PRÉLUDE À L’APRÈS-MIDI D’UN FAUNE – CLAUDE DEBUSSY
SYMPHONY NO 1 – JEAN SIBELIUS
SYMPHONY OF SOMERSET – COLIN G. DANCE
RUSLAN & LUDMILA OVERTURE – MIKHAIL GLINKA
BACCHANALE FROM SAMSON AND DELILAH – CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS
To open our 2023 season, we’ve chosen an eclectic programme comprising five wonderful pieces by four well-known composers and an exciting new work by our very own emerging, local talent, Colin G Dance. Colin, an Exmothian by birth and a resident of nearby Somerset, is not just ESO’s tuba player, but a talented composer. The Symphony of Somerset is his first work for full orchestra and its four movements capture characteristic songs of the south west and evoke the undulating landscape surrounding us; it promises to deliver some bucolic melodies to remember and we can’t wait to play it!
Before hearing from Colin, our opening number will be the familiar Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila, a grand opera by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) based on a Pushkin poem. This brilliantly energetic piece, credited with helping introduce a distinctive new Russian artistic style to western Europe, centres on the abduction of a royal bride from her father’s castle in medieval Kiev, before her eventual rescue and re-awakening by her betrothed knight, aided, perhaps inevitably, by the good sorcerer’s magic ring. As the triumphant finale suggests, this not unfamiliar tale has a happy ending.
Next up – and in complete contrast – the well-known Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) depicts the desires and dreams of a faun in the heat of the afternoon, and his falling asleep when tired of pursuing nymphs and naiads. This impressionistic symphonic poem deploys evocative flute, oboe and clarinet solos to neatly translate Mallarmé’s 110 lines of poetry into 110 bars of evocative music. Reassuringly, at its première, the initially sceptical and disapproving poet was deeply moved to admit that the piece had created “no dissonance with [his] text”. Praise indeed.
The rumbustious Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah (Op 47) – the most frequently heard grand opera by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) – has been said, tantalisingly, to depict an orgiastic, drunken revel. Well, that may be too tall an order for ESO to re-enact, so we will simply stir your imagination with lively rhythms and louche harmonies. Based on the biblical tale from the Book of Judges, the complete opera was premiered in Weimar in 1877 before making its French debut in Rouen in 1890.
Our finale is the expansive Symphony No 1 in E Minor (Op 39) by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Even from its opening bars, featuring a rather brooding clarinet solo underpinned by rumbling timpani, the piece is said to reflect Finland’s struggle for independence from Russia. Sadly, its later description as “the music of a young giant, full of fiery love for his country and flaming defiance against its oppressors” remains only too apposite in 21st century Europe. There can, however, be little doubt that the symphony and the 1899 concert tour to Stockholm, Oslo, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Paris secured the composer’s international breakthrough.
So, we hope you’ll join us for this concert of great music, including a rare world première of classical music of the South West; it’s simply not to be missed!