This Thursday sees the second instalment of our new concert series, Symphony in 60. Over the last season, we’ve been experimenting with new ways of presenting music with the hope of reaching new listeners and inspiring music-lovers. For many people with families or busy workdays, a concert at 8.00pm doesn’t work, so we’ve set up Sunday matinees at 3, and Symphony in 60, which begins at 6.
Although we come to the orchestra to hear music, concerts also provide a great opportunity to socialize and meet new people. Symphony in 60 begins with a happy hour at 5pm. Come right after work and mingle with fellow Jacksonvillians over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before the concert.
Symphonic music can often be baffling to newcomers. Each Symphony in 60 concert features one major masterpiece. I begin with a short chat about the music from the stage. I talk about what’s special in the work, illustrated by chunks of music played by the orchestra. The idea is that after ten minutes, you’ll know a few important places to listen out for. You’ll have a sense of what inspired the composer to write the music, and what makes it unique. You’ll also know which instruments play a special role, and have a sense of the big shape of the composition from start to finish.
A few years ago the Berlin Philharmonic launched their Digital Concert Hall. This is a website that streams all their concerts online. I’m an addict. You can watch many conductors perform hundreds of different pieces with one of the world’s greatest orchestras. The concerts are recorded by cameras hidden above the stage. It’s almost better than attending a live concert because you can see the interaction between the musicians and conductor up close. We decided to do the same thing in Jacoby Hall, except during a live concert. Thanks to our Symphony in 60 sponsors, BestBet, we’ve installed discrete cameras and a large screen. During Symphony in 60 concerts, you can watch the orchestra on stage and also see live video close-ups of the musicians on the big screen above. It allows you to experience our orchestra in a completely new way.
The concert is over by 7, at which point you can either rush home or stay for an after party. We invite the audience onstage to meet the musicians, and even have a selfie station on the conductor’s podium. Ever wondered what it feels like to be standing up there? Come on Thursday, find out, and tweet it to the world!
This week we are performing Sibelius’s Second Symphony. Lots of music inspires us, but for me there is a special category that also provides spiritual rejuvenation. When I listen to this music, I feel like new life is being breathed into my soul and I’m being encouraged to be a better person. Berlioz, Elgar, Bach and Sibelius have a special ability to do this. Sibelius’s Second begins with a very unassuming pulsating figure in the strings that recurs in many different guises throughout the symphony. There is a pastoral quality, as if we are out in the forest picking mushrooms, as a conductor friend once said.
The second movement has a claustrophobic quality. An ominous pattern of notes is repeated many times in the low strings, over which the bassoon plays a lamenting melody. This reminds us that Sibelius was writing his symphony during a great uprising of nationalistic feelings in Finland. The Finns were deeply resentful of Russia’s imperial control of their country, and many would have identified with the captive atmosphere Sibelius created.
After a gunfire-like third movement, the finale begins with one of the most uplifting, reviving and authentic melodies in symphonic music. We are finally free of Russian captivity or whatever emotional struggle we have experienced, and we can breathe the pure, northern air deeply. But unlike the mood of triumph at the end of, say, a Beethoven symphony, there isn’t a hint of bombast in Sibelius’s language. He’s incapable of exaggeration and this makes the spiritual victory feel all the more fulfilling and life-like.
I hope you’ll join us for this astonishing masterpiece, either at Symphony in 60 on Thursday, or at our masterworks performances on Friday and Saturday. Sibelius will inspire you, and your spirit will soar.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Florida Times-Union. Original link: http://jacksonville.com/entertainment/music/2016-03-26/story/conducting-electricity-symphony-60-gives-behind-scenes-look-how#