September Thursday Scholarship Series concert features legends, history, superstition

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The University of Georgia Symphony Orchestra (UGASO) begins its season with a concert in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music’s premier concert series, the Thursday Scholarship Series, in Hodgson Concert Hall on September 8 at 7:30 p.m.

The orchestra’s program includes works from Gioachino Rossini, Manuel de Falla and Dmitri Shostakovich. Mark Cedel, director of the UGASO, expects this program, full of unique and storied works, might subvert traditional orchestra expectations.

“This is not your ordinary ‘overture, concerto, and a symphony’ program,” said Cedel.

The program opens with the overture to Rossini’s opera “La Gazza Ladra,” or “The Thieving Magpie,” a popular piece with a fanciful legend: it is said that the producer of the opera, before the first performance, locked Rossini in a room to assure the composition of the overture and that Rossini dropped each completed page out of the room’s window to his copyists below.

The next piece on the program, “Nuits dans les jardins d'Espagne,” or “Nights in the Gardens of Spain,” by de Falla, refers to the Hispano-Arabic past of de Falla’s native al-Andalus and depicts three gardens in the region.

Originally devised for solo piano, de Falla decided to turn it into a piece for piano and orchestra. Martha Thomas, Despy Karlas Professor in Piano at the School of Music, will serve as piano soloist for the UGASO performance.

“The de Falla, while not a true concerto, is in the standard three movement format,” said Cedel. “Virtuosic for the piano, it demands a wide pallet of colors from both the soloist and orchestra.”

Thomas says that part of what makes this piece unique is how it uses the pianist as both soloist and orchestral player, with piano writing that often imitates guitar and requires techniques rarely found in the traditional piano repertoire.

“I grew up listening to Alicia de Larrocha's—the great 20th century Spanish pianist—performance of this magical piece but never had the opportunity to learn it before now,” said Thomas. “The lush orchestration and impressionistic harmonies combined with the overall Spanish flavor make this a very compelling and exotic composition.”

The final piece is Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, a work notable for its quality, but also for its attachment to a popular superstition.

“Shostakovich stands tall in his tenth symphony,” said Cedel. “He breaks the stigma that after Beethoven, no one should compose more that nine symphonies.”

Often referred to as the “curse of the ninth,” a belief exists that any composer’s ninth symphony is fated to be the composer’s last. However, while well-known composers like Beethoven and Ralph Vaughan Williams are said to have been subject to this curse, many can be found who produced well beyond nine symphonies, so the belief is widely held to be little more than a curiosity.

Still, with words like composer Arnold Schoenberg’s—“Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter”—some level of mystery persists, adding another fascinating layer to the UGASO’s September concert.

Tickets are available at pac.uga.edu or the PAC box office for $20 or $6 with a UGA student ID.

The Thursday Scholarship Series began in 1980 and continues the tradition of “Music Appreciation Programs” started by Hugh Hodgson in the 1930s. Proceeds from contributions and ticket sales to these concerts are among the primary means through which School of Music scholarship funds are raised each year.

The UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music sponsors more than 350 performances each year. To view the performance calendar, subscribe to the weekly email concert listing or learn more about the School of Music, go to music.uga.edu.