NEW HAVEN —The New Haven Symphony Orchestra has planned a lovely opening concert Sept. 22 for its 118th season, with the brilliant young pianist Michael Brown as guest artist and a reflective piece by Yale composer Christopher Theofanidis inspired by Dr. Timothy Leary.
The concert is ironically, and perhaps appropriately, titled Peace Love and Light. Ironic, because the elephant in the room is that the symphony and its musicians have been in protracted contract talks which the musicians have decried in flyers handed out to audiences at several NHSO events at last season’s end and a summer concert on the Green.
The musicians, who have been working under an extension of their contract, which expired May 31, 2010, were concerned about proposed budget cuts they said would affect not only their livelihood, but also the orchestra’s artistic standards.
The NHSO, the nation’s fourth oldest symphony orchestra, is not the only symphony addressing ways to survive the present tough fiscal climate, which has seen more than one symphony fall by the wayside. But neither side wanted to speak on the record about the negotiations.
Artistic integrity is something about which Music Director William Boughton, who said he has not participated in the negotiations, is quite firm. He also would not address the contract talks, but spoke generally about the economy and his concentration on the artistic side of board expectations.
“The agreed program in the end that I was asked to prepare reflects changes, yes,” said Boughton. “Basically, the orchestra needs to save money to reflect the economic climate. It meant I took a 20 percent pay cut, and there were reductions in administration. The board is being prudent in the economic climate like the government is having to be and most corporations are,” Boughton said.
“The important thing to always remember in running an orchestra is we’re there for the art form, to serve the art form to the community. That’s what everyone is behind — maintaining the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in these tough economic times. ...”
The program on paper is quite uplifting and eclectic, with the acclaimed pianist/composer Brown, 24, soloing on Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, a piece seemingly perfect for him, though he has never played it before in concert.
It’s the first concert of a season which probably will reflect the new reality of today’s economy: smaller pieces by fewer musicians. This concert will have about 50 musicians on stage.
The concert title comes from part of the title of “Peace, Love, Light YOUMEONE,” a work by Yale composer Christopher Theofanidis, inspired by LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary, who asked
that those words be inscribed on the vial containing his ashes that were blasted into space.
Theofanidis, whom Boughton calls “an outstanding contemporary American composer,” is one of three Yale University professors (David Lang and Aaron Jay Kernis are the others) whose works will be presented this season.
“The piece is beautifully reflective through its intertwining scales,” said Boughton. “It’s not only peace, love and light, but also eternity, because the final scale just seems to hang in the air and leaves you with the feeling that it just goes on and on as those sentiments will do throughout eternity ...”
Brown is a brilliant young talent, who is the first of the NHSO’s New Generation Artists Program to perform. He will be joined over the next two seasons by violinist Chad Hopes and percussionist Svet Stoyanov.
“Michael’s a very deep-thinking, profound young pianist who brings for his age an extraordinary depth of understanding of the great works,” said Boughton.
The conductor said the difference between Brown and other young technicians is his talent as a performer, one who, as Boughton put it, has an ability “to communicate over the footlights.
“We all know people who play the piano, but they aren’t necessarily performers. I was struck immediately the first time I heard him. It’s an incredible technique.
“To him, it’s not just about performing the dots. It goes much deeper. I think the two years that he’ll be with us, will be wonderful. We’ll really get to know him and he’ll get to know us.”
And who doesn’t know the evening’s opening piece, the Overture to “The Barber of Seville,” from Rossini’s beloved opera, a fitting opening, said Boughton as it conjures musicians assembling in the square of Seville, about which he says, “I can think of no better way than the musicians re-assembling and performing this great overture to this opera buffa. It sums up all sorts of emotions...”
The final work on the program is in keeping with the uplifting atmosphere, Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony, No. 4 in A major, which Boughton said is “filled with sun, happiness and joie de vivre. ...”
As usual, a pre-concert talk, this one with Boughton and Theofanidis, will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, 80 Wall St.
“I hope that every New Haven Symphony Orchestra concert is different,” said Boughton. “For us, that’s the exciting thing of performing different repertoires — that no two concerts are alike. This season has some wonderful contemporary composers right nearby who will be contributing, and they’ll be doing the pre-concert talks too, so that’s fantastic.”
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