The GSO takes the road not taken with ‘Myths & Detours’

Fascination Streets

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Photo provided by greenvillesymphony.org

With an 11-piece ensemble taking on classical works in different configurations, the Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s Spotlight Series offers a more informal and personal side of the GSO than audience members might expect. Under the programming guidance of Phil Elkins, the GSO’s principal trumpet player and personnel director, the most recent Spotlight series has also been the most artistically adventurous of the orchestra’s permutations.

Elkins grouped each of the three shows on the 2016–17 Spotlight schedule under one theme. The first show, called “Trinkets, Jewels, and Rarities,” focused on lesser-known but no less beautiful pieces and featured Mozart’s rarely heard “Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet.” The second was January’s “Levity and Tears” performance, which featured works that went to the extremes of joy and sorrow, with the centerpiece being Schubert’s mournful “Death and the Maiden.” But the final show of the 2016-17 season, which will take place this Saturday, might have the most intriguing theme: “Myths and Detours.”

“It’s really a collection of works that there are errors or myths associated with,” Elkins says, “and folks don’t necessarily realize that the information might be wrong.”

At least that’s the “Myths” part of the equation, which covers the first two pieces on the program: Josef Haydn’s Divertimento No. 1 in B-flat Major for Woodwind Quintet and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Adagio for Solo Bass and Piano.”

The myths about the Haydn piece revolve around its current performance configuration and the origin of the piece’s second movement. Elkins says, “It was written in the early 1780s for two oboes, two French horns, three bassoons, and a serpent [a bass wind instrument descended from the cornett]. It was later condensed for the woodwind quintet.”

The mystery of the second movement of the piece, called “St. Anthony Chorale,” is more difficult to solve. “That melody in the second movement was used in a piece by Brahms, which is titled ‘Variations on a Theme by Josef Haydn,’” Elkins says, “which of course suggests that the melody was written by Haydn himself and Brahms used that as a source. But it’s possible that Haydn borrowed it from an existing tune, which was very common at the time. There’s no clear evidence as to who composed the ‘St. Anthony Chorale.’”

The origin of the Shostakovich piece is also where its myth comes in, thought in a slightly different context. “The adagio was originally from a ballet suite,” he says. “But some sources reference it incorrectly as coming from a ballet in one act, and there have even been suggestions that it comes from a film called ‘The Unforgettable Year of 1919,’ but that’s wrong because the theme doesn’t appear anywhere in the soundtrack for the film.”

The “Detours” section of the performance centers around Antonín Dvorak’s “Piano Quintet in A-major” and a more contemporary piece by Arne Running, “Quodlibet for Woodwind Quintet.”

“Dvorak took a detour from this piece that spanned the course of about 15 years,” Elkins says. “In the late 1870s, he composed a piano quintet in A major called Opus No. 5. Shortly after it was premiered, Dvorak decided he was very dissatisfied with it, to the extent that he destroyed the manuscript. Fifteen years later, he reconsidered the decision and got a copy of the score from a friend of his and started making revisions. Even then, he decided that he couldn’t make the music into something that was appealing to him so he abandoned it once again and started writing a new work in four movements called Opus No. 81.”

Running’s detour had more to do with being busy than being dissatisfied. “Running was a very accomplished and successful musician at a very young age,” Elkins says. “He started playing clarinet at the age of 11, and by the age of 17 he was performing as a featured soloist. As a teenager, he composed a number of works, but his composing stopped for many years as he developed his proficiency as a performer. He didn’t get back to composing till he was 33 years old.”

Elkins is looking forward to the Running piece because it’s not performed often and because it takes the listener on a journey through the genre’s history. “I think the audience will enjoy it greatly because there are 30 classical music excerpts that are crammed together in about 3 minutes and 30 seconds,” he says.


Nachman Norwood and Parrott Wealth Management Consultancy presents The Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s Spotlight Series: “Myths & Detours”

Centre Stage Theatre, 501 River St., Greenville
Saturday, April 22, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets: $15
864-233-6733 // centrestage.org

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