Old Worlds to meet New World in symphonic concert

From LJS&C Reports

The La Jolla Symphony & Chorus (LJS&C) will perform three works that present vivid musical images of Asia, Europe and America, in a program themed “Old Worlds/ New World,” May 4-5, at Mandeville Auditorium on the UC San Diego campus.

Music Director Steven Schick will lead the orchestra in Chou Wen-chung’s “Landscapes,” Richard Strauss’s virtuosic “Horn Concerto No. 2,” and Edgard Varèse’s “Amériques,” a 1927 work that influenced Frank Zappa and a generation of rock artists.

This will be the fifth concert of the 58th season, “Angle of Repose,” exploring themes inspired by Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.

“This is a very personal concert for me,” Schick said. “I can say with no exaggeration that without Varèse, I would not be a musician today. His ‘Amériques,’ ‘Déserts,’ and most importantly ‘Ionisation,’ written in 1931 for 13 percussionists, were my guiding lights as a student.”

Schick noted the connec- tions between the three composers on the program. A young Varèse, who had studied in Paris, moved to Berlin to begin his musical career and found an unlikely ally in Richard Strauss, one of the most influential composers at the time. A few doors were opened, but eventually Varèse decided that the Old World had little to offer him and moved to America.

Decades later, Varèse is the famous (and perhaps infamous) composer of some of the 20th century’s most inspired, powerful, and important music when a young Chinese composer and recent immigrant to America, Chou Wen-chung, seeks him out for composition lessons.

“ ‘Landscapes’ was the composition Wen-chung was working on when he came to Varèse’s apartment to begin studying with him,” Schick said.

“Landscapes,” first performed in 1953, is his best-known composition. It is a concise piece of music in three movements, spanning eight minutes. Chou based each movement on a traditional Chinese melody, each in turn linked to a Chinese poem.

Richard Strauss’ (1864– 1949) father was one of the finest horn players of his time and a crucial influence on the composer’s abiding love for the instrument. Strauss finished “Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major” in 1942 at the age of 78, with WWII darkening the world around him. The opening Allegro begins with the horn soloist alone: the octave leap and flourish establish not only the virtuoso character of this music but also its essentially lyric nature. Horn player Nicolee Kuester solos. She was LJS&C’s 2011 Young Artists Competition first-place winner and is now principal horn in the orchestra.

Varèse (1883–1965) wrote “Amériques” between 1918 and 1922. It was one of the first works from the young French composer after moving to the U.S. and settling in New York City. Varèse intended the title of the work to symbolize “discoveries — new worlds on Earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men.”

“Amériques” is scored for a gigantic orchestra, one that includes eight horns, six trumpets, five trombones, two harps, and nine percus- sionists, who play a total of 27 different instruments.

Among these are such unusual instruments as the lion’s roar and a siren, the latter a deep wailing siren as heard on New York City fire trucks, a characteristically “urban” sound to the composer. Varèse did not write in traditional form, and listeners should not expect thematic ideas to “develop.” The dynamic range is huge — from the barely-audible to ear-splitting intensity.

Listeners will be struck by the extraordinary writing for percussion in this 24-minute score, almost a world unto itself, full of strange new sounds and rhythms.

If you go

■ What: Old Worlds/ New World, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

■ When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 5

■ Where: Mandeville Auditorium at UCSD

■ Tickets: $15-$29

■ Box Office: (858) 534-4637

■ Website: