Muskegon, Michigan, Dec. 4, 2017 — Music Director Scott Speck will present a program of Germanic classics by youthful prodigies on the next concert of the West Michigan Symphony, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, January 12 in the Frauenthal Theater. The featured work will be the Horn Concerto no. 1 by Richard Strauss, written at the age of 18. Principal Horn Paul Clifton, a graduate of Western Michigan University, will be the soloist. Also on the program will be Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 1, completed at the age of 15, and the Overture in C Major by his sister Fanny Mendelssohn.
Fanny Mendelssohn’s Overture in C major begins this homage to German composers of the classical period. The eldest of four children, Fanny preceded her brother Felix by four years. Of the Mendelssohn siblings, Fanny and Felix were particularly passionate about music; this mutual devotion spawned a lifelong bond between them. Although an accomplished musician and composer in her own right, Fanny was tragically precluded by the attitudes of the day from attaining to the public stature of her younger brother. Her only known orchestral work, the Overture in C Major exudes the characteristic Mendelssohnian balance between splendor and restraint.
Richard Strauss wrote his first horn concerto at the age of 18. His father Franz was one of the leading players of the time; as a result the young Richard grew up with the instrument a constant presence in his home. At the time (1882) the valve horn had been in existence for more than 60 years, but the natural (valveless) horn was still widely used. The original score included the title “Waldhornkonzert,” indicating that the piece was to be played on the natural horn—Franz’s preferred instrument. However, some scholars speculate that the inscription may have been a joke, given that it would be virtually impossible to perform the work on natural horn.
The instrument was once widely called the French horn, but since 1971 the International Horn Society has recommended that it be known simply as the horn. An invention based on early hunting horns, if uncoiled and stretched out to its full length the modern horn would measure about 16 feet.
Paul Clifton is an aspiring musician with the goal of using orchestral horn playing to expand the public perception and relevance of classical music. He began playing horn in 6th grade at Highlander Way Middle School in Howell, commenced formal private lessons in 10th grade, and graduated from Western Michigan University in 2013 with a degree in horn performance. Paul has been freelancing in the Midwest, holding other positions in the Illinois and Southwest Michigan symphonies while playing as a substitute with the Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, South Bend, Lansing, Battle Creek and Ann Arbor symphonies. He was recently married and moved to Arizona to be with his wife, but continues to value and enjoy his association with the West Michigan Symphony.
The piece now known as Mendelssohn’s First Symphony was actually his 13th, but he considered his earlier string symphonies to be student works, and wanted to signal his arrival as a mature composer (at age 15!) by giving his C minor symphony the number One status. The piece is at times uncharacteristically robust and “Beethovenian,” but in the 1820s that composer was at the height of his popularity, and the youthful Mendelssohn would have found his gravitational pull irresistible. The symphony also seems to have been influenced by Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor, particularly in the opening of the first movement, which strongly recalls the famous allegro theme of the 40th Symphony’s finale. As a whole, nevertheless, it conveys the lyric optimism and idyll that is so characteristic of Mendelssohn. In a demonstration of the affection Felix felt for his sister Fanny, the work was premiered at a private gathering in 1824 in honor of her 19th birthday.
The performance is Friday January 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Frauenthal Theater in downtown Muskegon. Tickets, starting at $22, are available by calling the WMS ticket office at 231.726.3231, in person at 360 W. Western Avenue, or online at www.westmichigansymphony.org. Student tickets are priced at $10. For information on season tickets, call 231.726.3231.
A Lunch ‘n Learn conversation will be held from Noon to 1pm on Wednesday, January 10 in the Block, 360 W. Western Avenue, 2nd floor. The public is invited to bring a brown bag lunch and enjoy an hour of lively discussion with Music Director Scott Speck and a special guest. The doors open at 11:45; come early to mix and mingle. The free event is a preview to the masterworks concert on Friday night; current ticket holders and the general public will enjoy a preview with fascinating insights into the works being performed. Tickets to the concert will be available for purchase.