Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This Saturday's Anchorage Civic Orchestra Russian Pops Concert Looking Great!

Tuesday evening was our last regular rehearsal of the Anchorage Civic Orchestra's Spring Concert - Russian Pops. Some of the pieces are already sounding remarkable, and everything else is shaping up. Friday is dress rehearsal, Saturday - show time.

Shannyn Moore's narration of Peter and the Wolf, and the wonderful performance of it by the ensemble, is worth the ticket price on its own. But there's much more. Here are the program notes I've written:
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov:
Dance of the Tumblers from the Opera, The Snow Maiden (1880-81)

The Snow Maiden, the fourth of Rimsky Korsakov’s 16 operas, remained his favorite. The opera pits the eternal forces of nature against humans, mythological creatures and hybrid spirits somewhere between the two realms. The scene in which the dance appears in the opera is a fest for the Tsar. A band of smorokhi, or buffoon-like acrobats, entertain the Tsar and his party. The dance is a little sonatina movement, with first and second themes, a development section and recapitulation.

Alexander Borodin:
Notturno from String Quartet No. 2 (1881)

Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 is his most popular chamber work. Rich with melodic content, its themes have been adapted to the stage and film. The main theme from this Notturno became And This My Beloved in Kismet, which became a radio hit in the USA in 1956, when sung by Mario Lanza. The song has been recorded by a plethora of male singers over the years, ranging from Jim Nabors to Sun Ra.

Sergei Prokofiev:
Peter and the Wolf (1936)

Sandwiched between two major masterpieces, the ballet Romeo and Juliet and the oratorio-film score Alexander Nevsky, the chamber work Peter and the Wolf is far more popular than the titans which flank it. Even though the story of the little Peter’s victory over the big, bad wolf was unsuccessful upon its first public performances in the USSR, it became one of the 20th century’s most popular children’s compositions.

The work and its narration have been highly modified in many productions – for radio, film, television, the stage and concert hall. We have chosen to perform it with the original narration, but with a larger orchestra than is often used, mostly so the members of the Anchorage Civic Orchestra can have as much fun a the kids in the audience.

Dmitri Shostakovich:
Waltz from the film The First Echelon (1955) – arranged by Philip Munger

Shostakovich wasn’t just the most popular symphonist of the mid-20th century, he was the USSR’s John Williams. His 36 film scores, written between 1929 and 1970 might not compare with John Williams’ 99 film scores, but Shostakovich’s film music probably saved his life.

During the consolidation of Josef Stalin’s power in the mid-1930s, many of Shostakovich’s friends and collaborators were shot or simply disappeared into the Gulag Archipelago. Shostakovich came close to being rounded up, but was probably saved by the fact that he had become Stalin’s favorite film composer.

The First Echelon was Mikhail Kalatozov’s last film before a series of masterpieces, beginning with The Cranes are Flying. Shostakovich’s waltz from the film became far more popular than the movie itself, and was adapted by the composer into several arrangements in the late 1950s.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky:
The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E-flat (1880)

From the opening bars’ initially quiet rendition of the moving Slavic Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross, to the concluding blasts of God Save the Tsar! Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is certainly his most popular composition. Although he did not like the idea behind the piece or its music, its existence and frequent performances helped make him and his estate very wealthy.

The overture, about the epic 1812 invasion of Russia by Napoleon and his armies, and their eventual defeat by the Russian forces, borrows the above themes, the Russian folk song-dance, At the Gate, At My Gate, and Le Marseillaise, in a free form structure that gathers momentum throughout. The peace of Russia, exemplified by the Slavic Orthodox hymn, is broken by the invasion. Increasing distress doesn’t climax with the Battle of Borodino, but afterward, as the weight of Russia itself crushes the French, and the overture concludes with their demise.

Tchaikovsky never heard the overture done with the live cannon and fireworks, which frequently accompany outdoor performances around the world now. We perform it as closely resembling Tchaikovsky’s own rendition of it in 1891 in New York City, at the inaugural concert of the brand new Carnegie Hall as we can.

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