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VOL. 126 | NO. 6 | Monday, January 10, 2011

MSO Concert Explores Italy

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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TThe Memphis Symphony Orchestra continues its “Season of Discovery” by starting a cold new year with a foray into the land of terraced vineyards and sunlit villas.

Guest conductor Daniel Hege and cellist Alban Gerhardt will lead the Memphis Symphony Orchestra in “Italian Inspirations,” the latest concert in the symphony’s “Season of Discovery.” (Photo: Courtesy of the artists)

“Italian Inspirations,” the latest installment of the First Tennessee Saturday Masterworks Series, promises a musical tour of the landscapes, waterways and villages that inspired master composers from Italy and beyond.

“The whole season is planned around an exploration,” said Nicki Inman, vice president of patron engagement for MSO. “It’s called a ‘Season of Discovery’ and there have been different themes within that (for each concert). There’s a French program, an Italian program, American music – different countries are highlighted throughout the season and in January it just happens to be Italy.”

The concert, which takes place at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 15 at 8 p.m., will also feature two prominent guest artists: guest conductor Daniel Hege and cellist Alban Gerhardt.

MSO music director Mei-Ann Chen will be out of town.

Hege, principal conductor of the Syracuse (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra, was also recently named the music director for the Wichita (Kan.) Symphony Orchestra.

The concert will open with Rossini’s Overture to “The Italian in Algiers,” an interesting reversal of the Italian theme. In this case, Rossini, the only Italian composer on the program, wrote his opera about the experiences of an Italian woman, Isabella, engaged to a slave in Algiers, whose Turkish master has other plans for him.

The overture reflects Rossini’s appreciation of Haydn, known for his use of surprise musical devices, starting off with a sunrise of bass pizzicato leading up to a thunderous confluence of sound later.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major, “Italian” follows, offering a German’s perspective on Italy, one which the composer wrote in a letter would be his “jolliest” symphony ever. The piece includes musical impressions of a Roman Catholic procession, and Roman and Neapolitan dances among other scenes.

The third piece, Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme Op. 33, written in 1877 with the help of the German cellist and music professor Wilhelm Fitzenhagen of the Moscow Conservatory, is composed of a theme introduced and later repeated by solo cello.

Seven orchestral variations in as many tempos follow with traditionally only one break between the six and seventh variations.

Alban Gerhardt of Berlin was enlisted to play the piece’s elegant solo, which presents the original theme “moderato semplice.”

His previous performances include engagements with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Finally Tchaikovsky’s well-known “Capriccio Italien” will end the program.

Inman said that even though Chen will not be present to conduct the concert, her influence will be seen and felt before, during and after the program.

At 7:15 p.m., early guests will gather on the mezzanine for a free discussion of the program with musicians to be determined.

“It really depends on the concert,” Inman said. “Sometimes the guest artist is there, sometimes the other musicians are there. You never really know for sure, it can sometimes be a surprise, but it’s always going to be someone insightful.”

Chen has a second performance-oriented surprise in store, just as she has had in previous concerts in her inaugural season, but Inman said mum’s the word.

“Back in September we had the Whitehaven High School marching band,” Inman said. “We had the Mexican Dance Theatre at the November concert. Even though Mei-Ann is not going to be there to conduct this concert, she has left us with surprises for this concert as well.”

Chen will also address the audience before the performance in brief taped remarks.

Tickets for “Italian Inspirations” start at $15, but last-second tickets can be purchased by students with proper ID on the night of the concert for only $5. These rush tickets will be sold starting with the best available.

“So you could end up with a really fantastic seat for $5,” Inman said.

Tickets available by visiting www.memphissymphony.org or calling 537-2525.

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