By Katherine Karlson
The Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra completes this season’s musical journey back to live performance with two symphonic blockbusters and a modern composition that Maestro Daniel Hege compares to a breath of fresh spring air.
“Wander: Symphonic Music of Dvořák, Rachmaninoff, Garrop” focuses its first half on the musical travel reminiscences of Czech composer AntonÍn Dvořák and his Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”), and the imaginary compilation of street music heard in Prague by contemporary American composer Stacey Garrop.
Music lovers know how Dvořák wove folk melodies from his native Bohemia into his compositions, but he did the same with the various musical influences he encountered during his stay here in the last decade of the 19th century.
“He made some amazing discoveries about American music,” said Hege.
Dvořák incorporated Native American rhythms as well as musical references to the gospel hymns of African Americans. In a reverse musical borrowing, the tune heard in the second movement (“Largo”) became the basis for a well-known spiritual, Goin’ Home.
“He uses these idioms and styles to create original and harmonic melodies. They are his inspiration to add orchestral color to the music he heard,” Hege added.
The second piece is a polar opposite to the Dvořák symphony. Chicago-based Garrop uses a jazz-inflected sextet, which is comprised of a traditional woodwind quintet with a double bass, to create her own “Bohemian” impression.
In the concert’s program notes, she says, “I employ the musicians in various groupings to portray different styles of music. I named the piece ‘Bohemian Café,’ for when I hear it, I picture myself sitting at an outdoor café in a plaza in Prague, drinking coffee, watching street musicians set up around the plaza, and listening to assorted strands of music wafting through the air.”
Hege pointed out that this pairing of opposites — sextet vs. full orchestra, American vs. Czech — gives the first half of the program a solid framework with its connection to various interpretations of Bohemia.
The second half of the program features Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Andrew Russo at the keyboard.
“There are a lot of pyrotechnics required to play this piece, and he (Russo) has a clean, clear sound that brings color and mystery to it,” Hege said.
“I think this piece suffers from over-romanticism,” he added. “If you look at the score, Rachmaninoff didn’t wallow in its sentiment. What it lacks in sentimentality, it makes up for in wild changes of tempo.
“The music has emotion when played in a straightforward manner. Andrew leans more toward that streamlined quality. You want to hear the structure of the piece but with a modicum of taste — don’t take away its strength.
“I want people to be ready to hear a cornucopia of sound,” Hege concluded.
IF YOU GO: Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra’s “Wander: Symphonic Music of Dvořák, Rachmaninoff, Garrop” will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 23) at the Broome County Forum Theatre, 236 Washington Street, Binghamton. There will be a pre-concert chat at 6:30 p.m. in the Forum recital hall by SUNY Broome Prof. Julia Grella O’Connell, DMA, who will speak about “Nostalgia for the Future: Paradoxes of Time and Space in Dvořák’s New World Symphony.”
Tickets are $20, $35 and $50. Students with ID pay half, and children under 17 are free. Call the BPO box office at 607-723-3931, ext. 1, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, or visit binghamtonphilharmonic.org.
Masks are optional within the theater.