For its upcoming concert, the Yale Philharmonia will take a New Haven audience to Western Europe as it prepares to play some of the most iconic works in the history of French and Spanish music.
Tonight, the Yale School of Music will welcome Yongyan Hu to conduct the Philharmonia in a concert at Woolsey Hall. The concert will feature pieces by French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, along with a piece by Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge. The 2014 Woolsey Concerto Competition winner, Aleksandra Romano MUS ’14, a mezzo-soprano vocalist who is currently a member of the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, will perform with the Philharmonia on the Montsalvatge piece. Guest conductor Yongyan Hu, who has conducted many orchestras across the world and collaborated with renowned musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, described the program as primarily a French-inspired repertoire.
“Most of the music performed can be enjoyed only by listening to it; you cannot dance to it,” said Hu. “But I do think that a piece such as Bolero can no longer be written. It is essentially one melody repeated again and again.”
Hu explained that Ravel’s “Bolero” is entirely played in one key and will feature a roughly 10 minute-long section that may sound boring to audience members. Using the metaphor of a human going through various stages of life, Hu said that at the beginning, the piece is like a baby and eventually develops into a “grown man.” He noted that much like how a human being cannot jump from being eight years old to 12 years old, the music must develop continuously and gradually.
Hu said he believes that the second composer, Debussy, is one of the most important composers in the history of French music. The featured piece, titled “La Mer,” has three movements and each movement represents one aspect of the sea, Hu explained. For example, Hu said, the first movement attempts to personify the sea as something which is old, perhaps older than the human race.
But Hu noted that “La Mer” — which is translated as “the sea” — does not seem to depict how pretty or robust the ocean is. Debussy is known to have told people that he does not like the sea and would prefer to stay away from it, Hu explained.
Romano said that Montsalvatge’s “Cinco Canciones Negras” have been her favorite songs since she was an undergraduate, noting that she first heard them at a recital by Denyce Graves at the Shubert Theater on College Street. A couple of years later, she stumbled upon them in the music library at Bard College. Roma said though she has performed the songs for a number of her own recitals since, this concert will be her first time performing with the Philharmonia. She noted that Yale is her favorite audience to sing to because since nearby Hamden is her hometown, many of her friends and family members are able to attend the concert. She added that she did not have many opportunities to perform during her time at Yale, which makes the upcoming concert a rare occasion.
Tonight’s concert is not the first time that Hu has worked with a Yale ensemble. Jeffrey Douma, the director of the Glee Club, noted that he and the Glee Club collaborated with Hu in a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Hu and the Central Conservatory of Music’s Orchestra in Beijing during their tour of China in 2013. Hu said that having taken several conducting classes at Yale decades ago, the opportunity to return to Yale for a performance with the Philharmonia has great sentimental value.
The next Yale Philharmonia concert will take place on Feb. 27 and will feature music by Beethoven, Mozart and Bartok.