Editor’s note: Music Director Trond Saeverud talked about the Galveston Symphony Orchestra’s next concert.
Q. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony might be the most famous piece of orchestral music. Why do audiences love it so?
A. In a strange way, I can think of two opposite reasons for its popularity: frequent performances over such a long time has obviously helped make it familiar and helped new audiences embrace its moods and events. But what happens within this symphony is in many ways designed to defy expectations, confront norms; in short, work against the comforts of familiarity. Musicians typically enjoy the thrill of Beethoven’s abrasive, often aggressive — and certainly uncompromising writing. In an age where classical music is sometimes referred to as relaxing (a huge insult!) it is surprising — and a relief! — that this intense and quite provocative work is popular with large audiences. The famous fate motif is present in all movements and replaces melody as the main unifying element. I must admit I enjoy the adrenaline rush and many surprises in Beethoven: I hope we can create some shocks and thrills on Sunday!
Q. Why did you decide to program it?
A. It is an exciting work for all of us to perform! And it has been on the tentative program plans for several years. Finally we have a program where this great piece “fits.”
Q. It’s interesting that you chose such a famous composer along with a composer who is heard less often — at least by American audiences — Johann Hummel. Why did you choose his Trumpet Concerto?
A. We want to present different solo instruments with varying timbre — and it was time for a trumpet soloist. Some years ago, our principal trumpet, Sparky Koerner, performed Haydn’s concerto. Hummel’s is considered the second most important concerto for that instrument. Hummel studied together with Beethoven, and they were quite close — but Beethoven dominated, both personally and musically. Still, Hummel was also famous at the time, close with both Mozart and Haydn — whom he succeeded as music director at Esterhazy. A sign of his noble character was his refusal to assume the proper title (Haydn’s) until Haydn died.
Q. Is it true that Hummel wrote this piece for the keyed trumpet, a precursor of the trumpet with valves that we know today?
A. Yes, he (and Haydn) wrote it for the inventor of the keyed trumpet, Anton Weidinger. At the time, this new instrument was a big deal as it made it possible to play all the notes in a chromatic scale. Hummel’s concerto is now usually played on a modern valved trumpet.
Q. Please tell us about the young trumpet player Sam Huss. Isn’t he connected with the Shepherd School of Music at Rice?
A. Yes, he is pursuing a master’s degree at Rice, studying with Barbara Butler, but he has already started an impressive solo career and was recently awarded second place in the Ellsworth International Trumpet Competition.
Q. The concert also features Weber’s “Oberon” Overture. People say this opera cost Weber his life — he died in London within months of the premiere. What about this piece made it a good introduction to Beethoven and Hummel?
A. The three pieces have many stylistic commonalities — but, more importantly, they are contrasting enough to make the concert interesting. The Oberon overture is passionate and intense — preparing for Beethoven’s magnificent outbursts after intermission.
Yes, Weber died during the run of this opera. To support his family during difficult times, and against his doctor’s recommendations, he took on too many responsibilities, including conducting exhausting rehearsals and performances — and even taking a crash course in English. Already in bad health from tuberculosis, this was too much, and he died only 39 years old.