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Wichita symphony, concertmaster to take on Mendelssohn

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at 1:57 p.m.

If you go

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra Classics Series

Guest Artist: John Harrison, symphony concertmaster

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Nov. 17

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $17-$55

Information: 316-267-7658 or www.wso.org.

Three opportunities to learn more

• Classics on Tap is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, 1725 E Douglas Ave. This four-course beer dinner features maestro Daniel Hege and concertmaster John Harrison discussing and playing recorded works from the upcoming concert. Attendees must be 21 or older. Cost is $40 in advance; $45 at the door. Tickets available at www.wso.org.

• Concert Talks are free to ticket holders and begin one hour prior to each performance in the Century II Concert Hall.

• Inside the Music with Daniel is at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the Founders Room at Century II. Daniel Hege discusses the lives of the composers whose music will be featured in the upcoming program. Cost is $5 and includes refreshments.

Two classic music icons go back to back in this week’s symphony. A violin concerto by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and a symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) will highlight the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s concert.

“The program is well anchored with two seminal composers – Mendelssohn and Beethoven,” said the company’s artistic director and conductor, Daniel Hege.

The Symphony’s concertmaster, John Harrison, will perform Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, which is considered one of the greatest violin concertos. The violin comes in right away, the movements are connected without pause and the large cadenza is placed toward the middle of the first movement.

Harrison, who also is the concertmaster for the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, has performed nationwide. Although he performs regularly, he has not been featured with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra since 2003.

“I feel very appreciative that I am able to give back to the community,” Harrison said. “I hope it will reach the audience in a powerful way because I am a member of the community.”

Along with Harrison’s music degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the Cleveland Institute of Music, he holds a master’s degree in media technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also is an engineering educator in the Engineering Student Success Center in WSU’s College of Engineering working with freshmen engineering students.

Harrison said Mendelssohn’s concerto awakens memories.

“I think of myself almost as a violin student again,” Harrison said.

Hege called Harrison an outstanding violinist.

“He’s a wonderful musician and a great collaborator,” Hege said. “He’s going to be a great ambassador for the piece.”

The other great work on the evening’s program is Beethoven’s Second Symphony. Although this piece is lesser known than many of his other symphonies, this joyous work demonstrates the composer’s grandeur.

“It shows what an innovative composer he was going to be,” Hege said. “It has the seeds of the Ninth Symphony, which we will do later this season.”

Written in 1802, this symphony starts out slow and then brings in beautiful and exciting rhythms.

“It’s a masterpiece,” Hege said. “I’m excited to share the joy that is bubbling over in this piece.”

When he wrote this symphony, Beethoven was beginning to lose his hearing. Although personally daunted by this fact, many critics say Beethoven placed a great deal of joy into this symphony.

Thomas Canning’s (1911-1989) “Fantasy on a Hymn by Justin Morgan” preludes Beethoven and Mendelssohn’s mammoth works at this weekend’s concerts. Composed solely for strings, this 10-minute piece by an American classical composer is based on a hymn by another American composer. Justin Morgan (1747-1798) grew up in New England and composed hymns and musical renditions of poetry and psalms. He also is known as the breeder of the Morgan horse.

Canning based his Fantasy on “Amanda,” a work Morgan is said to have composed after his wife died in childbirth.

“He’s (Canning) taking the old material into a contemporary lens,” Hege said. “It’s bubbling with rich tonal elements.”

Because this rich composition was written for a double string quartet, only the strings will be on stage for the concert opener.

“It has a luminous, lyrical string sound,” Hege said. “This beautiful, lush work is a beautiful compliment to the rest of the program.”

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