Symphony performance features pianist Andrew Armstrong

  • Friday, January 3, 2014

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO) will present three performances for the Masterworks Series with a program including Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini featuring pianist Andrew Armstrong and Harbison’s Remembering Gatsby on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 9-11 at 7:30 p.m. at Sottile Theatre, 44 George St.

About Remembering Gatsby: John Harbison’s orchestral foxtrot, Remembering Gatsby, was composed for the Atlanta Symphony in 1985 and runs about eight minutes. The jazzy piece begins with a passage for full orchestra, a representation of Gatsby’s vision of the green light on Daisy’s dock. Then the foxtrot begins, first with a kind of call to order, then a twenties tune written for one of the party scenes. A brief coda combines some of the motives, and refers fleetingly to the telephone bell and the automobile horns, instruments of Gatsby’s fate. The piece is dedicated to the orchestra and its late Music Director Robert Shaw.

About Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini: Pianist Andrew Armstrong, performing Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, appeared with the CSO previously in the 2005-06 season performing Rhapsody in Blue, and performs regularly with Charleston music festivals. In addition, he is acclaimed internationally and his performances are heard regularly on National Public Radio.

Rachmaninoff began to write his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in 1934 just as some critics believed his composing career was in decline. In July 2013, the UK’s The Guardian reports, “Since leaving Russia for the west, he had written little and his Fourth Piano Concerto (1926) had flopped. His (over)ripe Romanticism was out of fashion; modernism held all the cards. But then, in the postwar, palette-cleansing neoclassicism of composers such as Stravinsky and Prokofiev, perhaps Rachmaninoff saw new possibilities. The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was his take on this aesthetic - or at least, his way of using a classical theme as a launching pad.

Many who have no affection for Rachmaninoff still admire this piece. It is a formal miracle: a set of 24 variations held together as if it were a mini piano concerto, but with the carefree unfolding of a rhapsody. The overall structure is completely satisfying, and its composite parts - the small decorative, inventive details of its variations - are scintillating.

In addition to Paganini’s theme, there is the constantly recurring spectre of the Dies Irae, the plainchant melody from the requiem mass, famously brought into the concert hall by Berlioz 100 years earlier in his Symphonie Fantastique and a much-used theme in its own right. In Rachmaninoff’s work, this musical symbol of doom and judgment is like cement in the mosaic, giving stability, strength and a certain seriousness to the kaleidoscopic variations on Paganini’s theme.”

About Symphonie Fantastique: Bringing this program to an epic musical conclusion is Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz’s work for large orchestra depicting the unrequited love and obsessive passion.

“When I read Hector Berlioz’s vibrant memoirs in my late teens, the fiery passion for music and life that permeates his writing bowled me over - a passion matched and even exceeded by the volcanic eruptions of his Symphonie Fantastique,” said conductor and CSO Music Director candidate, Sean Newhouse, “Yet, what gives Symphonie Fantastique its timeless quality is that it isn’t all high heat. Its fifty-odd minutes embody a full spectrum of emotional and spiritual expression - the tender yearning of unrequited love, the peace of religious contemplation, the rollercoaster ride of obsession, and beyond.”

Guest conductor and CSO Music Director candidate Sean Newhouse served as Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles, as Associate Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The CSO has launched its Music Director Search, and conductor Sean Newhouse will be the third candidate to present himself to the Charleston community this 2013-2014 season. The first candidate was Perry So, who conducted the Masterworks concert in October 2013 and the second was Christopher Wilkins conducting the November 2013 Masterworks.

To find out more about the Music Director Search, visit CharlestonSymphony.org/MeetMaestro

Meet the Maestro activities

Jan. 7 - CSO Conductor’s Club Reception, Charleston Library Society (invitation only)

Jan. 9 - Coffee with the Maestro hosted by the CSOL, Charleston Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston, 9:30 a.m. Moderated by Adam Parker, Post and Courier. (open to the public)

Jan. 9, 10, 11 - From the Stage - Free to all ticket holders, pre-concert talks are held from the stage from 6:30-7 p.m. prior to all Masterworks Series concerts hosted by William D. Gudger, College of Charleston,emeritus.

Tickets for the evening performances start at $25 for adults.

Tickets may be purchased at CharlestonSymphony.org or by calling 843-723-7528, ext. 110.

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