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From Russia with love? Symphony offers selection

Thu., March 22, 2012

The Spokane Symphony Orchestra is heading to Russia for its annual education focused concerts.

“Russian Drama” features “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3” by Ottorino Respighi; Symphony No. 7, Op. 105 by Jean Sibelius; and Symphony No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Two Spokane area educators will be honored during the Sunday concert. The Outstanding Arts Advocate Award winner is Catherine Comfort, principal at Westview Elementary School. She was nominated by music teacher Georgia Morris for her understanding and appreciation of “how music is a part of life and content area of education,” according to a symphony news release.

Outstanding Music Teacher Award winner is Jeff McMurtery, band and orchestra director at Shaw Middle School. He was nominated by Young Musicians in Education coaches from the Spokane Symphony for his “terrific classroom management skills” and “he respects each and every student and requires positive behavior,” the release said.

Saturday night four Washington Music Educators Association regional awards for Friend of Music and Outstanding Music Educator will be presented.

“Ancient Airs and Dances” is the title Italian composer Respighi (1879-1936) gave three orchestral suites. Suite No. 3, written when Respighi was 52, is for string orchestra. Based on Renaissance and early Baroque lute pieces, this work is in four movements: “Andantino,” “Airs of the Court,” “Siciliana” and “Chaconne.”

Respighi, who studied at one time with the Russian master Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, was a brilliant orchestrator who adapted these “ancient” pieces in his own style. These are not scholarly “correct” transcriptions of early music; they are the creation of an inventive and resourceful orchestral genius.

To most concert audiences Sibelius (1865-1957) represents the greatest musical advocate of Finnish nationalism. His most famous work is “Finlandia.”

Symphony No. 7, composed in 1924, is a standard by which the so-called “Sibelius sound” may be heard. Although cast in one movement, there are many changes of tempo and mood within the work. One prominent feature to listen for is how the trombone is used, almost as a character in a play, during the course of the symphony; its theme recurs in various roles and settings.

Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was already an international star when he composed Symphony No. 1 in D Minor. His piano Prelude in C-sharp Minor, still in the standard repertoire, was written when he was only 19.

The premiere of the symphony in 1897 was a complete failure and not until nearly a half-century later did success come to this expansive, complex and beautiful orchestral monument.

One of the prominent musical ideas of this four-movement work is the use of a motif that hints at the “Dies Irae” chant utilized by composers such as Berlioz, Liszt, Verdi and others.

A preconcert talk will be given one hour before each performance.

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