The Greater Bridgeport Symphony continues its “Revolutions and Revelations” season on Saturday, March 3, at the Klein. Its fourth concert, “Vive La France!” features music of and after the French Revolution. Eric Jacobsen will lead this musical tour of 19th Century France.
“People ask ‘Isn’t Beethoven German? What’s he doing in a French concert?’” GBS Executive Director Mark Halstead said. “It’s all part of the turbulent history of French politics, and politics across Europe in the early 1800s. The Revolution had a huge impact on the arts.”
The concert begins with the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, then veers into a study of contrasts, presenting two French composers whose work evokes the arts in the 1800s, in different ways. Gabriel Fauré’s emotional and lyrical Requiem is accompanied with the Fairfield County Children’s Choir and the University of Bridgeport’s University Singers, who will join baritone Thomas Woodman of Fairfield. The concert will wrap up with selections from Georges Bizet’s iconic and dramatic opera, Carmen.
Asked about the French theme, Halstead said, “As part of our overall theme for the season, ‘Revolutions and Revelations,’ France was a natural. So much amazing music came out of France, and even Germany, because of the French Revolution. We’re featuring Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto — a German work — because Beethoven originally considered dedicating the piece to Napoleon. In a dramatic change of heart, he recanted on that later in his life, and wouldn’t explain to what ‘emperor’ he referred.”
Now in his fourth season as music director, maestro Eric Jacobsen said, “Some of the greatest music comes from composers who were willing and ready to be influenced by external factors. Some composers are moved by culture and politics, some by sounds from distant lands, some by brilliant younger or older composers, some by dance and theater. The French composers seemed to have excelled at absorbing outside influence and making it their own.”
The symphony’s season kicked off last September with a musical overview of the Russian Revolution and the season ends April 28 with “Stars and Stripes,” a look at the American Revolution. The symphony commissioned (with the Orlando Symphony) a new composition: the songs of the American Revolution and Civil War by Jeremy Kittel, who will also solo on violin. The season’s finale will also include works by George Gershwin and Scott Joplin.
The season lives up to its billing, not only surveying political and cultural revolutions but offering surprising revelations about the role music played during tumultuous times.
“Revolutions began over a year ago with a discussion about historical anniversaries in 2017-2018,” Halstead said, explaining the genesis of the idea. “We began to explore the idea of music that came before great political changes, and contrasting it with post-revolutionary music; what revelations in the arts came about because of social upheavals? The Russian Revolution of 1917 came up, and the music of Russian composers — before, during and after the Revolution — is some of the most profound and popular music in history. From there, we looked at the rest of the world, at other revolutions: the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the American Revolution. For France and Spain, we had a great many choices. For the United States, the challenge was very different, because symphonic music didn’t take root in the U.S. until around 1900.”
Next season’s theme, “A Season in Space: A celebration of flight in music on the 50th anniversary of the moon landings,” will have elements that evoke images of flight, including the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the full suite of Holst’s The Planets.
“The Greater Bridgeport Symphony is so much more than the concerts we play,” said Jacobsen. “No question that we spent tireless hours working on the minutia that makes music alive, but the group exists to bring people together in a concert hall, in community spirit and is a part the rejuvenation of a great city.”
For tickets or more information, visit GBS.org or call 203-576-0263.