At the heart of the next San Juan Symphony concert is a serenade that may have been a marriage proposal.
Howard Hanson’s “Serenade for Flute, Harp and Strings” was composed in 1945, the year he met and fell in love with Margaret Nelson. Hanson dedicated the piece “To Peggy,” and a year later, the two married. The socially shy Hanson essentially admitted the serenade was his declaration of love.
The work is rich in the neo-Romanticism Hanson was known for. Of Swedish ancestry, Hanson lived to be 85, with a long career as an American composer and music educator. He capped his distinguished career as the director of the Eastman School of Music. And, as Music in the Mountains audiences know, Hanson’s compositions have found a prominent place in many concert halls – indoors and out.
Hanson’s flute serenade is a beautiful work well suited to Shelley Mann’s talents. Professor emerita at Fort Lewis College, she served as department chairwoman for eight of her 24 years on the FLC music department faculty. With music degrees from Indiana University and a doctorate in flute performance from Arizona State University, Mann has been a key member of our arts community since she began playing with our regional symphony in 1983.
“The serenade is one of my favorite flute works by an American composer,” Mann said earlier this week. “Thomas (Heuser, artistic director and conductor of the orchestra) and I collaborated on the choice. We wanted something that reflected the theme of the season: American Visions. Hanson’s “Serenade” is definitely a beautiful and virtuosic piece. It challenges every flutist to play a multitude of fast notes in the extreme upper register as well as utilize a wide range of tone colors and dynamic levels.”
“From the New World” is the title of the weekend concerts. The orchestra will perform Saturday evening in Farmington and Sunday afternoon in Durango.
Heuser will open with the Overture to “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat) by Johann Strauss Jr. It’s a rollicking introduction to an operetta based on a prank. Composed in 1874, the operetta spins a tale of mistaken identities and multiple, comic liaisons, which the overture encapsulates in a few breezy minutes. You’ll be surprised how many of the tunes are familiar even if you’ve never seen the operetta.
Hanson’s “Serenade” follows, and the first half concludes with Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau” (Vltava), another stirring musical work that miraculously brings to mind any river trip you’ve ever taken. Sparkling, full of danger and beauty, “The Moldau” musically describes the course of the river, starting as two small streams and flowing into a broad, mighty expanse on its way toward Prague. One of six symphonic poems written in the 1870s and collectively titled “Má vlast,” the works are patriotic in intention and decidedly Romantic in style, communicating Czech pride in its homeland.
“The Moldau” has become a stand-alone work and the most popular of the six, appearing in every music appreciation class. The orchestra will welcome student musicians to play “The Moldau” in the side-by-side portion of the concert.
After intermission, the concert concludes with Antonin Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World.” An audience favorite around the globe, the New World Symphony came about because of a job offer to beat all job offers.
In 1885, Dvorák took a sabbatical as director of the Prague Conservatory for a two-year contract as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. The contract included summer sojourns in Iowa, where he lived among his transplanted countrymen. He continued compositional work and produced the New World Symphony in that time.
Like so much of this program, Dvorák’s symphony will be familiar – or you will hear it anew, as great works of music always provide.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.