On Friday, students will have the opportunity to experience the sounds of France through a unique trio of symphonic works performed by the Yale School of Music’s Philharmonia.
The concert, which will take place in Woolsey Hall, will be led by guest conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, director of the Orchestre de chambre I Musici de Montréal.
The program will include French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Bacchanale,” from his 19th-century opera “Samson et Delila,” followed by Claude Debussy’s “Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande.” Friday’s performance will serve as the North American premiere of contemporary French conductor Alain Altinoglu’s arrangement of the Debussy piece. To complete the program’s 60-year survey of French repertoire, the concert will conclude with “Symphonie Fantastique,” early 19th-century French composer Hector Berlioz’s massive symphonic work.
“I’m not going to give [the musicians] something that you preheat in a microwave,” Zeitouni said of the repertoire choices for Friday’s program. “I really want to do something special for them.”
Composed in 1830 by a lovestruck Berlioz, the episodic “Symphonie Fantastique” tells the story of an artist who falls in love with a woman, sinks into despair because his love is unrequited, takes opium and hallucinates his own hanging and funeral. At his funeral, beloved participates in a grotesque dance involving witches and demons.
Zeitouni emphasized the stylistic diversity within Berlioz’s piece.
“In the five movements of ‘Symphonie Fantastique,’ each of them is in a totally different style,” Zeitouni said. “One is more Beethoven-oriented, one is more French Baroque, one is a new creation altogether.”
The percussion section plays a critical role in communicating the five-part narrative of the piece. According to percussionist Russell Fisher MUS ’20, “Symphonie Fantastique” is one of the first works in percussion repertoire that gives the players “a large part in the programmatic nature of the piece.”
“In moments such as the haunting and relentless motor of the timpani in the ‘March to the Scaffold,’ the thunderstorms in the third movement, or the church bells of the fifth movement, the percussion section plays an important role in the telling of the story,” Fisher added.
Zeitouni said that he planned the program to expose the students in the Philharmonia to the unique style of French music. He noted that although the musicians are accomplished players, they still lack exposure to the full range of musical styles. Due to his French background, he felt that a French program would be appropriate, he said.
Principal violist Rimbo Wong MUS ’19 said that playing French music requires evoking a “completely different atmosphere.” She said that this type of music is “much more dreamy and surreal.”
Other members of the orchestra also recognized the unique opportunity to play an entirely French concert.
“It really is a privilege to work with [Zeitouni] on an all-French program,” said horn player Gabriel Mairson MUS ’19.
“It isn’t so often that an orchestra has the privilege of performing a program of exclusively French Romantic [and] Impressionistic music,” said violinist Ariel Horowitz MUS ’19, who will serve as concertmaster for this performance. “[It] is such a unique and lovely style of music with a wide range of sound colors to explore.”
Zeitouni’s background as an orchestral percussionist has influenced his philosophy as a conductor. He strives to be the conductor he would have liked to have as a musician and said that understanding the players in his orchestra is the most important aspect of his job.
“They need to feel they can trust the conductor,” Zeitouni said. “They need to know the framework is taken care of so they can express themselves freely.”
Student tickets for Friday’s concert will be free.
Allison Park | email@example.com and
Eli Mennerick | firstname.lastname@example.org .