolde” four years ago. The prelude to the third act of Wagner’s opera was just as lovely, though a bit darker and more mournful. Since the piece isn’t drastically different from the original “Prelude,” I hope you’ll forgive my quoting from my 2009 review:

Wagner’s composition was mostly based on Gottfried von Strassburg’s poem “Tristan,” but it was also inspired by Wagner’s affair with married author Mathilde Wesendonck as well as the theories of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. “Tristan und Isolde” is considered to be one of the most influential works of the nineteenth century (the 2006 James Franco film Tristan and Isolde was based on Wagner’s opera), and its tonality is often credited as turning classical music in a new direction for the early twentieth century. Wagner was influenced by Weber and Beethoven, but his own work would inspire Mahler, Bruckner, Debussy, and countless other composers.

The work possesses a sweeping, cinematic beauty and elegance, and was handled with tender grace in the many capable hands of the West Virginia Symphony.

The main difference between the opera’s first prelude and the third is its exquisite English horn solo. I don’t know the reasons behind the WV Symphony’s decision to place their English horn player on one of the auditorium’s box seat balconies, but it was an incredibly effective stylistic choice which lent her solo an almost jazz-like quality.

Next up was Brahms’ “Tragische Ouvertϋre.” Despite its name and Brahms’ apparent attempts to elicit sadness with the piece, his overture didn’t strike me as particularly tragic. Compared with my favorite composers Mahler and Beethoven, Brahms’ work seemed almost light and spirited until its dramatic finish. Whatever the composer’s emotional intentions were, I enjoyed the beautiful results immensely as played by the WV Symphony. It made for a nice, refreshing opening act to the evening’s classical headliner.

I was, of course, most excited to hear the WV Symphony tackle Mozart’s “Requiem” and, as usual, they did not disappoint. The orchestra was joined by soprano Janet Brown, mezzo-soprano Mariel van Dalsum, tenor Gerald Gray, baritone Timothy LeFebvre and members of West Virginia Symphony Chorus and Marshall University Chorus with their conductor, David Castleberry.

It may seem odd given my affection for classical music that I’ve only recently warmed to Mozart. I think I disliked him more for his popularity than his actual work. But recently I’ve given him another chance and must admit the masses were right about his genius. His “Requiem” was actually completed by another composer, because Mozart died before finishing the work himself. Subsequently, there continues to be a lot of controversy over how much of the piece was truly composed by Mozart.

The “Requiem” is divided into fourteen movements, many of which feature choir and soloist vocals. The sound and structure of the piece were apparently influenced by Handel’s “Messiah” and it definitely has a similarly grand scope.

The orchestra was restructured to accommodate both the composition and to make room on stage for the large chorus. My date, Brendan, said it appeared as if there’d been “a rapture of string players.”

Soprano Janet Brown’s voice was clear and effortlessly gorgeous and Gerald Gray’s tenor vocals were smooth and melodic.

The chorus singers’ voices and the orchestra’s instruments rose and fell in lovely unison, especially during “Lacrimosa.” I was reminded of the Bible’s description of Solomon’s temple dedication at which the singers and musicians were as one.

Cameras and recording devices were prohibited, so I have no audio or photographs from this specific performance to share. But I found some free, legal audio on SoundCloud and WVSO’s site had a link to the YouTube video below.

WV Symphony Official Site

Live Review: WV Symphony Presents “New World Symphony”

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s “New World Symphony” concerts were held at The Clay Center’s Maier Foundation Performance Hall this past weekend and I had the pleasure of attending Friday night. The WVSO performed Antonin Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)” (a.k.a. the “New World Symphony”) and Anton Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 3 in D minor.”

During the pre-performance “Preludes” discussion, Maestro Cooper and orchestra member Tom Beal talked about the Germanic tradition of the two pieces. Cooper revealed that the WV Symphony will perform Bruckner’s eighth symphony in one year and have already started preparation for the performance.

Beal humorously compared the old rivalry between Brahms and Bruckner fans to East Coast vs. West Coast rappers, while Cooper compared Bruckner’s compositions to a “primordial mist” which allows the listener to “glimpse elements of all creation.” I had noticed in my preliminary research that Bruckner’s third symphony often receives incredibly negative criticism and Cooper addressed this, pleading with us to take Bruckner as he is – to be to “washed” and “bathed” in his music without expectations or comparisons.

Cooper then called Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” a “Top 10″ classical work, commending the unity and “incredible orchestration” of the piece. He joked about and hummed the “cheesy” “boogie woogie line” from the Czechian folk-influenced portion of the symphony, but overall deemed it “justly popular” and “a fabulous piece of music” that is very fun to play.

First up was “Symphony No. 3 in D minor” by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. A contemporary of my beloved Mahler, Bruckner’s music was influenced by Beethoven as well as his own deeply held faith that music is an extension of God’s creation. It was this spiritual belief, as well as his sensitivity to criticism, that restrained Bruckner from experimenting or expressing himself too much in his work.

His music was also heavily influenced by Wagner, particularly his third symphony. Subtitled “The Wagner Symphony,” Bruckner submitted an early version of his third symphony to Wagner for review, eventually incorporated direct quotes from Wagner’s operas into revisions of the piece, and dedicated the symphony to Wagner with the inscription “to the unreachable world-famous noble master of poetry and music.”

The first movement is full of grandiose, surging waves punctuated by sudden ebbs of silence and lovely, gentle laps of melody. The second movement begins with such an elegant lilt that Cooper almost appeared to be dancing as he gracefully conducted the orchestra. I don’t know if it was the brilliance of the WV Symphony’s performance or my heeding Cooper’s advice to just let Bruckner’s music wash over me, but I loved the hour-long, four-movement symphony.

The second half of the evening was devoted to “Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)” by Antonin Dvořák. Dvořák’s ninth is perhaps his most famous work, at least here in America. The symphony’s many inspirations included Dvořák’s experiences in New York City, the traditional Czech and Bohemian folk music he heard in a small immigrant community in Iowa, and his interest in Native American music and African American spirituals. The result is one of the more modern sounding classical works.

A trumpet blare and the fluttering of flutes heralded the beginning of the first movement before a dramatic rumble as the rest of the orchestra joined in. The exquisite second movement of the New World Symphony, which was later adapted into the song “Goin’ Home,” is a melodic thing of beauty. There was something very lyrical about the underlying melody of the entire piece, particularly the first two movements. Yet even the dramatic bombast of the third movement is tempered by that intricate melody. The third movement also features unusual chiming embellishments that almost sounded like the ring of a vintage telephone. The fourth movement was literally cinematic – I could’ve sworn it sounded like the themes from Jaws and Star Wars intertwined.

Unbeknown to me, there had been a tornado warning in Charleston during the concert. Cooper did warn the audience about a pending storm and assured us that we were in the safest place if the power went out. We couldn’t even hear the storm during the spectacular performance and the skies were clear by the time we stepped out of the Clay Center. As Cooper himself said, “The weather outside is frightful, but inside is delightful.”

Cameras and recording devices were prohibited, so I have no audio or photographs from this performance to share. But WVSO’s site had a link to this YouTube video…

You can download free, legal mp3s of the Columbia University Orchestra performing Dvořák’s New World Symphony here, and hear a discussion by Marin Alsop as well as excerpts of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performing the piece at NPR.

WV Symphony Official Site