Scandinavia is a breathtaking region in northern Europe that includes Denmark, Norway, and Finland, among other countries. On December 2 and 3, Postcards from Scandinavia, the third entry in the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) Masterworks concert series, will provide Quad-Cities area music lovers with a symphonic tour of that majestic realm.
Masterworks III: Postcards from Scandinavia will be held 8 p.m., December 2, at the Adler Theatre, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport, IA, and 2 p.m., December 3, at Centennial Hall, Augustana College, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island, IL.
The program will feature three musical selections, beginning with Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Overture to Maskarade, the comedic national opera of Denmark. Next, the Piano Concerto of Norway’s Edvard Grieg will feature piano virtuoso Charlie Albright, who will astound you with his amazing skill and improvisational prowess. The tour concludes with Jean Sibelius’ enthralling Symphony No. 2, which draws inspiration from the vastness and beauty of the Finnish landscape.
“Jean Sibelius is one of the great Romantic composers, and we have not performed his music in quite a while,” said Mark Russell Smith, QCSO Music Director and Conductor. “He is Finland’s greatest composer, and a unique voice in music. Edvard Grieg – the same for Norway. These two artists and their music inspired the idea of our Scandinavian Postcard.”
“The surprising thing about Scandinavian music,” said Michael Harring, Interim Executive Director of the QCSO, “is that such a relatively small area could turn out so much classic talent. QCSO audience members will discover pieces in this concert which will become new favorites, and of course, they’ll enjoy the masterful performance of Charlie Albright, an up-and-coming pianist who is sure to gain even greater fame in the years to come.”
Overture to Maskarade
Maskarade is an opera in three acts by Carl Nielsen, based on a comedy by playwright Ludvig Holberg. Maskarade was first performed in Copenhagen in 1906 and has enjoyed ongoing popularity in Denmark. It has since become that country’s national opera.
“This piece is a rowdy curtain-raiser – short and lively and full of color and good humor,” said Smith. The plot of Maskarade concerns young lovers at a masquerade, mistaken identities, and a happy ending. The work had started as a play by Holberg, and the opera that was created around it proved to be an even greater success.
Raised by poor but musically talented parents, it was clear that composer Carl Nielsen was gifted when he was still very young. He went from playing in a military band to attending the Royal Danish Academy of Music. For the next 16 years, he served as second violinist in the Royal Danish Orchestra. He became a teacher at the Royal Academy in 1916 and continued to work there until his death. Today, his concertos, symphonies, and other music are internationally acclaimed, and he is now recognized as Denmark’s most prominent composer.
Piano Concerto with Charlie Albright
Acclaimed piano virtuoso Charlie Albright will be playing Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. “Charlie Albright is quite an awesome young performer!” Smith said.
Though he is still in his twenties, Albright has already established an illustrious career in music. He began piano lessons with his mother at age 3, and from the start, his talents drew attention. When he was still just four years old, he was featured on a Seattle news program, playing the piano with incredible skill. “At that time, I was playing completely by ear,” Albright said. A song he learned to play in those early years was Great Balls of Fire. He didn’t learn to play sheet music until age 7.
Over the years, Albright has participated in many performance tours. “I’ve performed in every state in America except Louisiana and Mississippi,” he said. When it came time to pick a college major, he wavered between music and medicine. He had always been interested in medicine, since his father suffered from a chronic illness. But in the end, it became clear to him that he needed to pursue music. “Medicine was an interest, but music was my passion,” he said.
Albright has collaborated five times with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who also has performed with the QCSO. Like Albright, Yo-Yo Ma was a child prodigy. Albright has released two CDs of his performances so far, and in his spare time, enjoys listening to film soundtracks.
Albright is very grateful for his success. “Much of success is luck and God’s blessing,” he said. “There are many talented people who never get a chance.”
“Charlie is wonderful at improvisation and will be doing some as part of his performance with the symphony,” Harring said. Albright’s improvisation will be part of Piano Concerto’s cadenza, a virtuoso solo passage.
Though this work was the only concerto Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg completed, it has become one of the most popular of all piano concerti. “I had the opportunity to perform this Piano Concerto at Grieg Hall,” Albright said. “It’s a truly gorgeous piece.”
Grieg is considered a leading Romantic era composer, noted for the use of Norwegian folk music in his works. He suffered from poor health for most of his life, but still managed to maintain an amazing musical career and receive two honorary doctorates – one from Cambridge and the other from Oxford.
Symphony No. 2
Born in 1865, Jean Sibelius is widely recognized as Finland’s greatest composer. Through his music, he helped his country to develop a strong national identity as it sought to free itself from Russian control. “He became a great proponent of Finnish nationalism,” said Harring.
Sibelius composed a set of seven symphonies, and the most popular of them all was No. 2. It was first performed by the Helsinki Philharmonic Society in 1902, with Sibelius conducting.
Sibelius is also the composer of Finlandia, a piece written in 1899 and 1900 as part of a protest against Russian control. The piece’s rousing music evokes the struggle of the people of Finland during that time. A serene section of the piece is known as the Finlandia Hymn, and Sibelius later revised it into a stand-alone piece. Words were added to the hymn by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi in 1941, and the Finlandia Hymn is now one of the national songs of Finland.
Sibelius was so respected in Finland that the Finnish 100 mark note featured his image until 2002, when Finland began to use the euro as currency.
“Scandinavia has proven to be a veritable wellspring of musical talent,” Harring said. “With so many fine Scandinavian pieces and a performance by the incomparable Charlie Albright, this concert will provide an excellent opportunity for our audience to expand its musical horizons.”
Quad City Symphony Orchestra tickets are available at the QCSO box office at 327 Brady St., Davenport. You can also call the QCSO at (563) 322-7276 or visit www.qcso.org.