Romantic Reflections

An Odyssey and Evolution of Lush Musical Expression

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 942   By: Robert E Martin

23rd February, 2023     0

“To say the word  Romanticism is to say modern art - that is, intimacy, spirituality, color, aspiration towards the infinite, expressed by every means available to the arts. - Charles Baudelaire

While much of contemporary music is shaped around lyrical and harmonic narratives reflecting the drives, aspirations, and expressions derived from that mysterious beat of the human heart, many would be surprised to discover that the notion of Romanticism in the musical arts actually didn’t start to mutate, evolve, and assimilate its own distinct characteristics until around 1830, as compositions became increasingly expressive and inventive.

As the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra continues its 2023 season with their next  thematic concert performance titled Romantic Reflections, audiences throughout the Great Lakes Bay region will be treated to an engaging collection of compositions tracing the unique evolutionary arc of the Romantic period in classical music, which ended around 1900 and throughout the length of its gestation was defined by increasingly expansive symphonies, dramatic operas, and passionate songs inspired from the ancillary worlds of art and literature.

Happening on Saturday, March 4th at 8:00 PM at Saginaw’s historic Temple Theatre, the rich orchestral sound, lush harmonies, and extremes of musical expression will all be found in this exceptional program designed by musical director and historian Fouad Fakhouri, with three selections chronicling the evolution of the Romantic movement: Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from the opera Eugene Oriegin, the impassioned ‘Strrum & Drang of Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 44 ‘Trauer’, and the central piece of the program focusing on Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, ‘Romantic’, which was written in 1874 and possesses broad ambitious dimensions, an expansive form, and is colored with deep sensitivity.

To cultivate the richness and relevance of this exceptional era of musical growth, recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Maestro to discuss the significance not only of the Romantic Movement, but the significance of each featured work contained within this uniquely designed program, which cannot be experienced sitting home watching on YouTube, but must be experienced live in order to connect with the expression of real emotions in a way that you simply cannot do watching a TV or computer screen.

REVIEW: I suppose a good place to begin is with the subject of romanticism in music. How would you define it, when do you feel it truly began, and how would you describe the arc of its evolution?

Fakhouri:  While romanticism in music was related to and aligned with other forms of the arts, musically I think the focal point in terms of a composer we truly can associate with moving us from Classicism to Romanticism would be Beethoven. The immortal 9th Symphony really moved us into this idea of music that no longer focused on classical forms, or well-defined time signatures, and was structured more around feelings.  It marked an evolution into a more expressive form.

Then people like Hector Berlioz came along with his Symphonie Fantastique, which he wrote and then  premiered when he was 27-years old, which was inspired by a jaded lover - this beautiful actress he loved at the time who left him, so he OD’s on hallucinogens and goes into this dream state where he sees her  as a witch. It’s that period of time music moved from Classicism to Romanticism, with the late 1800s into the early 1900s being the epitome of that period.

After that we had another big shift around the time of World War I and after the Industrial Revolution, with all these issues of the world adding weight that the next wave of new composers would shatter, whether its Schoenberg or Stravinsky with the Rites of Spring. By then we’re into New-Romanticism where the expression in the music is more important than how you write it or what technique you are using.

REVIEW: Within the context of this program for ‘Romantic Reflections’ you’ve put together, why did you decide to begin with Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise?

Fakhouri:  It’s a short piece and is only three or four minutes long, so it’s a nice upbeat concert opener - sort of a spark of energy that it brings early on into the program.  When I design concerts I think of two things: How do I keep  the music flowing; and how do I align things similar or different so they are  relevant to the audience.

Next we move into the Hayden piece and the reason I wanted to follow with that is to demonstrate this concept of ‘Strum & Drang’ (Storm & Stress) that was actually developed in the 18th century and served as a precursor to 19th century romanticism.  Even though this wasn’t written during the romantic period, it’s all about storms and stress and feelings and seeking a resolution. Basically, Haydn was the father of  ‘the Symphony’ -  the one who wrote 104 symphonies and really started the medium. He taught Beethoven and even Mozart, so he is the stable force that ushered the way for all these other composers.

REVIEW:  Tell us about the centerpiece of this concert, which is Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4. Why did you decide to conclude the program with this work?

Fakhouri: Bruckner was an Austrian and to my mind the ultimate voice of the Romantic Symphony. Bruckner wrote nine symphonies and was a church organist. In all his symphonies you can hear the organ because they all have this thick and dense tone to them.  Plus, all of his works ae very long. This one is only 65-minutes and he wrote some that are much longer, but it is an incredibly accessible piece of music.

You can’t think of his music like you would listening to a Mozart or Brahms symphony. You have to think of something as expansive as Lord of the Rings. Bruckner writes music in a style similar to the way contemporary sound tracks are written, with huge vistas of sound that move us along and stop and move and then come back again.

This is not going to be an easy work to perform because  there is a lot of nuance involved, so it will not be simple. This is one of those challenging concerts where I have to make sure the audience is involved and continues to stay with us, but I also feel strongly that it is worthwhile exposing them to this kind of music.

REVIEW: As a conductor, how do you approach these types of programs?  Do you like to follow strict traditional arrangements of the material, or do you like to interpret and emphasize different parts within the movement or structure?

Fakhouri: I don’t like to work strictly by the book. What you are asking if whether I’m a literalist or a subjective type of conductor.  Do I look at the score like a bible or do I interpret it?  I fall more into the camp of viewing it as a living document and my job is to take the blueprint of what the composer has written and express it to the best of my ability, especially with these Masterworks.

I have to tie them into the current time that I along with my audience is living in. I can’t change the notes, but can try to present them in a way that makes connections to the audience in ways they never imagined. If you’re going to listen to this music that was written over 110 years ago, I feel it important to create a context or a cinematic type of version that can then be conveyed to the audience to better engage them.

It’s easy to forget that back when Beethoven was writing there was no electricity back then. If you wanted to write a note and send it from Germany to France it took a week to get there.  It’s a miracle we still perform these pieces and they are still fresh to us, but this is what makes them great works of art.  They are timeless. And our job is to find the commonalities between that time from the past and this time today and express it accordingly.

REVIEW: How long do you have to prepare for a program as ambitious as this?

Fakhouri: It can be very challenging because it’s an expensive art form to bring 70 or 80 musicians together on the stage, so we will only have three rehearsals before the concert; and for our February performance we only had one rehearsal, but all the musicians are very professional, especially in Michigan because the state is so blessed. Here you have the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, and Michigan State University, which all have terrific music programs, so when the musicians come in they are ready to go.  I conduct elsewhere around the country and we are so lucky - I can’t wait to come here and work with the musicians at the SBSO. By far it’s the highlight of my job

The Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s performance of ‘Romantic Reflections’ will take place on Saturday, March 4th at Saginaw’s historic Temple Theatre at 8:00 PM.  Tickets start at only $22.00 and can be purchased by visiting








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