by Keith Loria
For its 72nd season that’s opening Saturday night at the Klein Memorial Auditorium, the Greater Bridgeport Symphony has the theme of “Revolutions and Revelations” running through most of the schedule of five concerts.
Under the baton of Maestro Eric Jacobsen, the GBS will explore music surrounding the Russian, Spanish, French and American revolutions.
“I’m so excited for the continued growth of the orchestra. This is my fourth year here and I feel every year has been this huge leap forward in terms of our mutual abilities making music together,” Jacobsen said. “This season — the music that we’re playing, the soloists that we have coming — feels like the stars are aligning. We have this incredible high ceiling.”
Jacobsen worked with Mark Halstead, executive director of the GBS, and the rest of the artistic advisory committee on how best to plan the season and they all feel they have put together a winner.
“The theme is all about what happens after a political revolution, what happens to the arts and what happens to music,” Halstead said. “When we started thinking about the Russian Revolution being 100 years ago — and all the horrors that came with that — great, great music came out of it; with some of the foremost composers in all history came out of it.”
The season opener takes place on Sept. 16 with 22-year-old Fairfield piano virtuoso Alexander Beyer featured prominently for a program titled, “Music Lovers of The World Unite.”
“Alex is a hometown hero and one of the most accomplished pianists I’ve ever gotten to work with,” Jacobsen said. “He is a true artist. Getting to see him develop has been really special. The community has seen him grow and it’s been a beautiful thing.”
At the show, GBS will perform music from before the Revolution by the “father of Russian classical music,” Mikhail Glinka and his Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture. It will also play selections of two composers who stayed in the new Soviet Union after the Revolution: Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor.
“That particular piece is about as demanding and beautiful for an orchestra to play as any,” Jacobsen said. “No question that this piece is a real determination for the representation of an orchestra being greater than the sum of all parts.”
Beyer will also play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famed Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
On Oct. 28, the concert will highlight the music of Spain, Puerto Rico, and South America, with Donald Palma serving as guest conductor. Joaquín Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto Concierto de Aranjuez, written at the end of the Spanish Civil War, anchors the program, with Benjamin Verdery on guitar.
“Living composers are hard to find and there aren’t many classical composers from Puerto Rico, but we have a living composer from there who wrote one of these pieces, which has such a beautiful sound,” Halstead said. “The night will be very hot in rhythms and a beautiful change for us in some ways. It will be an introduction to our patrons for some of this music that isn’t heard so much.”
For the holidays, the GBS will take a break from the theme and instead focus on the holiday music that concert goers have come to expect. On Dec. 16, Jacobsen will conduct festive selections from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, along with his Symphony No. 5 and other holiday favorites.
“Christmastime, we will get into some very recognizable classic tunes,” Halstead said. “We’ll also have some sing-a-longs and it’s going to be a really fun night.”
On March 3, the GBS storms the Bastille with its French Revolution concert, as pianist Andrew Armstrong takes on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, composed originally for Napoleon. The concert also features Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem and Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite.
“After Napoleon there was a flowering of the arts in France and you can see it in music,” Halstead said. “We’ll also be doing a whole bunch of pieces from the opera, ‘Carmen.’”
The final concert of the season — one dealing with the music of the American Revolution — takes place on April 28. The thing is, Halstead noted, symphonic music didn’t take root in America until almost the 20th century, so there was nothing really to draw on.
To solve the problem, the GBS commissioned a new composition, “The songs of the American Revolution and Civil War” by Jeremy Kittel, who will also solo on violin.
“Jeremy is writing this piece of songs from the American Revolution all the way through the end of the Civil War, because really the language and the music of America at that point is not formal music,” Halstead said. “The second half of the concert will focus on how America became the destination point for so much of the world.”
In this regard, the concert will celebrate Scott Joplin and George Gershwin. In a new arrangement from Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, GBS will be joined by Bridgeport’s Harding High School Choir. While Gershwin’s passionate Cuban Overture will include proficient bass, wind and percussion students in the region.
“We will have kids from the area, the very best, cream-of-the-crop brass, wind and percussion players from the region,” Halstead said. “We’re going to work with them, mentor and train them all year and have them go through the rigors of the concert and rehearsal schedule and they will be ready to play a piece that in 72 years has never been performed here.”
All five concerts begin at 8 p.m., preceded by the Doris and Herbert Harrington Pre-Concert Talk Series an hour earlier, which guides listeners through the music. Single tickets range from $15-$59. For more information, visit GBS.org.
“This is an important time to sit together with a group of humans and experience art together,” Jacobsen said. “I’m excited about the season ahead.”