Symphony opener offers ‘something to listen for’

Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra conductor David Upham’s hand glides through the air, rising slightly, pinches, then lifts again.

Suddenly, his shoulders slump and the orchestra screeches to a halt. His body language is a mixture of slight irritation and genuine disappointment.

“Are you with us?” he asks one of the musicians.

His ear is precise and he picks out every miscue: a split second miss by percussion, a rushed tempo from strings. He relays the feedback with a warm professionalism – this is the work they’ve come to do.

The orchestra runs through it again, this time hitting each mark. All this, in preparation for its first concert of the 2009-2010 season, “Around the World in 80 Minutes” Nov. 14 and 15 at Bainbridge Performing Arts.

Seasoned members and 15 new ones will take the stage with a program that pays tribute to Romantic nationalism – compositions that fiercely articulate cultural preferences of a region, often rooted in the folk traditions of the area.

The “musical bouquet” begins with the festive “English Folk Song Suite,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ work for winds.

The journey heads to Norway as the strings take center stage in Edvard Grieg’s suite, “From Holberg’s Time,” which celebrates the birth anniversary of 17th century Norwegian playwright, Ludvig Holberg.

The full symphony then performs “The Three-Cornered Hat,” a suite of music from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s short ballet, based on a popular Spanish folktale of a miller and his wife.

The fall program concludes with a rumble – the dramatic Symphony No. 2 in B minor by the Russian composer Alexander Borodin. Borodin, also a chemist, was one of five Russian composers in St. Petersburg known as “The Mighty Handful” who passionately championed nationalism, seeking to eradicate Western European influence over the Russian culture. The symphony, written in 1877, was praised by Borodin’s peer Modest Mussorgsky, also one of The Handful, who compared the intensity of it to works by Beethoven.

“What these compositions share is a celebratory tone,” Upham said, now in his third season leading the orchestra.

“You put a program together but you never really know until you start rehearsing whether it will work or not,” he said.

Even if you missed Upham’s discussion of the program at the Bainbridge Public Library’s “Behind the Score” series on Nov. 8, you can arrive at BPA 45 minutes before curtain on Nov. 14 or 15 to hear Upham offer a 25-minute preperformance “chat” where he explains the nuances of each composition, giving audience members “something to listen for.”

This “field guide” follows a question-and-answer format. It’s a wonderful opportunity that enriches the overall experience, deepening the appreciation of the music. It’s a chance to develop your own ear with a director who just recently completed his doctoral degree at the University of Washington. Upham has studied with a wide variety of teachers, including Maestro Peter Erös, Dr. David MacKenzie, Germán Augusto Gutiérrez, and Douglas Diamond.

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