Three weekends of concerts - conducted by two generations of J‹rvis, Neeme and Kristjan - bring a piquant mix of old favorites and new discoveries from this fruitful period, justly known as the Belle ê_poque "Beautiful Era."
The Belle ê_poque, a time of peace, technological advancement and cultural innovation throughout Europe, brought with it a flowering of creativity in French music. Drawing on a long tradition of elegant expression, meticulous craftsmanship and sensual instrumental color, French composers forged a distinct and captivating musical language. Toward the end of the 19th century, their innovations culminated in a series of masterpieces.
Imagine hearing, within a few short years, the very first performances of Saint-SaêŠns's Symphony No. 3 "Organ" (1886), Faur_'s Pavane (1887), Franck's Symphony in D Minor (1888), Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894) and Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897).
All of these works will be heard in the Winter Festival, along with later scores by Ravel, Milhaud and Poulenc: evocative, often lighthearted music that formed a potent antidote to the troubled years between the two World Wars. Through it all, Paris was indeed a city of fantasy and discovery, a place where innovators and entrepreneurs gathered to bring new artistic visions to life. Each program of the 2009 Winter Festival offers a feast of Gallic delights:
Week I, January 9-11: J‹rvi and the Keyboard
Marc-Andr_ Hamelin, known for his artistry in French repertoire, takes the stage with Maestro Neeme J‹rvi and the NJSO in two works: the rarely-heard Africa Fantasy by Camille Saint-SaêŠns and Maurice Ravel's fascinating Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, originally written for pianist Paul Wittgenstein (brother of philosopher Ludwig).
The program also includes Poulenc's early ballet Les biches and Saint-SaêŠns's magnificent Symphony No. 3, "Organ."
Friday, Jan. 9 at 8 PM and Sunday, Jan. 11 at 3 PM at NJPAC in Newark
Saturday, Jan. 10 at 8 PM at the State Theatre in New Brunswick
Week II, January 16-18: Majesty and Mischief
American soprano Pamela Armstrong, heard in starring roles at the Met and major houses throughout Europe, is luminous in the orchestral song cycle Sh_h_rezade, a rarity from Ravel (not to be mistaken for Rimsky-Korsakov's version), with Maestro J‹rvi on the podium. Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice - forever associated with Walt Disney's "Fantasia" and a certain mouse - is also on the program, along with Faur_'s tender Pavane and Franck's stately Symphony in D Minor.
Friday, Jan. 16 and Saturday, Jan. 17 at 8 PM) at NJPAC in Newark
Sunday, Jan. 18 at 3 PM at the State Theatre in New Brunswick
Week III, January 23-25: Idyllic Impressionism
Kristjan J‹rvi leads the Orchestra in a program that ranges from the sensual reveries of Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun to the irresistible Brazilian rhythms of Milhaud's Le boeuf sur le toit (originally composed for a silent Charlie Chaplin film) and Ravel's stunning Daphnis and Chloe Suites Nos. 1 and 2. Saint-SaêŠns's lively but infrequently heard Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso completes the program.
Friday, Jan. 23 at 8 PM and Sunday, Jan. 25 as 3 PM at NJPAC in Newark
Saturday, Jan. 24 at 3 PM at the Community Theatre in Morristown
Classical Conversations with guest conductor Kristjan J‹rvi precede each concert and are free to all ticketholders.
Tickets to all Festival performances range in price from $20 to $82 and are available for purchase by phone at 1.800.ALLEGRO (255.3476) or online at www.njsymphony.org.