Things rarely happen this way, he insisted.
An orchestra with a $5 million budget just “doesn’t make an international record,” Tucson Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor George Hanson said.
But the TSO did just that last spring, recording the works of a little-known French-Canadian composer with an internationally acclaimed pianist.
The disc, available for pre-order and for sale at the TSO’s opening night concert Thursday, Sept. 25, features André Mathieu’s Concerto No. 4 and various other works by the enigmatic composer.
Pianist Alain Lefèvre joined the TSO last May to record Mathieu’s works.
In fact, at rehearsal a few years earlier, the pianist “sobbed” after playing Mathieu’s works with the TSO, Hanson recalled during an interview last week. The emotional experience led the Canadian to make his recording of Mathieu’s work with the TSO.
The performer seemed overcome with the fact that “as a whole, the musicians on the stage had a connection of some kind to the music,” Hanson said.
And that’s saying something.
Mathieu’s fame peaked around 1950. A prodigy since age 13, the composer turned to alcohol after his star faded and died flat broke in 1968. Some 200 of his compositions have never been properly catalogued.
“I discovered Mathieu more than 25 years ago,” Lefèvre said last week during an interview from his hotel in Quebec. “His life was mysterious at the time.”
But, the composer’s music was not.
As a boy, Mathieu was dubbed a “little Canadian Mozart” after an early performance. His musical style tilts toward the romantic and much of it was written for the piano.
Lefèvre has for years played the composer’s works.
“People were amazed by the genius, the story,” Lefèvre said. “Even in Canada nobody knew him.”
Yet, Lefèvre’s decision to record Mathieu with the TSO has drawn the ire of some in the Canadian classical community. “There’s probably a little bit of guilt that the first orchestra doing an homage to a Canadian composer is an American orchestra,” he said with a chuckle.
But, having listened to the completed disc, Lefèvre said: “Today, I’m more happy with my decision. George (Hanson) has been a champion for me.”
The CD, which will be released internationally on Sept. 30 by Canada-based label Analekta, might well land in the top five on the classical music charts.
“The CD is going to be not the talk of the town, but the talk of the world,” Lefèvre boasted of his, Hanson’s and the TSO’s efforts.
The disc marks Lefèvre’s fourth release of Mathieu’s works and also features vocals by the TSO chorus.
The accomplished pianist could have made the record with any orchestra in the world, Hanson said.
The conductor couldn’t hide his pride, however, when he discussed the finished project.
“When I finally sat down and listened to the final edit … I was sobbing,” Hanson said. “I think it’s going to blow people away.”
Just don’t expect the TSO to immediately embark upon a world tour. The next step for an orchestra of the TSO’s size might well be to record another disc, Hanson said. Or not.
With the CD’s release, the group certainly will bolster its international reputation and hopefully add to the list of big-name performers who’ve come to Tucson to play, Hanson said.
If someone listens to the TSO/Lefèvre recording, Hanson suggested, “if they had no idea who’s playing, they’d assume it’s a major orchestra.”
For more information about how to pre-order the CD before Sept. 22, go to www.tucsonsymphony.org.