After a dozen classical music concerts and several swanky soirees, the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s 50th season is coming to a dramatic close.
“It’s the culmination of everything we’ve been doing for the past year and the past years,” Music Director Michael Nowak said. “It will be a joyous celebration.”
This weekend, the symphony celebrates its season finale with two concerts featuring “two totally remarkable orchestral pieces,” Nowak said, Ludwig van Beethoven’s legendary Ninth Symphony and “Celebrations!,” a newly commissioned piece by local composer Craig Russell.
“I always love it when the orchestra plays my music,” said Russell, whose past symphony collaborations include the Spanish-flavored “Concierto Romántico” and the jazzy “Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra.” “The occasion is an exciting one for me and an intimidating one too.”
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More than 200 performers will take the stage Saturday night for a sold-out performance, then return Sunday afternoon.
Both concerts open with the world premiere of “Celebrations,” performed by the symphony and the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony.
According to Russell, Nowak approached the Cal Poly music professor about a year and a half ago with the idea of pairing a new work with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He also wanted something the youth symphony and their older counterparts could play together.
“I decided early on that it would be foolish for me to take on Beethoven in a musical sense,” Russell said. “That’s like challenging Lance Armstrong to a bike race.”
Instead, he created a 20-minute symphonic conversation with a fun contemporary feel.
“You can tell that I like the music of James Brown and B.B. King and Sly and the Family Stone,” Russell said, noting that “Celebrations!” also contains musical nods to Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Chopin. “I like reflecting the age in which I live and the culture in which I’ve been raised.”
Nowak described “Celebrations!” as “very Craig Russell.”
“It’s sentimental and jazzy and energetic, and also inward and reflective,” he said of the piece. “It has all the qualities of a complete human being.”After the intermission, the symphony will be joined onstage by the Cuesta Master Chorale, the Cal Poly Choirs and vocal soloists Gary Aldrich, Jon Garrison, Julia Kierstine and Jacalyn Kreitzer.
Considered to be one of Beethoven’s greatest masterpieces, the Symphony No. 9 in D minor is best known for its triumphant finale — the “Ode to Joy,” which takes most of its German text from a poem written by Friedich Schiller.
The symphony was completed in 1824, just three years before the composer’s death.
“It’s a major work. It’s very long and requires a lot of concentration,” Nowak said, who will be conducting the Ninth Symphony in concert for the first time. “With all this amount of effort, (we decided) it would be very good to do it twice.”
After all, he said, the San Luis Obispo Symphony has been through “our own little musical Iditarod” this season.
“It’s really been a remarkable season for us, stellar from start to finish. We just pulled out all the stops,” Nowak said.
Now, he quipped, “(The musicians) need a good rest.”