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Pieces find inspiration through musical imitation

Fri., Feb. 7, 2014

Bulgarian conductor Pavel Baleff
Bulgarian conductor Pavel Baleff

Three tributes create symphonic conversation

“Triumph and Delight,” the sixth installment of the Spokane Symphony’s ongoing Classics series, is all about influence, inspiration and even musical imitation.

The program includes three pieces that show 19th- and 20th-century German composers paying tribute to their inspirations: Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn pays homage to the influential Austrian composer; Concerto for String Quartet by Arnold Schoenberg is an expansion of one of George Frideric Handel’s concertos; and Symphony No. 2, a Robert Schumann composition, features prominent allusions to the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven.

For this particular show, the symphony will be led by Bulgarian conductor Pavel Baleff, who was once schoolmates with symphony conductor Eckart Preu.

“We’ve known each other since 1995 when we studied together at the conservatory in Weimar,” Baleff said of Preu. “We have similar attitudes toward conducting and music making and share a lot of good memories.”

Baleff has been conducting orchestras in Germany since 1988 and won the International Classical Music Award in 2012.

“We don’t have many guest conductor slots, so when we do have a guest conductor it has to be something very special, for the orchestra and thus the audience,” Preu said. “Pavel has a very keen sense of color and a great ear for sound. He has worked with some of the great orchestras in Europe – in Zurich and Munich, for example – and brings this wealth of experience to our orchestra.”

Baleff said the pieces selected for “Triumph and Delight” will not only bring the “Austro-German experience” to American audiences, but also will illustrate how classical composers viewed both their contemporaries and those who preceded them.

“Brahms’ work is a tribute to Haydn,” Baleff said of Variations on a Theme, which was based on a melody that historians believe was actually written by one of Haydn’s pupils, Ignaz Pleyel.

“Schoenberg’s (piece) is simply one of his crazy experiments,” he added. “In Schumann, we can see how the musical past is emulated into a whole new era, how Beethoven’s influence overshadowed the beginning of the Romantic era.”

Through these particular pieces, Baleff said, modern audiences will be able to understand how these composers were provoked to create, as well as the attitude with which they approached those who came before them.

“This music is beyond ‘regular’ music,” Baleff said. “Here we have tremendous beauty where music becomes philosophy.”

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