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Brahms: First & Foremost


Friday, January 19, 2018 8:00PM
Mead Theatre - Schuster Center

Brahms: First & Foremost
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HAYDN Symphony No. 1
BERNSTEIN Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1

NEAL GITTLEMAN conductor
LAYNA CHIANAKAS mezzo-soprano
DAYTON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA

Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra open the first concert of the new year with three of the great first symphonies—ambitious symphonies at that, each special in its own way.

The evening begins with a performance of the first symphony by Joseph Haydn. Haydn acted as Kappelmeister, essentially the “director of music,” for the Esterházy court in Eisenstadt, Austria. He held this position for 40 years, which gave him the great luxury of time to compose. And compose he did! His Symphony No. 1 is the first of more than 100 symphonies. During his lifetime the concert platform grew in popularity, giving musical performance a life beyond religious celebrations. Although often called the “Father of the Symphony,” he did not actually invent the form, although he did establish a standard form for the symphony, and he did the same for the sonata and the string quartet.

On to 1942, and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1. At its premiere, the composer himself conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This programmatic symphony follows the biblical story found in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. The piece has three movements: Prophecy, Profanation, and Lamentation. Not to be taken literally, the movements instead cultivate the emotions within the story. In the first movement one can almost hear the prophet’s pleas. Profanation is a scherzo, portraying the corruption and the ensuing destruction of Jerusalem. Finally, Lamentation suggests the mournful cry of Jeremiah. Mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakis joins the DPO for the second movement of Jeremiah. Chianakis, a professor of voice and director of Opera Theater at San Jose University in California, has previously performed several leading roles with Dayton Opera, and the Dayton Philharmonic welcomes her back to the Schuster Center stage for this performance.

To end the evening with aplomb, the DPO performs what many view as the finest first symphony ever written: Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms. As with many of the great composers, Brahms was an accomplished musician at a young age. He grew up performing in local taverns and such, and eventually he met and befriended Robert and Clara Schumann, who helped him make connections in the musical world. It wasn’t until Brahms was in his mid-forties that he finished writing his first symphony. In his letters he has made reference to having Beethoven behind him and over his shoulder, a daunting image to overcome for any composer. However, once Brahms had finished this first symphony, it was near perfection. This work has been called “the greatest first symphony in the history of music.” The intense, epic work even gives indirect credit to Beethoven. The finale of the Symphony No. 1 does hold a striking resemblance to the Ode to Joy. In fact, during his lifetime, some critics referred to Brahms’ first symphony as Beethoven’s tenth.

“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” (Johannes Brahms) With the grand music of Haydn, Bernstein, and Brahms as performed by Layna Chianakas and the musicians of the DPO, you’re in for an evening of beautifully crafted, inspired music.