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PSO’s “Firebird” introduces magic into holiday season
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The magic of the holiday season begins Saturday, Dec. 1, when the Purdue Symphony Orchestra uncages one of classical music’s most fanciful creatures – the Firebird.
Igor Stravinsky “Firebird,” written for the Ballets Russes, was considered groundbreaking in 1910 and made the composer an overnight sensation in Paris. “The piece is unlike anything we’ve ever programmed at Purdue,” says conductor Andrew King.
Like packages under a Christmas tree, PSO conductor Andrew King programmed the concert’s pieces for variety, both in music and in the make-up of the orchestra. The PSO’s brass and percussion sections start things off with “Fanfare” from Paul Dukas’ 1912 ballet La peri (The Fairy). Described by the composer as a “dance poem in one scene,” the ballet begins with a short ceremonial fanfare featuring a flourish of brass.
For the next treat, a new set of musicians take the stage – the PSO’s strings plus two oboes and two horns – to perform Mozart. Violinist Sharry Spicknall and violist Amy Brandfonbrener, frequent performers with the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra and adjunct faculty members in Purdue’s band and orchestra department, serve as guest soloists.
Mozart was just 23 when he composed his version of “Sonfonia Concertante,” a popular musical genre in Paris between 1770 and 1830. Mozart packages surprises in the piece by having the soloists, the featured performers of the composition, creep into its musical texture unexpectedly. Throughout the first movement, the soloists continue to introduce new ideas, while the second movement showcases their ability to play lyrical passages. The final movement is a lively rondo.
For the concert’s second half, the full 100-member orchestra comes together to perform Stravinsky’s 1919 “Firebird Suite,” the most popular of his three concert versions of the piece.
Audiences don’t have to know “Firebird’s” story to delineate its characters in Stravinsky’s music. Themes for “all the humans and good characters are diatonic, built on western scales,” says King. “The magical characters are chromatic and the evil magical characters are very dissonant.
One of the highlights is the “Infernal Dance of Kastchei” where the Firebird comes to rescue the prince and causes the evil King Kastchei to dance until he collapses. Themes introduced in the dance “are considered to be the first examples of primitivism in classical music. His driving rhythms have been imitated a lot since then” King says.
The 1919 “Firebird Suite” being performed by the PSO also includes two popular movements that weren’t included in the original concert suite – “Lullaby” and “Finale.”
The Purdue Symphony Orchestra’s next performance will take place on Sunday, March 2, in the Long Center.
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