An American Touch
What: Opening concert of 2008-2009 season, Sharon Lavery, music director,
music by Ives, Rachmaninoff and Dvorak, Pauline Yang, piano soloist
Where: Downey Civic Theatre, 8435 Firestone Blvd., Downey
When: Tomorrow at 8 p.m., pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$25, student tickets $10
Phone: (562) 927-2088
By John Farrell
Special to the Press-Telegram
Sharon Lavery became Music Director of the Downey Symphony last year, but she began her tenure in the middle of the orchestra’s season and had little time to give the orchestra her personal touch.
This year she has time to plan a season that reflects her own ideas about the kind of music she wants the orchestra to play, the kind of music she wants to bring to the community. She opens her first full season as music director Saturday night at the Downey Civic Theatre with a program called “An American Touch,” featuring three very different works of music, all with American connections.
“This is my first full season with the orchestra,” Lavery said in a recent phone call from her USC office. “I tried to have an overall theme for all three concerts. We are doing a lot of different music but all three of the symphonies we will perform this year, the Dvorak Eighth, the Mendelssohn Fourth and the Brahms Second, are all the pastoral symphonies these composers created. Each has a theme of tranquility, peacefulness and the beauty of nature.”
Saturday’s concert will end with the Dvorak Eighth. The composer’s connection to America, Lavery pointed out, was when he was director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He wrote several works of music in the U.S., including his Ninth Symphony, called “From the New World.” Also on the program are Ives “Variations on ‘America,” and Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto with Pauline Yang as soloist.
The Ives’ is one of his earliest works, a witty set of variations on the theme of “America” originally written as a piece for organ. “I couldn’t help myself, I like the piece so much,” Lavery said. “Because our program is so close to Election Day I felt I had to program something patriotic. It is a terrific way to open a concert and it satisfies that patriotic idea.
Ives is an American composer, of course, but Rachmaninoff is Russian. There is a connection, though. Rachmaninoff fled Russia after the 1917 revolution and eventually settled in the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life. His First piano concerto was a failure at its Russian premier, but the composer revived and improved it over 20 years later.
“Who doesn’t love a Rachmaninoff piano concerto,” Lavery said. “I chose it because I discovered this incredibly talented young pianist who won a piano competition at USC recently. She blew everyone away with her performance of the Rachmaninoff First Piano Concerto then and she’ll be playing it with us Saturday.”
The concert will end with a performance of the Dvorak Symphony No. 8, which, Lavery said, “..is one of my favorite works, and a real crowd-pleaser as well. Musicians love working with it because of its grace and power”
Saturday’s concert, which begin at 8 p.m. with a pre-concert talk at 7:15, is the first of three concerts of the Downey Symphony this season. The orchestra’s next concert is set for Saturday, January 21 and will feature Mozart’s overture to his opera “The Impresario,” harp soloist JoAnn Turovsky premiering a new work, “Introduction and Allegro” by local composer Robert Litton, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, the “Italian.”
The orchestra’s final regular concert of the season, featuring the Brahms’ Second Symphony, is set for Saturday, March 28. The first half of the program is still to be announced, since it will feature a performance by the winner of the Downey Symphony Young Artists Competition, which will be held in mid-November.
John Farrell is a Long Beach freelance writer.
This story appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram Friday, October 24, 2008