The Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra kicks off their 2013-14 Concert Season with musical excursions spanning generations and musical destinations circling the globe, beginning with a return engagement from the popular Swedish Tribute group Arrival, who will perform the Music of Abba on September 21st at 8:00 PM at Saginaw's Temple Theatre. The timeless melodies of this popular 1970s combo witnessed a sell-out attendance when they first appeared two years ago.
Following up in the month of October the SBSO stages its first formal performance of the new concert season by transporting us to Austria and beyond with A Toast To Vienna, which as part of the month long Art & Sol regional celebration of the arts, will feature guest conductor Laura Jackson, Music Director of the Reno Philharmonic.
Happening at 8:00 PM on October 26th, this program will feature two works by the Waltz King, Johann Strauss II: his thrilling showpiece Long Live the Magyar and On the Beautiful Blue Danube, while the 'Art & Sol' portion of the program is slated to feature Nielsen's 'Helios Overture along with an original composition by Pulitzer Prize winning American composer Kevin Puts entitled Inspiring Beethoven.
Insofar as Vienna has long been the undisputed world capital of classical music and the SBSO is opening its new season with a musical toast to this beautiful city and its musical legacy, recently The Review spoke with guest conductor Laura Jackson about some of the musical goals that she hopes to achieve with her first appearance in Saginaw as she fills in for SBSO conductor Brett Mitchell.
In terms of background, Jackson is now in her fourth season as music director for the Reno Philharmonic, where she continues to win praise for her innovative programming and passionate community engagement. She has also served as the Assistant Conductor with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and prior to her appointment in Atlanta, studied conducting at the University of Michigan and participated in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Tanglewood Music Center.
Jackson says that she first became interested in classical music while growing up in Upstate New York and fell in love with the violin in public school, until she transferred to the North Carolina School for the Arts to finish high school. She played violin professionally in the Boston area and taught in New Hampshire and in 2005 earned her doctorate in Orchestra conducting from the U of M where she studied with Kenneth Kiesler.
When asked what she feels is the most challenging component involved with rendering interpretations of the works featured in the Toast to Vienna program with the SBSO, similar to the spirit of Art & Sol, she says it is all about illumination. “Interpreting any piece of music is always a test and basically we are talking about the essence of the work,” she reflects.
“When I approach any work of music I always ask why did the composer write this work and what makes it tick? In this way I find it easier to illuminate the wonders of the work and make sure that you achieve a point where the audience gets what is happening. Most parts of this program are related to dance and dance is very rhythmic, so I'm finding that with all the many compelling rhythms in this program, it's all about energy and momentum and is a fun program to conduct.”
Obviously, Strauss' On the Beautiful Blue Danube is a signature piece of classical music; but what does Laura feel distinguishes it from the lexicon of classical music that makes it so compelling?
“It's such a wonderful piece of music and the ultimate example of the concert waltz,” she explains. “Just the sweep of the melody lines alone makes it so one can't help but smile; and originally this was written as a choral piece as the unofficial national anthem of Austria. But it wasn't until the orchestra version was written that the work caught on, so in many ways it is a summary of what comes before and after in terms of how it explores all levels of grandeur.”
Similarly, with Nielsen's Helios Overture, Jackson feels there are many compositional strengths that distinguish it. “This was a piece that Nielsen wrote while on vacation overseas while staying on the Aegean Sea and it is basically the depiction of a sunrise,” she explains. “Ironically, it also starts on the note 'C' and musically it unfolds similar to the way we look at the sea and watch the sun rise. It is full of tranquility and replete with vast vistas and take on the arc of an entire day which navigates a very descriptive piece and also ends on the note C.”
Following through on this thread of inquiry, what does Laura feel about Kevin Put's Inspiring Beethoven that informs some of its compositional strengths? “Well, Beethoven's 7th is his most famous symphony and this piece by Puts was written in 2001,” she reflects. “Basically he is imagining Beethoven sitting at a desk composing his 7th Symphony and attempting to translate the mundane realities of life and create something wonderful from it. Beethoven was not a happy-go-lucky fellow, yet his music tops many lists in terms of majesty and depth, so Puts takes different pieces of it and quotes the symphony, only to veer off in a different direction while working through life's events. This is a challenging piece because it is unusual, inquisitive and accessible.”
Finally, how does Jackson go about translating and rendering these works with the orchestra? Does she try to bring out strengths and textures within the composition that appeal to her; and what does she feel her role is as a conductor in rendering these compositions?
“My role is to honor what the composer wrote,” she states. “It's more about honoring the piece itself than my own interpretations of it, but essentially I try to look for an entry point for myself when I'm approaching a piece. You cannot help but make it subjective, but I try to break it down to the elements: why did the composer choose an oboe instead of a tuba for this melody line; and questions like that. Through this process I try to make the work breathe and come to life.”
“We do not play only notes on stage; it's what lies in this space and time in performance, which is a long way to traverse from composer to live performance.”
Tickets for the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra performances 'Arrival from Sweden' on September 21st and 'A Toast to Vienna' on October 26th can be purchased by calling 989-754-Show. Each takes place at 8:00 PM at the Temple Theatre in Downtown Saginaw.