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University orchestra, chorus team up for end-of-year concert

Christian Baldini will conduct the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra on Friday as it performs the Overture to "Fidelio" by Ludwig van Beethoven and the popular short tone poem "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius. Courtesy photo

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From page A11 | May 29, 2012 |

Just the ticket

What: UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and University Chorus

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis

Tickets: $12-$17 general, $8 students; www.mondaviarts.org, (530) 754-2787

The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and the University Chorus will appear together in a concert at 7 p.m. Friday at the Mondavi Center.

It will be the final concert of the academic year for both groups — and they will be bidding farewell to graduating seniors as they prepare to move on in life, adding to the sense of occasion.

The concert will begin with the Overture to “Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven, a piece the orchestra performed while on tour in Spain earlier this spring, but that has not been featured in the orchestra’s previous concerts at Mondavi earlier this season.

The overture, composed in 1814, comes from the composer’s only opera. Conductor Christian Baldini said the overture is a natural as the opening segment of a concert program, because it is dramatic and yet also contains several changes of mood and pace — all in less than 10 minutes.

“It begins in a very powerful and energetic way,” Baldini said, “yet it becomes immediately mysterious, almost hesitant. It takes a while for the thrilling final section of the overture to arrive and make us feel the same excitement — or even more — as in the beginning.”

Baldini also will conduct the popular short tone poem “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius. Composed in 1899, at a time when Finland was a semi-autonomous grand duchy within the Russian empire, and many Finns were increasingly resentful of the growing interference and increasingly despotic control of Czarist authorities, “Finlandia” is a bold musical rallying cry for independence and self-determination.

The turbulent music is brimming with spectacular displays by the brass and percussion sections, and soaring melodies for the strings. The stately march that emerges at the end of the 10-minute piece is the most famous part of the piece. In 1934, arranger Lloyd Stone  adapted the melody and added words to create a pacifist hymn (“This Is My Song,” aka “A Song of Peace”) that is commonly heard in Protestant hymnals and is widely performed by choral groups.

Baldini notes that while the famous melody at the end is stately and dignified, “Sibelius begins the piece in a very somber way” with “dark initial chords (that) immediately tell us that it has to do with suffering and oppression — you can feel that from the very first sounds. But the piece finishes in a very positive way.”

The second half of the concert, to be conducted by Jeffrey Thomas, will feature the University Chorus and the orchestra in a performance of the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé.

Composed in 1947, shortly after the conclusion of World War II, the Duruflé Requiem draws on thematic material from ancient Gregorian chant (naturally with some changes and modifications by the mid-20th century composer).

Duruflé told an interviewer that all of  the melodies in the Requiem are “based exclusively on themes from the Gregorian funeral mass. Sometimes I adopted the music exactly, leaving the orchestra to support or comment, in other passages (the chant) served merely as a stimulus.”

In an article in the New Yorker in March, under the teasing headline “Elegant Theft,” writer Russell Platt noted that while the ancient Gregorian elements selected by the composer “swim in a luxuriant harmonic bath that combines elements of (late 19th and 20th century French composers) Debussy, Fauré and Messiaen,” the result is nonetheless “spellbinding,” and Platt concludes that “Duruflé unquestionably made a unique art work with a powerful personal stamp,” even as he incorporated material from ancient sources.

The vocal soloists for the Requiem will be mezzo-soprano Danielle Reutter-Harrah and baritone Robert Stafford. Reutter-Hannah is pursuing a master’s degree in vocal performance at the San Francisco Conservatory; she has performed under conductor Thomas with the American Bach Soloists. Stafford was featured in the American Bach Soloists’ recording of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Tickets are $12 to $17 general and $8 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787.

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