Opens its Season with a masterfully-conducted “Italian Tour”

By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: Symphony Silicon Valley


SAN JOSE, CAThe heterogeneous sounds of the instruments of the symphonic orchestra, usually produce an effect in the audience. The effect may be evident, when those instruments are played under the baton of a masterful conductor. And that is exactly what happened in the California Theatre, on opening  night of the new Season of  SYMPHONY SILICON VALLEY. When conductor KAREN KAMENSEK directed the works of  OTTORINO RESPIGHI (l870-l936) GUISEPPE VERDI (l813-l901) and HECTOR BERLIOZ (l803-l86) with a viola solo by PATRICIA WHALEY,” the effect those melodies exerted on the patrons was profound. It cannot possible  be expressed in words.

The night opened with SYMPHONY SILICON VALLEY's President ANDREW BALES greeting the audience and announcing from the stage that, financially, the Symphony is doing well. His words were followed by the singing of the National Anthem.

“An Italian Tour” as the three-piece  concert was called, had music from two Italian composers, RESPIGHI and VERDI. but the melodies of the Italian compositions that we heard on that night, were not the light melodies we often associate with Italian music. Starting with the sounds in the first work, RESPIGHI,s  “Ancient Airs and Dances suite 2, (composed in l923) the melodies sounded exotic to our ears. Maybe one reason was that, on its first part, the strings were plucked, not bowed, and the orchestration included a harpsichord (a piano-like instrument with a harp-like sound and  two complete keyboards, one on top of the other). that on that night, was played by two different players using both hands, in the two different keyboads.

We ought to remember that in addition to being a composer, OTTORINO RESPIGHI, was a violinist, a conductor and a notable musicologist whose interest in Italian music of the XVI, XVII, and XVIII, centuries led him to compose works imitating the music style  and instrumental sounds of those periods.  And that when composing his Ancient Airs and Dances,  RESPIGHI  turned to OSCAR CHILESOTTI (l848-l916)  a pioneer in the deciphering of the old lute notation (called Tablature) and writer of several volumes of solo lute pieces and songs in modern scores, and used his transcriptions.

Laura Soave (soft Laura)  sounds like a  European “Folk dance” and according to the program, is a dance sequence arranged for lute by FABIRIZIO CAROSO (c.1527-c.l605) from music originally written by EMILIO DE’CAVALIERI (l550-16020) for the wedding of FERDINANDO De’ MECICI and CHRISTINE OF LORRAINE  in l589. The notoriety of the the piece, on that night, was that it starts with the strings’ section of the orchestra playing,  by plucking the strings of their instruments in perfect synchronization.

Based on a set of dances published in 1614,  Danza Rustica is of French origin. It is rich in instrumentation: it includes a harpsichord, played in four hands, which gives the BAROQUE instrument its fullness of sound. Campanae Parisiene is martial in rhythm and it includes the sound of bells and trumpets. The last movement, Bergamasca is a dance from the Italian city of Bergamo, a 16th Century courtship dance in the style of the dance in SHAKESPEARE’s  “Midsummer's Night Dream”

The history of the second major work on that night, The Queen’s Ballet from Don Carlos,  “La Peregrina” takes us back to the year l867, when GIUSEPPE VERDI went to Paris to present  DON CARLOS, his five-act Opera, based on Schiller’s historic drama of the same name, which premiere in March 11  on that year at the Salle Le peletier 

Upon his arrival, the Director of the Opera in Paris made VERDI aware that his work needed a ballet, (A requirement for all the 19th Century French Grand Operas) So in Act II  Scene II, of DON CARLOS, the composer had the attendants of  ELISABETH de VALOIS, King FELIPE II’s young wife, to perform a ballet in her honor. VERDI called the piece,  La Peregrina (A foreigner) as the Spaniards called their new French queen. (The name Peregrina, was later given to a big  rare peal that the Queen wore often.

It its worth noting, that in its structure, La Peregrina is a musical piece  that during its fifteen-minute duration “peregrinates” to different keys,  to different themes, to different tempos and different orchestrations, making its execution very difficult to direct, and very hard to play for the musicians. The ballet starts with a ballabile (dancing) theme which is repeated twice before being altered and repeated by the full orchestra.  To the original theme, we could add the other different themes which are introduced by “Bridge passages” (passages of subordinate importance which serve as a connection between themes) The themes vary in keys and orchestration.  The second theme, for example, is lyrical and interpreted in part by a violin solo, (which that night was played by Concertmaster ROBIN MAYFORTH). Another theme is a “Jota Aragonesa” (A folk Hispanic Dance) followed by a Martial theme played by flutes, leading to a “Royal” sounding martial march played by the full orchestra which ends the piece.

If the structure of the piece sounds confusing, we ought to remember that VERDI wrote is as “Ballet’s music,” so he structured it following the dance requirements. That is the reason why  its meters and tempos change, to conform to the expectations  of  “the choreographers” from the opera who choreographed its different parts with the dancers in mind.  The piece was well directed by conductor KAMENSEK and the musicians of  Symphony Silicon Valley, mastered the challenging piece.

HAROLD in ITALY The last piece on the evening was also a difficult piece to play. It was written by HECTOR BELIOZ (in l834) considered a master orchestrator. BERLIOZ spend  14 months living in Villa Medici in Rome as a winner of the famous Prix de Rome offered to the most talented young composers. but  sadly, because of “private familiar problems” the composer did not spend his time composing, but traveling around, the Abruzi mountains, mingling with the villager and singing songs. So it was not until l833, when BERLIOZ, was by then happily married and a father, that began work in Harold, (which resembles his Symphonie fantastique)

The program relates that in his memoirs BERLIOZ wrote that he had been approached by NICOLO PAGANINI who asked him for a Viola Concerto for him to play (because PAGANINI had a Stradivarius viola) But that at the the end, the concerto turned into a symphony with the motto (the viola first theme) repeating it thought the whole work.

BERLIOZ idea was to write a series of  orchestral scenes, with the viola, like a person, playing in each one of them, in a lesser extend, and the Harold theme superimposed in the orchestral voices so as to contrast with them. In the first movement called: Harold in the Mountains: Scenes of sadness happiness and Joy. the Harold  theme is presented by the solo viola and then by the harp in the major mode. From then on, the theme will recur in all four movements played by the solo viola. The second movement “March of the Pilgrims, Singing their Evening Prayer” begins and ends with the ostenato chords of woodwinds and harp and also include church bells. The double Basses marking the rhythm of the pilgrims’ march.

The third movement Serenade of a Mountaineer of Abruzzi to His Mistress” adds two distinctive serenade themes to the Harold theme. The movement ends with the three themes heard simultaneously with one of the two 6/8 meters playing twice as fast as the other before the three melodies fade out one after the other. To get this musical passage right, requires almost virtuosity from the orchestra players and the conductor.



and on that night, the conductor, the orchestra and the viola solo played by PATRICIA WHALEY a soloist chamber musical and orchestral performer and the principal viola for Symphony Silicon Valley, Ballet San Jose and Modesto Symphonies, was masterfully.



On that night also,  KAREN KAMENSEK,  the conductor, returned to the podium of Symphony Silicon Valley following her appearance conducting BRAHMS and RACHMANINOFF in May. She has a very broad concert repertoire from classic to modern music and performs regularly with the Hamburger Philharmoniker, Staatsorchester Hannover, Basel Sinfonietta and other orchestras, in  Brussels, Vienna, Germany and the United States. She has conducted many world premieres, film music and participates in crossover projects. She supports the musical education of young people which she considers very important and works with youth orchestras.

SYMPHONY SILICON VALLEY is privileged to be part of the long lineage of classical music makers in the valley.  It originated as heir to the one of the oldest performing assembles in America. At 135 years, the oldest west of the Mississippi River.