Symphony North of Houston has the pleasure of inviting you to join us in the marvelous acoustics of Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball on Sunday, May 15, 2022, at 4:00 p.m., for the final concert of our 2021-2022 season, which will feature the winners of our Young Artists Competition. Admission to our concerts is by donation. At the performance, we will be accepting donations by cash and check, but you may also donate online.
Young Artist Competition Winners
Our soloists at this concert are the winners of our Young Artists Competition, runner-up Hannah Han, and First Place Winner Bryant Li.
Fourteen-year-old violinist and Westchester Academy student Hannah Han placed second with her performance of Camille Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso Op. 28. She is a student of Symphony North’s recent guest soloist, Rodica Gonzalez. A highlight of Hannah’s performance is with the Virtuosi of Houston at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts for the retirement celebration of Senator Orrin Hatch. You can view Hannah’s complete bio by clicking here.
Our first-place winner, seventeen-year-old Bryant Li, a junior at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, and a student of John and Nancy Weems, will open our program with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, for piano and orchestra. His many accomplishments and honors can be found by clicking here. Bryant is a co-founder of Music of Harmony, a nonprofit youth-led organization with 5 chapters and over 900 participating students that has brought joy and passion into people’s lives through over 400 volunteer concerts at senior centers, nursing homes, hospitals, and the like.
Programming for this concert includes the two concerto winners’ selections Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Procession of the Nobles by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, The Poisoned Kiss Overture by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Victory at Sea by Richard Rodgers will conclude the concert and Symphony North’s 46th season.
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
From the Greek, a rhapsodist is someone who stitches together an epic poem for recitation. Sergei Rachmaninoff was, without question, a master musical rhapsodist. His last composition for piano and orchestra, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which Bryant Li will perform with us, takes the thread of Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor and weaves it through 24 episodic variations of musical story-telling that flow so gracefully from one to another that many single variations sound incomplete by themselves. Two famous variations in particular make use of inversions of the theme: Number 7, in which the piano invokes the plainchant Dies Irae as the orchestra plays the theme, and exquisite gem, number 18. Knowing that number 18 would be popular, Rachmaninoff said it was “for my agent.” Because, at his first performance of the Rhapsody, he consumed a dram of creme de menthe to calm his performance anxiety around the challenge of the playing 24th and final variation (a practice he perpetuated only for this piece), Rachmaninoff referred to it as the creme de menthe variation. The whole Rhapsody is among the most intoxicating works in the musical canon.
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Earlier this year, we performed the Marche Militaire by Camille Saint-Saëns. The work that Hannah Han will perform with us, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor was written almost twenty years before, in 1863. Ten years before that, at the age of eighteen, he had already composed a symphony that is well worth hearing, and by the time he wrote our violin piece for today, he was well established as a composer, but nonetheless competed for the Prix de Rome the following year. Such a facile and talented composer may well have felt he yet needed more training, but the evidence, which now included the Rondo, was against him, and Hector Berlioz, one of the judges, wrote of him, “He knows everything, but lacks inexperience,” voting in favor of a younger composer. The Rondo was first performed in 1867 by its dedicatee, Pablo de Sarasate, with Saint-Saëns conducting.
The Procession of the Nobles
The Procession of the Nobles is a fanfare written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera Mlada, composed in the last two years of his third decade of musical creativity during which he produced most of his best-known works. This was his second essay into the libretto by Victor Krylov, the first having been an unfinished collaboration in his youth with fellow members of the Five, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Aleksandr Borodin, in addition to Ludwig Minkus. At the time of the first Mlada, Rimsky-Korsakov had been devoted to the deliberate avoidance of Western forms, but by the time of the second, he had studied and taught Western practices for many years. This fanfare is a great example of his powers of orchestration.
The Poisoned Kiss
The Poisoned Kiss, written in the late 1920’s and premiered in 1936, is a light comedy by Ralph Vaughan Williams that is in the vein of Arthur Sullivan, with a libretto, written by a novice, that was judged to fall far short of W. S. Gilbert’s standards. What resulted was something between “a frothy romantic comedy and a satirical fairy tale.” We shall hear the overture, which lays out both the romantic comedy froth and the satire in the fairy tale. This piece speaks to Vaughan Williams’ consistency of style, for it sits roughly halfway between two other works performed by us, the London Symphony of 1911, and the 1940 score for the 49th Parallel, and exhibits sonorities reminiscent of both.
Victory at Sea
This writer first thrilled to the grandeur of Richard Rodgers’ music for Victory at Sea in a 79-minute reduction during its 1960 broadcast, and the RCA album prominently displaying Rodgers’ name was a musical staple in the house during childhood, so it was a great surprise to discover that Rodgers contributed only 17 pages of piano music for 12 themes, and the bulk of the music and all the orchestration for 26 half-hour segments were created by Robert Russell Bennett. Irrespective of who deserves credit for what, the score remains some of the most compelling dramatic music composed in the golden age of television and motion pictures.
The joy of music will abound on May 15, with an afternoon of virtuosity on the part of our soloists augmenting the musical magic of the remainder of Symphony North’s program. Which of five marvelously tuneful pieces will you be humming as you exit the concert?