Pictures Of Power: The Missoula Symphony Orchestra, With Pianist Katherine Chi

May 6, 2016

A Brazilian batuque, a French rendition of America's Jazz Age, and music inspired by the watercolors of a deceased Russian architect. That's the program for the fourth broadcast concert from the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and Chorale's 61st season, hosted by Marguerite Munsche at 8:00 Sunday evening, May 8, 2016. Darko Butorac is the orchestra's conductor and music director.  The performance was recorded by Rick Kuschel on April 24, 2016, in the Dennison Theater at the University of Montana-Missoula, and featured guest piano soloist, Katherine Chi.

The opening piece is "Batuque," a movement from the Reisado do pastoreio suite (1930) by Brazilian composer, Oscar Lorenzo Fernández. John Henken writes of this work that it is "a sort of orchestral Christmas triptych based on Afro-Brazilian traditions, though without actual folk melodies. A festively pulsating Batuque, a type of percussion-driven secular dance, is the third movement of that suite." ("Batuque" first appeared in Fernández's three-act opera, Malazarte.) 

Next, guest pianist Katherine Chi joins the Symphony for Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G (1931), a work in the spirit of Mozart or Saint-Saëns, but filled with references to American jazz of the late 1920s. The piece opens with a vaudevillian slapstick; the trills of the piano imitate a musical saw; and in the final "Presto" movement, the woodwinds and horns shriek and wail. Chi, a native of Calgary, AB, entered the Curtis Institute at the age of ten. She performs a wide range of works, from Mozart to Stockhausen, and has been called "a pianist’s pianist."

The final work on the program, Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1874, arr. Ravel), is a ten-movement suite for piano, written in memory of Mussorgsky's friend, architect Victor Hartmann, whose sketches were exhibited posthumously in 1874. Each movement interprets one of Hartmann's  drawings: a gnome; a castle; quarreling children in the Tuilleries; a Polish oxcart; hatching chicks; "Two Jews, Rich and Poor;" women at the market in Limoges; the catacombs of Paris; "The Hut on Fowl's Legs;" and finally, the Great Gate of Kiev. Joe Nickell writes:

"Today, Pictures at an Exhibition stands as Mussorgsky’s most widely beloved creation. Yet therein lies another irony unto itself: For just as we only know several of Hartmann’s pictures through Mussorgsky’s music, most of us know Mussorgsky’s “Pictures” through music that is not entirely his own.

The version that we will hear tonight was transcribed for orchestra by Maurice Ravel. Ravel’s version was based on an edition of the original piano music produced by Mussorgsky’s friend, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov — who himself took liberties with the original score."