Attend an orchestra or symphony concert at queens college or Madison square garden
On Saturday, November 21, 2015, at 8.00pm, the Madison Symphony Orchestra presented an all-French program dubbed ‘French Fantastique’ in the Overture Hall. It featured three magnificent French masterpieces: Valses Nobles et Sentimentales by Maurice Ravel; Cello Concerto No. 1 by Camille Saint-Saens and Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. The guest artist of the concert was the exceptional cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio.
The program commenced with the lively set of Valses nobles et sentimental. Maurice Ravel initially composed the pieces for solo piano in 1911 before creating this version for the orchestra. The set pieces were to be used as a ballet score and were made of eight waltzes – as performed in this program. The first waltz began on a forceful note. The second had more impressions and involved woodwind solos. The piece then assumed a humorous tone with gentle rhythms followed by rather quiet woodwind solos and a sudden ending. The sixth waltz was the shortest and had hanging harmonies with an inconclusive end. The last waltz was more substantial with hazy harmonies with a quiet end. The whole piece took about fifteen minutes.
Cellist, Sara Sant’ Ambrogio then came in with the Cello Concerto No. 1 and Orchestra in A minor, Op.33. Saint-Saens composed this work in 1872 for the principal cellist of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Auguste Tolbecque. The performance of the concerto came out as a thorough French Romantic piece. It was in three movements with and had graceful transitions from one movement to the next. The piece had begun with an abrupt play from the orchestra before the cello joined the first movement – Allegro nontroppo – with a melody that extended over two octaves. The melody formed the theme of the concerto. The second movement – Allegretto con moto – was ushered by the strings that played a rather delicate rhythm (minuet). The cello came in with a lyrical melody as the strings assumed a more background role. The central part of this concerto created a waltz-like mood, and for me was the climax of the piece. A quiet solo from the cello ushered the third movement – Allegro nontroppo – and the theme of the first movement was played again at this point. It is in this movement that the cellist wowed the crowd with her virtuosic play; displaying her experience and the instrument’s technical facility. She played the cello from its lowest range and gradually moved higher to introduce a new and different theme at the end. The whole performance took about twenty minutes.
The final piece, Symphonie Fantastique, Op.14, was the longest – lasting about one hour. Hector Berlioz composed this piece between 1829 and 1830. Berlioz often referred to as a model French Romantic Composer, illustrated his passions through his compositions. The Symphonie Fantastique was an expression of his love to Harriet Smithson (and English actress who played the role of Ophelia in Hamlet), whom she later married. The work is in five movements and is written for a huge orchestra – with additional instrument never used before in a symphony (over 90). The first movement, Reveries – Passions, tells the story of a love-struck artist. It is divided into two sections, adagio, and allegro. The Adagio was brief before the violins and flutes played the recurring theme of the beloved, (idée Fixe) in the Allegro section. The notion that Berlioz’s composition defied the order of the Classical period was evident from the unequal phrases in the main theme. The second movement – Un Bal – was introduced by the harps followed by a dance-like waltz, which was interrupted by the idée fixe, but this time at the tempo of the waltz. The third movement (Adagio) – Scene aux champs – began in call and answer form between an English horn and an oboe. The idée Fixe was then played by the flute, clarinet and oboe respectively. The fourth movement (Allegretto nontroppo) – Marche Au Supplice – a solo clarinet played the idée fixe before a loud chord interrupted. This chord represented the guillotine blade falling on the artist who had been condemned to death for murder. The fifth movement (Allegro) – Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat – was introduced by an Eb clarinet that played a squeaky distorted version of the idée fixe in a fast rhythm. The performance ended in a rather somber mood.
The whole concert was magnificent, and I enjoyed it, especially the Symphonie fantastique because I could feel Berlioz expressing his love for Smithson through the music.