The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will make its 13th consecutive appearance at the Savannah Music Festival this year with a marquee program celebrating two titan composers of very different eras.
Savannah Music Festival’s relationship with the ASO began when Savannah’s Symphony ended during Artistic Director Rob Gibson’s first year with the festival.
“It died my first year here, 28 days before the first festival,” Gibson said. “And we had three concerts slated with them. That was a very challenging moment for me in this organization. It was a great loss for the city.”
Gibson brought in the ASO after the cancellation, and the relationship has evolved into a staple appearance each year. Next year, the Savannah Music Festival will once again tap local resources to fill out its classical music programming. The Savannah Philharmonic, in its 10th year, and the ASO will both play the 30th annual Savannah Music Festival in 2019.
“I am very confident we can have two very successful orchestral programs,” Gibson said of next year’s programming.
The ASO, in its 73rd year, will present two extraordinarily beautiful pieces of symphonic music at this year’s festival: Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” and Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”
The night will begin with the four-minute fanfare “May Cause Dizziness.” Composed by longtime ASO bassist Michael Kurth, “May Cause Dizziness” is one of five original compositions by Kurth to be premiered by the ASO. They originally performed it in 2011 and revived the tune for this season’s program.
In the late 1940s and through the 1950s, Bernstein rose to prominence as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He began a television lecture series on CBS in 1954, becoming in many ways the face of classical music in America through the educational series. He would later go on to cover a number of styles of music in his popular and charming lectures. Bernstein is mostly known for composing the music to “West Side Story,” with lyricist and American musical theater giant Stephen Sondheim.
Bernstein was commissioned to write an original concerto by the Koussevitzky Foundation in 1953. He wanted to compose a piece for his friend and American violinist Isaac Stern. Bernstein wrote “Serenade” based on Plato’s “Symposium,” where each movement represented a different voice from the dialogue. The concerto premiered in Venice in September 1954 with Stern as the soloist, the Israel Philharmonic in accompaniment and Bernstein conducting.
“The music, like the dialogue, is a series of related statements in praise of love, and generally follows the Platonic form through the succession of speakers at the banquet,” Bernstein said of the piece.
The ASO will perform Bernstein’s “Serenade” with Georgia native Robert McDuffie as the violin soloist. McDuffie, a Macon native and Juilliard graduate, is an internationally renowned violinist who has shared the stage with a number of the world’s best orchestras, as well as rockers Chuck Leavell and Gregg Allman.
Beethoven’s Third Symphony is perhaps the famed composer’s most widely regarded symphony, and an earmark of the transition of western tonal music into the Romantic era. Beethoven, according to historical records, composed the piece to celebrate the ideas of liberty and democracy.
After finishing the symphony in 1804, he named it “Bonaparte,” after Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he thought shared his love of liberty. Once Bonaparte declared himself emperor, Beethoven went into a rage, recanted his dedication and named his third symphony “Sinfonia Eroica (Heroic Symphony), composed to celebrate the memory of a great man,” or simply “Eroica.”
Compared with Beethoven’s previous work, and the work of his predecessors, Symphony No. 3 broke with several compositional traditions in form and length, as well as emotion, ushering in a new era for the composer and ultimately all of western music. Later in his life, he noted that it was still his favorite symphony.