A little revolution now and then is a good thing, especially when it comes to the sometimes staid world of classical music.
That’s the thinking, anyway, of Jere Lantz, director and CEO of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale. Lantz will lead the orchestra in “Revolutions in Music” concerts Feb. 6 and 7 at Lourdes High School. The concert features pieces by Beethoven and Franz Liszt, as well as by contemporary composer Jennifer Higdon.
Beethoven, of course, is a given when it comes to revolutionary music. “He totally recast the role of the artist,” Lantz said. The orchestra will honor his revolutionary ideas by playing the Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).
Liszt, the Hungarian composer/pianist, revolutionized modern symphonic music with his so-called symphonic poems, of which the orchestra will perform “Les Preludes.” “He wanted to write music that, in and of itself, tells a story,” Lantz said.
The concert opens with “Blue Cathedral” by Higdon, a composer who would not automatically be thought of as a revolutionary by some critics. Like many artists on the cutting edge, Higdon has been called everything from showy (not a compliment in classical circles) to visionary. “A number of people I’m aware of who think she’s a flash-in-the-pan are jealous,” Lantz said.
Higdon’s “Blue Cathedral” was written in reaction to the death of her brother. “In the middle of writing this piece, her brother was dying of skin cancer,” Lantz said. “She had six commissions to write. She put her grief into the music. The idea is to put her whole feeling about her brother, his death, where he might be now, and the mystery of that, into the music. That’s what is revolutionary to me.”
The piece includes bells rung by 50 members of the orchestra, and wine glasses used as instruments by brass players.
Liszt’s symphonic poem is more traditional, if only because since he wrote “Les Preludes” dozens of well-known symphonic, or tone, poems have become part of the public imagination. At the time he wrote it (1854), “Les Preludes” was something entirely new. “He wanted to make a new kind of music,” Lantz said.
As for Beethoven’s third symphony, this is the one that broke so much new ground, Lantz said. Shortly after going deaf, Beethoven, who had given up ever again making music, began to write a symphony that rewrote the rules. It is longer and more powerful than any previous symphony. “It’s a titanic piece of work,” Lantz said.
If you go
What: “Revolutions in Music” by the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6, 2 p.m. Feb. 7
Where: Lourdes High School auditorium, 2800 19th St. NW, Rochester
Tickets: $30, $20, $5 (youth); 507-286-8742