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Forte: Roman influence felt in latest ‘Voyage’ stop

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Pianist Roberto Plano, Gold Medal Laureate of the Cleveland International Piano Competition. (Photo by Roberto Cifarelli)

YAKIMA, Wash. -- As the next stop on the Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s “Musical Voyage Around the World,” one might expect Saturday’s concert, titled “When In Rome,” to be an entire evening of quintessentially Italian music; rather than Rossini or Puccini, however, this program celebrates Italy as a crossroads of the world for composers of all nationalities.

The first half of the program consists of music by non-Italian composers on holiday in Italy. In 1830, German composer Felix Mendelssohn followed up his visit to Scotland (commemorated by his Third Symphony on last month’s YSO program) with travels through Italy.

While in Rome, he met French composer Hector Berlioz and began work on a piano concerto that was completed and premiered in Germany in 1831. Performing the concerto this weekend will be Italian pianist Roberto Plano, a Gold Medal Laureate of the Cleveland International Piano Competition, where after the first round it was said of his performance, “The competition (has) found its poet.”

Almost 50 years after Mendelssohn, Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky spent two and a half months in Rome with his brother, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. His “Capriccio Italien” is in essence a musical travelogue, built around a succession of Italian songs and dances plucked from anthologies and from simply listening to folk music in the streets.

The only actual Italian composer on the program is Ottorino Respighi, whose brilliant orchestrations owe much to his early years as a violist in St. Petersburg, Russia. There, he studied with one of history’s great orchestrators, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, through whose intervention we are most familiar with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Respighi composed “Fountains of Rome” in 1916 to portray each of the city’s most famous fountains at its most beautiful moment of the day: the fountain of Valle Giulia at dawn, Villa Medici at sunset, and Triton and Trevi in descriptive daytime tableaux.

“Fountains” was such an immense success that Respighi followed it up with “Pines of Rome,” similarly painting musical pictures of various scenes around the city (the pines in each scene maintaining a silent presence): a raucous day of play near the Villa Borghese, an eerie evening at the Catacombs, nighttime on the Janiculum Hill, and ending with the unforgettably stirring and triumphant military procession along the Appian Way at sunrise.

Following the Italian Baroque tradition of Vivaldi two centuries before, this is vividly pictorial music, incorporating musical effects designed to evoke specific visual and aural references, including birdsong — but in this case it is an actual recording of a nightingale, in the late 1920s one of the earliest instances of electronics incorporated into an orchestral score.

David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.

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