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KU Symphony Orchestra

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The KU Symphony Orchestra will celebrate All Hallow’s Eve with a performance on Friday, October 30, 2009, at 7:30 p.m. at the Lied Center of Kansas. The concert will feature works by Gustav Holst, Engelbert Humperdinck, Hector Berlioz, Paul Dukas, Camille Saint-Saëns, Richard Wagner and Modest Mussorgsky, with the orchestra decked out in Halloween attire. David Neely, conductor of the KUSO and Director of Orchestral Activities at KU, states: “This concert promises to be a fun, family-friendly event. We strongly encourage everyone, especially kids, to come wearing Halloween costumes!” Holst: “Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets Although Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets does not immediately put one in mind of All Hallow’s Eve, its first movement, with pounding ostinato in 5/4, wild brass fanfares, and masses of brutal orchestral sound, is terrifying (it is interesting to consider that it was composed during the final stages of the first World War). Holst, who had been introduced by a friend to the then newly fashionable study of astrology, intended the suite to depict the individual planets’ influence on the human psyche. Humperdinck: Witch’s Ride (“Hexenritt”) from Hänsel und Gretel In 1890, Humperdinck sat down to compose some children’s songs for a home performance of a play his sister had written based on the fairy tale, Hänsel and Gretel. By the time he was finished, however, his Wagnerian enthusiasm had given birth to a wonderful full-length opera with large orchestra and requiring mature singers. Richard Strauss conducted the premiere in Weimar in 1893. The excerpt you will hear this evening is an adapted concert version of the prelude to the second act, and depicts the flesh-eating ogress “Rosine Leckermaul” (Raisin Yummyjaws, in this author’s translation). Trivia: In Germany, Hänsel und Gretel it is almost always performed at Christmas time and is usually the first opera German children see. Berlioz: March to the Scaffold (“Marche au supplice”) from Symphonie Fantastique Berlioz’ Fantastic Symphony, a revolutionary five-movement programmatic work dating from 1830, tells the story of an artist who has poisoned himself with opium out of desperate, unrequited love. In this movement (the fourth), he sees himself being lead to the guillotine for killing the object of his desire for having spurned him. At the moment before his execution, his thoughts turn to her (depicted by a wistful clarinet melody that is the symphony’s “idée fixe”) before the plunging blade interrupts his reverie. Tip: During the concert, listen for the quiet sound of his severed head hitting the ground. Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (“L’apprenti Sorcier”) Written in 1897 and immortalized in the 1940 Disney film “Fantasia,” the story of Dukas’ orchestral tone poem, based on a ballad by Goethe, is well known. The apprentice, expected to fetch water while the sorcerer is away, casts a spell on a broom to do the work for him. Things go well until he realizes he is unable to stop the broom when the work is done. Finding an ax, the desperate apprentice cleaves the broom into shards. The solution is merely temporary, however; for, from each of the shards grows a new, water-carrying broom. A massive flood ensues and only the returning sorcerer can break the spell. Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov: Night on Bald (Bare) Mountain A staple of the concert repertoire, especially since being featured in Disney’s Fantasia, the path from Mussorgsky’s original concept of an opera to be titled “St. John’s Night,” to the tone poem now called “Night on Bald Mountain” is a dark and convoluted one. Suffice it to say that Mussorgky’s musical ideas went through many incarnations before Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov was able to piece together, from what he claimed was by then a work for solo piano and orchestra, the strictly orchestral piece we now know. Based on a Slavic legend, the tone poem tells tale of Chernabog, the black god, and a Walpurgis-Night or Witches’ Sabbath atop a mountain barren of trees. Chernabog conjures up monsters and demons for the purpose of terrifying the poor mortals of a nearby town, displaying prodigious pyrotechnic skill in the process. But he is too late--a morning church bell and the first light of day put an end to the festivities. Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre The title of this piece is borrowed from the pan-cultural “mortal dance” image of a skeletal death-figure leading individuals from all walks of life to the same inevitable end. Saint-Saëns’ work is a seductive minor-key waltz that features a detuned (scordatura) solo violin with an open-string “devil’s interval” tritone and some bone rattling orchestral effects. Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries (Walkürenritt) from Die Walküre This well-known excerpt is from the second evening of Richard Wagner’s immense fourteen-hour, four-opera cycle “The Ring of the Nibelungs.” Without attempting to describe the circuitous plot of “The Ring,” let it be noted that the Valkyries are the illegitimate daughters of the chief Norse god Wotan and the earth-goddess Erda. We first encounter these nine helmet-wearing, spear wielding warrior women on the field of battle, indulging in their favorite pastime: collecting the souls of fallen mortal heroes for the purpose of bringing them to Valhalla, the heavenly abode of the gods. This they do with joyful abandon, hailing each other with exuberant cries of “Hoyo-to-ho.” Almost as frightening as this image is the frequency with which this music has been appropriated in modern advertising, film, and, um, Halloween concerts. (program notes by Professor Neely) This concert is $7/general admission and $5/students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased at the Lied Center Box Office, 785-864-2787. For more information, please contact the KU School of Music at 785-864-3436 or at www.music.ku.edu.

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