Anchorage Symphony Orchestra Opening Night with Bella Hristova |
While the last 18 months have seen the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra lose its popular and longtime music director Randy Fleischer and perform in two highly unconventional seasons – one entirely virtual with over 115 films produced and the next with Houses half-full due to COVID surges, the nimble and resilient Anchorage Symphony opens its 77th season with some well-deserved positives.
Last April, the Orchestra announced that it was suspending its search for a new music director because over the past season the musicians, board, staff and patrons had become attached to the acting artistic director and principal conductor, Elizabeth Schulze, had recognized the impact she had made on the Orchestra and believed that she was a good fit for the organization. During their season finale, the ASO announced that Elizabeth had accepted the position of the ASO’s new Music Director.
On September 24, Elizabeth took the stage for her first classical concert with the orchestra in her new role and scheduled it as her musical introduction to the community. She opens this celebratory concert by beginning with a work by her mentor, Leonard Bernstein; introduces audiences in Anchorage to the remarkable composition Five Movements in Color by Mary D. Watkins; features powerful violinist Bella Hristova performing Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major; and ends with Dvořák’s inspiring Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World’.
While participating in the Tanglewood Music Center scholarship program and studying under Leonard Bernstein, Elizabeth met fellow conducting student Randy Fleischer. This meeting turned into a long and deep friendship. It was with this dual connection in mind that Elizabeth programmed Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.
Leonard Bernstein was a composer, conductor, educator, and humanitarian who became an iconic figure in American cultural history. Considered the first great American conductor, he played a key role in the relevance of symphony orchestras. It has also aroused the interest of new generations thanks to its televised and popular “Youth Concerts”. Bernstein was music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969 and conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 seasons. As a professor of conducting at Tanglewood, he also helped shape a generation of conductors, including two ASO Music Directors – Randy and Elizabeth.
Anchorage audiences may remember ASO and Anchorage Opera’s April 2018 joint production of Bernstein’s Candide. Based on the short story by Voltaire, this fast-paced, funny and satirical operetta finds its main character setting out with friends to find the true meaning of life. Their escapades along the way include loss, war, mistaken identity, kidnapping, murder, and shipwreck, but they never give up. The overture to this wacky operetta highlights Bernstein’s splendid score and audience favorites like “Glitter and Be Gay.”
Elizabeth commented on the upcoming season, “You’ll find a female composer scheduled at every gig, which wasn’t intentional. Still, I’m thrilled to introduce you to some of these brilliant voices that deserve to be heard.” The first of these new vocals is the first two-movement ASO of Mary D. Watkins’ Five Movements in Color. The ASO performs the movements Once Upon a Time and Soul of Remembrance. A prolific composer, Watkins has written three operas, pieces for complete symphony, chamber ensembles, jazz ensembles and film scores. His resume also lists his accomplishments as an arranger, record producer, performer (pianist since age 4) and teacher.
Five Movements in Color by Watkins was commissioned by the Camellia Orchestra (Sacramento, CA) as part of Black History Month. She describes the piece as “a statement about the African-American experience”. Watkins describes the Once Upon a Time movement as opening with “African drumming, then the strings begin to tell a story that shifts from peaceful to active to violent”. Speaking of the Soul of Remembrance movement, she says, “A melody floats above a step. I saw my own people on their long march to fully express themselves as humans. It’s bittersweet and nostalgic, a song of sorrow and a song of hope. .”
Another new presence on the Atwood stage is award-winning violinist Bella Hristova. Described by The Washington Post as “a player of impressive power and control”, Hristova has graced stages around the world. Recently, she has performed in the United States, Canada, Asia, Europe, Latin America and New Zealand. Hristova is also a passionate supporter of new music and composers. She commissioned iconic American composer Joan Tower to write Second String Force for Unaccompanied Violin, which she premiered and performed across the United States. Her husband, the famous composer David Serkin Ludwig, was commissioned to write a violin concerto for her, which she continues to perform.
Hristova lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their beloved cats (one of whom has her own Instagram page). She plays a 1655 Nicolò Amati violin. On September 24, she will join the ASO for Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major, the piece that made him “more than just a film composer”.
Erich Korngold was an accomplished film composer who wanted to get out of Hollywood and write symphonic works. When World War II began, Korngold knew he needed regular-income film composition, so he committed himself to writing film scores until Hitler’s defeat. After World War II he returned to his dream and retired from films to concentrate on music for the concert hall. His Violin Concerto is the first work of this genre. At that time, many believed that a composer of successful films was not a “real” composer but rather one who “sold his soul” to Hollywood. This damage to his professional reputation made Korngold determined to prove himself with a work that combines vitality and superb craftsmanship.
Korngold dedicated his Violin Concerto to Alma Mahler, the widow of his childhood mentor Gustav Mahler. The Saint-Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Golschmann premiered the concerto in 1947 with Jascha Heifetz. The audience ovation was reported as the most enthusiastic in St. Louis concert history. Heifetz’s performance quickly made it Korngold’s most famous piece. However, Korngold’s association with Hollywood film music has obscured his other work and his legacy as a composer.
Elizabeth comments: “This introductory evening ends with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’, one of my favourites. Dvořák is a special figure for me and my family. My great-uncle played the cello and performed under the direction of Maestro. Dvořák’s baton many times.” Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic while he was director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony has been popular since its first performance more than 125 years ago. premiering, the audience erupted in thunderous applause – between each movement.Today, it is considered one of the greatest triumphs of his career and ranks among the most popular symphonies of all time. took a recording to the Moon with him during his Apollo 11 mission. It doesn’t get more epic than that!
ASO Opening Night tickets are available to attend in person or experience the high-definition multi-camera live stream.
Anchorage Symphony Orchestra Opening Night, Saturday, September 24, 2022 (7:30 p.m.) at Atwood Concert Hall, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Infrared headphones for the hearing impaired are available on the evening of the concert from the house manager at the orchestra level. Tickets: Adult, $52 to $27; Youth, $24.75-$12.50; Senior, $46.50-$24.50; Streaming Only $39 (prices include all extras and fees). Military, student and group discounts available. To purchase tickets, go to www.centertix.com or call 263-ARTS (2787), toll-free at 1-877-ARTS-TIX.