If you plan to attend a Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra concert this coming season, you may want to bring a passport.
The orchestra’s new conductor, Linus Lerner, plans to take audiences to his home country of Brazil and beyond. The program for 2008-09 features composers hailing from as far away as Russia, Italy, the Czech Republic, France and, of course, Brazil.
“You could say it’s a journey around the world,” Lerner said.
The five-concert series begins Sunday, Oct. 5 and 12, at Desert View Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, respectively. Each concert takes place twice — once at each venue — and features a guest performer.
From Lerner’s home country comes Heitor Villa Lobos’ piece “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2.”
Written in the early 1900s, the piece fuses Brazilian folk music with the sounds of Johann Sebastian Bach.
One part of the music imitates a small train in the interior of the country that peasants use for traveling.
“It’s imitated with the percussion at the end,” Lerner said. “You hear the train start slow, and then it gathers speed.”
Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” has just as much sense of place as the Brazilian piece.
Composed in 1899, the piece was meant as opposition to the Russian Empire’s revocation of Finland’s independence.
“He’s evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people,” Lerner said. “Most of the piece is rousing and turbulent, and at the end it becomes very serene and melodious.”
The melody at the end has become so popular, Lerner said, that some mistake it as a Finnish folk tune.
Some featured music for the 2008-09 season crosses cultures, such as Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, popularly known as the “New World Symphony,” which depicts the American experience but was written by a Czech.
And if that isn’t enough culture, a recording of the symphony once traveled to the moon with astronaut Neil Armstrong.
“Talk about a trip, huh?” Lerner said.
Another piece that crosses cultures is the Spanish-flavored “Alborada del Gracioso,” written by a Frenchman, Maurice Ravel. The music brings to mind castanets and guitars.
“To modern ears, the harmony is a simple evocation of the sensual warm Spanish flamenco rhythms,” Lerner said.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian composer, gives a musical rendition of the old Persian tale of a woman who saves herself from beheading by telling captivating stories in “Sheherazade.”
“Having Ravel doing something about Spain and Rimsky-Korsakov doing something about Persia makes for much diversity,” Lerner said.
And diversity is just what this season is about.