From Music Director Daniel Meyer
Did you ever have a musical experience that stayed with you, even years after it happened? Perhaps it was a great concert you attended that really made an impact on you. Maybe it was a performance in which you participated – one that led you to ignite a passion for a particular instrument or composer. One of the great pleasures of leading the Erie Philharmonic is that I get the opportunity to relive some of those memorable moments in my own musical journey.
This finale concert for our 16-17 Symphonic Season includes three such works for me. The first is a brilliantly orchestrated version of J.S. Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in c minor. I distinctly remember as an Assistant Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony looking for just the right piece to fit into my Young People’s Concert called ‘Musicalympics.’ The piece needed to prominently feature a fugue. The whole concept was to teach the idea of a fugue subject and how it must be shared among the instrumental groups. I proposed that the fugue’s subject, or recognizable first few notes, was in essence a musical baton that needed to be handed to the next group in order for the piece to continue, much like a baton is passed in an Olympic relay race. I struggled to find just the right piece that was brief enough for a young audience, but clear enough that the students could easily follow this fugue subject as it was tossed among the orchestra. Edward Elgar (one of my favorite composers) provided just the right piece. He brought this very rich and compact fugue to life in a densely-packed reworking of a piece originally written for the pipe organ. It’s brilliant and colorful, and sounds just as much like Elgar as it does Bach, and for that I deeply admire the piece.
As for Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, it is a work I had the pleasure of singing under the baton of my college mentor, Dr. William Osborne at Denison University as an undergraduate. I found the piece to be dramatic, stormy, and serious. It deftly weaves war poetry of Walt Whitman with phrases from the Latin rite of the Mass, and it is as touching as it is despondent. Ultimately a call for peace, Dona Nobis Pacem delves into what we must endure in order achieve peace. I am thrilled to be able to to lead this work from the podium, and work again the the Erie Philharmonic Chorus, Slippery Rock University Choir, and soloists from the Pittsburgh Opera.
The final work on the program is Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony. It’s nicknamed ‘Organ’ for its use of that instrument in the work. It serves as a means to extend the enormous sound Saint-Saëns can draw from the orchestra, and it of course makes a huge impact on anyone who is fortunate enough to hear a live performance. For me, it was the first work I conducted at the Aspen Music Festival as a fully-fledged ‘professional’ conductor. It was the work my mentor David Zinman chose for me to make my debut at that festival after two years as an assistant conductor and student. I had the great fortune of leading this work with an organ specifically tuned for the large tent at the festival, which to this day is still ringing in my ears!
I hope you will enjoy this musical trip back into my own history as a performer and artist, and help us celebrate the finale to another wonderful season with the Erie Philharmonic.