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Lord Byron's Poetry Inspires Music Led By Guest Conductor Andreas Delfs

April 16, 2010

Orchestra's Principal Viola Melissa Matson is Featured

Rochester, NY – The poetry of Lord Byron features prominently in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concerts with guest conductor Andreas Delfs and the orchestra’s Principal Viola Melissa Matson on Thursday, May 6 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, May 8 at 8:00 pm at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.  Schumann’s Overture to Manfred and Berlioz’s Harold in Italy for viola and orchestra provide bookends to Haydn’s Symphony No. 83.  The RPO’s Krishna Thiagarajan hosts the First Niagara Pre-Concert Chat.

Last heard with the RPO in 1996, German conductor Andreas Delfs is in his third season as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.  He celebrated 12 highly-acclaimed years as Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and, now as Music Director Emeritus, continues to garner accolades through the MSO’s national radio broadcasts and the extensive iTunes catalogue of recorded performances.  In 1999, Delfs took the MSO to Cuba, the first major American orchestra to perform there in 37 years.  Mr. Delfs has held chief artistic posts with several distinguished institutions— including the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hannover State Opera and Orchestra, and Pittsburgh Symphony—and also maintains an active guest conducting schedule.

Schumann’s Overture to Manfred was based on a poem of the same name by the English writer Lord Byron. It was composed in response to a request from Franz Liszt to be performed as part of a dramatized recitation of the poem. This piece reflects Schumann’s identification with main character, Manfred, who wanders the Alps looking for consolation for his broken heart.  Filled with both drama and lyricism, the overture is the only part of the original score still performed regularly, and provides a compelling character portrait.

While serving as Music Director to the aristocratic Esterhazy family in Vienna, Haydn was commissioned to write six new symphonies for the Concert de la Loge Olympique, one of Paris’ most prestigious orchestras.  Symphony No. 83 was one of these. Christopher Seaman describes the opening as having “a certain tragic power about it, which sets us up perfectly to be shocked by the cheeky, chirpy second subject.” The second movement is “calm and serene,” he says, “with only a small touch of sorrow in the last few bars, and the minuet and trio along with the brilliant finale are pure joy.”

As in the opening work, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy also was influenced by the romantic poetry of Lord Byron.  In 1834, Hector Berlioz was approached by violin/viola virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, who requested a concerto to show off his new Stradivarius viola. Inspired by a recent stay in Italy, combined with his own love for the writings of Byron, Berlioz, in his own words, introduces the viola “as a sort of melancholy dreamer, in the style of Byron’s Childe Harolde.” This piece is comprised of four movements: Harold in the Mountains, Procession of Pilgrims Singing the Evening Hymn, Serenade of an Abruzzi Mountaineer to his Sweetheart, and The Orgies of the Brigands—with a unifying recurring “Harold” theme.  The work has become one of the staples in the Romantic solo viola repertoire.

Melissa Matson is well-known to Rochester audiences as the RPO’s Principal Viola since 1999, a section player since 1983, and a versatile chamber musician. She last appeared in an RPO solo spot in 2004 performing Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante with violinist David Brickman, and has been heard in Bruch’s Romanze, Jeff Tyzik’s Blue Adagio, and his arrangement of Autumn Leaves. She is a frequent performer with Chamber Music Rochester and the Skaneateles Festival, and is a member of the newly-formed Amenda Quartet, whose “Project Ludwig” aims to study and perform all of the Beethoven string quartets. Ms. Matson also is the founder of First Muse, a chamber music series in Rochester.  She received her degrees from the Eastman School, where she studied with Martha Katz, and was awarded the coveted Performer’s Certificate.  She currently teaches viola orchestral repertoire classes at Eastman.

Tickets for the Philharmonics 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.  Group rates apply for 10 or more patrons; student tickets are available for $10 with current ID during the week of the concert. The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb; Ms. Matson’s appearance is made possible by the Katherine T. and Jon L. Schumacher Orchestra Musician Soloist Fund.

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