December 27, 2009Nostalgic "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" Celebrates Composer Samuel Barber's Centennial
Rochester, NY – A nostalgic look back to the past opens the first of the RPO’s January Philharmonics concerts of the new year. Christopher Seaman conducts selections from Elgar’s Wand of Youth, and soprano Adina Aaron – a New York City Opera star – makes her RPO debut in Samuel Barber’s exquisitely tender Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Works by Handel and Haydn are featured on the second half. The concerts take place on Thursday, January 21 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, January 23 at 8:00 pm at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Mr. Seaman hosts the First Niagara Pre-Concert Chat one hour prior to concert start.
As a young teenager, Elgar and his siblings devised a play set in a perfect fantasy world located at the end of the family’s property, where giants, fairies, and other mythical creatures resided. The incidental score that Elgar created as a youngster was reworked years later into an orchestral suite, titled The Wand of Youth, sub-titled Music for a Children’s Play. The refreshing, innocent melodies of the composer’s youth combined with his adult orchestration skills resulted in 13 movements. Before the first performance, Elgar released just seven of them, but after their immediate success, the remaining six movements were unveiled as a second Wand of Youth suite. The RPO’s performances will feature selections from both volumes.
Born in 1910, Barber composed Knoxville: Summer of 1915 based on the text from James Agee’s autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family. Barber noted that Agee’s descriptions of a summer evening in his native southern town reminded the composer of similar evenings of his own childhood. “I found out, after setting this, that Mr. Agee and I are the same age,” wrote Barber, “and the year he described was 1915, when we were both five. You see, it expresses a child’s feelings of loneliness, wonder, and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.” Christopher Seaman also notes that “this is actually my favorite piece by any American composer, and I am greatly looking forward to conducting it.”
Soprano Adina Aaron is considered one of the most gifted young sopranos to have emerged in the last few years. She received rave public and critical reviews for her Aida both at Savonlinna Festival in Finland, in Marseille. Opera Magazine hailed her as being “one of the most convincing Aida[s] of today.” The success led to her appearance as soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem in Marseille with a superb cast, and to being hired by the Théâtre du Châtelet Paris for the lead role in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha. Other recent and upcoming appearances include Tosca in France, her first Alice Ford in Falstaff, a return to the role of Amelia in Ballo in Maschera, a concert with Strauss' Four Last Songs, and Il Trovatore in Montreal. She can be heard on recordings including Franco Zeffirelli's new production of Aida with the Fondazione Arturo Toscanini Busseto (performed in Busseto, Italy, and telecast live throughout Europe by RAI, released on the TDK label). Her other discography includes composer James Newton’s The Prayer of Thanksgiving with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, and Mrs. Mc Phail in Richard Owen’s Rain released on Albany Records label.
After intermission, the RPO goes into the Baroque and classical eras, with Handel’s Concerto Grosso (grand concerto) in B-Flat Major, Op. 6, No. 7, for strings. A popular musical form of the time, this one is a four-movement work concluding with a cheerful Hornpipe. The concert concludes with Haydn’s Symphony No. 100, “Military,” composed in England, and winning the composer the greatest of all his successes in that country. One of the reasons for its popularity is the appearance of percussion instruments in the second and fourth movements. According to the RPO program annotator, Mozart debuted these exotic sounds in Western art music in 1782, through his comic opera The Abduction from the Seraglio. Haydn utilized the percussion for color and – in the second movement – to add a touch of menace, as audiences during the early years of the symphony associated this section with the Napoleonic Wars that had just begun in Europe.
Tickets for these performances are $20-$60, with $75 box seats, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org; by phone (454-2100); in-person from the RPO Box Office, 108 East Avenue, 10:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday-Saturday (non-concert Saturdays, 10:00 am-3:00 pm); and seven days a week at area Wegmans. A convenience fee may apply. The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb.
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