Houston Symphony

The Summer Symphony Nights Miniseries: Tonal Transience

A preview of the second concert from this year’s Summer Symphony Nights at Miller Outdoor Theater to be featured on the Houston Symphony Broadcast this month.

Conductor Rune Bergmann and cellist Francisco Vila
Conductor Rune Bergmann and cellist Francisco Vila

Continuing our four-week miniseries of the Summer Symphony Nights at Miller Outdoor Theater, the next concert on the Houston Symphony Broadcast takes us into the minds of composers abroad, whether literally in the case of Dvořák or in their imaginations in the cases of Grieg and Tchaikovsky! Rune Bergmann leads the orchestra with guest soloist Francisco Vila.

Sunrise in Merzouga, Morocco
Sunrise in Merzouga, Morocco… the actual “Morning Mood”

Given that the story of playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is based on a Norwegian fairy tale, and that Ibsen and composer Edvard Grieg are themselves Norwegian… you might assume that Morning Mood paints a gorgeous sonic portrait of a Scandinavian sunrise. But in fact, at the point in the play where the music appears, the character Peer Gynt is actually in Morocco! Still, no matter the landscape, the music does evoke the cool glow of the rising sun as day begins to break.

Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor was the last major work he wrote during his residency in the United States from 1892 to 1895, and unlike its predecessors the “New World” Symphony in E minor and the “American” String Quartet in F major, the concerto has little discernible influence from American folk music. In fact, the middle section of the second movement references an old song of Dvořák’s that his sister-in-law Josefina was fond of: “Lasst Mich Allein.” Still, there is little doubt that this concerto, along with the aforementioned symphony and string quartet, are among the composer’s most important pieces… all made in America!

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russian” symphony was not named because of its diminutive size (though it is the shortest of his symphonies), but rather in reference to the area that is now modern day Ukraine, known as Little Russia in the past. More specifically, Tchaikovsky actually quotes three Ukrainian folk songs in this symphony, which was a somewhat unusual stylistic choice for him. In the first movement, the opening horn call evokes a Ukrainian version of the tune “Down by Mother Volga,” in the second movement “Spin, O My Spinner” appears in the central section, and finally, the last movement is a rousing series of variations on the song “The Crane.”

The first broadcast of the June 18th concert at Miller Outdoor Theater will be on News 88.7 at 8 PM this Sunday (8/21), followed by a repeat broadcast on Houston Public Media Classical at 8 PM the following Wednesday (8/24).

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