Published: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 12:30 a.m.
Wilmington Symphony Orchestra music director Steven Errante has a bucket list that should keep him busy -- and audiences fascinated -- for some time.
This year is all about the symphony: not the orchestra but the musical form, which for many is the highest musical achievement to which the mind can aspire.
The WSO's first concert does, in fact, ride on the tremendous work conceived by Johannes Brahms as his first unalloyed symphony, but “that's not to say we're only playing symphonies this season,” Errante said.
In fact, concertos, dances and, in Saturday's season opener at UNCW's Kenan Auditorium, a concert overture will have their places alongside masterworks of the symphonic repertoire.
If it's been awhile since that music appreciation class, a symphony, simply put, is an orchestral work with sections referred to as movements, each following a form and style peculiar to the composer and the time in which it was written. The earliest symphonies have much in common with collections of dances sometimes called overtures or suites.
It's not a coincidence, then, that Errante chose music by Johann Sebastian Bach's second surviving son, Carl Philip Emanuel, to start this season.
“He was a full generation ahead of Mozart,” Errante said, “though the 'Symphony in D' we're playing comes from 1775, about the time Mozart was writing his earliest symphonies.”
Errante said what sets the classical symphony apart is its sense of drama, of shifting moods within movements, and a kind of quirkiness. Yet 'Symphony in D' is representative of the grown-up classical symphony as well, whose other essential ingredient is the intellectual working out of its themes in such a way as to form a whole from seemingly diverse elements.
We have to bring Beethoven into the conversation now because his is the shadow cast over Brahms in the years leading up to the 'Symphony No.1.' Romantics focused on Beethoven's seeming spontaneity and revolutionary fervor, forgetting how thoroughly wedded were his greatest works to classical form, however highly original they were.
Adding pressure on Brahms was the pronouncement by Robert Schumann, in a published review of one of the former's early works, that he was the successor to Beethoven and that he was destined to write symphonies. That pronouncement had an effect as profound as one might expect on the young Brahms.
It took 22 years after Schumann's review for Brahms to finish his 'Symphony No.1,' a work overflowing with romantic ardor yet classical in its logic and form while imbued with its composer's distinctive voice.
As if forming a spiritual bridge between the younger Bach's effort and Brahms' explosion of genius, Errante has also programmed Felix Mendelssohn's “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” a concert overture inspired by the same two poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that Beethoven made into a work for chorus and orchestra. Errante said he believes this will be the first performance of the Mendelssohn overture by the WSO.
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Want to go?
What: The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, performing music by C.P.E. Bach, Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms
When: 7:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 26
Where: Kenan Auditorium, UNCW campus
Tickets: $27 and $25, $6 for students.
Details: 910-962-3500 or www.WilmingtonSymphony.org
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