YAKIMA, Wash. -- The experience of a musical performance can be at once deeply personal and also linked to a larger collective consciousness. Each listener brings layers of individual references to complement a shared body of understanding about what a song or a symphony means, where it came from and why it matters.
Similarly, each of us brings our own set of values and ideals to the notion of heroism — what makes a hero to one person may make a villain to another — but we all share a common association of heroism with nobility, strength and a struggle in service of the greater good, and we’ve all had the experience of being inspired and uplifted by the thoughts, words and actions of others.
In announcing last weekend the theme of “Heroes!” for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s 2018-19 performance season, Maestro Lawrence Golan has initiated a yearlong conversation, musical and otherwise, about what makes a hero, to whom and why.
Bookending the Classical Series will be two pivotal masterpieces that embody the spirit of heroism in music from the beginning to the end of the 19th century. October’s concert will include Beethoven’s revolutionary Third Symphony, subtitled “Eroica,” which was dedicated to his political and military hero of the time, Napoleon — a dedication later revoked when Napoleon declared himself emperor.
The season finale in May will feature the massive Romantic tone poem “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) by Richard Strauss, written 95 years later and inspired by the “Eroica.” A performance in November will feature YSO concertmaster Denise Dillenbeck as soloist in the Serenade by Leonard Bernstein, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Bernstein remains a hero within the orchestra world for his enthusiasm and advocacy for symphonic music in America, particularly during the 1960s through his televised Young People’s Concerts. February brings the Second Symphony of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, whose persona and evocative music became inextricably intertwined with that country’s national identity and movement toward independence.
On the lighter side, pops programming includes musical portrayals of fictional heroes, from Superman and Batman to Wonder Woman and The Incredibles, by composers such as John Williams and Danny Elfman.
There will also be musical tributes to military and athletic heroes as well as icons of 20th century popular culture.
As the Symphony explores these many musical manifestations of heroism through the coming year, perhaps we can all be inspired to reflect upon our own values and ideals, individually and as a community, and to energize the heroes within our midst and within ourselves.
• David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.