When Mobile Symphony Orchestra (MSO) Music Director Scott Speck raises his baton on Sept. 21, at 7:30 p.m., he’s aiming for more than revival.
“We want our people coming back after summer and their reintroduction to the world of the symphony to be startlingly exciting,” Speck said.
That’s why they’ve picked stereotypical Latin passion as the heartbeat for their Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.) premiere. Speck sees the nod as natural, owing to the former Spanish colony’s proximity to and history of trade with Latin America.
“There’s also the richness of Spanish-style music, especially of dance forms,” Speck said.
The playbill’s Latin heat originates from surprising spots. Think New York City, Paris and St. Petersburg – Russia, not Florida.
The opening is George Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture.” Speck quickly notes it bears none of the jazz inflections associated with the quintessential New Yorker’s reputation.
“Gershwin spent some time in Cuba and was really impressed by their dance forms, which are Spanish and African influenced,” Speck said. “It sounds like it’s by a Cuban composer.”
The next piece, Manuel de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain,” isn’t only the product of a Spanish composer, but also features guest pianist Aldo López-Gavilán. The musician has a connection to Mobile as his violinist brother, Ilmar Gavilán, was in town as an artist-in-residence with the Harlem Quartet just a couple of years ago.
“Their father is a conductor, his mother is a pianist and Aldo’s wife is also a conductor. They’re almost like musical royalty in Havana,” Speck said.
A versatile and dynamic musician, López-Gavilán spans genres, playing jazz and classical with some of the most celebrated ensembles in North and South America. Speck has worked with him twice in the past.
“Aldo is an extremely compelling performer and that’s why I wanted to bring him here. The only other performer I’ve ever worked with who exudes as much joy on stage as he does is Yo-Yo Ma, just in terms of sheer joy on his face when he’s playing,” he said.
López-Gavilán is featured again on Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. The French composer wrote it after touring America in the late 1920s, so it is infused with jazz influences, perfect for the soloist’s capabilities. From its opening whip crack, it sizzles with allusion to Ravel’s youth in the Basque Country near the Spanish-French border.
The show closes with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol.” The Russian master built the five-movement work on Spanish folk melodies, so it’s riddled with rousing brass and dance rhythms.
The rest of the MSO season is no less eclectic. November’s Beethoven and Blue Jeans features the titular Teutonic titan’s Symphony No. 3, the gateway to his legendary status.
“The Eroica, his third symphony, is the very piece that started the Romantic era, the pendulum swing. He dragged the music world kicking and screaming into a new age,” Speck said.
Phenomenal young violinist Paul Huang is a guest on Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and MSO will premiere a new work by Grammy Award-winning composer Austin Wintory. Commissioned by MSO, it is so new it has no title at this point.
“Just last month [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.
A female Celtic vocal group with a reputation for humor will be here in December. January’s Bravura concert highlights principal horn Mollie Pate on a bill of Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Brahms.
Cello prodigy Sujari Britt – Speck called her “deeply intellectual” – is March’s guest soloist when MSO tackles Prokofiev, Saint-Saëns and a piece Anna Clyne wrote for the 2013 BBC Proms.
Come April, it’s completely Viennese with works featured in the 1984 film “Amadeus.” It includes the University of South Alabama Concert Choir and Mobile Opera Chorus for Mozart’s requiem.
“Single tickets just went on sale and Mozart is selling the most,” Speck said.
The season-ending masterworks concert hits a personal note for the music director.
“John Williams is the person I wanted to be in high school,” Speck said. “He’s one of the great composers of the century. I think when he dies he will be considered legendary for maybe hundreds of years.”
The season is bold, impactful and varied. It touches the past, present and future in equal measure. Tickets are available at mobilesymphony.org.
For Speck, it is a prism. His summary? “Multi-colored.
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