Three Minutes, Three Questions APO Maestro Steven Byess

Three Minutes, Three Questions APO Maestro Steven Byess

Love comes in all shapes and sizes, flavors and fantasies — and all of them come together every year for Valentine’s Day. According to its music director, Steven Byess, the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate love Feb. 9 in “lush and romantic works” from the ballet “Spartacus”; in “The Firebird,” “the piece that catapulted Stravinsky to international fame”; and in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which “doesn’t represent love between two people, but rather a deep love for music.”

Byess took a few minutes to answer these questions for What’s Up!

Q. How do these three pieces of music complement each other for a Valentine’s Day concert?

A. All three of the pieces on the APO program have strong representations of love, or aspects of love, in them.

The Khatchaturian Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from the ballet “Spartacus” is one of the most lush and romantic works in the orchestral repertoire. In Act I of the ballet, Spartacus and his wife Phrygia are among a group of Thracians who, after the Roman conquest of their country, are being taken to Rome to be sold into slavery. There they are separated, but Spartacus leads a rebellion that temporarily succeeds in defeating the Romans, and he is able to find Phrygia again. The Adagio has several statements of the “love” theme between the two main characters, but it is the moment that Spartacus and Phrygia are reunited that has one of the most famous passionate moments in all of music. It is helpful to know the plot, but the music is so overwhelmingly beautiful that it is immediately evident that it is a passionate love theme.

The Suite from the ballet “The Firebird” also concerns two lovers: Prince Ivan, while hunting in the forest, accidentally strays into the realm of Kotschei the Immortal King and encounters 13 beautiful princesses and falls in love with one of them. Ivan risks his life to free the princess. (He is successful!) The music for the ballet is lovely and dynamic, with some of the most exciting music of the early 20th century.

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 doesn’t represent love between two people, but rather a deep love for music. Rachmaninoff enjoyed great success as a composer early in his life. However, following a particularly terrible premier performance of his Symphony No. 1, he was thrust into a deep depression and was unable to compose for several years. It was only through therapy that Rachmaninoff returned to writing music, and he rediscovered his extraordinary gift for writing lush and romantic musical themes.

Q. I assume pianist Robert Henry is playing the Rachmaninoff. Why him? And why that piece of music?

A. I first met Robert Henry when he was 18 or 19 years old while he was studying for an undergraduate degree in music in Atlanta. At that time, he was already an amazingly talented pianist and musician. Truly, when he plays he makes the most demanding music seem effortless; it is an astonishing thing to watch him play. It was the music of Rachmaninoff that most impressed me when I heard him play as a young man, and I am thrilled that we can present Dr. Henry to the APO patrons.

Q. Is this “easy” music for an audience?

A. This is one of the most exciting performances the APO has presented in the past several years. All three pieces on the program are orchestral showpieces and will highlight the outstanding members of the orchestra. The music is listener-friendly, and the program is a perfect way to enter the symphonic world for a novice concertgoer. The program will also be a delight for the ears and other senses for the seasoned orchestra patron. I present commentary for each work on the program from the stage during the performance, so the atmosphere of the concert is relaxed and very enjoyable.



Arkansas Philharmonic:

‘Music From The Heart’

With Robert Henry

WHEN — 7 p.m. Feb. 9

WHERE — Arend Arts Center in Bentonville

COST — $5-$35

INFO — 800-965-9324

BONUS — Parents can have a date night by taking advantage of the Classical Kids Club. Kids 4-12 are invited to have fun in the club during all or part of the concert. It is included with the $5 admission.

Categories: Music