Classically Speaking: A gala beginning to an exciting season
Courtesy of the Buffalo Philharmoic Orchestra
It’s hard to believe that another concert season is already here. And what a season it will be, with exciting new programs at all the major venues. To kickstart the season, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is presenting its annual Opening Night Gala on September 22 at 8 p.m., featuring none other than internationally renowned flutist Sir James Galway.
The BPO is known for making a grand event of its gala. Susan Schwartz, BPO director of marketing and communications, says that the Opening Night Gala is always special at the BPO: “We try to make opening night important to the community with spectacular guest artists and still be a night that everyone can enjoy. Proceeds from the concert are exclusively earmarked to support the BPO’s many educational programs.”
In addition to the concert, the festivities include a cocktail and dinner package. Tickets for all of the activities are available at the BPO website (bpo.org) or at the box office.
To begin the concert season, Maestro JoAnn Falletta has chosen An Irish Symphony by Sir Hamilton Harty. Harty was a church organist of some renown in Ireland before moving to London and becoming a conductor. He composed An Irish Symphony in 1903 and made his conducting debut one year later with the piece. He later went on to significant acclaim as a symphonic interpreter of Berlioz.
An Irish Symphony can be considered a collection of variations on Irish folk melodies. The second movement of the piece features a rousing scherzo with strong accents of piccolo and flute playing a familiar Irish gigue. The final movement contains variations on the folk tune, “The Fair Day.” With eyes closed, you could be listening to an Irish Aaron Copeland.
Although his compositions are seldom played today, Harty’s music certainly evokes a sense of the playfulness of the Emerald Isle and has a happy, almost “pops-like” patina that is sure to please. Perhaps not as musically challenging as some aficionados might like, An Irish Symphony is great fun and a special tribute to the soloist for the evening, Sir James Galway.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Galway studied in London and Paris before beginning work with a number of symphony orchestras that culminated in a position as flutist for the Berlin Philharmonic under legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan. He began his career as a soloist in 1975 and has played in just about every major orchestral venue in the world since. Last August, Galway played the very same Mozart piece that will be heard in Buffalo at the BBC Proms Royal Albert Hall Festival in London with the Ulster Orchestra and the Ulster Youth Orchestra.
In addition to a busy performing schedule and a discography that includes over sixty-five CDs, Galway makes time for a special international master class series that he and his wife hold each year in Switzerland for aspiring young players. A trip to his website (thegalwaynetwork.com) is well worth your time. This fall, details will be presented for the “James Galway Online Flute Tutor Series.” This site will contain an interactive series of lessons, master classes, tips, and live concerts for flute students of all ages.
The climax of the evening will be a presentation of Mozart’s Flute Concerto no. 2 in D major, K.314. Mozart is one of the most prolific composers of all time but he wrote relatively few concerti for wind instruments. In the early and middle 1700s, a composer wrote primarily for his own performance and Mozart did not play wind instruments. However, as he was chronically short of money (he was in his twenties at the time), Mozart agreed to a commission by Dutch sea captain Willem van Britten Dejong for three flute concerti and two quartets with the stipulation that they be “neither long nor difficult.”
The result was a disaster for both the composer and the musician. Captain Dejong complained in a letter, “This is music that overwhelms the listener with the inwardness and profundity of its expressive message.” The Captain refused to pay the full amount of the commission and never received all the commissioned pieces. Mozart only wrote two concerti and one single movement for flute and orchestra. In 1920, the score of part of an oboe concerto was discovered in the archives of the Salzburg Mozarteum. It was exactly like K.314 but written for oboe. It appears that Mozart, who was desperate for money and in a hurry to complete the commission, simply transposed his earlier work for flute and terminated the engagement.
The concerto is organized in three parts. In the first, the soloist must wait thirty-one bars before entering the conversation. The orchestra presents its thematic material as if, perhaps, at a gala, laughing and joking. Enter the flute with a run up from middle D natural to an octave higher, holding the note for four bars (sixteen counts) with sinuous perfection. At that point, there is no doubt that the flute is the dominant partner in this subtle dialogue. The movement ends in a thrilling cadenza with the orchestra almost an afterthought to the meanderings of the flute.
The second movement transforms that subtlety into amorous beauty in a movement that is considered among the most beautiful in the flute repertoire. The final movement is light and fantastic, with an almost operatic mood. It repeats similar structural motifs to the first movement with a final flute solo containing a similar middle D run and the orchestra supporting until the finish.
For those who would like a little tease before the BPO concert, check out the performance by Sir James Galway and Juri Gilbo and the Russian Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra of St. Petersburg (youtube.com). Recorded in 2011, this performance shows all the warmth and vitality we are accustomed to in Galway’s music and demonstrates that the flute plays no second-fiddle in Mozart.
Ah Mozart, ah Galway, bravo BPO!
Peter R. Reczek, Ph.D, is a scientist and longtime follower of WNY’s classical music scene.