Pillbox

CMU Philharmonic season starts

Juan Pablo Izquierdo, conductor of the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic, successfully launched the season last Wednesday with a colorful program of contrasting impressionistic works: Debussy?s ?La Mer? and ?La Cath?dral Engloutie,? followed by Ravel?s ?Alborada? and ?La Valse.?

Because of some obvious similarities, the French Impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are frequently paired together on concert programs. The program Wednesday night highlighted two themes that inspired the music of Debussy and Ravel throughout their lives: the water and Spain. The program also displayed the unique musical language of each composer: Debussy?s ?floats on a cushion of air,? said New York Times critic Harold Schonberg, and Ravel?s more classically refined style ?ticks away like a well-assembled chronometer.?

Since water was a frequent form of inspiration for both Debussy and Ravel, it comes as no surprise that the opening piece was Debussy?s ?La Mer,? a three-movement symphonic work composed in 1905 that beautifully portrays a moody sea. ?La Mer? manages to capture the stillness of the ocean at daybreak, the playfulness of the waves, and the forceful dialogue between the wind and the sea.

Following ?La Mer? was another water work: Debussy?s ?Le Cath?drale Engloutie? (?The Submerged Cathedral?). ?Le Cath?drale Engloutie? was based on the French legend of the mysterious sunken cathedral of Ys. This work originated as a piano piece, Debussy?s tenth movement of the first book of Preludes, and it was later orchestrated by the dynamic conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Moving on from the water pieces, the orchestra played several Ravel pieces to open the second half of the concert. There is a popular saying in the classical music world that the best Spanish music was composed by Frenchmen. Certainly, Ravel?s fascination with Spanish music was probably sparked by his mother?s interest in Spanish culture. His interpretation of Spanish dance, ?Alborada del Gracioso,? was also composed as a solo piano work around 1905, but Ravel, a master orchestrator, decided to orchestrate it himself to explore new possibilities in tone color.

The concert concluded with another of Ravel?s pieces, the bombastic ?La Valse.? His inspiration for ?La Valse? was the light, popular Viennese waltz form of Johann Strauss, Jr. Ravel provides us with a vivid description of his adaptation of the form: ?I conceived of this work as a sort of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, mingled with, in my mind, the impression of a fantastic, fatal whirling....? Not your typical fluffy Strauss waltz, although the oom pah pah flavor remains.

This concert was just the beginning of the season for the CMU Philharmonic. On April 5, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?s own artistic advisor, Andrew Davis, will be leading the orchestra at Heinz Hall. And in October, the orchestra will perform two concerts under pupils of Juan Pablo Izquierdo. On October 26, Walter Morales will conduct works by the Russian Romantic Borodin and a lush, cinematic violin concerto by Korngold, performed by violinist Emma Hancock.

See you at the next concert!