Composer Gioachino Rossini
William Tell Overture
The Louisville Orchestra
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
As part of the Louisville Orchestra’s Music Without Borders series, the musicians took their talents back across the Ohio River to perform again at Indiana University Southeast’s lovely Ogle Center. Although the concert was billed as William Tell, in his podium speech Mr. Abrams shared with the audience that the afternoon’s selections were chosen with a particular theme in mind: overtures. While most of the pieces were indeed overtures, such as the William Tell piece, there were others that were simply ideas of being an overture. I’ll clear that up soon.
We began with one of the most famous overtures in the classical canon from Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus. If you are not familiar with Die Fledermaus, which means “The Bat”, it is a comical operetta that is in continual rotation throughout the world. And even if you weren’t familiar with the opera you certainly know the work as it has been used in countless cartoons, television shows, commercials, and movies. While this overture certainly demonstrates why Strauss is considered “The Waltz King”, it also shows how deep his compilations could be in that he had a knack for knowing how and when to place his instrumentation. For example, his use of the bells that were partnered with overtones from the flute as well as his notated runs deftly handled by the woods. Without going into detail about the operetta itself, suffice it to say that this particular overture is one of the first to adequately give its listeners a glimpse into themes that would frame the opera, much to the aural delight of all who listened and still do. Another delightful note about the performance is that there was very little direction from Mr. Abrams to the lower strings when they begin as the music directs itself, to a point. Makes you want to grab a partner and dance….or at least sway.
While Felix Mendelssohn’s musical genius is often overshadowed by that of W.A. Mozart’s, it cannot be denied how influential his music has been to many composers and listeners. On a trip to Scotland Mendelssohn was taken with Fingal’s Cave, a cave that can only be seen through the blue waters of the peaty country. The natural wonder inspired his Hebrides Overture, and when he put pen to staff out it came, pretty much in its entirety. Yes, Mendelssohn had that ability. While this particular arrangement is not the beginning of anything, in particular, it has elements that suggest an overture but is meant to stand-alone. If nothing else it is closer to a Tone Poem. The brilliance of this piece can be found in the color of its orchestration, most notably within a clarinet duet where the pair floats high above the strings. Another highlight lies within a theme that reminds me of a tumultuous sea that is orchestrated by cascading notes starting from the brass, to the woods to the winds, all before landing in the calm of the strings.
Hector Berlioz’s compositions are not often in a lot of orchestra’s programming (which is a shame). Mr. Abrams reminded the audience that Berlioz was an accomplished timpanist and not really adept at other instruments, but he still tried his hand at composing. What we get is Le Corsaire Overture, a piece that has, for lack of a better way of putting it, a lot going on in a short amount of time. Our music director thought that perhaps Berlioz was ahead of his time…. a 21st-century composer at heart. While on a health break the composer was entranced by the splendor of the Mediterranean Sea and this was the inspiration for Le Corsaire, a musical view of sea and sky. One cannot think of waterfowl dancing high above the water as lush chordal progressions cascade among the strings. Also, it can’t be ignored that Berlioz included melodies and tunes that he grew up with when one hears French dance music towards the end. It is certainly a busy score but offers a glimpse into Berlioz’s style and what is yet to come in his career.
Composer Richard Wagner’s approach to music was, “go big or go home”. As Mr. Abrams put it, Wagner was, for his time, the J.R.R. Tolkien or George. R. Martin of music composition. Captured within his works are magical and mythical worlds brought to life through astounding music that has endured for almost two centuries. His Prelude to Act 1 from Lohengrin is a feast for the ears while simultaneously a bear for strings to play. In conveying the heavenly quality that is Lohengrin, the first violins are striking the uppermost part of their register, in a very quiet and unassuming bow, while underneath them the orchestra begins to swell in a shimmering accompaniment. The orchestral build is gradual in its volume before reaching a fortissimo that is capped by a loud crash of the cymbals. Just as we get to that fevered pitch, the orchestra recedes slowly back to a pianissimo delivered by the violins and doubled by higher reeds. On a side note, did you know there is a common slice of music from this opera that is performed or played almost daily? Treulich geführt, or to our ears, Here Comes the Bride.
I want to commend the professionalism of our Orchestra during the performance of the Lohengrin prelude. Not sure exactly what was going on, but there were a very noticeable rumbling and disturbance around the stage perhaps caused by a thunderstorm or stagehands, but our Orchestra stayed focused and seemingly unfazed by the additional distraction.
Few composers can say that they have mastered the orchestral and opera worlds but Ludwig Van Beethoven was not an average composer. While many believe that his only completed opera Fidelio is flawed, it is still in rotation today. Also, would you ever imagine that there would be several preludes attached to this piece because Beethoven just couldn’t settle on the perfect one? While other preludes are more commonly used because their compositional style fits better with the theme of the opera, it was his Leonore Overture No. 3 (named for his wife) that has become a standard in the orchestral repertoire. This overture is undoubtedly a love song; sweeping winds and woods climb the scales while a trumpet voluntary entertains from off-stage. I am sorry I could not tell who the trumpeter was, but he did a solid job. Aside from the cello, there is a lovely flute solo that was elegant and assured in its delivery by flutist Kathleen Karr. At one point there was a glitch when the horn section sounded as if they were a little above pitch.
Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture is perhaps one of the most sampled and used overtures in orchestral history. While the William Tell opera is not commonly performed, the overture, either in its entirety or sections is. Divided into four parts, each section gives us a glimpse as to the theme of the music from the opera: The Prelude, The Storm, The Ranz des Vaches (Call to the Cows) and The March of the Swiss Soldiers. The Prelude consists of one of the top three cello solos in orchestral works, elegantly led by Nicolas Finch, with the cellos accompanied by the double basses. As the other cellos echo the soloist there is a gentle rumble that comes from the tympani (excellently pounded by James Rago). With those low vibrations, the solo cello closes with a sustained note that then slips into The Storm. As the cello fades away the violins and violas take over and their melodic lines are accentuated by short notes, one by one, from the winds and woods. Eventually, the brass and percussive section enter with an onslaught of sound signifying the storm. Just as quickly as they arrived, the instruments begin to fade and the storm is over, allowing for….you guessed it, the Call to the Cows. Oh, you most certainly know this piece as it has been used in commercials and cartoons, most notably by Walt Disney, to signify the beginning of a new day, featuring the English Horn, flute and the oft-underappreciated triangle, all performed brilliantly by Ernest Gross, Kathleen Karr and I believe John Pedroja, respectively. This calm and peaceful pastoral setting is broken by the pulsating sound of a trumpet blast before the rest of the brass tears through and we’ve arrived into the last section, most commonly known as “The Lone Ranger“ theme. With the entire orchestra on full gallop, the piece is meant to resemble a Swiss Army’s march to victory.
Our hearts were pulsing right along with our talented orchestra as we all raced to the fun and exhilarating end to a fabulous concert.
William Tell Overture
April 14, 2019
The Louisville Orchestra
Indiana University Southeast
4201 Grant Line Rd
New Albany, Indiana 47150
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.