Wheeling Symphony Salutes Italian Composers Nov. 8


Life Editor

While “V” stands for victory, for Wheeling Symphony representatives, V also means Verdi and Vidovic.

Verdi, of course, is famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, born 200 years ago. The Wheeling Symphony will celebrate the Verdi bicentennial by playing overtures from two of his great operas, “Nabucco” and “La Traviata,” during its Masterworks concert at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Wheeling at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8.

The other V on the concert bill is classical guitarist Ana Vidovic, who will join the orchestra as the featured guest soloist for 20th-century composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Concerto No. 1. Vidovic, born in Croatia, will be making her Wheeling debut.

The second half of the Masterworks program will feature Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique).

Music Director Andre Raphel, who likes to take a thematic approach to programming, said, “I had in mind for this program, for sort of a concept, to try to find a way to celebrate what Verdi meant to classical music. Because he was such a monumental figure, particularly in the realm of opera, finding a way to represent at least musically two of those operas that he was so well known for, seemed to be a nice way to celebrate the bicentennial year.”

Performing the Verdi overtures and the Castelnuovo-Tedesco concerto on the same program provides “a way to, of course, pay tribute to one of the greatest and most famous Italian composers in classical music and to a lesser-known Italian composer who also had a presence in the United States,” Raphel explained.

The lasting qualities in Verdi’s music are his gift for lyricality and timeless subject matters. “Nabucco” (Nebuchadnezzar) is based on a French play, a biblical story of the plight of the Jews and their captivity in Babylon, Raphel noted. “This is something we can always look toward and understand in a different way,” he observed.

Noting that “La Traviata” is a tragic love story, the conductor said, “They’re themes that we’re always dealing with in a certain way in life, which I think gives the music such a timeless and beautiful quality when you present it.”

Castelnuovo-Tedesco “was an important composer of the 20th century, particularly in terms of literature for the guitar,” Raphel said, adding, “He didn’t really receive what we might call his due. He’s not that well known.”

Audiences might be unaware, for instance, that this particular concerto was written for the great guitarist Andres Segovia, and that Castelnuovo-Tedesco also was the composition and orchestra teacher for both Henry Mancini and John Williams. Castelnuovo-Tedesco lived in Hollywood for a time and wrote music for film. “He (Castelnuovo-Tedesco) really was quite something,” Raphel said.

The music director is looking forward to working with Vidovic for the first time. He welcomes the chance “to present new artists to the community, especially when it also gives an opportunity to give a new voice, or a composer who hasn’t been performed (here) in the past.”

Comparing programming to cooking a good meal, Raphel called the Tchaikovsky symphony “the meat” of this program. “It’s a fantastic work which is, I believe, really a symphony of life, with the last movement being about death,” he said.

“We know that Tchaikovsky wrote this piece during the last year of his life. What’s incredible to find in this symphony all of those musical elements that meant so much to Tchaikovsky all through his life, also to have the emotion so present in musical terms. We don’t often get that level of musical honesty in a composition – this feeling of despair, of darkness, also a glimpse of Tchaikovsky as a ballet composer in the second movement,” Raphel commented.

In “Pathetique,” the conductor related, “Later there is sort of a brilliant march that he (Tchaikovsky) writes. But in the end, all that he dealt with in his personal life is really there in the last movement of the symphony. It ends softly. You have this feeling as if he is taking his last breath, as if he’s dying away.”

Friday’s performance also is the second concert of the WSO’s regional college series sponsored by Wheeling Jesuit University. Discussing the works to be played, Raphel said, “I think that for those in the university community, it’s a nice way to experience the orchestra. You have composers whose works and names are very well known, that’s familiar music.”

For some of the college students in the audience, Vidovic’s performance may be their first exposure to the guitar as a classical, rather than a rock or folk, instrument.

Raphel remarked, “So often, we think of certain instruments in a certain light. I think the guitar is one of those instruments that when you hear it in a classical setting, you somehow have a different perspective about the capabilities of the instrument. I think that is one of the elements that Castelnuovo-Tedesco has been able to capture, the subtlety of the instrument in the classical setting. I think it will be neat for those in the college community to experience this concerto.”

Tickets for the concert, sponsored by the Elizabeth Stifel Kline Foundation and WTOV, are available through WesBanco Arena and the Wheeling Symphony box office at 304-232-6191.