“First comes love, then comes marriage.” So goes the children’s ditty, but not the forthcoming Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra concert. The fourth program in their Masterworks series opens with a wedding song and concludes with the greatest romance of all, “Romeo and Juliet.”
Music Director Charles Latshaw will conduct the symphony performance on Friday, February 16, beginning at 7:30 pm in Ardrey Memorial Auditorium on the campus of Northern Arizona University. The audience is invited to a 6:30 preview talk with the conductor about the evening’s program.
The concert opens with “Wedding Song” written by Italian composer Elisabetta Brusa, who was born in Milan in 1954. Written during the first year of her marriage, in 1997, the piece is dedicated to her husband, conductor Gilberto Serembe. She describes her ode to marriage as “gentle, deep and solemn, in one respect, joyful, open and luminous, in another.”
Love is in the air with the next romantic piece, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 2. The acclaimed American pianist Spencer Myer is soloist for the voluptuous piece. Admired for his “golden tone and inward spiritual qualities,” Myer has performed nationally and internationally in orchestral, recital and chamber music concerts.
Spencer Myer’s career was launched with three important prizes: First Prize in the 2004 UNISA International Piano Competition in South Africa, the 2006 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship from the American Pianists Association and the Gold Medal from the 2008 New Orleans International Piano Competition. In addition to his Flagstaff debut, he will perform this year with Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Duluth-Superior, Grand Junction, Canton and Omaha Symphonies.
Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto is often called the greatest piano concerto ever written, because of its glorious melodies and sumptuous piano part. It was completed in 1901 after the failure of his Symphony No. 1 and a period of depression and self-doubt. The exuberance, lushness and intensity of this concerto indicate the success of his medical treatment, and the piece earned him a Glinka Award and a prize of 500 rubles. Forced to leave Russia by the revolution in 1917, the composer became an American citizen late in life, and he died in California in 1943.
The familiar theme of the second movement was appropriated by American songwriter Eric Carmen in his 1975 hit “All By Myself.” Although Rachmaninoff’s music was in the public domain in the United States, it was still protected outside the U.S., and Carmen ended up paying 12% of the song’s royalties to the composer’s estate. The tune has been recorded by Barry Manilow and Celine Dion, among others.
The tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet is the basis for a ballet written by Serge Prokofiev in 1935. Like Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev was a Russian pianist, composer and conductor who fled Russia for political reasons. He lived in America and in Paris but returned to Russia for the last nineteen years of his life. Today he may be the most popular composer of twentieth century music, with his orchestral music played frequently in the United States.
Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” was considered a dramatized ballet, utilizing the most theatrical scenes of the story. The dance departed from the Shakespearean tragedy by featuring a happy ending. This disturbed the Soviet cultural officials and the ballet underwent years of controversy and revisions, finally being performed at the Kirov in Leningrad in 1940. Considering the ballet score to be some of his finest music, Prokofiev arranged these two orchestral suites in 1936 using portions of the thirty-six scenes from the original. The FSO performance begins with “The Montagues and Capulets,” popularly known as “The Dance of the Knights,” and concludes the romantic evening with six more selections from the two suites.
ABOUT THE FLAGSTAFF SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The mission of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra is to enrich, engage, and inspire our community through the performance of orchestral music. Founded in 1950, the FSO is a regional orchestra of some 65 professional musicians who perform new works as well as the best-loved classical repertoire. Now in its 68th season, it is the largest and most active nonprofit performing arts organization in northern Arizona.