This past Saturday, the Rapides Symphony Orchestra wowed audiences with a simply terrific concert. For myself and the many others I talked to after the concert, the orchestra’s performance of the First Symphony by Johannes Brahms was definitely the highlight of the evening. Brahms worked on his First Symphony for nearly 20 years before he was happy with it – Maestro Zona and the RSO certainly did justice by this outstanding composer and his wonderful Symphony.
Maestro Zona has said on multiple occasions that Brahms is one of his favorite composers. Years ago when I first heard him say this, I remember thinking to myself “well, that’s a shame!” At the time, I had little appreciation for Brahms – I thought his music a bit bland compared to Mahler, Tchaikovsky, or one of the other big symphonists. Since that time, however, I have come to regard Brahms as one of my favorites too – there is something unshakably right about his music. It’s not the easiest for a new listener to approach, but his music is extremely enjoyable once you know how to listen to it.
The First Symphony is certainly a good starting place for those new to Brahms though. In my mind, there are two main motifs to listen to and trace throughout the work: 1) the fierce pounding of the tympani which opens the symphony and 2) the pseudo “Ode to Joy” theme that triumphs in the conclusion. As I hear it at least, the symphony is almost one large transition between these two motifs – the second motif begins to show itself at least as early as the third movement, whereas the first motif does not truly disappear until the second motif completely banishes it halfway through the fourth movement.
Listening to the Brahms Saturday night, my unwavering impression was “that was some of the quickest 45 minutes of music I have ever heard.” The momentum never ceased and I had soon lost track of time I was so wrapped-up in the music… a complete reversal from my thoughts on Brahms a few years ago. If you missed Saturday’s concert – I’m sorry! Nonetheless, please invest in a good recording of Brahms’ First Symphony, and there are plenty of options out there to choose from.
Also, be sure to catch the next installment of Abendmusik Alexandria – Young People’s Concert next Thursday, November 13 at 6 PM at the Hearn Stage. The concert features the Young Artists Chamber Orchestra of Alexandria directed by John De Chiaro. This ensemble is an extension of De Chiaro’s highly-acclaimed Alexandria Youth Orchestra, and is made-up of its very best and most dedicated student musicians. Click here to read my program notes.
Two nights later on Saturday, November 15, the Shreveport Opera will stage Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. Although the performance is in Shreveport, as past MusicCentral blogs have discussed the drive north is not all that bad for Alexandria residents and the Shreveport Opera’s shows are always well-worth it. For La Traviata, the Opera company is even offering to give ten percent of sales made through TicketCentral back to the Central Louisiana arts community. Call me at 318.484.4467 if you are interested in tickets.
Until next time.
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a music historian and composer. He is a graduate of the Louisiana Scholars’ College – Louisiana’s designated honors college – where he completed an undergraduate thesis entitled “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” He has followed classical music around the world, attending the BachFest Leipzig in Germany, Colorado’s Aspen Music Festival, and many concerts across Louisiana and Texas. Resident in Alexandria, Jackson works with the Arts Council of Central Louisiana as Series Director of the Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series. He also writes the program notes for the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. As his day job, Jackson serves as Operations Manager of TicketCentral.