Music Director Marin Alsop leads the BSO and German concert organist Felix Hell in Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3, "Organ", on Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 17 at 3 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The program also includes Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Poulenc's Organ Concerto. Maestra Alsop and Mr. Hell will continue their collaborative efforts in an Off the Cuff performance of Saint-Saëns' "Organ" Symphony on Friday, March 15 at 8:15 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore and Saturday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The BSO's Off the Cuff Series offers a new way to enjoy the backstory of classical music's greatest works and the composers who wrote them. Please see below for complete program details.
Saint-Saëns was a brilliant prodigy who began composing at the tender age of three and went on to lead the French music scene for the latter half of the 19th century. In 1886, he wrote the masterful Symphony No. 3, which stands as one of his most well-known and celebrated pieces. The Third Symphony was nicknamed "Organ" for its dazzling exhibition of the instrument. While an orchestra and organ are rarely paired, Saint-Saëns, as talented an organist as he was a pianist, expertly combined the two forces into one thundering symphony. The organ is first introduced ten minutes into the piece in a manner so delicate that its entrance could easily be missed, but by the finale the organ is the unparalleled star of the show and it bids farewell with a climax that triumphantly earns it the nickname of "Organ Symphony".
The Third Symphony was commissioned by London's Royal Philharmonic Society and was written in remembrance of Saint-Saëns' dear friend, Franz Liszt, who had recently passed. "Organ" brings the memory of Liszt to life through the incorporation of his noted technique, "thematic transformation," in which a single core motif evolves as it continuously recurs throughout the piece. Saint-Saëns may have also paid homage to Liszt through the sheer skill and devotion he poured in this work. The Third Symphony represents the culmination of a glorious career, and Saint-Saëns himself remarked, "With [the Third] I have given all I could give, what I did I could not achieve again."
The Classical Concert Series program continues its tribute to the "King of Instruments" with Poulenc's Organ Concerto. Poulenc's Organ Concerto, commissioned by the Princess Edmond de Polignac in 1938, is particularly unique due to its use of seven short, highly contrasting movements rather than the traditional three movements. The unconventional form of the Organ Concerto, and the erratic nature of its movements, mirrors the "wildly eclectic" personality of Poulenc himself. This powerful piece reveals the spiritually influenced and serious side of Poulenc's work while at the same time showcasing the grandeur of the organ.
Also on the Classical Concert Series program is Dukas' brilliant scherzo, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The piece was originally inspired by the ballad Der Zauberlehrling by the great German poet Goethe, however it is particularly famous for its appearance in Walt Disney's Fantasia. Regarded as Dukas' most successful and popular work, The Sorcerer's Apprentice creates a world of spells, chaos and magic, which transports the listener into the heart of this enchanting story.