SCHENECTADY — Sunday afternoon with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra in the GE Theatre at Proctors is the perfect match.
“It will be a nice Sunday afternoon concert — fun to play and to listen to,” said music director Charles Schneider. “And people like the venue. We pack in the crowds. And the players can hear themselves. It breaks up the season for the audience to hear other types of repertoire.”
This is the fourth year the orchestra has played in the theater, and because of the limited space, Schneider said, chamber music works best. This concert, which is dubbed “Serenade Concert: A little Night Music,” will feature 18 players from the string sections, a flutist, a clarinetist and a pianist. Schneider chose pieces the musicians haven’t done in many years or that are completely new to them.
Schenectady Symphony Orchestra
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St. ,Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
A work familiar to audiences and musicians is Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” (“A Little Night Music”).
“People enjoy this,” Schneider said.
The piece is actually a serenade, which means it’s written for a small group of players with music that is a mixture of styles. (That explains Schneider’s choice for a concert title, since all the music on the program has different styles.) Mozart wrote it in 1787 but it was never performed during his lifetime. Rather, his widow, Constanze, sold the piece as part of a group of several of his manuscripts in 1799, eight years after his death. “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” was finally published in 1827 and has been a favorite among audiences and string orchestras ever since.
Gustav Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite” is in more typical suite form, which includes an Irish jig, a march and folk-inspired melodies. Holst had become the head of the music department at the St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, England, in 1905. When the school built him a soundproof studio, he wrote this suite in 1912 in gratitude. Because of revisions, it wasn’t published until 1922.
“The last movement has two themes, one of which he stole from his ‘Second Suite for Military Band’ and then rearranged for strings,” Schneider said.
That theme is named after the Dargason, who was a giant ogre of 16th century Irish folklore.
The other theme is the traditional English folk song “Greensleeves,” Schneider said.
“He intertwines these and they work well. It’s fun to hear,” he said.
Benjamin Britten was particularly fond of Henry Purcell’s music. So, in 1948, he arranged Purcell’s “Chacony for Strings,” which was Purcell’s term for a chaconne. A chaconne is a short piece based on a repeating bass theme called the ground bass, over which are a set of melodic or harmonic variations. This chaconne is a stately dance in triple time and was later revised in 1963.
“Britten gave it a modern overcoat,” Schneider said, meaning he didn’t change most of Purcell’s ideas but updated some of the harmonies.
The real challenge for the musicians will be performing the original version of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” Copland received the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for the work.
“This piece is killer hard,” Schneider said.
Written in 1943 as a commission for Martha Graham’s dancers, it calls for 13 instrumentalists.
Graham herself danced the lead when it premiered in 1944. There are seven sections with the finale based on the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts.” All the other melodies are original.
Challenge for pianist
What makes the work so difficult is really the pianist’s part.
“The piano is the catchall,” Schneider said. “There are percussion punctuations, and a lot of fast obligatos that in the orchestral version are reserved for the winds and harp. The other instruments are active parts, which includes a beefed-up string section, but you really need a really good piano player.”
Schneider said the orchestra’s staff pianist, Kristen Tuttman, will do a great job. As far as he knows, the work is new for everyone, although he’s conducted it about six times with other groups over the past 20 years. As for the orchestral version, which Copland re-arranged in 1945 from the original suite, Schneider said the SSO had performed the work many years ago.
“I like the original version better than the orchestral version,” Schneider said. “Maybe it’s because it’s more intimate.”