The first weekend of the new year was an eventful one! In addition to celebrating in San Francisco, I had coffee with Natalie Raney, our cello soloist for the Tchaikovsky piece on our upcoming February concert. I felt so fortunate to spend a couple hours with Natalie, discussing details of this beloved Tchaikovsky work, a set of seven variations for cello and chamber orchestra. It’s a true concerto without the title, and puts the cellist front and center playing incredibly difficult virtuosic passages next to the beautiful, touching, often sentimental music we expect from Tchaikovsky.
This concert focuses mostly on well-known Twentieth-century composers writing music in the baroque style (think Bach, Vivaldi, Handel). The Tchaikovsky Rococo is the oldest piece on the program (c. 1877), and in many ways sounds the newest. The oldest-sounding piece on program was written almost 100 years later, in 1972 by another Russian composer, Alfred Schnittke.
Tchaikovsky’s Romantic style (harmonies, melodies, gestures, etc.) is placed within a form that references early classical, late baroque trends. Natalie and I delved into questions of how to approach performing such an important work in the cello repertoire: Do we perform this in the late Romantic-period style of Tchaikovsky, or do we acknowledge the composer’s intentions to fuse styles old and new, and bring performance practices of older music into the mix?
Our conversation on this alone lasted at least two cups of coffee (for me). We revisited our ideas on style as we went through the variations one by one. It struck me at some point mid-conversation that the busy brunch rush of a hip SF coffeeshop in Cole Valley was as far removed from my mind, and Natalie’s, I think, as some distant horizon. We were both involved in the music, thinking about it, discussing it, sharing ideas, debating tempos, agreeing on character, pointing to moments in the score we felt were worth talking about. It was a beautiful reminder of the privilege, excitement, and responsibility we experience as musicians when preparing for a performance. Funny how all the practicing, studying, schooling, blood, sweat, and tears can, in a moment, feel worth it when sharing such immense respect and love for a piece of music.
This season has been so exciting, getting to know the music, the soloists, and the orchestra through the process of music-making. It is an honor to invite such a brilliant and charismatic artist, both musically and personally, to perform this piece with the USO. You don’t want to miss this performance!
Yesterday I met with Polina Sedukh, the violin soloist coming to play Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with the Ukiah Symphony, December 7th and 8th. Since she plays with the San Francisco Symphony she reserved a practice room in one of the lower levels below Davies Symphony Hall. To meet Polina in one of San Francisco Symphony’s practice rooms was a pleasure. The walls were plastered with posters of past concerts, guest pianists, cellists, and conductors, some in English, some in Russian, some from the 70s, the 80s, it was fascinating to see, and an inspiring way to start our read-through of the Sibelius concerto.
The two hours we spent playing and talking through the piece was such a delight. Hearing her grace and lyricism, her nuances of color, that gorgeous tone and alluring intensity of her playing was a privilege. For each of us, I’m sure, it was a musical check-in, an overview of how we are individually thinking about the piece, like an aerial photo of a landscape. Just the surface so far, so we have our conceptual outline of the piece. Over the next month we’ll each develop new perspectives on Sibelius’ language, ask deeper questions of the music, find ways to express what the composer is saying through his score. I am brimming with enthusiasm to introduce her and the orchestra when we welcome her to Ukiah in a month!
Among the many topics and ideas we discussed, Polina and I share deeply emotional connections to this piece. We both feel a great responsibility in performing it here, and her commitment to the music is something I wish for everyone to experience.
I hope to see you at the concert in December!
All my best,
I am honored to begin my inaugural season with the Ukiah Symphony as the orchestra celebrates 40 years of bringing the best of classical musical to Ukiah. The concerts of the 2019-20 season are part of a journey that looks to the past while boldly forging new inspiration. This music paints beautiful, thought-provoking pictures of life, love, and the cyclical nature of history and change. Our season explores emotional expressions, confessions, and insights into the fascinating lives of these composers, from our first to our final concert.
I’m excited to welcome friends and new faces as guest artists with the symphony. Our opening concert features a jazz big band and vocalist Shelene Huey-Booker performing interpretations of classical music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s long-time arranger. Shelene’s soulful talent and style will shine in Black, Brown, and Beige, Ellington’s own suite inspired by classical orchestral and sacred music. Join us for the classical side of Duke Ellington and his Big Band.
-- Black, Brown, and Beige – Sept. 14–15
Our December concert takes us on two very personal journeys. Franz Schubert’s elegant yet brooding and dramatic Unfinished Symphonyreveals his fears and anxieties as well as his resolute individuality. Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto will be an incredible experience, featuring San Francisco Symphony violinist Polina Sedukh. This rich, powerful concerto is an elevated glimpse into the art and emotions of Finnish culture. The stark, open majesty of the frozen north is captured in this music. I can’t wait for you to hear Polina’s stunning interpretation of this masterful and mysterious piece.
-- Finnish and Unfinished – Dec. 7–8
Composers often look back to the old masters for inspiration. Baroque Revisited explores pieces written in the baroque style by late 19th and 20th century composers. All of the music on this concert was written 125–225 years after the Baroque period (1600–1750). The most recent piece, Alfred Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style, was composed less than 50 years ago. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra is the oldest piece on the program, written in 1877. Cellist Natalie Raney’s shimmering artistry will be on display with Tchaikovsky’s virtuosic and playful cello concerto.
-- Baroque Revisited – Feb. 8–9
Our season closes with the music of four composers from four neighboring countries that made up Bohemia less than 100 years ago. Gustav Mahler’s (Austria) music suggests drama and journey, capturing extremes of emotions that are worth taking time to examine. Songs of a Wayfarer is a perfect introduction to his personal, lush, and philosophically romantic style. Dazzling and intense mezzo-soprano Melinda Martinez Becker serves as the medium through which Mahler tells his story of “Love and sorrow! And world and dream!” (the final words of Songs of a Wayfarer). Frederic Chopin’s (Poland) piano music-turned ballet music, and a dramatic Beethoven (Germany) overture lead us to the final piece of the season: Antonin Dvorak’s (Czechia) Czech Suite (Dvorak is pronounced: d-Vor-zhack). This piece is a delightful interplay of Eastern European folk music and high art, and reminds us why Dvorak was Johannes Brahms’ favorite contemporary composer.
-- Bohemian Borders – May 18–19
I am so happy to be here with the wonderful community of musicians and supporters that are the reason the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra is celebrating 40 years of music-making. The 2019-20 season is full of touching, inspiring, and powerful music featuring world-class, breathtaking soloists. Whether you are a long-time supporter or a new member of our audience, we are pleased to welcome you to what promises to be a culturally nurturing experience. I’m looking forward to sharing the journey of this season with you.
“A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” – Gustav Mahler
Phillip Semyon Lenberg