“Bruckner’s music is unlike anything else,” said Peter Oundjian, principal conductor of the Yale School of Music’s Philharmonia. “After conducting anything else, I feel like I’ve run a race, but after conducting Bruckner, I feel five years younger and completely uplifted.”
On Friday, Oct. 27, in Woolsey Hall, Oundjian will lead the Philharmonia’s performance of 19th century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Instead of performing the standard second edition score, the orchestra will perform the first edition of the piece, which Paul Hawkshaw, Yale School of Music Professor of Musicology, created for the International Bruckner Society using Bruckner’s original manuscript. This first edition was long left unplayed — until now.
“This will be the first time anyone has heard the piece straight out of the original score as Bruckner composed it,” Hawkshaw said.
He added that Bruckner gave the first edition of his Eighth Symphony to Hermann Levi, a conductor who led successful performances of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. According to Hawkshaw, for Levi, the Eighth Symphony was too long, too similar to the Seventh Symphony and too heavy handed in its orchestration of brass instruments.
“I think Levi thought the piece was just too avant-garde,” Hawkshaw said, adding that the rejection of the first edition led Bruckner to revise the piece into the second edition, the version of the piece orchestras has performed since its completion.
Hawkshaw said that some moments of the first edition will be noticeably different for listeners familiar with the second. In particular, Hawkshaw noted differences in the ending of the first movement and the orchestration in the brass. The first edition has its own spontaneity, he added.
Its first movement also ends with what Hawkshaw described as an “upbeat, positive, kind of fanfare coda” expected of a recently successful composer, whereas the second edition’s first movement ends “softly and darkly,” perhaps in response to rejection.
The portion of the symphony that requires the large brass section that Levi critiqued contributes to the dramatic range of sounds and colors Oundjian sees in the original edition of the symphony.
“When he gets the whole orchestra going — and we have a huge brass section the sound is just unbelievable,” Oundjian said. “But then, there will be just two players playing, which makes this a great choice for someone who hasn’t been to orchestra concerts: the variety of expression is just exhilarating.”
Violinist Kate Arndt MUS ’19, who will serve as concertmaster for this performance, agreed that the massive scale of the piece makes for an exciting concert. The length and technical demands of the piece oblige each player to maintain stamina throughout the symphony, Arndt added.
But Arndt said that despite each musician’s attention to the individual performance of challenging parts, in rehearsals, Oundjian has emphasized the importance of listening and playing together.
The concert will open with Yale School of Music Professor of Composition and Coordinator of the Composition Department Martin Bresnick’s “Grace,” a concerto for two marimbas and small orchestra to be performed by Sam Um MUS ’17 and Georgi Videnov MUS ’17, winners of April’s Woolsey Hall competition.
Bresnick said his piece takes its point of departure from “The Puppet Theatre,” a story by 17th- and 18th-century German writer Heinrich von Kleist in which two friends discuss what grace means, based on the dancing movements of a puppet or marionette show. Bresnick said he designed the piece to include moments of compositional symmetry that mirror the symmetrical human form and the form of a marionette.
The piece was written for Robert van Sice, Yale School of Music director of percussion studies and acclaimed marimbist, who inspired Bresnick’s approach to writing for marimba.
Bresnick said that after he had the opportunity to hear van Sice play, the composer noticed that van Sice drew out an “incredibly moving, heart-rending quality” while striking the bars of the marimba. Bresnick added that this way of playing the marimba set the challenge for him to “create music that was lyric and songful and not just difficult.”
Arndt identified this lyricism in Bresnick’s music, and said that “the blend of sound in the piece is beautiful – there is so much artistry.”
“My music is designed to pull [listeners] in,” Bresnick said. “I hope each listener can find a place in it that is comfortable.”
Peter Oundjian has been a visiting professor at Yale School of Music since 1981.
Julia Carabatsos | firstname.lastname@example.org