Two Germans and a stageful of Americans will explore English orchestral music this weekend in Spokane.
Cello soloist Alban Gerhardt will join conductor Eckart Preu and the Spokane Symphony on Saturday in a concert featuring Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto along with works by Ralph Vaughn Williams, Arnold Bax and William Walton.
The program will be repeated Sunday afternoon at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox.
“When you think of ‘the standard symphonic repertoire,’ how many English pieces do you often hear?” Preu says. “But I think that tells us something about our perception of English music more than about the actual quality of the music that is out there.
“It took me four years to put this program together,” he adds. “It highlights the diversity and the high quality of British music, and I am very proud of it.”
The motivation for Preu’s “Hail Britannia!” program was the return of Gerhardt as this weekend’s soloist. He first appeared with the Spokane Symphony in 2005, during Preu’s opening season conducting the orchestra.
“I knew that Alban would be available for this concert, and we agreed on the Elgar Concerto,” Preu says.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto was the last major orchestral work the composer finished, though he lived another 15 years after its completion.
“But it doesn’t seem like a late work,” Preu says. “It seems to be always moving ahead – very energetic, very inventive, sounding very active.”
Gerhardt was born in Berlin, the son of a mother who sang and a father who was a violinist in the Berlin Philharmonic.
After beginning with the violin and piano, Gerhardt switched to cello and came to the U.S. to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory with Boris Pergamenschikov, and chamber music with members of the LaSalle and Tokyo Quartets.
He made his orchestral debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1991 and has since has become one of the world’s outstanding cellists.
For a contrast with Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Preu chose “November Woods,” a tone poem by a composer infrequently performed outside the British Isles, Arnold Bax.
“I came across Bax at a chamber music program a few years ago and wondered if he had written orchestra music,” the conductor says.
” ‘November Woods’ is so much like Wagner and Strauss with touches of French influence, and very dramatic, but very different in sound from Elgar.”
The other big work on this weekend’s program is Walton’s “Variations on a Theme by Hindemith,” based on a melody from Hindemith’s Cello Concerto.
Asked about the choice, Preu laughs and says: “I guess it was my attempt, as a German, to show that even the English couldn’t get along without the Germans!
“Again, it is so different from what we think of as the ‘English sound,’ almost the way Hindemith himself would have done it.”
Preu opens the concert with a very British-sounding work by one of the best-known English composers, Ralph Vaughn Williams.
The “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” was a product of Vaughn Williams’ editorial work on the English Hymnal, where he encountered the hymn “When Rising from the Bed of Death” by the 16th-century organist and composer Thomas Tallis.
Vaughn Williams used Tallis’ tune as the basis of a fantasia for string quartet and two string orchestras.
Preu will discuss the music on this weekend’s program in a talk from the Fox stage an hour before each concert.
Gerhardt will present a master class with cellists from EWU, Gonzaga and Whitworth and two high school chamber ensembles on Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Holy Names Music Center, 3910 W. Custer Drive.
The public is invited to attend. Admission is $5 at the door.
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