Seattle Phil concert focuses on late works by the greats
Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a program titled “Experience: The Teacher of All Things” on Jan. 13, 2013 — works written by Mozart, Bach, Copland and Prokofiev late in their careers.
Special to The Seattle Times
Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra: ‘Experience: The Teacher of All Things’
3 p.m. Sunday, Meany Hall, University of Washington; $10-$18 (www.seattlephil.org).
If an auspicious debut by a major composer is a glimpse of a career ahead, then what does a late, or even final, composition reveal about a seasoned artist toward the end of his oeuvre and life?
That question is explored by the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra in its upcoming concert, “Experience: The Teacher of All Things.” The longtime community ensemble, led by music director Adam Stern since 2003, will perform selections from the sunset periods of four brilliant talents at Sunday’s concert at Meany Hall.
“Concerts often focus on miraculous first works by precocious composers,” says Stern. “Not many programs take late, if not last, works by great composers and try to show where they were in a final stage of creativity.”
Not every composer on the bill had an awareness of finality. The program includes Mozart’s “Laut verkünde unsre Freude,” K. 623, a cantata that premiered under his direction in November 1791, a few weeks before he died at 35. There may be more mystery and resonance in the composer’s unfinished Requiem Mass in D minor, but the cantata is a snapshot of Mozart’s role in the Masonic movement.
“It was written for his Masonic lodge and performed by his Freemason brothers,” Stern says. “Everybody loved his rousing setting for texts based on Masonic tenets and beliefs. A couple of days later, he took to his bed and soon died. I think of the piece as Mozart’s inadvertent musical last will and testament.”
Also scheduled is “Contrapunctus IX” from J.S. Bach’s “The Art of Fugue,” written in the 1740s. (Bach died in 1750.) Bach pushed the boundaries of contrapuntal possibility in “The Art of Fugue.” (In music, counterpoint is two melodies intersecting.)
“Bach sought to show everything he knew about writing unbelievable counterpoint,” says Stern. “He puts himself through just about every conceivable compositional hoop. Sadly, he died right at a climactic point.”
Stern will also conduct the Northwest premiere of Aaron Copland’s penultimate composition, the haunting 1967 “Inscape,” (Copland died in 1990) and Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7 in C-sharp minor, written in 1952, a year before his death.
As a teen in Los Angeles, Stern saw Copland conduct “Inscape” with the LA Philharmonic.
“ ‘Inscape’ is going to surprise people who think they know Copland well,” he says. “It was one of the few times he used Schoenberg’s 12-tone method of composition, so you get the Copland sound, but it is different melodically and harmonically. It is an incredible piece.”
Prokofiev’s nostalgic work premiered on a radio program for children.
He was later persuaded to add an upbeat coda to please Soviet authorities, but wanted orchestras to drop it after his death. Stern is complying.
“I think of this piece in a rather tragic way,” he says. “Though there are moments of lightness, it’s the work of a man who was a pretty difficult character, alienating many people. Often we see someone like that soften at the end. There’s a wistfulness, a melancholy about this work. It’s almost as if you can feel him sensing his impending death.”
Tom Keogh: email@example.com