The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra will showcase faculty member Ann Lavin in the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland, followed by the Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius — one of conductor Christian Baldini’s favorites — on Sunday, May 5.
Baldini told The Enterprise: “It is wonderful to feature our incredibly talented faculty members in our concerts — this time we will showcase our clarinetist on the faculty, Ann Lavin.”
Lavin has performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera, the Carmel Bach Festival, the Monterey Symphony, the San Francisco Lyric Opera, the Oakland East Bay Symphony, the Santa Cruz Symphony, the Marin Symphony, Symphony Silicon Valley, and for five seasons played principal clarinet with the Sarasota Opera. In the summers, she plays principal clarinet with the Utah Festival Opera. She earned a doctorate of musical arts from Stony Brook University and also received degrees from Northwestern University and DePaul University.
“The Copland Concerto is a perfect combination of Copland’s arching, searching melodies interwoven with the syncopated, punctuated jazz rhythms of Benny Goodman’s signature style,” Lavin said. “It highlights the vast range of the clarinet, from the lowest notes to the highest notes. And it’s my favorite concerto in the repertoire, next to the Mozart.”
The concert will open with the perky Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, which Baldini said complements the Copland.
“The two men were very close, first when Bernstein was a young composer and Copland was a mentor, then becoming excellent friends and even lovers, and going through different stages in their lives,” Baldini said.
Bernstein wrote the music for the 1956 Broadway show “Candide.” The show turned into a box office disaster, closing after just two months. But Bernstein’s overture became a popular curtain-raiser in symphony halls, where it continues to be widely performed.
Baldini described the “Candide” Overture as “highly energetic, electric, brilliant and cheerful. It is brilliantly orchestrated and makes very clever use of percussion and of tempo changes, no surprise since the composer was one of the best conductors of the 20th century.
“Copland’s concerto begins in a very introspective way, evolving slowly, tenderly, but it goes to many distant places with very contrasting moods. Dance elements are very important in the piece, and the influence of jazz and Brazilian music is clearly felt also. It is a very demanding piece for the soloist, but also for the orchestra, which is reduced to only strings with harp and piano.”
On the second half of the program, Baldini will turn to a composer whose music he’s presented before — Jean Sibelius of Finland.
“The Sibelius Fifth Symphony is one of the really great late-Romantic symphonies,” Baldini said. “The composer was going through a difficult time in his life. The context is interesting because this piece was written for Sibelius’ 50th birthday (commissioned by the Finnish government). It premiered in 1915, on Dec. 8 — his birthday was declared a national holiday. Despite being this ‘national hero,’ the composer was going through inner struggles with regard to music.”
Sibelius was keenly aware that composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg were producing strikingly modern new works, and Sibelius could sense that some people were starting to regard his music as old hat. But the Sibelius Fifth became (and continues to be) one of his most popular works.
“Sibelius revised his Fifth Symphony twice, and we’ll be performing the last version, from 1919, in which the composer gives the work ‘a more human form, more down-to-earth, more vivid,’ in his own words. He brought it closer to his heart, to what he wanted to hear,” Baldini said. “To me, the Sibelius Fifth, with all of its natural beauty and symmetries, is one of the great symphonies, and I am delighted to be performing it with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra.”
The concert will be at 7 p.m. in Mondavi’s Jackson Hall. Tickets are $12-$17 general, $8 students, www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.