Opening program features music by Bernstein, Shostakovich and Mahler
By Peter Alexander Oct. 1 at 10 p.m.
Elliot Moore is energized and inspired as he starts his second year as music director of the Longmont Symphony.
“I often think about conducting an orchestra as like driving a car,” he says, “and the orchestra is really fun to drive right now. How I’m able to do my job as music director has changed in a very positive way, because the level of musicianship continues to ascend.”
For evidence of the change, one need look no further than the recent auditions for places in the LSO, which kept the auditioning committee busy until 1 a.m. “It’s my understanding that we had about a 400% increase in people applying for the Longmont Symphony,” Moore says.
“I think that means that there is excitement about the Symphony, and that people want to take part in it. And it shows that the future of music in Longmont is very, very bright.”
The first concert of the 2018–19 season, a celebration of this year’s Bernstein Centennial, is Saturday (Oct. 6) in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium. Unlike other Bernstein concerts this year, the LSO is not playing any of the well known, popular works that we have heard recently. Instead, they will present one of the great under-appreciated works that Bernstein wrote, the Chichester Psalms.
Other works on the program are pieces by composers that Bernstein was associated with as conductor: Shostakovich’s aptly named Festive Overture, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.
The Chichester Psalms were composed in 1965 for a choral festival at Chichester Cathedral in England. The Hebrew text comes from several of the Psalms, including Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my Shepherd”). The setting is for a small orchestra of brass, percussion, two harps and strings, with a boy soprano, chorus and soloists.
The boy soprano will be Wade Hartrick of the Boulder Children’s Chorale, Kate Klotz, artistic director. The choral voices will be from the Longmont Chorale, Scott Hamlin, conductor.
The Chichester Psalms were written during the Vietnam War, and their call for unity and peace had both religious and political meanings. “One of the things that I find compelling about (the Chichester Psalms) is the overarching message about unity, and how unity is needed in the world,” Moore says.
“It’s beautiful how Bernstein uses melody and harmony to underscore his message, and the need for peace in the world. I find that to be a compelling message on the one hand, and today in our current political climate.”
The second of the three movements distills Bernstein’s message. It opens with a beautiful melody, the boy soprano singing the 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my Shepherd”) with harp accompaniment. “The role of the harps is critical because the Psalms were written by King David,” Moore explains. “When David was a boy, he played the harp and sang to King Saul. That’s why there’s a boy soprano accompanied by harps at the beginning of the second movement.”
The melody sung by the boy is taken up by the women of the chorus, who are suddenly interrupted by a violent theme in the men’s voices, singing the 2nd Psalm (“Why do the nations rage”). In the end, the women return with the opening theme, and the two different musical ideas—representing peace and war—are juxtaposed until the end of the movement.
The third movement ends with a moment of hopefulness, as the full chorus sings the 133rd Psalm (“Behold how good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity”). In a moment of exquisite tone painting, the voices of the choir gently resolve to a single note on the Hebrew word “Yaḥad,” meaning “unity.”
“There’s a lot of tone painting that’s in here,” Moore says. “Its’ a rich, rich score, an absolutely fabulous piece.”
Moore programmed the Shostakovich Festive Overture not only because it is a brilliant concert opener, but because Bernstein programmed and recorded so much of Shostakovich’s music. Shostakovich heard Bernstein performing his Fifth Symphony and other works when the New York Philharmonic toured the Soviet countries in 1959.
Bernstein was known for his flamboyant and exuberant performances, which were not always faithful to the pessimistic side of the Russian composer. “Lenny sometimes did some things in Shostakovich’s music that truly weren’t in the score,” Moore says, “but Shostakovich adored Bernstein.”
The programming of the Mahler symphony points to parallels between the two composer/conductors. “My intention was to draw the link between Bernstein and Mahler, both of whom were music directors of the New York Philharmonic,” Moore says. “At the same time I think there’s a subtler message, that conductors have a role in bringing great music to their audiences, and Bernstein did that with Mahler.”
Moore also sees a link to the theme of the entire season of the LSO. which is “Musical Journeys.” “Mahler’s First Symphony is absolutely a musical journey,” he says. Even before the First Symphony, Mahler had written his “Songs of a Wayfarer,” which described the loss of an unrequited love.
“He continues that narrative in the First Symphony, describing how he’s able to overcome (the loss),” Moore says. “He describes a whole journey that is a beautiful one to know about, a beautiful one to learn about, a beautiful one to listen to and experience in the concert hall, with this First Symphony.
“So this symphony goes along with what we are about this season, which is taking people on a journey.”
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“Happy Birthday, Lenny!”
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Wade Hartrick, boy soprano
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6
Vance Brand Auditorium
Shostakovich: Festive Overture
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms
Mahler: Symphony No. 1
NOTE: Corrected Oct. 8 to state that Wade Hartrick is a member of the Boulder Children’s Chorale, not the Colorado Children’s Chorale as was originally written.