Berlioz finale ready for symphony season 

Works by the great French romantic composer Hector Berlioz provide the finale to the San Francisco Symphony’s season.

The program, which opens Wednesday and runs through June 26 at Davies Symphony Hall, represents a change from what originally was announced — Berlioz’s choral symphony “Romeo and Juliet,” a piece anticipated by opera fans.

Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the program opens with the vibrant “Roman Carnival Overture,” an 1843 work using themes from Berlioz’s opera “Benvenuto Cellini.”

The work includes music from the opera’s carnival scene, giving it its name and festive nature. “Roman Carnival” is well-known for its beguiling solo for the English horn.

From the planned cast for “Romeo and Juliet” comes a happy holdover, the increasingly famous young mezzo, Sasha Cooke.

Three years ago, she won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and since then she has sung in the Metropolitan Opera (in John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic”) and with major orchestras around the country.

Cooke is featured in Berlioz’s “Les Nuits d’été” (“Summer Nights”), an 1856 orchestral song cycle to poems by Théophile Gautier. The music is  influenced by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Shakespeare represented a lifelong preoccupation and passion for Berlioz (1803–1869).

MTT, who created a “Keeping Score” video of Berlioz’s best-known orchestral work “Symphonie fantastique,” conducts a similar piece, the 1834 “Harold in Italy,” on next week’s program.

Both works have detailed dramatic contents. “Harold” is in the mode of Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” depicting the wandering of a melancholy dreamer. The work consists of a series of orchestral scenes with the solo viola representing the hero; the symphony’s principal violist Jonathan Vinocour is featured.

The first movement depicts Harold in the mountains, the second Harold in the company of a group of pilgrims.

The third movement (“Sérénade”) is a love scene, and the concluding scene is about the hero in a tavern, among an “orgy of brigands.”

The orchestra will also perform these works during its appearance at the Lucerne Festival this summer.

In Davies Hall, each concert next week will be preceded by an “Inside Music” lecture, free to ticketholders. The talks begin an hour before the concerts.

These concerts will be broadcast on KDFC-FM, 102.1, beginning at 8 p.m. on July 6.


IF YOU GO
All Berlioz Concert

Presented by San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and June 25-26; 2 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $15 to $135
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

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