There once was a young man who gathered up all the finest musicians in the Four Corners and created an orchestra. They played music from all over the world, and one year, they chose music inspired by old, new and even scary stories.Forgive the old-fashioned introduction to a simple preview, but the San Juan Symphony has been particularly creative this year.
Music Director Arthur Post has stirred up a musical brew with both familiar and surprising works inspired by tales you know and ones you've never heard.
The theme is "Once Upon a Time."
"It's no surprise that music is good at telling stories," Post said in a recent interview. "In a sense, all music, even a symphony, tells a story. Fairy tales, folk tales, myths, fables and tall tales all have inspired composers to write some of the most engaging and colorful music that exists.
"Music offers us a second life. It gives us a vivid, but somehow also a blank, screen onto which we can project even our own life stories."
Each of the season's four concert pairs has a different theme.
"Lovers and Dreamers" opens the year this weekend. The orchestra will play Saturday night in Farmington and Sunday afternoon in Durango. Later concerts have been titled "From the Old Country" (Nov. 14 and 15), Broadway Pops (Jan. 30, in Farmington only), "A Thousand and One Bedtime Stories" (Feb. 20 and 21) and "American Idols" (April 17 and 18).
Lovers and Dreamers Post said the first concert will open with "an orchestral sneeze." Zoltan KodÃÂ¡ly's "HÃÂ¡ry JÃÂ¡nos Suite" may well be the perfect piece to begin a year of storied music. KodÃÂ¡ly's 1926 folk opera of the same name was based on a legendary Hungarian rustic who regales visitors at a village inn with fantastic stories. He, of course, is the hero of all his tales. Expect both grandiose effects and musical humor.
The 24-minute work is more than an overture; it's a tour de force for the orchestra with solos a-plenty.
The famous "sneeze" occurs right at the beginning, then the tale gets dark and serious. But it quickly turns lively with march themes, even a Napoleonic battle, not to mention a blazing imperial entrance. It's a favorite of orchestras around the world, and probably is KodÃÂ¡ly's best-known and loved work.
All the concerts will feature one of the following: an unusual soloist, a chorus or a narrator. For the first concert, the orchestra welcomes American violinist Rachel Barton Pine.
"We're very lucky to have her," Post said. "She's one of the young artists today who is equally concerned about her audience as she is about her art."
A child prodigy, Barton Pine made her debut at the age of 10 with the Chicago Symphony. Now, in her mid-30s, she's a prolific soloist, composer and recording artist.
This September, she was the first woman to be included in Carl Fischer's Masters Collection, a publication series.
All of her works to date - compositions, arrangements and cadenzas - will be out later this year.
Barton Pine has recorded 11 albums on the Cedille label.
On Sept. 25, "NBC Today" featured Barton Pine in a story about a near-fatal 1995 accident in which she lost a leg.
Undaunted, she has rebuilt her career as a performer and composer, even through about 40 surgeries.
In the process, she also established a foundation to support young musicians.
"She's a rare individual," Post said. "She will play two French showpieces with us: Chausson's Poéme and Saint-SaÃÂ«ns' 'Introduction and Rondo capriccioso.' The Chausson is a hyper-Romantic work, very lyrical. It combines well with the rondo capriccioso, which is all virtuosity and very popular. Everyone will recognize it."
From the Old Country Fast on the musical heels of the October concerts, the symphony will collaborate with the Durango and Telluride Choral Societies once again. Two years ago, the three organizations joined forces for a program of American music.
Telluride organizers wanted to inaugurate its spectacular Michael D. Palm Theatre in a big way, so they housed all the Durango musicians over a November weekend for free.
Reportedly, everyone had a great time, so the joint program is up and running again.
This time, however, the music is decidedly Germanic - big, sumptuous and dark. Mahler's "Forest Legend" is based on a nightmarish tale about fratricide, close to the Brothers Grimm story, "The Singing Bone." Brahms' "Nanie, op. 82" is a gorgeous song of lamentation originally written as a eulogy for the composer's friend, Anselm Feuerbach.
Soloists for the evening include soprano Gemma Kavanagh, tenor Christopher Bengochea and bass-baritone Steven Meredith.
All is not darkness, for Post will open with Anatoly Liadov's "fantastic scherzo," a Romantic tone poem based on a Russian folk tale about a cat and a monster.
The Jan. 30 Pops Concert in Farmington has just been announced.
"All I can say at the moment," Post said, "is that we'll have Broadway stars for soloists."
A 1001 Bedtime Stories The February concert pair centers on Rimsky-Korsakov's exotic "Scheherazade," with its lovely violin solo, played, no doubt, by concertmistress Kasia Sokol.
Her task will be to spin that gossamer line again and again just like the stories of The 1001 Nights.
The evening's soloist, pianist Spencer Meyer, will play Chopin's second piano concerto. And the orchestra will open with one scene from Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."
American IdolsThe final concert pair of the season will feature American music - works by Copland, Kern and a concert suite based on the Arlen/Harburg music for "The Wizard of Oz." Our own local historian of all things American, Duane Smith, will serve as narrator.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at Jud_reyn@yahoo.com.