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We Came! We Saw! We Smiled! Las Vegas Philharmonic

We Came! We Saw! We Smiled! Las Vegas Philharmonic

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Greek gods! Beasts and birds! Shenanigans! Peace offerings! Toga parties! Tonight’s performance by the Las Vegas Philharmonic, titled “A World in Harmony,” was a veritable fun-house of images. I’ll try to limit my use of exclamation points.

The overture to The Thieving Magpie, by Gioacchino Rossini, can be described in one word: mischief. A maid is accused of stealing a silver spoon from her master’s house and is sentenced to death. Well, it is opera — but fortunately not the tragic kind, in which half the characters die and the other half wish they could. Eventually the culprit is found to be the bird named in the title, and the woman is exonerated. No word on whether the magpie lives, though.

Nothing focuses the mind like an imminent deadline. The opera premiered in Milan on May 31, 1817, and Rossini later said, “I wrote the overture to The Thieving Magpie on the day of its opening, in the theatre itself where I was imprisoned by the director and under the surveillance of four stage hands who were instructed to throw my original text through the window, page by page, to the copyists waiting below… In default of pages, they were ordered to throw me out of the window.” Both the overture and the overall opera were big hits that night, and the stage hands needed to manhandle only the scene props.

Speaking of working under pressure, Sergei Prokofiev composed his Violin Concerto No. 2 just before returning to live in the USSR in 1936. Stalin’s government wasn’t fond of avant-garde experimentation in music, and Russian composers weren’t fond of gulags. The concerto takes the standard three-movement form, contained no wild cadenzas for the soloist, and was “regarded by some as a musical olive branch to the Soviet regime,” according to LV Phil Associate Conductor Dr. Richard McGee.

Award-winning guest violinist Chee-Yun took center stage for this concerto. Her arm pumped like a machine through rapid arpeggios in the energetic first movement.

The solo part was oddly separate from the orchestral accompaniment. The relaxed second movement sounded more integrated and had a pleasant walking tempo. The allegro third movement had tricky ¾ rhythms that were often hard to follow. The finale contained a bit of unexpected percussion by castanets, bass drum, and muted cymbals. The end came unexpectedly, with Chee-Yun fiddling rapidly right to the last staccato note. Both soloist and orchestra performed beautifully, but this concerto contains no melodies that will get stuck in your head like a Roger Miller tune. At intermission most of us were still humming Rossini.

Samuel Barber, one of America ’s most popular twentieth-century composers, has been called “Neo-Romantic” because his works use structures from that earlier period, and also because his writing is often inspired by literature. Such is his “Music for a Scene from Shelley,” written in Italy, where Percy Bysshe Shelley had written his epic poem Prometheus Unbound in 1820.

The poem is Shelley’s adaptation of the incredible Greek legend of Prometheus the Titan, who is chained to a desolate mountaintop by Zeus as punishment for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to mankind. Did you know that liver tissue can regenerate? In the myth, an eagle comes every day to eat the Titan’s liver. Eventually the prisoner is rescued by the mighty mortal Hercules, and the goddess Athena brokers a clever peace agreement between Zeus and Prometheus. Barber’s brief piece captures the larger-than-life scene beautifully.

“WE ARE ROMANS, LET US PASS!” Tonight’s marquee piece was the incredible Feste Romane, or “Roman Festivals,” written by Ottorino Respighi in 1928. This extravagant tone poem is the final act in the composer’s trilogy about the Eternal City (along with The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome). Feste so vividly depicts ancient Roman scenes that one conductor declared it “almost intolerably realistic”.

Ancient Rome was not a gentle place. The first movement, “Circuses,” opens with competing trumpet fanfares and sets a chaotic scene of rowdy crowds, wild animals, and growing excitement. Layered above this mess are melancholy strains representing the martyrs who will soon be torn limb from limb for the Romans’ entertainment. The mayhem stops abruptly with the beginning of the second movement. “The Jubilee” depicts pilgrims on the road to Rome with a soft andante passage by the strings. Gradually the tempo quickens and the volume increases as the city draws near, and a sudden horn fanfare and church bells announce the travelers’ arrival.

Respighi’s chosen sequence seems
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Rob LaGrone, Jetsetters Magazine Editor – Read Jetsetters Magazine at www.jetsettersmagazine.com To book travel visit Jetstreams.com at www.jetstreams.com and for Beach Resorts visit Beach Booker at www.beachbooker.com


About the Author

Robert LaGrone, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at www.jetsettersmagazine.com

Robert LaGrone