In the first of four concerts celebrating Johann Sebastian Bach’s 333rd birthday (the others being Classics 6, 7 and 9), the Spokane Symphony is gifting the German composer, and audiences, with the U.S. premiere of German composer Torsten Rasch’s “Tropoi.”
“Tropoi,” a violin concerto jointly commissioned by the Spokane Symphony, the Dresden Philharmonic and the South Carolina Philharmonic, will be performed by renowned violinist Mira Wang, who recently appeared with husband and cellist Jan Vogler and actor/comedian Bill Murray on “New Worlds.”
The symphony will perform “Classics 5: Scheherazade” on Saturday and Sunday.
The concert opens with a performance of Bach’s “Komm Susser Tod.” “Tropoi,” which had its world debut in Dresden in 2016, will follow, and the concert’s namesake, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” closes the night.
Music Director Eckart Preu and Rasch both attended the Dresdner Kreuzchor boys choir, though Rasch was two or three years ahead of Preu so the two didn’t talk much at the time.
After leaving the choir, Preu kept tabs on Rasch’s career, which includes work with the Pet Shop Boys, a song-cycle based on the music and lyrics of German metal band Rammstein and more than 40 scores for Japanese films and television.
“All these things influence his writing,” Preu said. “Big tapestry, a lot of wild, everybody just playing virtuoso stuff followed by absolute stillness in very intimate, beautiful music.”
The Spokane Symphony became involved with “Tropoi” after the Dresden Philharmonic commissioned it for their concertmaster, therefore Preu had no artistic input in the piece.
“Tropoi” was inspired by German author, poet and playwright Helmut Krausser’s“Melodies or Postscript to a Mercurial Age.” The title, the singular of “tropos,” refers to a turn or change.
But even if he had the opportunity to give Rasch suggestions, Preu wouldn’t have had any interest in influencing the composer.
“That’s why they’re the artist,” he said. “I tried to give them as (much) artistic freedom as possible.”
Preu understands that this means he has no control over the end result and is therefore taking just as much risk as the audience when it comes to this concert.
While some audiences are more cautious when it comes to new music, Preu noted that Spokane audiences have always been more open to the unknown.
“Spokane has always been a little bit different where we have, over the years, played all this stuff that nobody knew and they’ve gotten used to it and hopefully also interested,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to jump in the cold water to see if you like it.”
But Preu has a good feeling about “Tropoi,” calling it both challenging and touching, the latter of which he considers to be an important element of a piece.
“If music is just flashy, it doesn’t touch you,” he said. “If it’s just slow, it tires you out but if it’s really emotional, then it’s really worthwhile.”
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