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Gerald Carpenter: Music Academy’s Festival Orchestra to Play Bolero, Beatrice and Benedict

Valentin Serov’s portrait of actor and dancer Ida Rubinstein, who commissioned Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro.”
Valentin Serov’s portrait of actor and dancer Ida Rubinstein, who commissioned Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro.” (Contributed photo)

The Music Academy of the West's Festival Orchestra, once again conducted by Larry Rachleff, will play its second concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Granada Theatre.

As miraculously good as they sounded in their first concert, if they run true to form, they will sound exponentially finer in their second. That's the way it goes with this very young orchestra, which is less than a month old.

The program for this concert consists of three orchestral showboats: the Overture to Hector Berlioz's opera, Béatrice et Bénédict (1862); Maurice Ravel's Boléro (1928) and Sergei Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, Opus 45 (1940).

It strikes me as I review the information that these three works have more in common than simply their instrumental brilliance — each is, in fact, among the last compositions of their respective composers. Berlioz seems to have devoted the seven years between the premiere of Béatrice and his death mainly to literary rather than musical compositions, especially his incomparable Memoirs. Ravel wrote only his two piano concertos and the Don Quichotte à Dulcinée song cycle after the were the only compositions that followed Boléro. The Symphonic Dances were Rachmaninov's last work.

Béatrice et Bénédict is Berlioz's take on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and it is the first significant setting of the play. It is one of Berlioz's sweetest scores, as light as a merangue, and smooth as whipped cream on velvet. He had been engaged with The Trojans for nearly a decade, and wanted some light and air. (Virgil, Shakespeare, Goethe, Sir Walter Scott — nothing but the greatest writing could catch Berlioz's imagination.)

The Symphonic Dances are Rachmaninov's best purely orchestral score, better than the three symphonies, better even than The Isle of the Dead. For once, the model is Rimsky-Korsakov, rather than Tchaikovsky or Borodin, and the music is transparently beautiful.

Tickets to the Festival Orchestra concert are $10, $40 and $50, with those ages 7 to 17 admitted free. For tickets and other information, call 805.969.8787 or click here. Single tickets can also be purchased from the Granada box office at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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