Symphony of the seasons: ASO to premiere work with Vivaldi, Beethoven
For centuries, composers have captured the essence of nature.
Beautiful forests, singing birds, rising mountains, expansive oceans and rippling rivers have all been the subjects of musical inspiration.
As we listen to these great works, it often sparks in us a visual reminder of the beauty all around us.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans banded together to protest environmental ignorance and raise awareness about protecting our natural surroundings and the earth.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of “Earth Day,” the Allentown Symphony Orchestra pays tribute to this special movement with a concert of music inspired by nature.
To mark the historic event, the Allentown Symphony has collaborated with the Wildlands Conservancy, which owns and manages the Dorothy Rider Pool Wildlife Sanctuary, a 77-acre nature preserve with 2.6 miles of hiking and seven trails in Lower Macungie Township, near Emmaus.
The Symphony and the Conservancy commissioned a new work from renowned American composer Christopher Theofanidis.
The Allentown Symphony Orchestra will premiere the new work, 7:30 p.m. March 7 and 2 p.m. March 8, in the ASO Classical Series at Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.
“If Falling is a Leaf,” Theofanidis’ new work for string orchestra and harpsichord, is based on a poem of the same title. The poem was inspired by a David Hockney painting, “Autumn Leaves,” and brings to mind the beautiful leaves as they turn to yellow and gold in autumn in Wildlands Conservancy’s nine sanctuaries.
This new composition is also inspired by an earlier work by Antonio Vivaldi, his “Four Seasons for solo Violin and Strings.”
Written sometime between 1720-1725, “Four Seasons” immortalized Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in music and even created a sonnet of text to accompany each movement. Vivaldi wrote the stanzas in corresponding places in the score so that the concert-goer can experience the relationship of the text to the music and the mood he was trying to recreate.
Another composer taking his cue from Vivaldi is Argentinean jazz and tango composer Astor Piazzolla, who in 1968 wrote “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” Originally written for piano solo, the piece was transcribed for Piazzolla’s tango group to perform.
“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” was arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov for violin and orchestra and is often played as a companion piece to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”
In his composition, Piazzolla “quotes” some of the music from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” but adds a jazz element to capture his sense of the changing seasons in his native country Argentina.
For the Allentown Symphony concerts March 7 and 8, I will combine movements of these two pieces, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” and intertwine them in a unique way so that you can compare and contrasts the musical styles of the two composers.
Performing the violin solo in both pieces is Lindsay Deutsch, an exciting violin soloist who performs in the classical and jazz idioms.
Deutsch is touring with her own ensemble, Take3, which performs a concert, 7:30 p.m. April 4, Miller Symphony Hall.
Take3 brings the refinement of a classical music background and infuses it with rock-star charisma. Deutsch is the violinist who tours regularly with the pop artist Yanni.
Ludwig van Beethoven is another composer who was greatly inspired by nature. In fact, he took a walk in the woods every day, writing music ideas and melodies in his sketch pad as he walked.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, written in 1807, is the result of some of his walks. It’s subtitled the “Pastoral” because of its references to nature and things that are peaceful. It is music that warms the soul and inspires us to give thanks for the simple things around us.
Beethoven’s “Pastoral” references birdcalls, a rolling stream, thunderstorm with lightning and wind and rain, and peasant dances in the fields. The composer captures the feelings we experience when we are in nature. He goes deeper in the piece than just recreating the sounds of birds and streams.
Beethoven was very connected to the spirit of the creator of nature and the natural world around us. Nature was his refuge and his salvation. The Sixth Symphony by Beethoven is a journey of deep spiritual satisfaction, combined with a sense of grandeur and awe of the world that we live in.
The connection to the written word is also evident in the symphony, similar to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Each of the separate movements is given a title: 1. “The Awakening of Cheerful Feelings at the Arrival in the Country”; 2. “Scene at the Brook”; 3. “Merry Gathering of Peasants”; 4. “The Storm,” and 5. “Shepherd’s Song: Joyful, Thankful Feelings after the Storm.” The titles help to describe the scenes and feelings that Beethoven was seeking to convey.
The music in the Allentown Symphony Orchestra’s concerts March 7 and 8 spans about 300 years, and yet each of the pieces communicates to us in a unique, timeless way. All of these works inspired by nature, and are linked together by their connection to a text that was also inspired and influenced by the world around us.
As we gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Earth Day,” I hope you will enjoy the beautiful music that has influenced and enriched our lives, just as our beautiful lands have motivated us to create a lasting movement for their protection and their future, which is also our future.
See you at the Symphony!
Meet the Artist, noon March 6, main stage, Miller Symphony Hall. Allentown Symphony Orchestra Music Director-Conductor Diane Wittry leads a talk about the “Beethoven’s Pastoral and The Four Seasons” concerts with composer Christopher Theofanidis, violin soloist Lindsay Deutsch and conducting fellow Tiffany Liu. You will have the opportunity to ask questions. Bring a bagged lunch to enjoy during the talk. The event is free and open to the public.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor of The Garden State Philharmonic, New Jersey, and author of “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics.” She teaches conducting workshops throughout the United States and Europe.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets, for those up to age 21, underwritten by a grant from the Century Fund, are available for Allentown Symphony Orchestra concerts.