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Explore Brahms, Bernstein and more with DPO

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra gets the new year under way with a special look at three landmark first symphonies as it presents “Brahms: First and Foremost” on its Masterworks Series Friday, Jan.19, and Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Schuster Center.

Under the leadership of DPO Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman, the program salutes the ambitious works of Joseph Haydn, Leonard Bernstein and Johannes Brahms. In particular, Brahms’ majestic, intense and epic piece has been touted as “the greatest first symphony in the history of music” complete with an homage to Beethoven. In fact, the symphony’s finale resembles “Ode to Joy.”

“Brahms’ ‘Symphony No. 1’ was a vitally important piece in the story of the symphony as a fundamental musical form,” Gittleman noted. “When it premiered, after many years in the making, Brahms established that it was, indeed, possible to write a symphony in the post-Beethoven environment. He essentially followed Beethoven’s model, without chorus, but using a more up-to-date musical language. Had there been no ‘Symphony No. 1’ we may have never had any of the great late romantic symphonies from Bruckner, Mahler and everyone else who followed.”

In 1942, Bernstein composed “Symphony No. 1,” which premiered the following year performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra which he conducted. Written in three emotional movements and also known as “Jeremiah,” the work is a biblical-themed account based on the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. The movements are titled “Prophecy,” “Profanation” and “Lamentation.”

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Specifically, the first movement has a pleading sensibility, the second portrays the corruption and ensuing destruction of Jerusalem, and the third suggests the mournful cry of Jeremiah. Hebrew texts from the Book of Lamentations are used in the finale as well. Mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakas, professor of voice and director of Opera Theater at San Jose University in California, joins the DPO for this unique piece. She has previously performed several leading roles with Dayton Opera.

In addition, “Jeremiah” will be notably performed and profiled Sunday, Jan. 21, on the DPO’s Classical Connections Series. Cantor Jenna Greenberg, director of the Intergenerational Dayton Jewish Chorale, joins Gittleman on the first half of the program, helping trace the liturgical sources of the melodies Bernstein used in the work. The concert, fittingly celebrating the Bernstein Centennial, will open with Bernstein’s marvelously spirited “Candide Overture.”

“The Bernstein repertoire is split into the so-called ‘serious pieces’ such as ‘Jeremiah’ and ‘A Quiet Place’ and the so-called ‘popular pieces’ like ‘West Side Story,”” Gittleman explained. “I’m a big fan of everything Bernstein wrote, but there’s no doubt his ‘serious pieces’ get less love than the others. That’s one reason I wanted ‘Jeremiah’ to be the first Bernstein piece that we play during his birthday year. ‘Jeremiah’ represents Bernstein showing to the world he had something significant to say as a composer. And, indeed, he did.”

Haydn’s “Symphony No. 1” is the first of more than 100 symphonies he wrote. Although he is often called the “Father of the Symphony,” he did not actually invent the form, although he did establish a standard form for the symphony.

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“I love the idea of this program,” Gittleman added. “These are three first symphonies by three very different composers from three very different eras that reveal a lot about the symphony as a musical medium.”

World of Wonder

The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance offers a community outreach for families as dancers from the Dayton Ballet, vocalists from the Dayton Opera and musicians of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra participate in a “World of Wonder” Saturday, Jan. 20 at the Schuster Center.

This integration of ballet, opera and orchestra begins before the concert at 3 p.m. Audiences are invited backstage for a lesson from Dayton Opera singers, a walk across the Schuster stage to sample the DPO in rehearsal, and a peek upstairs to touch pointe shoes and get a ballet tutorial from a Dayton Ballet company member. Audiences are also invited to the Wintergarden for crafts and coloring or to see how it feels to conduct an orchestra on the DP&L Stage with members of the DPO Youth Orchestra.

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“I’m really looking forward to this fun and exciting program,” said Dayton Ballet Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke. “The ballet will have a pointe-shoe table, where people can see how the dancer prepares her shoes, a makeup table showing how to put on theater makeup, some costumed mannequins, and a few dancers will help anyone that would like to try to do some easy ballet positions.”

The concert will feature selections from Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” and “Divertimento for Orchestra,” Dumisani Maraire’s “Mai Nozipo,” Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” and contemporary composer Roberto Sierra’s “Imaginary Creatures” and “We’ve Got Rhythm.”

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