Classical Views: Three for the ages
Beethoven. Strauss. Wagner. Three innovative composers who changed the world. Three exceptional musical compositions. Two performances in Miller Symphony Hall. One great orchestra, the Allentown Symphony, and one exciting soloist, Martina Filjak. This is a weekend of concerts April 5 and 6 that you do not want to miss.
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) is a name that is now known by virtually everyone in the world. And his music, although it was written more than 200 years ago, resonates with us today.
Why, and how, does a piece of music affect us in such a way that it speaks as clearly to the soul now as when it was written in another country, another century, another era?
Beethoven wrote his 5th Piano Concerto, the one we now know at the "Emperor" Concerto, during a time of war. In May 1809, the noise of drums, guns and cannons were a part of everyday life when Napoleon invaded Vienna where Beethoven lived. Yet, in spite of all of this, at the end of that year, Beethoven composed his famous "Emperor" Concerto, a dramatic and strikingly original work.
He did not name it the "Emperor" Concerto. In actuality, he would have hated the name. It is speculated that the subtitle "Emperor" might have come from the fact that the Viennese premiere took place at a concert sponsored by the Noble Ladies in celebration of the Emperor's birthday.
Regardless of how the name came about, this is the title that we know the piece by today and it seems to fit its grand, powerful structure. For me, however, it is the beautiful, lyric, slow movement that I feel transcends time and space. This music, written in a time of war, goes deep within the soul with its moving melody and intimate feeling. It captures that which we cannot put into words.
The soloist for the Allentown Symphony performances of the Beethoven 5th Piano Concerto is Martina Filjak. Martina was the first place winner in the Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2009. Anthony Thommasini, of The New York Times, wrote about her performance: "Brilliant, sensitive and imaginative playing with resourcefulness of technique and naturalness of musicality. ... A striking individuality ... A pianist to watch."
Prior to winning the Cleveland competition, Martina was the first prize winner of the 2007 Viotti International Piano Competition in Italy and the 2008 Maria Canals International Piano Competition in Barcelona.
Martina will attend "Meet the Artist," which is free and open to the public, noon April 4, Miller Symphony Hall.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) is perhaps not as much a household name as Beethoven, but no one can deny his incredible impact on the development of classical music. He expanded the size and instrumental color pallet of the orchestra beyond what anyone had imagined at the time. In his orchestration, you will find eight French horns, five trumpets, four each of the woodwinds, English horn, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, two harps, percussion and more.
Strauss was famous for his "tone poems," huge orchestral compositions that told a story. We all love a good story. Music that has a story behind it is often so much easier to follow that a symphony with its separate four movements.
"Ein Heldeleben" ("A Hero's Life") is said to be autobiographical in nature. In other words, Strauss himself is the hero, writing about his own life. The sections of this composition are: The Hero, the Adversaries, the Hero's Wife, the Battlefield, the Hero's Works of Peace, Retreat from the World, and Fulfillment.
Strauss wrote what might be considered the "movie music" of his time. The large brass-oriented orchestration is the same style that John Williams utilized for the soundtracks in so many of the action films he scored. Long, full, melodies and exciting brass fanfares. It is bold, exciting music that emphasizes a story and takes us on a journey.
The performance of "Ein Heldenleben" by the Allentown Symphony, 8 p.m. April 4 and 3 p.m. April 5, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown, is a Lehigh Valley premiere. The work has never been performed live in the region.
"Ein Heldenleben" utilizes 87 musicians on stage. The power of the music emanating to the audience will be amazing. This is one of those compositions that you simply have to hear in person. A recording can never do justice to a piece of this magnitude.
We open our weekend of concerts with a piece by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Here we have a composer that not only expanded the size of the orchestra and the concepts around compositional writing, but one that wrote his own opera libretto, created his own sets, and even designed his own theater for his works to be performed in.
Wagner was a genius on many levels and his music stretched the boundaries of what had come before. The Prelude to "Lohengrin" is a fast, exciting concert opener that also showcases the brass section. It is a great way to start the concert.
I am always amazed at the creative process and how composers can capture a spirit, a feeling, an emotion and freeze it in their music so that we can experience it later, at a different time, in a different place. To me, this sharing of the art form is what gives our lives meaning and it helps me to understand the world in a deeper way. Hearing these pieces live makes the experience even more powerful and special. Come share the experience with us as the Allentown Symphony performs the music of these three brilliant composers, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner.
Diane Wittry is Music Director-Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director (USA), International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia; and author, "Beyond the Baton" (Oxford University Press).
Concert tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715