Trond Saeverud, conductor and musical director of the Galveston Symphony Orchestra, talked about the Oct. 2 concert.
Q: The theme for the next concert is “Vienna and Paris,” and we have alternating Austrian and French composers. But it’s not just a contrast of nationalities. You have a mix of styles. Haydn was working at the start of the classical period, and Debussy’s piece gets us to the turn of the 20th century. What were you thinking in putting together this program?
A: Yes, they are from very different periods, but the pieces are all connected in mood and atmosphere, providing a refreshing contrast to the previous concert. After the loud, juicy (and fun!) pops concert, this program presents works that are much more transparent — full of bright, shimmering light and effervescence. They also bridge the time difference: Haydn’s overture is from his “Sturm und Drang” period with an emotional intensity that is more associated with romanticism, while the Romanic composer Bizet uses a style that looks back to Haydn and Mozart. From the stage, I plan to mention further connections between these pieces and composers.
Q: Bizet is a major composer, but most of us know him for music he wrote for the opera, rather than for the concert hall. His symphony in C Major is an early work, isn’t it? Why did you choose it?
A: Yes, this is an early work, written at age 17 during studies with Charles Gounod. Not performed until many years after Bizet’s death, this charming and vivacious symphony has become a beloved part of the symphonic repertoire. Sometimes compared to Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” music and written at a similar age, it is overflowing with prodigious talent and a Mozart-like ability to create effortless beauty. It is one of my favorites!
Q: Mozart is arguably the greatest composer, and you can see his development through his piano concertos. But we hear his concertos for some of the other instruments — horn, oboe, flute — less frequently. The Galveston Symphony, to the delight of Mozart fans, has been working through these concertos. At least it seems we’ve been having about one a year. Have you got a program within a program going on here?
A: Thank you for your kind suggestion that we are that clever! But I must admit that the plans are not that advanced. As you say, Mozart is the greatest — and we want to include his music often. But his symphonies are a bit difficult to use at the end of concerts where we typically play works from later periods that employ a larger orchestra and provide a more dramatic, exciting — and loud finale. Mozart’s overtures and concerti are easier to fit in most programs.
Q: By the way, hearing these works by Mozart the last few years has been an education. The Galveston Symphony is performing them in a way they were performed when Mozart was alive. He worked with orchestras that were not huge by today’s standards, orchestras that included talented amateurs as well as professionals. Do you have plans to continue with this? Or perhaps take on some of the piano concertos?
A: Oh, yes! We are absolutely planning to perform some of his sublime piano concerti. Those choices depend a bit on the soloists who typically prefer other concertos — not because they don’t like Mozart’s (certainly not!) — but because Mozart’s are so perfect, with not one single superfluous note, that the performance needs to be equally pristine. That is scary and probably one reason why they are not played even more.
Q: Kristin Wolfe Jensen is the soloist. Please tell us about her.
A: We are very excited that Kristin agreed to play with us! Currently combining her solo career with a professorship at UT at Austin, she has produced a number of highly acclaimed recordings. American Record Guide wrote: “ ... ravishing sound, siren-like in its attractive flair ... Ms. Jensen could teach a lot of musicality to a number of famous violinists.” Rumors tell me that she has prepared a fun encore based on the Texas folk song “Streets of Laredo.”
Q: Debussey’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” might be the most famous piece on the program. Some people who attend the concert will leave whistling the theme or carrying the tune in their heads. Conversely, some of us have listened to music for decades without hearing Haydn’s “The Deserted Island.” That’s quite a contrast. Was that part of your plan?
A: Yes, it is — in the sense that I often look for obscure pieces by very familiar composers, such as Haydn, while, conversely, starting with the best known pieces when programming 20th century composers. You mention humming the melodies from the “Faun.” That was certainly not the audience’s mindset in the beginning — finding the music repulsive, unintelligible. Actually, I think those themes are still tricky to sing. Maybe some in the audience will take you up on that and try! (After our performance …)
WHAT: Galveston Symphony Orchestra: “Vienna and Paris”
WHEN: 4 p.m. Oct. 2
WHERE: The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice St., Galveston
Haydn: “The Deserted Island” Overture
Debussy: “Afternoon of a Faun”
Mozart: Bassoon Concerto
Bizet: Symphony in C