From romance to marriage — Music in the Mountains presents Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ overture, Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs,’ and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony | TheUnion.com

From romance to marriage — Music in the Mountains presents Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ overture, Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs,’ and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony

Anthony Barcellos
Special to Prospector

From the time Mozart picked up his pen to compose "The Marriage of Figaro" to the time Strauss finished his "Four Last Songs," more than 160 tumultuous years elapsed.

On Thursday evening, at 8 p.m. in the Nevada County Fairgrounds, Music in the Mountains will traverse that prodigious span as it offers performances of the overture to Mozart's opera, the Strauss songs, and a symphony by Rachmaninoff.

The theme of Music in the Mountain's SummerFest 2018 is romanticism in Western music. While everyone has a sense of "classical music" as the highbrow stuff one can hear on National Public Radio, the strict sense of "classical" applies only to a period from about the middle of the 18th century to the early years of the 19th. Hayden, Mozart, and Beethoven were famous exponents of this period.

Then came the "romantic" period, when Mendelssohn and Brahms reigned, with Strauss and Rachmaninoff serving as transitional figures into the modern period — although Rachmaninoff held stubbornly to his lush and luxurious approach to romantic composition well into the 20th century, even as Stravinsky, Gershwin, and Bernstein pushed boldly into post-romantic work.

There is, of course, plenty of romance in "The Marriage of Figaro," which Mozart makes clear in his sprightly overture. Guest conductor Daniel Stewart will open the concert with the brief excerpt.

Stewart describes Mozart as arguably the most talented musician of all time and said, "I relish every opportunity to animate this exceptionally vital and life affirming music!"

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'The height of his creative powers'

Richard Strauss was near the end of his life when he composed his "Four Last Songs," orchestral settings of three poems by Hermann Hesse and one by Joseph von Eichendorff. The songs were published posthumously and given their debut performance in 1950, with the legendary soprano Kirsten Flagstad acceding to Strauss's request that she be the first to sing them.

Soprano Carrie Hennessey feels honored to have the opportunity to sing Strauss's poignant song cycle with Music in the Mountains. Although she has sung them before, this will be her first chance to sing with an orchestra instead of just a piano backing her up.

"Any pianist will say that the reductions are clunky and horrifically difficult to play," said Hennessey. "Singing with the orchestra, as intended, can be a bit daunting, but there is something so comforting singing with orchestra. Riding the wave of sound is thrilling and the nuance of these orchestrations is one to behold.

"The shifts in color and harmony are stunning. The interplay between voice and orchestral textures is unmatched. It's rare that sopranos and orchestral musicians share a great desire to interpret a work, and this is one of those pieces."

Stewart agrees that the songs are extraordinarily special: "Strauss's "Four Last Songs" are a product of that most rare of musical gems — a manifestation of supreme mastery of poetic and technical ability at the very end of a composer's life. Written in the final months of his 84 years, he was at the height of his creative powers, and employed them to awe-inspiring effect in these songs."

Both conductor and singer encourage concert-goers to read the poems and contemplate them before attending the performance.

"I believe that sitting with the poetry first before listening to the music can be life changing to a new listener," said Hennessey. "Sitting with the text alone, and then hearing it live, will allow the listener to be free of having their head in the program during the concert."

The finale

The concert will conclude with Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony.

"The work begins with a monumental 20-minute first movement," said Stewart, "comparable in atmosphere and weight to the opening movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. The second movement is full-sail battle and romance, while the third movement contains one of the most gloriously beautiful of all Rachmaninoff's celebrated melodies. The finale whips up a fervor of purpose and daring reminiscent of Strauss's "Don Juan" — a triumphant and wholly confident burst of musical joy."

Anthony Barcellos is a freelance writer and classical music fan who lives in Davis and teaches math for fun at American River College in Sacramento.

KNOW & GO

WHAT: Music in the Mountains presents Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” Strauss’s “Four Last Songs,” and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Great Lawn, Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Rd., Grass Valley

TICKETS: $30 in advance, $40 at the door, $10 for 17 and under, free for 10 and under

INFO: Visit http://www.musicinthemountains.org or call the box office at 530-265-6124

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