Some moments in classical music can simply take your breath away. Whether heard in the concert hall or on a CD or radio, a familiar melody begins. You stop what you are doing, close your eyes, and are instantly transported to a different place and time.
The opening of the second movement of Antonín Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony is one such moment. The hushed strings form a soft blanket of sound, and the plaintive voice of the English horn emerges with a melody so achingly beautiful that the concert hall inevitably falls completely silent as audience and orchestra hold their collective breath.
This soulful melody was eventually given words and transformed into the American spiritual most of us know today as “Goin’ Home,” but it began its life as the Czech composer’s inspiration, living in Iowa in the summer of 1893, surrounded by the sounds of rural America. Dvořák set out to write an “American” symphony, and indeed Americans for the past 125 years have heard something in it that speaks directly to our hearts. His Symphony No. 9, subtitled “From the New World,” forms the centerpiece of Sarasota Orchestra’s Masterworks program that will be heard at the Van Wezel March 11–13.
The program opens with a newer American voice, Pulitzer Prize–nominated, Indianapolis-based composer James Beckel. His Toccata for Orchestra is a brassy, energetic work, full of cinematic melodies and virtuosic writing for every section of the orchestra. Beckel served as the Principal Trombone of the Indianapolis Symphony for decades and clearly knows how to create maximum impact from an orchestral brass section!
Twenty-six-year-old violinist Simone Porter will be the soloist in Samuel Barber’s exquisite Concerto for Violin. Written when Barber himself was only 29, it is among America’s finest contributions to the repertoire. Completed in 1939, the work boasts a gorgeous second movement that ranks with Barber’s Adagio for Strings as among his most heart-wrenching music.
The final movement is a relentless virtuoso whirlwind that was initially declared by violinists to be too difficult to play. Of course, history proves again and again that when something is declared impossible, it does not take long for someone to accomplish it. Simone Porter, who made her international debut at age 13 with the Royal Philharmonic in London, mastered the work long ago and will undoubtedly be spellbinding.
Maestro Thomas Wilkins, Principal Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and himself an American success story, will lead this program of music born in and inspired by America. Wilkins last led Sarasota Orchestra in 2012 and is well-known as an inspirational figure and master of communicating and connecting with audiences. This Sarasota Orchestra program of “breathtaking” moments could not be in better hands.
To learn more and purchase tickets to Masterworks: New World, visit Sarasota Orchestra’s website, or call the Box Office at 941-953-3434. All programs and featured artists are subject to change.