Mobile’s autumn is still a warm season and the opener of the Mobile Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season follows suit. Italy, Brazil and Spain will meet to heat the Saenger Theatre with “Under the Roman Sky” on Sept. 26 and 27.
A triumvirate of composers — Giuseppe Verdi, Antonio Vivaldi and Ottorino Respighi — fill out the Italian delegation. Key to their selection was more than origin but also a sonic connection to their native land.
“Respighi’s piece is this blockbuster, enormously momentous piece of music, but also it really evokes this pride in being Italian he had,” MSO Music Director and Maestro Scott Speck said. “So many of the pieces he wrote were Italy centric. It’s more than your typical patriotism. It’s just this deep, warm love he had for his country.”
As Speck alludes, scale comes into play. Not just in flats and sharps, but sheer numbers.
“The last part of the ‘Pines of Rome’ is called the ‘Pines of the Appian Way’ and is about a Roman army marching home after victory,” Speck explained. “It’s this force that has just shown the world enormous strength in a way that is just shocking their enemies. The power of the army is in the music.”
The mass of musicians called for in that number has pressed the bounds of the stage in the nearly 90-year-old venue. It is one of the biggest the conductor has seen there, along with their presentation of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” in 2012 and Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky” in 2013, both of which included a chorus.
“The Prokofiev had like 150 people on stage and that was before we had the concert shell,” Speck said. “I think it’s like 86 musicians for this. Stage manager Ben Harper always has creative ways of fitting everyone in.”
Verdi’s “Overture to Nabucco” and Vivaldi’s “Guitar Concerto in D” complete ties to the Mediterranean’s “boot.” More European balminess stirs from farther west.
Spanish classical guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas is guest of honor for the evening. Pegged as a successor to legend Andrés Segovia, he was a gold medalist at the 2006 Christopher Parkening Competition and is a founder of the outreach program Music Without Borders Legacy.
“We love Pablo, we’ve played with him before and he’s just a phenomenon of the musical world,” Speck said. “He’s won like 27 or 28 international guitar competitions and was named musician of the year in Spain. Now, for a guitarist in Spain, a place with thousands of guitarists, that’s saying something.”
This is Villegas’ fourth trip to Mobile — with MSO in 2008 and 2010, once for Mobile Chamber Music Society in 2011 — and he brings more than musical skills. There’s something of a premiere in store.
“Pablo told us ‘I just had this concerto written for me by Sérgio Assad, a legendary Brazilian guitarist,’” Speck said. “So we had this new guitar concerto and the man it was dedicated to. The interesting thing is that because it’s Brazilian, it’s very much filled with the warmth we associate with Italy as well. Not just warm climate but really warm people.”
According to Villegas’ website, he premiered the Assad composition “Concerto Popular do Rio” at the Guitar Foundation of America Convention in June 2015. It received its European debut July 1 when Villegas performed with the Cordoba Symphony at the Gran Teatro de Cordoba.
The season debut is scheduled for Sept. 26 and 27. The Saturday show is at 8 p.m. while the Sunday matinee begins at 2:30 p.m. Ticket information is available at 251-432-2010 or mobilesymphony.org.
Looking at the MSO schedule, this won’t be the last matter of shoehorning more musicians onto the Saenger stage. The challenge arises throughout the year.
“In January we’re doing an American composers concert that features Bernstein, Barber and Copland,” Speck said. “That’s probably equally big, just huge.”
Then there’s the season closer, “From the Ocean to the Stars.” Appropriately for such expansive subject material, they’ll need to find room again when MSO tackles Gustav Holst’s heavenly masterpiece, “The Planets.”
“That, too, will also be among one of the biggest things we’ve done,” Speck said. The show will feature the strains of violinist and Concertmaster Jenny Gregoire along with a guest bagpiper.
Then there are the unique challenges of the December “Cirque de Noel” show. That includes a troupe of acrobatic Cirque du Soleil style performers.
Other seasonal treats like March’s St. Patrick’s Day themed concert and April’s Russian show run a wide gamut. Speck isn’t pointing to any one show as looming above the others.
“It’s like a sticker I’ve seen, ‘So much music, so little time,’” he said. “Whenever we start a season, we start with dozens of ideas. Many, many, many more programs than we could possibly do, and we end up choosing the best from those. But it’s already really narrowed down from what we want to play. Therefore, those that make it are already favorites.”
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