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Forte: Bruckner’s epic symphony is a rarity

YAKIMA, Wash. -- I have lost count of the ways in which Yakima outperforms traditional expectations for a community of our relatively modest profile, but this Saturday’s program by the Yakima Symphony Orchestra is one.

Symphonies by the late 19th century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner are epic, mesmerizing journeys; and, while they are available anywhere on recordings, nothing compares to the experience of this music live in the concert hall.

In a quick online search for performances of Bruckner symphonies worldwide in the coming six months, only six of 80 will take place in North America: two in New York City, one in Washington, D.C., one in Toronto, and the two performances conducted by our own music director, Lawrence Golan, here and in York, Penn.

This is music usually tackled only by the top American orchestras, available only to the residents (and musicians) of our largest metropolitan areas, so this is truly something special.

Bruckner was a bit of an enigma as a composer. Much of the European music world during his lifetime was consumed with the battling Germanic ideologies of Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner: the war of words and music between those who believed in “absolute music,” which does not rely on association with any other art or literary idea for its meaning, and those who believed the true future of music was in the union of various arts into a single, pre-eminent art form including words and movement.

Bruckner somehow fell in the middle. He composed some of the most profound symphonies ever written — symphonies often being considered the ultimate expression of absolute music — but he also clearly idolized and was deeply influenced by Wagner.

This left him in the unfortunate historical position of never being “claimed” by either side in these political battles of musical aesthetics, and so his star was obscured behind those of composers that the writers and polemicists of the day promoted more prominently.

The Fourth Symphony of Bruckner on this weekend’s program is subtitled “The Romantic.” While the symphony itself was written with no allusions to an external program in the titles, performance instructions or the musical notation (as “absolute” as it gets!), it is clear from the composer’s letters that in fact he did have such a program in mind. This program involves medieval knights, castles, hunting calls and many references to being in nature — a hallmark of Romantic literature and music — including bird calls and “forest murmurs.”

Also on the program is Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, the third of four overtures written for an opera ultimately titled “Fidelio.” The opera tells the story of an idealistic hero falsely imprisoned by a tyrant and ultimately rescued by his wife, disguised as a prison guard.

Though the Fidelio Overture is performed before the actual opera, this earlier version is more popular, telling the entire story of the opera and featuring a famous offstage trumpet call that marks a transformational moment in the opera and the overture.

• David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at

If you go

WHAT: “Knights in Shining Armor,” part of Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s “Heroes!” series.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: The Capitol Theatre, 19 S. Third St., Yakima.

TICKETS: $9 to $59, available at Capitol Theatre Box Office, 19 S. Third St., from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. today-Friday, or by calling 509-853-2787 or visiting


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