Calgary Philharmonic conductor talks about the relevance of classical music

By Jill Girgulis, November 21, 2017 –

Until this year, I had never attended a live orchestral concert. I realized what I was missing after attending a Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) concert for the first time in September. The CPO gives approximately 80 concerts each year, including two on November 23 and 25. I spoke with CPO Resident Conductor Karl Hirzer to discuss upcoming concerts, the relevance of classical music to all generations, and why attending an orchestral performance is a experience to live.

the Glove: Summarize the upcoming performances on November 23 and 25 and explain your role.

Karl Hirzer: This week, the CPO will present a program consisting of two classic blockbusters on Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 November. We will be joined by internationally renowned American pianist Andrew Brownell for “Rhapsody on a Paganini Theme, by Sergei Rachmaninoff,” followed by one of the most iconic pieces of music ever written – Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Saturday will be the fuller concert version, as we will open the show with “Capriccio Espagnol” by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. My role will be to lead the orchestra throughout these performances, hopefully without falling off the podium in excitement.

Glove: How was the program chosen for these particular concerts?

Hirzer: We designed this program in January of this year. I was asked to put together a selection of the “greatest classic hits”. These concerts usually work well because they consist of famous and recognizable melodies. Often the public does not really know the specific origin. Beethoven was a natural fit, as it begins with perhaps the most well-known motif in all music and continues through four movements of distinct individual character that create a sort of lucid narrative or journey for the listener, culminating in in the joyful triumph of the finale.

For the first half of the program, we wanted to invite Andrew to play as a soloist with us. He happened to have the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody in his repertoire and it was a perfect fit. This piece is a set of variations for solo piano and orchestra based on a super famous licking of a notoriously difficult solo violin piece. It begins and permeates the work and will be easily identifiable by the public. “The 18th Variation” is also a beautiful lyrical moment from the play which has been used in many movies and TV shows and even blatantly scammed as part of the BBC’s musical theme. Earth. Then, with the addition of “Spanish Capriccio”, we get a Russian first half with two works that complement each other well, followed by Beethoven’s hobbyhorse as an autonomous German representative in the second.

Glove: What do you hope members of the audience will take away from this performance, especially new CPO attendees?

Hirzer: Hope newcomers get hooked instantly. Really, I hope that exposure to a high octane program like this convinces participants that classical music is actually incredibly exciting. But even in a program where we have a lot of virtuosity on the part of our musicians, there will also be moments of pure sublimity. And it is this coexistence of such contrasting expressive states within a single work of art that makes these pieces of classical music timeless masterpieces.

Glove: How is the role of an orchestra in North America different from that of other parts of the world?

Hirzer: In Europe, classical music and the arts in general are seen as much more an integral part of life and community than in North America. Arts programs and organizations will receive a lot of government funding and are held in respectful high regard by the locals. Not to speak pejoratively about our vision for the arts here in North America – we just see it as something that is perhaps a little exotic as opposed to something that is absolutely necessary to be maintained through continued performance. . Of course, the music we play comes mostly from that part of the world and that’s only natural since it first came to life there.

That said, there is one aspect of uncovering the unknown that is somewhat prevalent in North America. It’s a really exciting notion that people who come to hear us this week will never have heard Beethoven’s Fifth in its entirety. Getting involved in giving someone that first experience is pretty cool. Regardless of the public relationship with classical music, having a leading orchestra like the CPO in our community brings such strength and dynamism to our artistic scene, both nationally and internationally.

Glove: What is CPO’s biggest challenge and how do you think it could be met?

Hirzer: I would say our biggest challenge is just that we don’t reach as many viewers as we could be. We sometimes have the feeling that classical music is esoteric, archaic or hardly accessible to those who have no previous experience. I would say that like any art form, the more you expose yourself to it, the more you can develop a relationship with it. It’s like reading Shakespeare for the first time or drinking wine – your palate and appreciation will grow with repeated exposure. While this can help the listener gain a deeper understanding of music, this repertoire is so universal that anyone can listen to it and have any type of reaction they may have. There are no rules, no specific method for listening or trying to enter a piece of music. In some ways, the abstraction of how we react to all music in general is one of the indefinable reasons why it has such a hold on us and plays such an important role in our lives as people.

Glove: What’s special about CPO that most people ignore?

Hirzer: We’re playing Sled Island this year with Owen Pallett. It should be pretty sweet.

Tickets for this week’s and upcoming concerts are available at calgaryphil.com. Tickets start at $ 25 for the November 23 performance and $ 20 for November 25.
Interview edited for clarity and conciseness.

About Roy B. Westling

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