For over 80 years, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra has brought music to the area through its annual concerts and outreach programs. Now in its 12th year under Conductor and Music Director Arie Lipsky, the symphony orchestra will present “Masterworks” — its fifth main-stage concert of the season — with the hope of bringing masterpieces from the classics together with some of the most lauded compositions from modern composers.
Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
“The catalogue of music is so extensive and fascinating that it’s quite difficult to choose music for only six concerts in a single season,” said Mary Steffek Blaske, executive director of the A2SO. “(Lipsky) is a marvelous music director, though, and he looks at the concert experience a little like a meal with an appetizer, main course and dessert.”
For the “Masterworks” concert, the appetizer is the modern classic “Oh, Lois.” Part of the award-winning “Metropolis Symphony” — a symphony based on the original Superman comics — “Oh, Lois” is about Clark Kent’s love interest and Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.
“With an explicit tempo of ‘Faster than a speeding bullet,’ the four-minute piece just races along,” Blaske said. “And underneath that speed is a wonderful complexity of harmonies and polyrhythmic counterpoints that change the energy and tone of the work.”
The cause of much of this complexity is one of the most distinctive features in the symphony: a flexatone. Looking a little like a steel mousetrap with drumsticks, the flexatone provides a percussion effect similar to manipulating the pitch and intensity of an alarm clock. The sound is cartoonish and dated, as if lifted directly from the sound effects of a 1930s radio thriller.
“The use of the flexatone and, at one point, a whip, challenges the normal ‘sound’ of a symphony,” Blaske said. “But it’s exciting and creative; and the genius behind the work is our own local celebrity, Michael Daugherty.”
A professor of Composition in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Daugherty is also one of the most active American composers today. His work — including a three-time Grammy-award-winning 2011 record of the Nashville Symphony’s Naxos playing “Metropolis Symphony” — is widely considered to be among the most progressive and original material written for modern choral, orchestral, concerti, solo and operatic pieces, Blaske explained.
In his extensive program notes, Daugherty describes how he uses the Superman metaphor to evoke an American mythology expressive of the eclectic fusion in sound and culture in mid-to-late 20th century urban America. The symphony, Daugherty explains, is a snapshot of America told through one of its most lasting icons.
A piece by Camille Saint-Saëns follows “Oh, Lois.” Most remembered for composing “The Carnival of the Animals” or the operatic “Samson and Delilah,” the 19th-century Frenchman also wrote concertos for cello, piano and violin. In “Masterworks,” Concertmaster Aaron Berofsky will perform Saint-Saëns’s third and final violin concerto.
“Saint-Saëns’s concerto rivals the most beautiful works in the classical canon,” Blaske said. “In its day, it was almost unheard of for such work to come from a French composer, and it has a tremendous romantic core, which Aaron captures with his exceptional work.”
Berofsky is concertmaster for the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and an associate professor of violin in the School of MT&D. He has performed around the country as a soloist and with chamber ensemble The Chester String Quartet.
“(Berofsky) has an amazing tone and talent,” Blaske said. “Moreover, he and Maestro Lipsky have a strong collaborative relationship that helps drive the symphony. His work with Saint-Saëns’s piece is masterful.”
After Berofsky’s performance and brief break, the orchestra will preform Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. First performed in 1888, the four movements making up the 46-minute piece deal with the themes of providence and salvation.
“It’s classic Tchaikovsky, with cyclical melodies and strong horn moments,” Blaske said. “However, it is by far Tchaikovsky’s most overtly triumphant symphony. As it flows from a minor to a major key, the optimism is simply infectious.”