Southern Arizona Symphony season finale

Punch Howarth

Symphonie Fantastique of Hector Berlioz will be the major work by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra in their season ending concert. Not really a symphony in the traditional mode, the five-movement work is a series of opium induced musical dream depictions. Along with Beethoven’s five movement Symphony No. 6, the Pastorale, depicting musical sounds of nature, these works are the prototypes of a later musical form labeled tone or symphonic poems of Liszt and Richard Strauss. A unique theme in the work keeps reappearing depicting his beloved, he labels idee fixe. Berlioz prepared program notes he felt should always be distributed at performances.

Part I is Reveries-Passions, dreams of before and after meeting his beloved. Part II depicts a ball at a festival and features four harpists in a grand waltz. A slow Pastorale in 6 time with English horn and oboe open Part III, which has several dramatic developments and ending with the English horn theme only now with four timpanists providing thunder as the music fades. March to the Scaffold, Part IV, is a solemn and both gloomy and ferocious dream with the idee fixe returning just before the blade falls. Part V, the finale, Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath is a potpourri of grotesque images with the beloved theme, medieval Dies Irae funeral music, witches’ dance and all combined for a wild conclusion to bad dreams. Berlioz is better known for his choral and opera compositions and his overtures are masterworks.

Samuel Barber is considered by many to be America’s most gifted composer as his catalogue includes symphonies, concertos, quartets, tone pomes, operas, choral and works for various soloists. A nephew of Louise Homer, a famous opera singer, he was a product of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Winner of various awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, he experimented with 12-tone, atonal, modern romantic and other forms.

At age 29 he was commissioned by industrialist Samuel Fels to compose a violin concerto for Iso Briselli. Showing Briselli the first two movements, he found them acceptable as they were very melodic and he instructed Barber to add a more virtuosic and brilliant third movement. Barber added a perpetual motion third movement labeled Presto in moto perpetuo, which Briselli did not accept, as unplayable. Barber returned half of the Fels commission. Later the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra Op. 14 was premiered by Albert Spalding with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941. Movement I is marked Allegro (fast) and movement II Andante (slow).

Barber’s concerto is now performed regularly and has been recorded by top soloists. This writer’s favorite is by Joshua Bell. Many of his other works have been recorded and are concert favorites.

International soloist for the Barber will be Emily Sun, a native of Australia. She started public performances at age 10 and has thereafter won all the major violin awards of her native country. A graduate of the Royal School of Music in London, she has performed in Austria, Italy, UK and United States.

Also on the program is Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture previewed earlier. Dates for this outstanding concert are Saturday, May 7, in SaddleBrooke at 7:30 p.m. at DesertView Performing Arts Auditorium and in Oro Valley at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on Sunday, May 8, at 3:00 p.m. For information about SASO, membership, musicians, tickets and concert locations go to