Two of the Peninsula’s most accomplished musical organizations, the Masterworks Chorale, directed by Bryan Baker, and the Peninsula Symphony, directed by Mitchell Sardou Klein, are collaborating on their mutual season-opening concert this weekend. The two groups are offering a distinctly celebratory program.
The concert will be performed twice, at Capuchino High School in San Bruno on Friday, and at Flint Center in Cupertino on Saturday. Both performances are at 8 p.m. Maestro Klein will conduct.
The most unusual work on the program is the “Choral Fantasy” written by Ludwig van Beethoven to conclude a benefit concert in 1808 because he didn’t think his Fifth and Sixth symphonies, which also premiered at that concert, were grandiose enough for an ending. The “Choral Fantasy” begins like a piano concerto, with a long solo to be played by the principal guest artist, Irish pianist John O’Conor. Then the orchestra introduces a cheerful theme, taken up by the chorus in the last few minutes of the piece, that strongly foreshadows the “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony, which Beethoven wrote more than a decade later.
The Masterworks Chorale will also be singing in George Frederic Handel’s “Zadok the Priest,” an anthem with a Biblical text referring to the coronation of King Solomon. Handel wrote this in 1727 as a musical contribution to the coronation of the King of Great Britain, George II. Like the Beethoven piece, it foreshadows something better-known: the “Messiah” oratorio, which Handel wrote over a decade later. Listeners who enjoy the large festive choral pieces in “Messiah” will like this.
That’s all that the Chorale is singing, but it’s not the end of the concert’s celebration of the British monarchy. The orchestra will play an extended march, “Crown Imperial” by Sir William Walton, first performed at the coronation of George VI in 1937. At the time, Walton was known as an urbane, cosmopolitan, even sardonic composer. His unexpected turn into hearty, sincere Elgar-esque patriotism, once again, foreshadows later work by the composer, in this case his music for Laurence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
There’s one more short celebratory work on the program, the “Academic Festival Overture,” one of the most cheerful works by the famously grumpy Johannes Brahms. Awarded an honorary degree by a university in 1880, Brahms responded only with a postcard, until a friend convinced him he really ought to write a piece of music for the university and visit to conduct it. So he put together this potpourri of student drinking songs in a mock-academic style.
One more work, the longest on the program, completes the evening, the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg. One of the best-known and most popular of all piano concertos, this three-movement charmer will feature John O’Conor as soloist.
After the shock of finding, early this month, that almost its entire endowment and operating funds had disappeared from its bank accounts, the Peninsula Symphony is regrouping and carrying on. Emergency fundraising has generated enough support to fund at least the beginning of the planned season
The Symphony’s next concert will be Nov. 22 and 24 at Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall, playing music by the Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch. After the ruggedly neo-classical Concerto Grosso No. 1, the Symphony will team up with baritone Stephen Saxon and the Stanford Symphonic Chorus for Bloch’s “Sacred Service,” the first large-scale setting of Jewish liturgical texts by a major classical composer.
As for the Masterworks Chorale, its next concert will be Nov. 9 and 10 at Woodside High School, featuring Felix Mendelssohn’s massive Biblical oratorio “Elijah,” with baritone Kirk Eichelberger as soloist.