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Updated: Oct 21, 2022

Welcome to the WSO Blog! This weekly post will keep you up to date on the orchestra's news and programs and share interesting details about the music that we perform for you.

The theme of our first concert of the season (Sunday, October 2) is "Story and Myth in Music". Mark Latham, our new music director, has selected 4 compositions that tell a story - the most famous being Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique.

The orchestra is hard at work, rehearsing and practicing the fantastic music on this program. All 4 compositions are brilliant at "telling" a story through music. Our blockbuster piece on October 2 is the Berlioz. Berlioz's own life would make a great movie - he was a romantic who yearned for seemingly unreachable women. In fact, Symphonie Fantastique tells the story of a struggling artist who doses himself with opium and proceeds to take us on a wild and crazy journey through his drugged dreams.

I asked Mark to share his thoughts on the programming for this concert:

"One thing I enjoy about programming is to find a theme that links pieces/ideas together. As Carol has said, the blockbuster work on the program is Symphonie Fantastique. So, what works might fit with the Berlioz, both thematically, and in terms of being good works in and of themselves?

Of course, one is story – these works all have to do with story – Mozart’s version of Don Juan; Ophelia from Hamlet; the story of Icarus; and finally, the story the composer Berlioz himself provided for his grand symphony. (There is also the amazing story of Berlioz’ own early life. Carol is right: Why has no film director made a blockbuster movie out of this material?)

Then we have various myths: Of course, that of Icarus. There is the myth of Don Juan himself, the Spanish profligate who devotes his life to seducing women. In the Berlioz, we find the myth of the stricken artist, as well as the myth of unrequited love. And, with Ophelia, we have the myth of innocent love gone astray, of lovesickness gone mad.

But why is Ophelia in this program at all? (This is perhaps my favorite connection!) Because of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars that followed, the Parisian intelligentsia had not seen live Shakespeare in a very long time. In 1827 a company come to Paris and performed Hamlet. In his well-worth-reading autobiography Berlioz wrote: “And now I come to the supreme drama of my life.” He and his friends went to the first performance at the Odeon Theater, and the impressionable composer became obsessed with the famous actress playing Ophelia, Harriett Smithson. (As for ‘the supreme drama’, more at the concert!)

This is why we are performing the under-performed work by Edward MacDowell.

A final connection! The Mozart Overture (and our program) begins at the moment in his opera when Don Giovanni will soon be consigned to hell. And the final movement of the Symphonie Fantastique (which concludes our concert) finishes in hell, at a witches’ sabbath!

I hope that you, dear patrons and music-lovers, will come and connect with us, and experience fabulous live music with a fabulous orchestra. You won’t want to miss this!"

Berlioz himself wrote the notes for his piece and requested that his "program" be handed out to the audience whenever this music is performed. Berlioz' program notes are below for you to read ahead of time and know what he is trying to say through the music:

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique, op. 14

Program notes written by the composer

A young musician of morbid sensitivity and ardent imagination poisons himself with opium in a moment of despair caused by frustrated love. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions, in which his experiences, feelings and memories are translated in his feverish brain into musical thoughts and images. His beloved becomes for him a melody and like an idée fixe which he meets and hears everywhere.

Part one: Daydreams, passions

He remembers first the uneasiness of spirit, the indefinable passion, the melancholy, the aimless joys he felt even before seeing his beloved; then the explosive love she suddenly inspired in him, his delirious anguish, his fits of jealous fury, his returns of tenderness, his religious consolations.

Part two: A ball

He meets again his beloved in a ball during a glittering fête.

Part three: Scene in the countryside

One summer evening in the countryside he hears two shepherds dialoguing with their ‘Ranz des vaches’*; this pastoral duet, the setting, the gentle rustling of the trees in the light wind, some causes for hope that he has recently conceived, all conspire to restore to his heart an unaccustomed feeling of calm and to give to his thoughts a happier coloring; but she reappears, he feels a pang of anguish, and painful thoughts disturb him: what if she betrayed him… One of the shepherds resumes his simple melody, the other one no longer answers. The sun sets… distant sound of thunder… solitude… silence…

Part four: March to the scaffold

He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned to death and led to execution. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes somber and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end, the idée fixe reappears for a moment like a final thought of love interrupted by the fatal blow.

Part five: Dream of a witches’ sabbath

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance-tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath… Roars of delight at her arrival… She joins the diabolical orgy… The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies Irae. The dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies Irae.

* simple tunes played on Alpine horns

Hope to see you all at the concert on Sunday, October 2 at 3:00 pm!



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