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MSU Symphony to play music of Strauss, Brohn, Ginastera and Saint-Saens

Photo courtesy of MSU College of Music
Conductor Leon Gregorian.

By Melissa Ingells, WKAR News


EAST LANSING, MI – The MSU Symphony Orchestra's next concert at the Wharton Center will be a big one, featuring organist Stephen Lange, clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, violinist Walter Verdehr, and extra brass from the Spartan Marching Band. WKAR's Melissa Ingells spoke with conductor Leon Gregorian about what's on the program for Saturday.


LEON GREGORIAN: I didn't realize this, but it's really, the organ is the bookends. We start with Richard Strauss, Festival Prelude for Organ and Orchestra, and we conclude Camille Saint-Saens' Symphony Number 3, which is called the Organ Symphony. So if you haven't heard the Wharton Center organ, you're going to have every opportunity in the world to hear it.

MELISSA INGELLS: Talk a little bit about the organ soloist. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not allowed to because he was my choir director and voice teacher from the time I was in second grade.

GREGORIAN: Well, Stephen Lange, I have the greatest respect for because I've worked with him many, many times, and it always is an A-plus performance and then some. It's always a pleasure to work with him because he's always prepared. I don't even have to worry about it, when it's time to cue, I just see his eyes. You know, then I know he's all set. So, it's very, very interesting because, in both works, there was a purpose why the organ was used. You know, Strauss was approached in 1913 when the new concert house opened in Vienna, to write a piece for that new hall. And he realized that they were putting a brand new pipe organ in there, so he probably figured, If I'm going to write something, might as well include the organ.' And he wrote this prelude, which is, I guess it's more than a prelude because almost fourteen minutes long. And organ is very significantly used in this piece, and it's a huge orchestra. All the woodwinds are in fives, eight horns, four trumpets, and twelve extra trumpets at the end, four trombones, tuba, huge string section, percussion and so on. So, if you're asleep you'll be awake very shortly. So it is a very interesting and of course Camille Saint-Saens, the Organ Symphony is probably his best-known orchestral work. It is, when the organ comes in, or actually, the organ is used in two functions, one as an accompanist, two, the middle section which is the slow section and so on, and then, in the last movement, organ is the solo instrument that everything is built around it. So, it's a very exciting program.

INGELLS: There's a piece I don't recognize, a composer I don't recognize, William David Brohn, "Tales of the Alhambra," tell me a little about that.

GREGORIAN: Well, Bill Brohn is probably one of the best friends the College of Music ever had. He's actually a graduate of Michigan State University, at that time Department of Music, and he was the first person to come forward and endow a chair in honor of his teacher that he respected greatly. So our concertmaster chair is endowed by William David Brohn, and he's really been very, very helpful in establishing many, many things in the College of Music. And we thought it would be wonderful if we commissioned him to write something so that we could premiere it. And he was gracious enough to write this concerto for the Verdehrs. And it's really a very beautiful work for a violin, clarinet, and let's say a smaller orchestra, although it does use a full brass section, but very judiciously orchestrated. It's a work based on Washington Irving's "Tales of Alhambra," and it's a poem for violin, clarinet and orchestra, and a very, very beautiful poem that is in the Spanish flavor, and that sort of explains why the Ginastera follows. And we will present the world premiere of this wonderful work. And Bill Brohn is probably the best orchestrator in Broadway, well I would say, even the world. That's how well he is known. And right now he is in London doing the orchestration for Andre Previn's new opera. So, he is constantly in demand. But, thank God, with the Internet and so on we are in touch with him. So, I'm looking forward to it and I know the Verdehrs are.

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