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Great Falls Symphony opens season with crowd-pleasing pieces from Gershwin, Mussorgsky

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The Great Falls Symphony opens its 2014-2015 season Saturday by serving the audience a supersized helping of love.

Charlie Albright returns to Great Falls to perform again with the Great Falls Symphony, where he will play George Gershwin's "Concerto in F."
Charlie Albright returns to Great Falls to perform again with the Great Falls Symphony, where he will play George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F.”

Because when you put a piece by George Gershwin, one of the most beloved composers of all time, in the hands of pianist Charlie Albright, a performer who received such a large roar of approval last time he played here, the blissful gratification is sure to reverberate throughout Cascade County.

The last time Charlie Albright played in Great Falls, by the end of the show he had the audience cupped in the palms of his hands following his exhilarating take on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Chopin’s “Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Op.22.”

This time, Albright performs Gershwin’s only traditional piece of classical music, his Concerto in F.

The show, which also will see the orchestra playing “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens and “Pictures at an Exhibition,” by Modest Mussorgsky and Maurice Ravel, starts at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday.

Albright said he’s thrilled at the chance to come back and play another piece for the Great Falls audience and that he loves it when he can connect so poignantly with a crowd as he did here last time out.

Viktor Hartmann's Plan for a City Gate in Kiev. 1869. This was one of several paintings that inspired Modest Mussorgsky to write "Pictures of an Exhibition."
Viktor Hartmann’s Plan for a City Gate in Kiev. 1869. This was one of several paintings that inspired Modest Mussorgsky to write “Pictures of an Exhibition.”

“When there’s that kind of special connection it’s pretty great,” he said. “You know, it becomes almost like a festival or party or something where you’re having a good time on stage and the audience is having a great time listening. It makes it a lot more fun to play, and a lot more fun all around for everyone.”

While the atmosphere is sure to be the same, Orchestra conductor Gordon Johnson said Albright will be performing a very different kind of piece that has a more of an improvisational feel to it.

“This piece is a big piece and it’s similar to the last pieces Charlie played here, but very dissimilar, as well,” Johnson said. “Harmonically it’s completely different and that really is the biggest difference. It’s full of a lot of jazz elements and jazz rhythms along with a lot of syncopation.”

Albright said while this will be one of the first times he’s played this piece in particular, he can’t wait to dig into it as it allows for several variations and open interpretations.

“It’s one of those pieces that everyone has probably heard bits and pieces of in movies and little things like that,” he said. “So there’s familiar parts but it’s one big, very jazzy, very Gershwin piece and it’s cool to have so much flexibility in how you play it and what to bring out. It’s just a ball to play.”

Johnson said when Gershwin wrote this piece, he was at a point in his career where he wanted to create something that would leave more of an impact on culture than something like a pop song or musical might have had at the time.

“Gershwin really wanted to be acknowledged as a real composer because all of his work up to this time, we’re talking 1925, was with popular songs and so he was really endeavoring to write poems like ‘An American in Paris’ and he had the idea for an opera in his head which became ‘Porgi and Bess.’ With this concerto, he was trying to develop himself and the perception of his music as being more legitimate than his pop songs.”

Before Albright takes the stage, the orchestra opens the show with “Danse Macabre,” which Johnson describes as an “homage to Halloween.”
“It’s a cute piece and it’s its own poem that tells a little story that has been a very customary thing for composers to have the devil’s fiddle and the E-string tuned down a half step. It’s called scordatura tuning and it’s used in quite a few compositions. For us Mary (Papoulis) will be in that role and then once the devil strikes up the fiddle, all the skeletons emerge from their grave and have this wild macabre dance. The piece ends with a rooster crowing in the morning and then it all goes back to a place of rest.”

Finally, Johnson said the biggest piece of the show will be Mussogorsky’s “Pictures of an Exhibition,” which coincidentally was performed last weekend at the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra season opener.

Johnson said he was in Bozeman for that show and conductor Matthew Savory and he were giving each other a hard time about it afterward.
“I was there for that and I saw Matthew and we were teasing each other,” he said. “There’s no way we could have ever known we were both performing that piece.”

Johnson said one of the reasons they’ve chosen to perform it is that it’s a massive, metaphorical bit of music that evokes not just one master composer, but two.

“Most pieces are composed by one genius, but this is sort of a two-genius piece,” he said. “Because you’ve got the composer, Mussogorsky, who wrote music, and you’ve got Ravel, who actually brought to life in a different configuration for the orchestra.”

The piece tells a story through a series of paintings that were done by a friend of Mussogorsky named Viktor Alexandrovich Hartmann.

“It’s really like a person walking through an exhibition of this man’s paintings but instead of seeing it with your eyes you’re experiencing it with your ears.”

Tickets to Saturday’s show are $30 for adults and $12 for students and can be purchased online here, at the Mansfield Center or by calling 455-8514.

Student Rush ticket for only $5 are available at the Theater Box Office only before the concert. The Box Office opens on concert night 6 p.m.

Season Tickets are still available for best seats at best prices ranging from $125 – $150 for a 6-concert package. Season ticket holders also retain their same seats and receive a discount on the World Artist concert ticket, If a person can’t make the entire season we have a special Anytime Package. It’s a handy 4-pack of coupons that can be used in any combination for any concert.

Call the Symphony for tickets or information at 453-4102.

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