Listening List: Epic Orchestral Works
Love a big orchestra playing full out--brass ringing across the full hall, string sections digging in, bow hairs flying? Try one of these full-hearted, lushly orchestrated experiences:
- Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Sunday, August 23)
Perhaps the biggest of the big, not in size, but in cultural impact. Regarded as one of, if not THE greatest work of the classical cannon, and exuding pure heart-raising energy, this one feels big in every way. A 95-member chorus joins a 100-member orchestra for this roof-raising musical force of triumph.
- Beethoven Symphony No. 7 (Friday, July 3)
This glorious work gushes forth with an infectious, lively energy. The slow second movement is captivating in its aching beauty, and then the music takes off again, as light as sunshine. Tchaikovsky said of the finale that it was “a whole series of images, full of unrestrained joy, full of bliss and pleasure of life.”
- Respighi’s Pines of Rome (Friday, July 15)
This glorious piece of music has legions of brass bands supporting the glorious ending, “The Pines of the Appian Way.” The fanfares shine like the rising sun in the scene they illustrate: that of the powerful marching Roman troops. This four-movement tone poem shimmers with an ultra-rich rich orchestration that includes a huge variety of woodwinds and percussion—even recorded birdsong.
- Pictures at an Exhibition (Thursday, July 16)
Not an orchestral work, but still one of the biggest of spirit is Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, even on piano only. Written to honor his painter friend, each movement depicts one of the artist’s works. The repeating brass promenades between movements, and the grand “Great Gates of Kiev” final movement, create a sort of emotional “surround-sound” experience that truly opens the spirit.
- Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (Wednesday, August 5)
Full of the exoticism of Eastern European sounds, and scored for a full-figured orchestra, this five-movement monumental work brings alive all the different instruments of the orchestra with boldness and flair. This was Bartók’s last work, and his most popular one for orchestra. You’ll be able to tell why.
- Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (Wednesday, August 12)
Take a wild ride into the colorful imagination of an artist who poisons himself with opium because of unrequited love. Each one of the five movements includes a repeated element (an "idee fixe"), representing the loved one. It (“she”) is variously surrounded by soundscapes of dreams and longing, wild musical storytelling, and a finale depicting a witches’ sabbath complete with groans, shouts, laughter, and an orgiastic dance.