Charles Latshaw practicing with the Flagstaff Symphony

Charles Latshaw practices with the Flagstaff Symphony in this file photo.

DAVID IRVINE/COURTESY PHOTO

An aura of romance will permeate Ardrey Auditorium Friday evening as the Flagstaff Symphony continues its series of Masterworks concerts.

Continuing a season format of an opening contemporary work followed by a concerto performed by a guest soloist and a concluding symphonic work, the Masterworks IV program begins with “Wedding Song” by Italian composer Elisabetta Brusa.

Born in Milan in 1954, Brusa has pursued an active career as a composer and educator. Her biography describes her as “a brilliant Italian composer with a meticulous sense of orchestral color and appealing lyric gifts.” In 1997, the year of her marriage to conductor Gilberto Serembe, Brusa wrote and dedicated this piece to her husband and described it as “a hymn to the inner and outward joy of love and marriage.” Scored for large orchestra, the piece is “gentle, deep and solemn, in one respect, and joyful, open and luminous, in another.” Its themes are intertwined, and the work concludes with festive bells.

The Second Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninoff is a familiar and ever-popular work whose wealth of melody inspired several popular lyrics (to the chagrin of the composer). Rachmaninoff continued the “romantic” tradition of the 19th century well into the 20th during a lengthy career as a pianist and composer, starting as a student in Moscow, continuing as an expatriate and eventual citizen of America, and concluding a few years before his death in California in 1943. Of the four piano concertos that Rachmaninoff wrote, primarily for his own use as a virtuoso concert pianist, the Second Concerto in C minor is the best known and most frequently performed. It also emerged from a period of considerable self-doubt and state of depression in his personal life. Guest pianist Spencer Myer will join the FSO for a performance of this popular work. He comes with a strong resume combining solo performance with a solid reputation as a vocal and instrumental accompanist. He is also actively involved with many aspects of music education and the promotion of young musicians. As a concert pianist he was praised by the Boston Globe for his “superb playing” and “poised, alert musicianship” and by the London Times as “definitely a man to watch.” He has partnered with clarinetist David Shifrin and several prominent vocalists as accompanist, and performs chamber repertoire with various chamber quartets and quintets.

Like Rachmaninoff, Russian composer Serge Prokofiev departed his native Russia due to the political climate, but then returned to spend the latter half of his life as a “model Soviet citizen” during the repressive Stalinist era. Ironically, Prokofiev died the same day in 1953 as his nemesis Josef Stalin. A prolific composer with a distinctive style of his own, he created two ballet scores during the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, one based on the tale of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet and another based upon the story of Cinderella. What could be more “romantic” than the former’s theme of the doomed love affair immortalized in Shakespeare’s timeless drama. Prokofiev’s setting for the ballet stage was written in 1935 but did not receive its first performance in his native country until 1940, due to much unauthorized tampering with the score by various librettists and producers, as well as the repressive Soviet bureaucracy. In 1936, the composer arranged two orchestral suites from the score, followed by a third suite 10 years later. Portions of the first and second of these suites are performed by the FSO following intermission. These instrumental images from the score include an opening depiction of the rival Montague and Capulet families, three dances surrounding a portrayal of the two young lovers, Romeo grieving at the tomb of the departed Juliet, and finally, the death of Juliet’s cousin Tybalt.

On Friday, come prepared for an evening of beautiful melody, dynamic piano playing, and musical portrayal of eternal themes of love by three notable 20th century composers.

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