Scaled back but still powerful

Usually Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and Mahler's "Symphony No. 4 in G major" are performed in full orchestration, but Juneau Symphony conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett says 'reduced' chamber versions will allow audiences 'to hear everything in its essence'

Posted: Thursday, February 02, 2006

Since he took over as conductor of the Juneau Symphony, Kyle Wiley Pickett has directed 22 concerts with the full orchestra. April's presentation of Verdi's "Requiem" could include more than 200 performers alone.

Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 4 in G major" are often performed in full orchestration as well. But for a change, a breather before the onslaught of Verdi, Pickett has decided to present them this weekend in their smaller "reduced" chamber orchestra scores.

The symphony performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5. Pickett will present a concert conversation one hour before each show.

"What's kind of interesting about these pieces is that most people know them in their full orchestra version," Pickett said. "It's pretty interesting to hear how they sound with the chamber orchestra. What you lose in the power of the full orchestra you gain with being able to hear everything in its essence."

symphony

what: juneau symphony, presenting copland's "appalachian spring" and mahler's "symphony no. 4"

when: 8 p.m. saturday, feb. 4, and 3 p.m. sunday, feb. 5. a concert conversation with conductor kyle wiley pickett begins one hour before each performance.

where: juneau-douglas high school auditorium

tickets: advance tickets are $18 for general admission, $14 for students and seniors and available at hearthside books or http://www.juneausymphony.org. at the door, tickets are $2 more.

Copland was working in Hollywood in 1943, when the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation invited him to write a ballet for Martha Graham to perform at the Library of Congress. The foundation was eight years old at the time and had been created to support new chamber music compositions. Copland was an obvious choice. He had achieved some mainstream success with his scores for the film versions of "Our Town" and "Of Mice and Men."

Copland completed the piece while teaching at Harvard in 1944. The finished score was written for 13 musicians (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano and nine strings), a comfortable size for the small confines of the Library of Congress auditorium.

"The best description of it is that it just feels American," Wiley Pickett said. "It's really open, and that's one of the characteristics of Copland's compositions. The sound has that feel of a wide-open space, and I think that's enhanced in the chamber orchestra version with sparse instrumentation."

The piece was said to truly evoke the feeling of an Appalachian spring. But ironically, Copland never gave the piece a name. He called it "Ballet for Martha." She titled it the day of the show, borrowing the name of a Hart Crane poem.

During his preconcert conversation, Pickett will show black-and-white DVD footage of Graham and her company's original performance, on Oct. 30, 1944.

Mahler's symphonies are typically grandiose. His "Symphony No. 8 in E flat major," also known as the "Symphony of a Thousand," was written for a massive orchestra, a choir and a boys' chorus. The "Symphony No. 4 in G major," completed some time around 1900, was fairly short (50 minutes) and relatively small - originally scored for 36 instruments plus soprano.

The piece was reduced for 12 musicians and soprano in 1921. At the time, composer Arnold Schoenberg was experimenting with 12-tone composition, much to the chagrin of the Viennese public, Pickett said. It became fashionable to show up at concerts and disrupt the performance with whistles and claps. Schoenberg created the invite-only Society for Private Musical Performance in response. The group began organizing concerts of new music on a limited budget. For one of their commissions, they asked Erwin Stein to reduce Mahler's "No. 4."

"I always say that Mahler, even in his giant force, was at his heart really chamber music," Pickett said. "It's really about people playing together, and the intimacy of passing a physical line between various groups. You do lose something without the mass of sound, but you can hear things that you just can't hear when you have this huge orchestra playing."

Soprano Kathleen Wayne will sing the solo in the fourth movement. Mahler was obsessed with over-the-top themes, as well as numbers, and the "No. 4" dwells on the existence of a paradise of death. The last movement, with the song, "Das himmlische Leben," explores a giant banquet in the afterlife.

"Unlike the other Mahler symphonies that end with this gigantic huge orchestra mass of sound, this one ends really softly and contemplatively," Pickett said. "My wife likes to say it has a misty, magical quality to it."



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