Mendelssohn classics book-end flute and xylophone works on Saturday

Posted by mjs76 at Mar 28, 2012 10:10 AM |
The University of Leicester Sinfonia presents a varied programme this weekend including a Japanese composition for the xylophone and a symphony by a teenage prodigy.

Kicking off the evening is Mendelssohn’s ever-popular Hebrides Concerto (op.26) sometimes known as Fingal’s Cave. Felix Mendelssohn took a tour of Scotland in 1829 during which he visited the eponymous cavern on the island of Staffa. The main theme for the overture, inspired by the crashing of waves on the rocks, popped into his head and he actually wrote it on a postcard and sent it to his sister Fanny back in Germany! The orchestral overture was written the following year then revised and premiered in 1832.

One of Mendelssohn’s pupils was Carl Reinecke who also studied under Liszt and Schumann. Reinecke is not so well-known as a composer but was an expert pianist who in turn tutored the likes of Grieg, Janáček, Max Bruch and Sir Arthur Sullivan. His Flute Concerto in D Major (op.283) dates from 1908, 26 years after his most famous work, the flute sonata known as Undine. The soloist for this piece is Dana Morgan, an outstanding local flautist who combines performance with a role as a visiting music teacher at Leicester Grammar School.

Although Mendelssohn never wrote a piece for the xylophone, he was actually a big fan of the instrument, which was popularised in the 1830s by a Russian musician named Josef Gusikov. In fact, so taken was the composer by this innovative form of music that on a couple of occasions he acted as Gusikov’s accompanist.

“He is a real phenomenon, inferior to no player on Earth either in style or execution, and delights me more on his odd instrument than many do on their pianos ... I have not enjoyed concert so much for a long time.”
Felix Mendelssohn, letter to Fanny, 18 February 1836

It is therefore appropriate, in an evening of music by Mozart and his student, to have a xylophone piece. Toshiro Mayuzumi was born in Yokohama in 1929 and studied, after the war, in Tokyo and then Paris where he initially became enamoured of European avant-garde music. But from 1957 his tastes reverted towards his homeland and he composed more typically Japanese works including this evening's piece, Concertino for Xylophone and Orchestra, in 1965.

Alongside many orchestral works he composed more than a hundred films scores and a number of radical electronic pieces (Music for Modulated Wave by Proportion of Prime Number, anyone?). Joe Whelan, a local performer at the start of a promising career, is the soloist for the Mayuzumi work.

Finally, it’s back to Felix M and his Symphony No.1 in C Minor (op.11), written in 1924 when the child prodigy Mendelssohn was just 15, and premiered in Leipzig in 1927. Any orchestral work by a teenager is impressive but Mendelssohn’s first symphony is more than just a precocious novelty, which is why it remains part of the repertoire. And one reason for its quality is that it was, astoundingly, the 13th symphony which Felix had composed! The previous dozen, on which he honed his talents under the tutelage of Carl Friedrich Zelter, remained unpublished until 1972 when musicologists started discovering their delights.

The symphony brings to a close the concert which takes place in Fraser Noble Hall on London Road on Saturday 31 March 2012. Eyes down for a full house at 7.30pm. Tickets are £8/£6 on the door or from the Embrace Arts box office. (Please note that the Hebrides Overture replaces the previously announced Stravinsky String Concerto in the programme.)

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