A contemporary composer born and raised in Puerto Rico. Two legendary American tunesmiths. And a French music legend.
That might seem like an odd combination for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s February concert, titled “Bolero, Bernstein & Barber,” but conductor and music director Daniel Hege say the pieces fit together.
“It’s eclectic, but I think it connects really nicely in other ways,” Hege said.
The program, this weekend at Century II, opens with “Fandangos,” a modern piece by Roberto Sierra that Hege says harkens to Ravel’s “Bolero,” which closes the performance.
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“It works on kind of an ostinato or repetitive pattern while the orchestra changes. That’s exactly how the ‘Bolero’ also works,” Hege said. “So the bookends of the program actually complement each other. There’s a structural frame for the concert. They have similarities, but they don’t sound similar.”
Also connecting the beginning and end of the show, Hege says: “Bolero” – best known to non-audiophiles as the background for the seduction scene in the movie comedy “10” – had the working title of “Fandango.”
Repetition, Hege said, is the key to both pieces.
“(Ravel) used it as a tool to draw people in, to make people mesmerized,” he said. “When people hear ‘repetitious,’ they think ‘Oh no, the same thing over and over.’ Actually the way he used repetition was to draw people in and make them entranced by what’s going on.
“When you have that reinforcement, it draws you in because you’ve heard it again and again,” Hege added. “And then you start to anticipate. And then on top of that repetition, you add endless variation, then the mind has something to hold onto while they’re gaining new information.”
The second piece of the program is Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto,” with guest performer Elena Urioste, a BBC New Generation Artist featured on the cover of Symphony magazine.
“She’s definitely caught the ear and the eye of many orchestras, and I think she’s still on the rise,” Hege said. “We’re kind of catching her as her star is ascending.”
In an email interview, Urioste said the Barber concerto is one of her favorite pieces in the classical repertoire.
“I fell in the love with the piece through a recording of Hilary Hahn's when I was a teenager, and went on to study it as a student at the Curtis Institute with my teacher Joseph Silverstein,” she wrote. “Barber was a student and faculty member at Curtis, and his presence is felt and revered at the school, so whenever I play the piece, I feel deeply connected to my school and all of the incredible musicians who have passed through it. And the music itself is just so devastatingly beautiful.”
Hege said the Barber concerto is unusual, since the first two movements have a “romantic feel without a fast, fast movement,” and the third movement, called “Perpetual Motion” is quite fast.
Urioste said it is jolting to go from the first two movements to the third.
“The greatest challenge, technically, is snapping myself out of the breathtakingly emotional worlds of the first two movements and steadying myself for the maze of the third,” she wrote. “It is a movement of perpetual motion, lightning fast, and over in the blink of an eye.”
The 100th anniversary of composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth is celebrated by the Wichita Symphony with the overture and suite to his “Candide.”
“We said, let’s do something a little more off the beaten path” to celebrate the centennial of the composer known for “West Side Story,” “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town,” Hege said.
“He kind of had a foot in two camps,” Hege said. “He could write the Broadway-popular-jazz music like it was the easiest thing in the world. He just had an innate gift for sitting down and knowing how to write it. And when he has his foot in the other world of more serious music, he’s also an excellent composer.
“You see him trying to find his voice in a profound way.”
WICHITA SYMPHONY: ‘BOLERO, BERNSTEIN & BARBER’
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18
Where: Century II concert hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $20 to $70, from wichitasymphony.org, by phone at 316-267-7658 or at the symphony box office