London Calling: RDSO looks to England, and beyond

The Red Deer Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to composers from England ­— via Austria.

The Red Deer Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to composers from England ­— via Austria.

While a flute concerto by British composer Malcolm Arnold anchors the first half of the London Calling concert on Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Red Deer College Arts Centre, the second half contains a late symphony by Austrian-born composer Joseph Haydn.

RDSO music director Claude Lapalme admitted Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 only qualifies as “English” because the composer happened to be working in Britain at the time he wrote this acclaimed work.

The choice of this only marginally English symphony indicates how few British-born composers were writing notable works during the Classical and Romantic eras, which are full of Germanic, Italian and Russian works.

According to Lapalme, one can possibly blame this on the tumult caused by Oliver Cromwell’s revolution or, later, on Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert swaying musical tastes toward composers from his German homeland.

It certainly isn’t due to any inherent shortcomings in British culture.

Lapalme noted England produced an “unbelievable” variety of influential and well-regarded composers from the Middle Ages right to the 1600s, and then again from the early 1900s to the present day.

Unfortunately, “production is not consistent” during the symphonic era, said Lapalme — which brings us to Haydn.

In 1790, the Austrian known as “the father of symphonies” lost his position as court composer for reasons of economizing and the death of his Esterhazy patron.

Haydn, therefore, jumped at an opportunity to travel out of Austria and conduct symphonies with a large orchestra in England. His visits to London were immensely successful and culminated in 1795 with his composition of a symphony of “unsurpassing splendour, concentration and invention,” said Lapalme — the Symphony No. 104 in D Major.

This expansive work opens in the style of Mozart, with a slow lead-in to a showy and ultimately fast first movement.

The slow second movement has charm and breadth, while the third, a minuet, has a symphonic richness to it, said Lapalme, who can also hear some Beethoven influences in the work that ends with a folksy finale.

While both Mozart and Beethoven were certainly influenced by the older composer, “a little bit came back as well,” and Haydn was also inspired by his younger colleagues, he added.

Musicians generally enjoy playing Haydn symphonies, which tend to be full of surprises. “You find some really odd things — often a bit of humour and clever stuff, such as irregular phrases and some funky modulation … Haydn was an original,” said Lapalme.

This can also be said of Arnold, whose Flute Concerto No. 1 for flute and strings will be performed by guest flutist Leslie Newman and a chamber strings orchestra of about 25 musicians.

Arnold was not a pleasant man, said Lapalme. He was by all accounts a spiteful alcoholic and womanizer, who managed to turn his life around after doctors told him he had only a year to live in 1981. A sober more even-tempered Arnold went on to live another quarter century, producing popular works that are considered a staple of the brass repertoire.

His flute concert is described as edgier and more rhythmic than the melodic flute concerto by Canadian composer Jim McGrath, which is also on the program, along with Puccini’s dramatic requiem, I Crisantemi.

Both flute concertos will feature soloist Newman, a Lacombe native who is now based in Toronto.

The flutist, who will be making her fifth soloist appearance with the RDSO, has performed in Colombia, China and Taiwan, as well as throughout North America. “She’s a favourite — one of the jewels of Central Alberta,” said Lapalme.

Tickets to the 8 p.m. concert are $54.75 ($52.75 students/seniors, and $39.25 youths/first four rows) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.

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