Everyone knows the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but isn’t there another side to that? What about words that spark our imaginations in a way that make our minds see and feel?
That was my thought when I read about the upcoming program “Glinka, Prokofiev, and Mendelssohn,” being performed May 6 at the Landis Theater in Vineland and May 7 at Stockton University’s Performing Arts Center, on the Bay Atlantic Symphony website.
One of the pieces, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, is described as “treacherous.” – Tell me that doesn’t get your mind racing just a little.
And – hang on to your hats here – it also says that the concerto ends with a “diabolically warped witch’s dance.”
So, when I spoke to the Bay Atlantic Symphony’s Artistic Director, Jed Gaylin, I could hardly wait to ask him about this.
He laughed. “Yes, those are probably my words.”
But he didn’t back off a bit.
“All the pieces in this program are great, but the Prokofiev is really special,” said Gaylin. “It is emotional and highly impactful and – while it fits well into the folkloric theme of the program – it is quite contemporary-sounding.”
Luosha Fang, who will be violin soloist for the work, said she too has a special place in her heart for the concerto.
“It is one of my favorites,” Fang told me in a Skype conversation. “I have a strong emotional connection to that piece.”
Fang is a native of Shanghai and a member of a musical family. She started playing violin when she was three years old, and remembers learning the Prokofiev concerto when she was a teenager.
At the time, Fang was attending Bard College, majoring in violin and Russian Studies. She spent a summer in St. Petersburg to work on learning the Russian language and had the opportunity to study with a violin professor while there.
When I told her about Gaylin’s description of the work as “treacherous,” she laughed.
“It IS difficult to play,” she said.
Fang explained that this piece is not like a traditional concerto, where the solo violin part takes center stage.
“I think it is like chamber music,” she said. “The orchestra and the solo violin part are equal, which can make the interactions between my parts and the orchestra’s a little trickier.
“I did some research when I was working on the piece again,” Fang continued, “and I learned that Prokofiev debuted the work in Spain. I can definitely hear that influence. The tempo changes in the third movement, and the rhythms are strong and complex.
“It reminds me of a Spanish dance,” she concluded.
According to Gaylin, though less vibrantly described, the two other selections in the program, Symphony No. 4, “The Italian,” by Mendelssohn and Mikhail Glinka’s “Kamarinskaya” are also genuine stand-outs.
“Mendelssohn was a great 19th century composer,” he said, “Each piece is a quiet revolution.”
Symphony No. 4 is especially pictorial and evocative, Gaylin told me, and somewhat unusually structured.
“Normally, a piece goes from tragic to heroic,” he explained, “but this begins very sunshiny and major, and ends in a minor.”
It’s not as gloomy as it sounds, though. “Mendelssohn managed to make that minor ever more cheerful and fun-loving than the major,” Gaylin said.
I was unfamiliar with composer Mikhail Glinka, but Gaylin referred to him as a “father of Russian music.”
“This piece is a series of folk tunes, played in alternation,” he said. “It just builds and builds.
“It really sets the tone for what you might think of as Russian music.”
In summing up the season-closing program, Gaylin said, “There is a lot of beauty there.”
An hour before each performance, Gaylin will present a “Pre-Concert Conversation with the Maestro,” which is free and open to the public. For this program’s talk, he said he’ll likely start off by discussing the three pieces’ folkloric elements. But, after that, anything can happen.
“With weekend concerts, I give a talk twice in less than 24 hours,” he told me, “and they are never the same.”
As it is with conducting, Gaylin’s approach to these talks is to be spontaneous and open, embracing the interaction with the audience that naturally occurs. And this give-and-take happens regardless of whether people are seasoned concert-goers or not.
“It doesn’t seem to matter if someone is totally familiar with the music or will be hearing it for the first time,” said Gaylin. “It’s like we are discovering together.”
The Bay Atlantic Symphony performs “Glinka, Prokofiev, and Mendelssohn” on Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. in the historic Landis Theater, 830 Landis Ave., Vineland; and Sunday, May 7 at 2 p.m. in Stockton University Performing Arts Center, 101 Vera King Ferris Dr., Galloway Township. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Landis Theater 866-811-4111 and Stockton University 609-652-9000. Free valet parking is available for the Landis Theater performance.