If there’s déjà vu surrounding the Mobile Symphony Orchestra’s season finale on May 7 and 8, it’s not mere imagination. It just means you’ve been a fan for a while.
“This is the mirror image of a concert we did back in 2002 when I was practically brand new. It was for the tricentennial and part of a series based on the six flags of Mobile,” MSO Artistic Director Scott Speck said. The show featuring Peter Maxwell Davies’ “An Orkney Wedding,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” was a nod to Great Britain.
There’s also a subtle objective at play. Speck has sought to overcome reluctance and reveal new horizons.
“We very much like to include a work of a living composer in just about every program we do because there’s a little bit of a fear in the classical music world of new music. We like to introduce people to it,” Speck said.
Unfortunately, Davies recently passed away so that component will just narrowly miss its intention. But Speck felt the program’s flow was too adept to ignore.
“I always try to take listeners on a journey. In this case, we’re literally starting at sea level with ‘Orkney Wedding,’ taking flight with ‘Lark Ascending’ and ending up in outer space with ‘The Planets,’” Speck said.
Of all the 2002 six flags programs, the maestro felt this one so cohesive he wanted to repeat it exactly. It only took 14 years to get there.
The Saturday show at the Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.) begins at 8 p.m. and Sunday’s matinee at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $75 and are available at 251-432-2010 or through MSO’s website, mobilesymphony.org.
The Davies work, originally commissioned for a pops orchestra and first performed by the Boston Pops, brims with accessibility. Speck noted its distinctive and humorous touches.
“First, you have people running through a blinding rainstorm into a chapel for a wedding. Second, you hear a short but solemn wedding ceremony. Third is the celebration, probably in a barn somewhere, that’s a bunch of Celtic kicks and reels. You also hear the wedding celebration get progressively more drunk, so you hear them get off-kilter, off-balance as things get out of tune,” Speck chuckled.
At party’s end, brilliance emerges along with sense of place in its setting off the coast of Scotland. The attendees trod home through the pastoral darkness.
“Then the sun starts to come up and it is represented by a bagpiper, who enters in full regalia and proceeds to the stage. It’s one of the more glorious depictions of sunrise I’ve ever seen,” Speck said.
The Vaughan Williams piece reveals a century-old search among British composers for their singular national sound. The conductor said composers of the day sought a bit of difference between the musical traditions of mainland Europe by turning to their Celtic modal history. The lack of expected resolution can sometimes put the Western ear a-kilter.
“It pulls you in with lush beauty but the harmonies aren’t demanding to proceed to the next harmony. It’s still chilling and touching and gorgeous,” Speck said.
The heavyweight of the concert is definitely Holst’s “The Planets.” Each of the seven movements runs through the other planets of the solar system.
“It’s built on astrological ideas so he depicted the characteristics of the Roman gods they were named after. Mars being the god of war has warlike music. Venus is the bringer of peace. Fleet and face-moving in Mercury, jolly in Jupiter, Saturn the bringer of old age, Uranus the magician and Neptune, which really to me depicts the farthest reaches of space,” Speck said.
After starting the season with 86 musicians for “Pines of Rome,” this show billed as “72 musicians, 80 instruments” makes a fitting bookend. It might be surpassed but there’s only a hint as to how.
“There’s a very neat visual effect we’re creating at the end of the concert but I don’t want to give anything away,” Speck said.
As to the artistic director’s reminiscence on the season, he mentioned the sterling performance of the large body of musicians in the aforementioned “Pines of Rome” opener despite the conductor having one arm in a sling due to injury. He also noted the performance of Kevin Puts’ piano concerto “Night,” which Speck called a “freaking masterpiece.”
“I was proud of Kevin because he had been a composer-in-residence here, he’d come from us and here he is — he just won the Pulitzer Prize and here we are performing this exceptional work of his. It was moving,” Speck said.
Most of all he praised the consistency, dedication, drive and passion of the musicians. Expectations are always met and perhaps surpassed.
“Every year when I come to work with this symphony, I feel like the orchestra that greets me is at a higher level than the one I left the year before,” Speck said.