Sibelius, Schubert and ‘the Spanish Mozart’ at University concert on Saturday

Posted by mjs76 at Jan 25, 2012 04:39 PM |
The University of Leicester Sinfonia present an evening of old and new at their concert this Saturday, 28 January.

The evening kicks off with Sibelius’ Romance for String Orchestra in C major, Op. 42, a short and sweet composition with a distinct Tchaikovsky influence. Composed in 1904 (and originally titled Andante), some critics have suggested that it stems from a time when the composer’s work was lighter and happier than his later compositions because he was still allowed alcohol and cigars!

This is followed by Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (no.8, D 759). Schubert wrote the first two movements in 1822 then gave up on the work for reasons unknown. A third movement exists, primarily as a piano score with only two orchestrated pages, but this is not usually performed. A less famous composer, Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who was a friend of Schubert’s, was given the manuscript sometime before Franz S died in 1828, but it was only in 1865, shortly before Hüttenbrenner himself passed away, that the semi-symphony’s existence was revealed and the two movements were given their first public performance.

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Roger Swann (photo: David Calow)

Roger Swann, a man who juggles computer engineering with French horn playing, is the soloist for Andy Evans’ Horn Concerto which receives its second ever performance at this concert. The Nottingham Symphony Orchestra and Robert Parker premiered this work in November 2009 and the composer has re-orchestrated it for the smaller University of Leicester Sinfonia. When not composing, Andy Evans is a radiologist and currently holds the post of Professor of Breast Imaging in the University of Dundee’s Centre for Oncology and Molecular Medicine.

Next in the programme is a second piece by Sibelius, the Andante Festivo, which has a fascinating history. It began life in 1922 as a string quartet composed to celebrate the silver anniversary of some Finnish sawmills. In 1929 it was performed by two string quartets at the composer’s niece’s wedding, but the first public performance was not until 1939 and was broadcast live by radio. Sibelius had been thinking about the possibilities of radio for several years and felt that specially composed works would be better as quieter passages tended to get lost amid the crackle.

Invited to compose a piece to represent ‘Finland’s greeting to the world’ for the New York World’s Fair, Sibelius orchestrated the 1922 quartet and, to ensure that something could be heard on even the cheapest cat’s whisker, added some resounding ad lib timpani! Although the composer had long since retired from conducting, he returned to the podium for this one-off, final performance. A recording of the broadcast exists and is the only record of Sibelius as conductor.

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Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (image: Wikipedia)

Saturday’s concert concludes with an unusual work, the Symphony in D by Basque composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (or Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola as his friends knew him). Sometimes referred to as ‘the Spanish Mozart’ (they shared the same birthday, 50 years apart), Arriaga was a child prodigy who composed an opera at the age of 13, along with three string quartets, an octet and assorted other pieces, including this symphony which displays the influence of European composers rather than his own cultural background. He died in 1826, ten days short of his 20th birthday.

Michael Sackin, who retired from his post as Computer Officer in our Department of Genetics in 2007, conducts the University of Leicester Sinfonia, which is led by Elizabeth Murphy. The concert, which is presented in collaboration with Embrace Arts, takes place at Clarendon Park Congregational Hall on the corner of Springfield Road and London Road at 7.30pm on Saturday 28 January. Tickets are £8 (concessions £6) from the Embrace Arts box office (0116 252 2455) or the Tourist Information Centre in Town Hall Square.

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