Quad City Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Postcards from Venice’ Offers Merriment and Romance

For centuries, the city of Venice, Italy, has been held in high esteem for its art and architecture. It has also been a source of inspiration for composers, filmmakers, authors, and poets around the world. This highly desirable travel destination receives up to 30 million tourists a year. On February 3 and 4, Postcards from Venice, the fourth entry in the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) Masterworks concert series, will allow Quad-Cities area music enthusiasts to sample the musical essence of this celebrated cultural hub.
Masterworks IV: Postcards from Venice will be held 8 p.m., February 3, at the Adler Theatre, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport, IA, and 2 p.m., February 4, at Centennial Hall, Augustana College, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island, IL.
The program will feature seven musical selections, starting with Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to La scala di seta, an opera that combines comedy and romance. Next, Jean-Baptiste Arban’s festive Carnival of Venice features a delightful solo by the QCSO’s Principal Trumpet Matthew Onstad. The Black Gondola, an orchestration by John Coolidge Adams of Franz Liszt’s somber La lugubre gondola II, explores the melancholy side of Venice. Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins allows four skilled violinists – Emily Nash, Autumn Chodorowski, Tomer Marcus, and Janis Sakai – to explore the full range of their talents. Giuseppe Verdi’s Prelude to La Traviata presents a haunting tale of tragic love. Pulcinella Suite by Igor Stravinsky presents the jolly antics of a celebrated clown. Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri, concludes the program as it began, with romantic merriment from Gioachino Rossini.
“Venice is a one-of-a-kind place that has such an incredible history on so many levels – artistic, religious, military,” said Mark Russell Smith, QCSO Music Director and Conductor. “There is no other place like it. Its sights, sounds and smells are unforgettable to anyone who has travelled there.”
“Venice, also known as the Floating City, is a timeless place of mystery and romance,” said Michael Harring, Interim Executive Director of the QCSO. “This will be a concert that will inspire the imagination of our audience.”
Overtures to La scala di seta and L’Italiana in Algeri
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) was an Italian composer noted for both comic and dramatic operas, including Il barbiere di Siviglia(The Barber of Seville), La Cenerentola (Cinderella), Semiramide, and Guillaume Tell (William Tell). La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder) was first performed in Venice in 1812. L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) premiered the next year.
“Rossini’s music was the pop music of its day – he was a rockstar,” said Smith. “People sang his tunes in the streets. A number of his operas received their premieres in Venice, many at the world famous Teatro Fenice. I have selected two of these energetic overtures to open and close our Venetian Carnival. There are some special instruments that Rossini asks for that add some exotic flair. Pay close attention to the percussion section!”
Carnival of Venice
Jean-Baptiste Arban (1825-1889) was a French cornetist, conductor, composer, and teacher. Influenced by Niccolò Paganini’s technique with the violin, he in turn developed virtuoso skills on the cornet. He studied trumpet at the Paris Conservatoire from 1841 to 1845, and in 1869, became professor of cornet at the Paris Conservatoire. His variations on the folk tune, The Carnival of Venice, are still considered a prime solo piece for cornetists.
Matt Onstad, 27, will perform the cornet solo for Carnival of Venice. A resident of Madison, Wisconsin, he has been the Principal Trumpet for the QCSO since 2016. He also works with other orchestras in the Midwest. Over the years he has belonged to many different ensembles, including a jazz ensemble, and has performed with big bands, too. He is also a member of the Army National Guard, and plays in their band.
Carnival of Venice is a sparkling, virtuosic, fun piece of music,” he said. “The theme is so catchy it stays in your head.”
Onstad noted that he has “upward of 12 or 13 trumpets. My basement is a trumpet candy store.” He added that there is a difference between cornets and trumpets. “A cornet has a warmer tone,” he said. “It is a conical instrument, in that the tubing gradually gets larger.” A trumpet, on the other hand, is a cylindrical instrument. “The tubing stays the same width until near the end, when it grows much wider.”
The Black Gondola
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, music teacher, arranger, organist, and author. He gained fame as a travelling piano virtuoso, and acted as a promoter and benefactor to other composers.
Liszt composed La lugubre gondola II, a piano composition, after a dream in which he saw a black gondola bearing a coffin through the canals of Venice. American composer John Coolidge Adams (born 1947) created The Black Gondola, an orchestration of Liszt’s composition, because he felt the music called out for such a treatment.
“This is a deeply personal piece, originally for the piano, written by Liszt, another of music history’s rockstars, to honor the memory of Richard Wagner, who died in Venice, and who was also Liszt’s son-in-law – long story!” said Smith. “In Venice, the sight of a Black Gondola, the Venetian version of a hearse, is not at all uncommon. All activity stops as the Black Gondola glides by, and all pay their respects. Liszt’s profound, intense piece captures the huge range of emotions associated with Wagner’s death. The famous contemporary composer John Adams orchestrated this piece, originally for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, back in the 20th Century.”
Concerto for Four Violins
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was an Italian composer, violinist, teacher, and cleric. He composed instrumental concertos and choral works, as well as more than forty operas. Many of his works were written for the all-female music ensemble of a home for abandoned children.
“Again, there is so much history in Venice,” Smith said. “Vivaldi was a priest who founded a school for orphaned girls in Venice. Music training played a significant role in the orphans’ lives, and many of Vivaldi’s pieces were written for these talented young students.”
“This concerto truly demonstrates the high quality of our musicians,” Harring said. “The violinists chosen for this work will delight the audience. The players in our current lineup combine to perform as the best orchestra we’ve ever had.”
Emily Nash, 30, is one of the four key violinists who will be performing in this piece. She started playing the violin at age 7. “I would have started at age 6, but I had to beg my parents to buy me lessons for a year,” she said. She first decided to play violin when she heard two young friends playing a duet. “I thought the violin was amazing. I loved the sound of it.”
At age 12, she attended the Interlochen Arts Camp, a boarding school and summer camp for the arts. “It was great to know other kids who were so dedicated to their craft,” she said. “It really inspired me.” She also had the opportunity to play in an orchestra with the legendary violinist, Itzhak Perlman.
Also at age 12, she began working as a teaching assistant in music. “I never had to do any babysitting for money!” she said.
In addition to her work with the QCSO, Nash also works with the Northwest Indiana Orchestra, among others, and her husband performs with the Hawaii Symphony as well as the QCSO.
Violinist Tomer Marcus, 30, comes from Israel, where he used to be part of a folk band. His parents encouraged his musical skills from an early age, and in fact, he has been playing the violin since he was seven years old. He played the electric organ for a year before that.
Marcus came to America when he was 27 years old. He came to this country to play for the City Orchestra of Chicago, and since then, he has also played for an orchestra in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “This is my first year with the QCSO,” he said. “I enjoy working with the Symphony – it’s a fun, collaborative group. I also enjoy playing the Vivaldi Concerto. This will be the third time that I’ll be playing it.”
Prelude to La Traviata
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) was an Italian opera composer. He was born to a family of moderate means, but thanks to a local patron, was able to receive a musical education. In time he rose to fame in the world of Italian opera.
La traviata (The Fallen Woman) is an opera in three acts, based on La Dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Camille, a movie of tragic romance, was also based on this novel. “La traviata is an eternal, unforgettable tale of romantic love,” Harring said.
Smith observed that La traviata is one of the quintessential Romantic operas. “Verdi was the most famous and beloved musician of his day, whose music and politics inspired the entire nascent Italian nation,” he said. “This work was also premiered in Venice, at the Teatro Fenice.”
Pulcinella Suite
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He first achieved international fame with three ballets first performed in Paris: The Firebird, Petrushka, and the Rite of Spring. In time, he turned to Neo-Classical music drawing on earlier styles, including styles from the 18th century.
Pulcinella is a one-act Neo-Classical ballet, based on the play Quartre Polichinelles semblables (Four identical Pulcinellas). Pulcinella is a clownlike masked character from Commedia dell’arte, a form of Italian theatre. The ballet premiered at the Paris Opera in 1920, with costumes and sets designed by Pablo Picasso.
“Commedia dell’arte is often associated with Venice, especially at Carnival time,” Smith said. “Stravinsky, the master of ballet music, used the music of 18th Century Italian composer Pergolesi to fashion a ballet that is very Baroque-sounding. This music comes from his Neo-Classical period, where he hearkens back to the aesthetics of the Baroque and Classical periods. It gives the virtuoso musicians of the QCSO many prominent and beautiful solo turns. It is a colorful and lively piece that audiences love.”
A Venetian Adventure
This Masterworks concert will create a Venetian adventure for audience members. “I have had the good fortune to travel to Venice a number of times,” Smith said. “As any fellow traveler knows, it is very easy to get lost, even with a map – not to mention GPS. But getting lost and exploring the alleyways and ‘back roads’ of Venice is an important part of the Venice experience. I have not visited during Carnival season, so we can all collectively imagine that party through our musical journey together. This is a fun and eclectic program that samples a tremendous variety of styles, with one great surprise after another – just like the city itself.”
“Happily, you won’t have to leave the Quad-Cities area to enjoy the charm and folkways of Venice,” Harring said. “Our concert will be a musical transport to the narrow streets and watery canals of this unique city.”
Concert 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.

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