A soft flute solo opens Claude Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” — “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” One by one, the remaining wind sections join the flute and a dream-like fantasy based on Stéphane Mallarmé’s Symbolist poem about a faun and its desires.
The Yale Philharmonia will perform the Debussy along with Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony in a concert this Friday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall. The orchestra will be guest conducted by Seattle Symphony conductor emeritus Ludovic Morlot. Violinist Jung Eun Kang MUS ’18 ’19, who won the 2019 Woolsey Concerto Competition, will be the soloist for the Szymanowski.
According to Morlot, the program combines French and Russian influences and “invite[s the audience] into a world of dream and fantasy.”
“[Morlot] has been connecting all three pieces in the program and talking about all three pieces even when we’re rehearsing just one,” said violinist Hannah Tarley MUS ‘21. “It’s an interesting way to work that brings more color and a fuller palate [to the music].”
Morlot, who rehearsed for the first time with the Philharmonia on Monday evening, said that this concert’s preparation includes more rehearsal time than usual, allowing him to “rehearse for the concert but also explore musical ideas [with the orchestra].”
According to Tarley, Morlot drew parallels between large symphonic programming and small ensemble music. Morlot encouraged the orchestra members to pay close attention to other musicians playing different parts.
“It’s a really great approach because it reminds us to get out of our own heads and out of our own parts,” said Tarley. “He has been telling us stories and trying to get us to dig into our imaginations a little bit more.”
“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” which will begin the concert, is a French impressionist piece composed in 1894. The piece features an extensive flute part, and its opening solo often used in professional orchestra auditions.
Flutist Jungah Yoon MUS ’19 ’20, who will be playing the solo, said the Debussy piece is challenging because of the need to create a “hollow and open sound.” Yoon added that the piece is related to “Impressionist paintings, so in musical words, Debussy is playing with moods and colors.”
According to the concert’s program note, the moods and colors in the piece “paint contours and invite the listener to join the faun’s dreamworld.”
The Debussy piece will be followed by Szymanowski’s violin concerto. According to Kang, Szymanowski, an early 20th-century Polish composer, was influenced by Debussy. The violin concerto is revolutionary for its time: it rejects traditional tonality and is presented in a single movement without pause.
Kang, who is currently a fellow with the New World Symphony in Miami, traveled back to New Haven to perform the concert. She said that the concerto balances “romantic emotion” with atonality and a “very impressionistic sound.”
According to violist Alex McLaughlin MUS ’20, the concerto is “not a very commonly performed piece.”
“I’m really excited to put [the Szymanowski] together because I love how every part of the ensemble is interlocked into this complex, almost film-music-like score,” said McLaughlin. “Each instrument has its own little nooks and crannies to come out, and everyone is having a blast.”
The Szymanowski piece connects to the Prokofiev because both pieces were composed during a World War. According to Kang, Szymanowski composed his violin concerto during the First World War because a health condition exempted him from conscription. Prokofiev composed his Fifth Symphony during the Second World War.
According to McLaughlin, the Prokofiev symphony, which was composed in a single month, is “an absolute classic in the symphonic literature. It’s written in a world that’s been ravaged by the awful politics and devastation of the human condition, but the piece offers an alternative perspective of hope going forward.”
Morlot described the symphony as lyrical, “perfect to close the program with what [Prokofiev] calls ‘a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit.’”
According to Tarley, Morlot highlighted how Prokofiev’s French influences add another dimension to the character of his symphony.
“[Morlot has an] emotionally-driven but not over-the-top interpretation, which is something that I really appreciate,” said McLaughlin. He added that Morlot helped the musicians understand “when to throw coal into fire and when to ride the waves of the music.”
Friday’s concert will be one of two guest-conducted Philharmonia concerts this season.
Phoebe Liu | firstname.lastname@example.org