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Modesto Symphony Orchestra Presents Beethoven, Tchaikovsky And Sibelius


The Modesto Symphony Orchestra will present a program of exciting compositions performed by impressive forces, November 7 and 8 at the Gallo Center for the Arts. 

The evening will begin with a rousing 1899 composition by Jean Sibelius that he wrote to inspire Finnish nationalism. In response to Russia’s increasing suppression of Finland’s autonomy at the time, a three-day festival was organized in Helsinki to celebrate Finnish culture for which Jean Sibelius composed music depicting scenes from Finland’s history.  The finale of this seven-part work was initially titled, Finland, Awake.A year later, Sibelius modified it slightly, renamed it Finlandia, and it has been a national symbol of Finnish pride ever since. From its dramatic opening fanfare to rousing finale, Finlandia is one of the most enthralling compositions in the orchestral literature.

The MSO’s presentation of Finlandia will be a side-by-side performance with the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra, now in their 38th season with nearly 100 members from over forty Central Valley Schools. Led by MYSO Music Director Ryan Murray, membership in the Youth Orchestra provides young musicians with coaching, master classes and performance opportunities with renowned guest artists and conductors. 

The next work on the MSO program, written nearly 100 years before Finlandia, is a story of contradictions. Beethoven wrote his ebullient and optimistic Symphony No. 2 during what was perhaps the darkest time of his life.

In October of 1802 Beethoven wrote his “Heiligenstadt Testament,” a letter to his brothers confessing his increasing and apparent permanent deafness; as Beethoven himself wrote in his testament, he felt betrayed by the one sense that for a musician must remain intact: his hearing.

Perhaps the reason for the cheerfulness of this symphony during such a dark time can be found in this passage from the letter: “…I would have ended my life - it was only my art that held me back.” Despite his awful fate and thoughts of suicide, music saved him and, perhaps because of that, Beethoven imbued this symphony with energy and joy to show his belief that music provides something more universally important than one man’s pain.

Innovative at the time, Beethoven’s Second Symphony replaces the then-traditional more refined minuet movement with a livelier scherzo, which translates as “joke.” This, and the energetic finale, led some critics of the time to regard the symphony as shocking and crass. But one man’s “crass” is another man’s joie de vivre. 

To understand the charges against Beethoven, consider this comparison between a 1792 minuet from a Haydn symphony (#94)…


…and the scherzo from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, ten years later: 

David Lockington, MSO Music Director since 2007 will conduct all the works in this program. He is also the music director with orchestras in Grand Rapids and Pasadena. 

To end the evening, Lockington welcomes to the stage Canadian pianist Katherine Chi as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. From its smashing premiere in Boston in 1875, to Van Cliburn's legendary 1958 performance in Moscow to its sardonic use in the 1971 cult comedy movie "Harold and Maude," Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 has become a cultural touchstone around the world.

With a Master’s and Doctorate from the New England Conservatory (home of the weekly radio program “From The Top,” heard Sundays at 3 p.m. on Capital Public Radio), Katherine Chi’s talents as an interpreter of the Romantic piano repertoireare perfectly suited to the Tchaikovsky Concerto’s dramatic opening, emotional range and technical demands throughout.

Like the Beethoven symphony, Tchaikovsky met with negative reviews but in this case, before the Concerto’spublic debut. The pianist Tchaikovsky intended to play the premiere in Russia, the highly influential Nikolai Rubinstein, called the piece unplayable and vulgar, in answer to which the composer declared he would not change a note and brought the concerto to Boston for its premiere with another pianist to great acclaim. Tchaikovsky did eventually make only minor revisions – never the sweeping changes Rubenstein urged – and Rubenstein eventually changed his mind to become a supporter of the work.

After the Concerto’s majestic opening and through middle passages of pianissimo emotion and everything in between, the exciting finale will surely end the evening’s program in exhilarating fashion. 

Here are the first ten minutes of Van Cliburn performing the concerto in Moscow in 1962 with Kiril Kondrashin conducting.

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