RCCO- Schubert and Haydn

Just a quick reminder that the Rose City Chamber Orchestra is performing tomorrow, Sunday September 28th at 3 PM at Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church. Directions and information are available at the RCCO website, and tickets are available at the door.

I mentioned earlier that this program has felt cursed all along. We picked what we thought was a date without conflicts and several clashes appeared. The parts for the main work on the program never showed up. I’ve been injured and several members of the orchestra have been ill. There’s more, but it all gets a bit boring.

However, to my delight, the rehearsals have been a delight and the orchestra has come along fantastically.

Mahler received a lot of criticism for his orchestration of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, but I think it works magnificently as a string orchestra piece. Mahler envisioned this arrangement being performed by a huge string orchestra, with 16 first violins and 10 cellos. We’re doing it with a small chamber orchestra. Mahler was also very cautious about adding the double bass line to the quartet. My main editorial addition to this version has been to expand the bass part significantly, while still withholding it often enough to maintain some contrast and clarity.

String orchestra is a very problematic medium. So often when I’m listening to or performing a string program, I feel like there’s something missing. However, when things are really clicking you can get a degree of passion and precision that’s simply not possible in a full orchestra. I think we were starting to capture that in the finale of the Schubert yesterday, and you could feel the orchestra getting more and more confident. However, there’s more to this quartet than simply the satisfaction to be found in playing it well.

It seems that one thing many of the “great” composers share is some kind of definable late style. My own feelings about mortality have been deeply shaped by the work of composers (and other artists) who were coming to terms with their own impending deaths through their art. Shostakovich, Mahler, Beethoven and Mozart all wrote pieces in their last years that carry the listener right to the edge human experience. Their music seems to tell us as much about the end of life as we can probably absorb.

Schubert is, for me, the one composer whose latest works take us the very farthest. The D minor and G major quartets, the String Quintet, the last four piano sonatas and Die Winterreise all inspire a kind of awe that no other music I know of can.

Fools have often dismissed Schubert as a glorified miniaturist, or praised him for avoiding the macho excesses of Beethoven in favor of a more delicate and intimate style. The D minor quartet is music full of rage, despair and awe-inspiring power. It shows him as a complete artist in every sense- exploring and experiencing the fullest range of human experience at its most extreme making the most masterful use possible of ever musical tool available to him.

All this, and you get one of the very best Haydn symphonies, and when you’re talkin’ one of the best Haydn symphonies, your talkin’ one of the best symphonies….

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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