“Fantastique Philharmonic" Themes and Variations
Tonight’s premiered piece was named, appropriately, “Hoopla (A Touch of Glee).” Its composer, George Walker, explained in the program notes that “The inclusion of ‘A Touch of Glee’ in the title of the work is meant to suggest that the music is not hysterically rambunctious.” He wasn’t kidding: the tone, while stylish and quite pretty, was surprisingly calm. Ever been on the Strip on a Saturday night? It’s hysterically rambunctious. Maybe Mr. Walker was writing about the Fremont Street Experience.
The first movement, “Passions,” eases us into the fantasy with soft, dreamlike passages that rise and fall, accelerate and then relax. The object of his love (and the reason for his despair) appears as a musical phrase that returns in varying forms throughout the symphony as an idée fixe, or fixed idea. The second movement, “A Ball,” opens with a sense of expectancy before settling into a lively but composed waltz. In the symphony’s context, the very pleasantness somehow hints at something darker to come.
For several years after the French Revolution, the guillotine was known as “the national razor” because it shaved so many necks. In the fourth movement, the drugged musician dreams he has murdered his beloved, and “March to the Scaffold” depicts the procession to his execution. Lost hope is now replaced by a sense of lost sanity, and “Dream of a Sabbath Night” completes the symphony with a host of witches and monsters dancing and shouting at the musician’s macabre funeral. The Phil’s lead clarinetist performed his solo part marvelously, portraying with happy abandon the demons’ dancing and a musician gone off the deep end. I guess opium and Shakespeare will do that to you.
Berlioz himself died (of old age) around the time the Romantic and Impressionistic styles were coming to France. They in turn paved the way for the highly picturesque music of the twentieth century. However, in a world still accustomed to Bach and Mozart, Symphonie Fantastique must have seemed quite eccentric.
The Las Vegas Philharmonic will perform works from Bernstein, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and other eccentric geniuses as the season of celebration continues in our city of eternal hoopla.
By Rob LaGrone, Las Vegas Jetsetters Magazine Entertainment Editor.