CARDIFF PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA starts its 2019/20 season in style at St David’s Hall with tune after tune from across the pond in American Night on Friday 18 October!
Neil Collins caught up with CPO Conductor, Michael Bell MBE to see what they have in store for us…
CPO last presented an American Night on Independence Day 2015. Are you a fan in particular of American classical music and what sets it apart from the rest?
A night of American music is characterised by music of great vitality and freshness, and a spirit of adventure. Our programme is also music full of wonderful tunes!
Was it a difficult process selecting what pieces you would play? The concert certainly gets off to a great start with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Bernstein’s Candide Overture!
I’ve tried to select an almost entirely different repertoire from the last American Night we performed on 4 July 2015, and I think it’s only Barber’s Adagio for Strings that is common to both programmes. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man opens the concert and is an iconic piece. Many will know it perhaps from the rock version by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but it was written by Copland in 1943 as his tribute to the American soldiers fighting in World War II.
The Overture to Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide is one of his most popular works, perhaps second only to West Side Story. It is short and snappy and full of energy. Candide was the last work Bernstein conducted in the UK – with the London Symphony Orchestra – months before his passing.
An intriguing centrepiece is provided by Charles Ives’ sensational Symphony No 2, which gets a belated Welsh Premiere from CPO! Although not completed until 1901, it didn’t receive a single performance until the legendary Leonard Bernstein premiered it to the world with the New York Philharmonic in February 1951. Why was that?
Ives was not one to actively seek performances of his works. He was a very rich man from his professional life in insurance, but music was his great love, even obsession, and Ives is considered a pioneer and an innovator in the works he wrote. His wonderful Second Symphony – of which we’re giving the Welsh Premiere – is a nostalgic and affectionate work looking back to his childhood.
It quotes from American popular songs, hymns, spirituals, marches and barn dances. It also shows his love of the classics of Beethoven and Brahms. Leonard Bernstein likened this piece to a great big soup pot into which all these different musical ingredients were poured, producing a delicious musical meal! It’s an uplifting work with a very unexpected and surprising ending…as our audience will discover at the concert!
I heard you saw Ives’ Symphony No 2 at the BBC Proms last year, and knew straight away that CPO had to perform it!
I saw it performed by the great Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä at the 2018 BBC Proms – also as part of an American Night – and was bowled over by the piece. It’s not a straightforward work to perform by any means, and there’s so much to challenge each section of the orchestra. It had to wait 50 years for its concert premiere conducted by Leonard Bernstein in 1951 where it was greeted with huge acclaim. We are so proud to be performing the Welsh Premiere.
The concert also includes Barber’s haunting Adagio for Strings, which was memorably used in The Elephant Man and Platoon. Being such a film fan yourself, did their inclusion in these classic movies factor the Adagio into your thinking?
There is a great deal of classical music included in many films. Think of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra in the famous opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the helicopters flying to Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Barber’s Adagio for Strings is one such piece. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you’ll surely recognise it as the deeply moving and emotional music in films like The Elephant Man and Oliver Stone’s Platoon.
The concert closes with more Gershwin and the sheer brilliance of his opera Porgy and Bess. What songs will you be performing in this suite?
We’re performing what is known as Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture including all the unforgettable songs such as Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So and a host of other Gershwin greats. It was orchestrated brilliantly by Robert Russell Bennett who arranged all the great Broadway shows from Showboat and Anything Goes to The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady and loads more besides. Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture really is a feast for the ears – an orchestral showpiece.
And not forgetting the brilliant Jeffrey Howard in Gershwin’s much loved Rhapsody in Blue. It was on one of the first records I ever bought, and I’ve loved it ever since!
Incredibly, it’s been a quarter of a century since you first held a “one-off” concert of film music in 1994, and now CPO celebrate 25 Years of…A Night at the Movies on Friday 6 December 2019. What pieces are you playing?
Blimey, yes, 25 years of A Night at the Movies! I was very young when we started these concerts…it says here…! This year we’re taking a look back over many highlights. There has to be music from Star Wars of course, but also classic Hollywood such as Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Ben-Hur; plus more recent favourites such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Chicago and Harry Potter. There’s also British favourites like 633 Squadron. Also for the first time, music from one of the most popular films of recent years, The Greatest Showman!
The 2019/20 season closes with Opera Spectacular on Friday 20 March 2020 when CPO perform classics from some of the greatest operas ever written! What is featured within the programme? Is this the first time CPO have presented a night at the opera?
It’s not the first opera night we’ve performed, but it is the first in a long time, and it will be, as it says on the tin, spectacular! Verdi’s Nabucco Overture and Grand March from Aida; a suite from Bizet’s Carmen and the wild exoticism of the Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah by Saint-Saëns; the grandeur of Wagner’s Overture to Tannhauser; Offenbach’s Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld (complete with the Can-Can!), plus arias by Puccini, Verdi and Johann Strauss.
Lastly, although it doesn’t feature in CPO’s 2019/20 season at St David’s Hall, you will be performing a summer concert at Llandaff Cathedral after a decade away with Cathedral Classics on Friday 12 June 2020. Talk us through what you’ve got planned…
CPO last performed at Llandaff Cathedral in 2010, and we are returning there with a brilliant young soloist, Cardiff-born Charlie Lovell-Jones in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and completing the programme with the glorious Symphony No 1 by Elgar. Wonderful music for a summer’s night!
CARDIFF PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
MICHAEL BELL MBE
JEFFREY HOWARD BEM
Copland Fanfare for the Common Man
Bernstein Candide Overture
Ives Symphony No 2 (Welsh Premiere)
Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue
Barber Adagio for Strings
Gershwin Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture
Tickets are priced £8, £11, £13, £19 & £25 (plus an optional £1.50 postage fee).
Children under 18 are just £6.50, and 19-25 year olds are only £10!
SERIES OFFER: Book all three CPO concerts in the 2019/20 season at St David’s Hall and save 25%! (Only available via the Box Office on 02920 878444).
To book your seats, please visit www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk
or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444.