Classical Views: Rousing finale ASO’s season of anniversaries concludes with ‘Carmina Burana’
What an amazing year this has been celebrating my 20th anniversary as the Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra.
It was thrilling to open the season with pianist Emanuel Ax. In November, we also celebrated the 20th anniversary of our renowned national Schadt String Competition with violin winner Zeyu Victor Lee.
And on Valentine’s Day weekend, we performed a splendid night of favorite Puccini opera arias with a stellar cast of soloists from the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.
This was followed by our recent, fun-filled story concert featuring Rossini’s “William Tell,” Richard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel” and Stravinsky’s “Petrushka,” with dancers from the Lehigh Valley Ballet Guild.
One could not wish for a more exciting orchestral season.
To top it off, at 7:30 April 9 and 3 p.m. April 10, we will perform Carl Orff’s famous “Carmina Burana” for Chorus and Orchestra at Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.
We open the concert with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s rousing piece, “Celebration.” I conducted this work in my very first season with the Allentown Symphony.
This exciting concert-opener has three fanfare trumpets echoing across the orchestra and features a battery of percussion instruments, including three vibraphones, marimba, assorted gongs, hand-bells and chimes.
Rounding out the concert is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s popular Symphony No. 35, often referred to as the “Haffner” Symphony. This piece was written to honor Sigmund Haffner (1756-87), Mozart’s friend, who was to be elevated to the nobility. The Emperor attended the concert and was so impressed that he sent Mozart a large sum of money.
The Haffner Symphony is considered one of Mozart’s finest compositions.
Joining the Allentown Symphony Orchestra for “Carmina Burana” will be the Allentown Symphony Chorus and the Bel Canto Children’s Chorus of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem.
We will also feature baritone Mark Womack, soprano Elizabeth Sutphen and tenor Christopher Pfund.
Many people are familiar with the title, “Carmina Burana.” But what exactly does it mean? The words are from early Latin. “Carmina” means song or incantation. “Burana” refers to the Burana district, or the area called Beuern, which refers to the monastery name.
The piece is based upon poems in Latin and old German from the 12th and 13th century written by wandering scholars and defrocked priests. The manuscript was found in 1803 in a monastery in Benediktbeurern in Upper Bavaria.
Included in it are drinking songs, love songs and songs about spring. Some of the poems are close to being X-rated, at least for that time period. At the concert, we will provide the translations on the orchestra shell so that you will be able to follow all the intricacies of these early poems.
The opening section of the piece, “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (Luck, Empress of the World), has become one of the most performed pieces of music of all time. You hear it often in commercials, TV shows, movies and sporting events. It is grand, chant-like, visceral and powerful.
During the “In Taberna” (In the Tavern) part of “Carmina Burana,” the solo baritone plays the role of the Abbot, who launches the men of the choir into a rollicking ode as they all drink.
During the “Cour d’amours” (Court of Love), we experience beautiful, lyrical melodies featuring the soprano soloist who portrays a woman very much in love.
One of the most memorable solos is the “Roasting Swan” song where the tenor sings in falsetto and we see him as the swan is roasting slowly on the spit. This piece is Pfund’s signature song and he has performed it more than 150 times with orchestras in the United States.
Carl Orff used a cover portrait for “Carmina Burana” that was particularly striking: an image of luck, shown as a revolving wheel, blindly governing people’s destinies. The wheel of fate is continually turning. This image is used today when the piece is performed.
In referring to “Carmina Burana,” Orff said, “It is not sophisticated, not intellectual ... but there is a spiritual power behind my work, and that is why it is accepted throughout the world.”
“Carmina Burana” has not been performed by the Allentown Symphony for more than 20 years. It is a spectacular way to conclude our classical season of concerts and my 20th anniversary season.
“Meet the Artist,” noon April 8, Miller Symphony Hall.
Allentown Symphony Orchestra concert tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director (USA), International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia, and author, “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics” (both, Oxford University Press).