Head to the Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.) on Nov. 23 and 24 for a marriage of leisure and beauty with something old, something new, someone borrowed and a lot of blue — as in denim.
The last of those four components is the relaxed vibe for Mobile Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) regular Beethoven and Blue Jeans concert. The orchestra members will be in casual attire and the audience is encouraged to follow suit.
The old? MSO is back in their longtime venue after mold remediation forced a detour to the Civic Center Theater for September’s program. They are gladly under their old haunt’s prized acoustic shell.
There’s also the titular composer. Beethoven’s 249th birthday is Dec. 17 and the concert centerpiece — his Third Symphony, or the “Eroica” (“Heroic”) — was composed between 1803 and 1804. Though only in his early 30s, this was a critical period for both the composer and Western music for varied reasons.
It was written not long after Beethoven first noticed his diminished hearing.
“[Beethoven] was walking with his friend Ferdinand Ries, who wrote about this later, and Ries commented on the beautiful sound of a shepherd piping nearby but Beethoven couldn’t hear it,” MSO Music Director Scott Speck said.
The cause was never determined, but was later attributed to things as varied as typhus to auto-immune disorders. After initially pondering suicide, Beethoven rallied.
“He was railing against his fate and he was going to prevail against destiny and that’s what that’s about,” Speck said. “So much of his music has huge accents in it. And that’s my theory: He just wanted to hear it a little bit while it was being played.”
The “Eroica” emerged from this resolution. It also opened the gates to a sea change.
“It’s one of the five most-influential pieces in classical music because it started the Romantic era, which is probably the most-beloved era in the general population and certainly the most expressive. It’s his expression of inner turmoil and flailing against fate,” Speck said.
Initially inspired by Beethoven’s hopes for French liberation, he composed the piece with Napoleon Bonaparte in mind, going so far as to attach the general’s name to the piece. Once Napoleon declared himself emperor, Beethoven’s anger prompted a title change to simply “Heroic Symphony.”
“Something new”? It’s the world premiere of composer Austin Wintory’s new work, “But We’re Here.” The energetic Grammy Award-winner was in Mobile two years ago and was commissioned to create a new piece for the Azalea City concert.
“It’s a simple piece, very short and with slightly weird instrumentation since I was kind of beholden to the constraints of the [Samuel] Barber Violin Concerto,” Wintory said.
It was inspired by a summertime visit to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and a climb into a Mercury space capsule. Wintory was struck by its tight confines and proximity to the void of space, “just four inches away.”
The title is from an Alan Shepard quote. When the first American in space later stood on the moon as commander of Apollo 14, he told the world, “Al is on the surface and it’s been a long way, but we’re here.”
Musically, Wintory tried to convey the emotions of those endeavors. He said it lasts only six to seven minutes but ends with a celebratory tone.
“It’s tracing a single melody back and forth through all these aspirational things. I think what those space programs did … it has all that emotionally empowering stuff, plus all the terrifying stuff,” Wintory said.
Speck is excited. He’s premiered two of Wintory’s pieces elsewhere, but this will be the first Wintory world premiere in Mobile. Over the summer, the composer asked for direction on musical temperament.
“[Wintory] asked whether I thought the piece should be contemplative and meditative and I said, ‘No! It needs to be bold and celebratory and hold its own against Beethoven’s Third,’ which is quite a tall order,” Speck said.
Guest violinist Paul Huang fills out the “borrowed” criteria as featured performer for Barber’s Violin Concerto. A Juilliard grad and recipient of the prestigious 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the 2017 Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists, he’s in demand around the globe. Huang will squeeze in the MSO show between gigs in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Taiwan.
“He’s already one of the greatest violinists of his generation and is still quite young,” Speck said.
The Nov. 23 concert begins at 7:30 p.m. The Nov. 24 matinee is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets start at $15.
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