FOUR SEASONS Symphony tag-teams Vivaldi and Piazzolla
(times two) By John Jascoll, Correspondent
Lancaster Symphony concertgoers will take a musical journey through the seasons next weekend, traveling by violin concerto with two strikingly different composers as guides.
Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" (1723) explores the Venetian countryside with all the classical charm of the Baroque era. In contrast, Astor Piazzolla's "Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas," or "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aries" (1965-1970), presents a tour of the bustling Argentinean capital underpinned by the compelling South American rhythms one would expect from this master of the tango.
Both composers employ a solo violin and 40-piece string orchestra -- no winds, brass or percussion -- although Piazzolla includes a harpsichord, and his players slap on their instruments from time to time to give a percussive effect.
The neat thing is that the two sets of four violin concertos will be intermingled season by season during the performance. So Vivaldi's spring in Venice will be followed immediately by Piazzolla's spring in Buenos Aires, Vivaldi's summer by Piazzolla's summer, and so on, with the orchestra going back and forth from Baroque to modern as it saunters through the seasons.
Maestro Stephen Gunzenhauser says it will be a very interesting concert experience for the audience. "The thing that holds it together is the two ways of looking at the same subject," Gunzenhauser says.
Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" has long been regarded as one of the most remarkable collections of instrumental music ever written. What makes Vivaldi's concerto collection all the more fascinating is that when it was published, Vivaldi added a set of poems to guide the ear. He may well have written them himself because the poems so clearly explain the substance of his musical imagery.
The poem heralding the opening movement to his spring concerto paints this word picture of what the instruments will play:
"Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
And breezes softly caress the murmuring streams.
Thunderstorms, those harbingers of spring, roar,
Casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then pass away to silence,
And the little birds take up their charming songs once more."
And it's all there in the music: the singing birds, the murmuring streams, the gathering storm.
Gunzenhauser will give the audience what he calls a "multisensory presentation" during the concert by having the poems recited before each of the seasons, first in the original Italian by Terri Mastrobuono, an actress and faculty member at Elizabethtown College, and then in English by Lancaster County Poet Laureate Chris Longenecker.
Jon Carney, concertmaster for the Baltimore Symphony, has the daunting task of being soloist for both sets of concertos. But that doesn't faze him. He has played this intermingled approach before and says juxtaposing the two composers is really effective because the shorter Piazzolla sections "give you a little sherbet in between the heavy courses, to digest what you've just heard and move forward with another season."
As for preferring one composer to the other, Carney says he has eclectic tastes. He acknowledges the works' distinct personalities and says he has an affinity for both. The Vivaldi is much more straightforward, he says. In contrast, there's a challenge to pulling off the rhythmic complexity of the Piazzolla work. "Once you hook into those rhythms, I think you're halfway there." He says there are opportunities to improvise with both composers, and describes Piazzolla's music as "much more jazz, in a loose sort of sense, than most things we play."
Carney thinks it's an interesting idea to hear the poems before each season, but doesn't think it's essential for the enjoyment of the music. "If there was a Danish speaker in the audience who didn't speak English and had no idea what the poems were, he would still get a big sense of that attraction of the music." He believes the poems are really more important as a guide for the performers, to know what Vivaldi's intentions were and to get those thoughts across to the audience through what they play.
Asked why he has devoted his life to music, Carney says he has a passion for it. "I had a musical upbringing, so I don't know anything else."
He says it's a wonderful profession to be involved in, but it can be a hard taskmaster. "It brings a great deal of joy and a great deal of misery as well at times. I certainly enjoy getting on stage and communicating with people in a nonverbal way, and I take it upon myself to rise above challenges of the instrument itself and try to tackle those all the time." But, he observes, "it's a never-ending battle. You never really win. In the end, the violin wins."
Of course, Carney has a worthy opponent: He plays a 1687 Stradivarius.
Lancaster Symphony Orchestra's concert weekend opens at 8 p.m. Friday at Fulton Opera House, 12 N. Prince St., in downtown Lancaster, and continues with performances at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 7. Tickets cost $14 to $66.50. For more information, call 397-7425 or visit lancastersymphony.org.