Allentown Symphony season-opener weds the old, new, borrowed and blue
“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”
I remember when I got married, this was the saying that everyone followed in order to ensure a good and happy marriage.
Well, I am coming up on my silver anniversary, 25th years, as music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, and I think we’ve had a pretty happy and successful relationship.
During this time, we’ve grown the orchestra artistically, expanded the classical concert season to double performances, added a four concert pops series, founded the Allentown Symphony Chorus, started the El Sistema Lehigh Valley Program for underserved youth, started a new chamber music series, and increased educational and community engagement programs.
In addition, we have remodeled Allentown Symphony Hall, renamed it Miller Symphony Hall, and added additional programming in the hall, including the “Jazz Upstairs” series and “MET Opera HD,” to diversify our offerings to the greater community.
It’s been a busy 25 years with a lot of people working really hard to create the growth and success that we have achieved.
So with this saying in mind, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” I wanted to bring you a concert to open our classical orchestra season, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 and 2 p.m. Sept. 22, that would be memorable and bring good luck for the next 25 years.
Let’s start with “Blue” because blue is the unifying theme for the first half of the concert program. And in honor of this “Blue” theme, I want everyone in the audience to wear blue. The color blue stands for love, purity and fidelity, three key qualities for a solid relationship.
We open the program with Michael Torke’s “Bright Blue Music,” written in 1985. This piece is in D Major, which is a key that Michael Torke has associated with the color blue since he was five-years-old. It is a fast, fun and engaging concert-opener that will make you feeling happy: “The trees and bushes seemed to dance, and the sky seems a bright blue.”
The second piece on the program is Jennifer Higdon’s “blue cathedral,” a work written in 1999 for the 75th Anniversary of the Curtis Institute of Music, but a piece that also reflected her feelings about the death of her younger brother, whose middle name was “Blue.”
In “blue cathedral,” “Blue” is like the sky, representing all potential, and the progression of the journey. It is the celebration and “ecstatic expansiveness of the soul.”
The piece includes sections with wind and brass players in the orchestra playing with their fingers on the rims of crystal wine glasses, while other musicians quietly play about 50 Chinese health bells.
The sound of high-pitched bells and percussion throughout “blue cathedral” creates an ethereal atmosphere so that “as the journey progresses, the individual would float higher and higher above the floor, soaring towards an expanded ceiling where the heart would feel full and joyful.”
The piece ends quietly with 33 toned notes from the piano, the age of her brother when he passed away.
Both of these opening pieces were written by living composers and are part of what we call “new music.” The wedding saying, “Something new” offers optimism for the future, and a new life. These pieces fulfill this role on the program as pieces that have never been played live in the Lehigh Valley. They will have a new life with us.
In order to incorporate “something old,” which represents continuity, the past and traditions, I included in the program another piece with a “Blue” theme, but a piece that has been around a long time and is known and loved by all, “The Beautiful Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss, Jr.
I love the fact that this piece is also a waltz, the dance of choice for the bride and groom when they dance their first dance together at their wedding reception. On my Silver Anniversary with the ASO, we will share this “Blue Danube” dance with all of you.
Incorporating “something borrowed” brings the couple good luck and happiness, and the second half of our program will do just that for you as an audience member. We will be featuring Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Pianist, Olga Kern, in “Piano Concerto No. 2” by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Yes, the beautiful melodies of this piece have been borrowed, and borrowed many times.
The 1941 Frank Sinatra song, “I Think of You,” is based on this concerto, using melodies from the first and the third movements. Eric Carmen’s 1975 ballad, “All By Myself,” uses the theme from the Adagio movement. In addition, many films have utilized portions of this famous concerto as background music, so it has certainly been well “borrowed” over the years.
The last part of the wedding saying that many people do not know is “A six-pence in your shoe.” The overall saying includes four good luck objects, “old, new, borrowed, blue,” plus a six-pence in your shoe to bring prosperity.
At the Allentown Symphony, we have had many pennies of prosperity over the last 25 years, as time and time again, donors, foundations, businesses and community members have given from the heart and supported the Allentown Symphony and Miller Symphony Hall financially to enable us to achieve all that we have today.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll go ahead and put that penny in my shoe (the left one) for the opening weekend of the Allentown Symphony concert season. Here’s to my Silver Anniversary with the ASO and to the next 25 years.
See you at the Symphony!
“Meet the Artist,” noon Sept. 20: Join us on stage in Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown, as Allentown Symphony Orchestra Music Director-Conductor Diane Wittry leads a talk about the Sept. 21 and 22 concerts. Piano soloist Olga Kern will join the discussion. You will have the opportunity to ask questions. Feel free to bring a bagged lunch to enjoy during the talk. The talk is free and open to the public.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor of The Garden State Philharmonic, New Jersey, and author of “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics.” She teaches conducting workshops throughout the United States and Europe.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets, for those up to age 21, underwritten by a Century Fund grant, are available for ASO concerts.