CHSO Season Seventeen, Blog Five

So, it’s already the second month of the New Year, and it’s been crazy-busy already!   This coming Saturday evening’s CHSO concert will be our fourth major production in the New Year!  We started out with the CHSO Alternatives concert on January 13, followed by our performance with famed Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan at the Stadium Theater in Woonsocket on January 21, then on to Claflin Hill Youth Symphonies Winter Concert the very next day, and now we are gearing up to perform “Fire & Ice!”


Believe or not, I actually get a little nervous coming up to each of these major CHSO programs. I study the scores, listen to recordings of the works we’re about to explore, study some more trying to figure how to conduct and indicate the musical phrases clearly for the musicians – but going into the first rehearsal on the Tuesday of the week of the concert, I’m always asking myself if I’m prepared enough to stand in front of the orchestra and lead them safely through the pieces in front of us.   Partly, as a musician, I know just how hard these programs I design are for the orchestra – any orchestra! In fact, I rarely see programming in other orchestras that is as ambitious or daring as ours!

But then Tuesday evening arrives, the orchestra convenes, and we sound the first notes of the masterworks before us.   At the end of the evening, I always come home elated, excited and reassured. 

Last night was just such a night.   What an orchestra we have!  What great players, what great heart they all have individually and as a whole!

“Fire & Ice” as a program concept was designed around Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 – a work I first played in 1978 on my first college orchestra concert when I began my studies at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, CT.  It is a truly majestic and awe inspiring piece – for me, evoking the vistas and natural monumental landscapes of the northern Scandinavian landscape.   Close your eyes and you can picture vast glaciers, towering ice formations rising from the sea, a bluish tint in the horizon – and above all, a lush romantic musical language.   It almost could be the soundtrack of a movie!   Sibelius created what some call a “nationalistic” musical flavor – we are all familiar with his “Finlandia” which has since become a universal hymn of peace and brotherhood.

Finlandia is a gorgeous, gorgeous work, full of BIG sounds and energy, and with our first reading last night I knew that Saturday would be yet another magnificent CHSO triumph!

In building the program around the Sibelius, I was looking for a theme, and with the icy and majestic flavor of that work, and came up with a concert celebrating the “elements, ”hence “Fire & Ice.”

Igor Stravinsky’s “Fireworks” is a very short opus, barely five minutes long, but its energy and color pack almost as many notes into those short minutes as the entire rest of the concert!  It is “Fast and Furious” and truly lives up to the title – you will literally envision fireworks coming out of the orchestra, and yet it has moments of sublime, romantic, French Impressionistic sounds.   Quite a curtain-raiser to get things started on Saturday!

Mason Morton, chso principal harpist

Mason Morton, chso principal harpist

Our CHSO Harpist, Mason Morton is featured in the Maurice Ravel “Introduction and Allegro” for Harp and orchestra on Saturday.  This is a piece that was originally conceived as a chamber work – for harp with String Quartet, Flute and Clarinet – but can be done with the full orchestral string section as well, and I think it just exudes a richer, lusher sound with all of our great CHSO strings brought into the mix.  (By the way, Ronan Tynan kept exclaiming to me over and over again during our gig with him, on what a great string sound we have!)

The Ravel is delicate, energetic, explosive and gorgeous – all in fifteen minutes – a true example of great French Impressionism, and Mason is just about the greatest Harpist we’ve ever had in the orchestra!  He came last night ready to play, and again, the fears I had about putting this one together dissolved away in a few seconds!   We had so much fun with it, that we played it through in its entirety twice!

Mason, as some of you may know, is also a member of the pop music group, “Sons of Serendip” who were finalists several seasons ago on “America’s Got Talent” and they were also featured two summers ago with the Boston Pops during the Fourth of July Esplanade concert. 

Apart from being a great harpist and musician, he’s a truly wonderful person, and a real part of the CHSO family.   You will all be enchanted and enthralled watching him as he works his magic on that great big harp – an instrument that I just don’t know how they do everything they do with !  Watching a harpist play makes me feel insignificant just being a clarinet player!

So there you are – it is truly a NOT TO BE MISSED CHSO event, and although its title is “Fire & Ice” –celebrating the natural elements of nature, it really could be an evening of “Romantic” music.  Funny how these things end up turning out!

See you on Saturday, I can’t wait for the Thursday rehearsal – oh the fun we’ll have!

Paul Surapine