Visual Sounds Program at a Glance
Saturday, September 30, 2023
Sunday, October 1, 2023
PSO Music Director Eckart Preu is joined by the singers of Portland’s ChoralArt for a program of music that paints vivid pictures. Visual artists from the Maine College of Art and Design have created new work inspired by Mussorgsky’s great 1874 solo piano work Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated brilliantly by French composer Maurice Ravel in 1922. Slides of the new artwork will be projected over the PSO as it plays this music.
The concert opens with a new edition by Mark Clague (University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) of George Gershwin’s affectionate city portrait, An American in Paris. Clague has restored some measures of music cut in later versions, returned the unmistakable part for taxi horns to its original raucous dissonance, and uncovered more variety in the writing for saxophones. Untouched are Gershwin’s brilliant orchestral colors and irresistible tunes, and his masterful sense of pacing and proportion.
ChoralArt joins the PSO for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ soaring, radiant Serenade to Music, first heard in London in 1938. The text is Shakespeare, from the fifth act of The Merchant of Venice. It was reported at the time of the premiere that the great Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, who had performed on the first half of the same concert, sat in the audience for this piece and wept at its beauty.
ChoralArt concludes the first half of the concert with two beloved choruses from operas by Guiseppe Verdi.
Modest Mussorgsky took inspiration from the drawings and watercolors of his recently deceased friend Viktor Hartmann in writing his Pictures at an Exhibition. These pictures, where available, will be projected before the new works from MECA&D. Mussorgsky’s work quickly became, and remains, a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. Almost immediately, it also took on an independent life as a showpiece for great orchestras: more than two dozen orchestral versions besides Ravel’s exist, most notably by Sir Henry Wood, Leopold Stokowski, Lucien Cailliet, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and several heavy metal bands. The Ravel version heard at these concerts nonetheless is the most frequently heard. It contains notable solos for trumpet, saxophone and tenor tuba.
– Martin Webster