The Galveston Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at The Grand 1894 Opera House at 2020 Postoffice St. in Galveston. Music Director Trond Saeverud talked about the program.
Q. The program features two inventive French composers and an American, perhaps the greatest American composer. What's the common element here? Is this program a celebration of inventiveness?
A. Yes, that's a good way to put it. Inventiveness and also energy: For the season finale, I look for exciting, intense works that will make a lasting impression and help keep us in our audience’s mind through the summer break.
The main connection is Poulenc: still French enough to relate to Lalo, but also with strong ties to the American music scene at the time — and he was a close friend of Barber’s: both composers dedicated works to each other.
Q. Is “Symphonie Espagnole” even a symphony? Or is this something that Lalo invented out of his head?
A. He was often asked about this, and was frequently urged to change the title. Lalo answered that he had two reasons for the name: He liked the thought of the violin “soaring over the rigid form of an old symphony,” and he found the title “less banal than those that were suggested to me.”
And make no mistake about it: this is a violin concerto. One of the most effective ever written. It impressed Tchaikovsky so deeply that he immediately started writing his own.
Q. Lalo’s music seems strikingly original in the sense that if you think of 19th century French composers, Lalo doesn’t quite fit in. That individuality seems like a virtue today. Why don’t we know his music better?
A. Probably because he wrote very few large-scale works. The enormous success of “Symphonie Espagnole” may also have been a publicity hindrance for his other works. Many composers have lamented how the popularity of one work leaves all their other ones behind. For example Dukas’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and Max Bruch’s “Violin Concerto” — and Ravel wished he had never written the “Bolero.”
Q. What features of Barber’s symphony do you most want to bring out?
A. After all the little delicious moments and fun jokes in Poulenc, Barber is such a satisfying contrast with his huge, majestic passions — combined with raw, unapologetic energy. We will try to bring out Barber’s large shapes and intense emotions.
Q. Poulenc is another inventive soul. He wrote a startling opera that ends with the guillotining, one by one, of the Carmelite nuns who refused to dissolve their order during the revolution, and a piece about Babar the Elephant that many of us remember from childhood. Some critics have suggested that if he’d been a little less inventive — a little less shockingly original — he might be considered the greatest French composer of the 20th century. He seems to fit in with Lalo and Barber just on originality alone. Did you include his ballet suite for that reason? Or did you have something else in mind?
A. Yes, Poulenc is all over the map. Just like visual artists seem to be taken more seriously if all their images resemble each other, composers are often neglected if they don’t display a similar consistency. Poulenc is a good example: In my opinion, there are few works more deeply reverent and sincerely religious — in the best sense — than his “Gloria.” But then he goes ahead with the kind of (wonderful) sillinesses that you describe. Yes, I agree that he deserves much more attention — as do Barber and Lalo.