Muskegon, Michigan, June 1, 2022—Mickey Mouse vs. the Broom. Unrequited love and dope-induced nightmares. Sorcerers, monsters, and beheading by guillotine. No, it’s not an Alice Cooper concert, it’s the finale of West Michigan Symphony’s 2021-2022 Season, held at 7:30 pm on June 24 at the Frauenthal Center in downtown Muskegon.
“Fantastic Finale” is, in fact, the name of the program—conceived by Music Director Scott Speck as a journey into the fantastic, theatrical, and macabre—in the spirit of the French Grand Guignol. No coincidence, then, that two of the three featured works are by French composers—Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (of Fantasia fame) and Berlioz’s epic Symphonie Fantastique. In between, Principal Viola Arturo Ziraldo will be featured in—what else—the Phantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Sir Arnold Bax.
It almost seems as if the diagnosis of “OCD,” first coined in 1838, was inspired by Hector Berlioz, whose Symphonie Fantastique was premiered just eight years beforehand. The sensitive young composer became obsessed with a beautiful actress he knew only from afar. Instead of asking her out on a date—being intense, Romantic and French—he wrote a massive, 50-minute self-portrait for a 75-piece orchestra. The groundbreaking Fantastic Symphony introduced such novel devices as the “program,” or extra-musical storyline—and the idée fixe, a recurring motif signifying the protagonist’s obsessive love. In place of Italian tempo designations the movement titles were fully descriptive: “Reveries-Passions,” “A Ball,” and “Scene in the Country”—a middle movement channeling Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony (written just 20 years earlier). But there is no triumph over of adversity in Berlioz’s universe. What follows turns quickly dark with “March to the Scaffold” and the opium-fueled delirium of the “Witches Sabbath.”
Arnold Bax’s Phantasy is a single-movement work with allusions to Irish fiddle music and a Sinn Féin marching song that later evolved into the country’s national anthem. It was written for the great violist Lionel Tertis, who first demonstrated that the viola could be a solo instrument. “There are few ways of playing more unique and challenging than the reserved yet wildly expressive English string tradition,” reveals Arturo Ziraldo. “Over the last century, it was passed directly to my teacher Roger Chase—who plays Tertis’ 18th-century Montagnana viola and knew him as a young boy—and through his teaching, to me. This is my favorite viola concerto and one of my favorite things in the world to play.”
Patrons can learn more when Speck and Ziraldo team up for a free “Lunch ‘n Learn” discussion at 12 noon Wednesday, June 22 in The Block, WMS’s musical listening room at 360 Western Avenue.
For tickets, starting at $19 for adults, and $10 for students, call 231.727.8001, visit the Frauenthal box office at 425 W. Western Avenue, or purchase online at www.westmichigansymphony.org. The concert is sponsored by the Friends of Arturo Ziraldo—a coalition of individual donors led by Bill and Mary Lou Eyke and Mike and Kay Olthoff. The 2021-2022 Season sponsor is Nichols; Blue Lake Public Radio is the Media Sponsor. WMS is funded in part by a grant from the Michigan Arts & Culture Council (formerly MCACA) and the National Endowment for the Arts. Audience members must present proof of vaccination or a “Symphony Safe” bracelet prior to admission. Unvaccinated patrons will be admitted with a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of performance. Masks are currently recommended but not required.