Friday, December 09, 2011

Gershwin Meets Beethoven with the Humboldt Symphony

The Humboldt Symphony performs popular pieces by Gershwin and Beethoven and other works on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, December 9 and 11.

George Gershwin’s symphonic tone poem An American in Paris is his most famous work, after “Rhapsody in Blue.” “You hear the sounds of the Paris streets of the 1920s, even the taxi horns,” said Humboldt Symphony conductor Paul Cummings. “It has elements of jazz, blues and ragtime—popular styles heard in a cabaret but in a symphonic setting. Gershwin was gifted at making this music work for orchestra—and in this piece especially, he did it with his orchestration as well as his composition.”

The Humboldt Symphony performs the version called “An American in Paris Suite” as arranged by John Whitney, which is basically selected from the original.

Gershwin himself described it as “a light, jolly piece, a series of impressions musically expressed...It’s not a Beethoven symphony, you know.” 
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture is not a symphony either, but in compact form it exemplifies the majestic power of his music. “It’s a great example of Beethoven’s mastery of musical form and structure,” said Cummings. “There’s a logical flow to this music that had a major impact on 19th century composers.”

This overture was composed for a play by Goethe, dramatizing the heroic sacrifice of the 16th century Flemish Count of Egmont, who took a stand against oppression and paid for it with his life. Beethoven’s overture was so effective in expressing this theme that it became the unofficial anthem of the 1956 rebellion against Soviet control in Hungary.

“Beethoven uses the entire orchestra to great effect,” Cummings said. “The writing in this overture features the instruments at their best. Woodwinds are especially called upon to be expressive. It’s a very exciting piece.”

The Symphony program also includes the first and second movements of Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, which all the dances from Act II of the play Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens. “There are a variety of moods in this music, depending on the character each dance depicts,” Cummings said.

The Brook Green Suite by Gustav Holst is entirely a string orchestra piece. “All the instruments have independent voice,” Cummings observed, “and there’s some wonderful counterpoint.” Known as Holst’s most accessible work, the Brook Green Suite was the last of his music that Holst heard performed.

Humboldt Symphony performs on Friday December 9 at 8 p.m. and Sunday December 11 at 3 p.m. in the Fulkerson Recital Hall on the HSU campus in Arcata. Tickets are $7 general, $3 students/seniors, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. Free to HSU students with ID. Directed by Paul Cummings, produced by HSU Music Department.

Media: Humboldt State Now, Arcata Eye, North Coast Journal, Humboldt Beacon.

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