Symphonic Stories Holland Symphony Orchestra ends season with inclusive, narrative show

Holland Symphony Orchestra Music Director Johannes Müller-Stosch likes to give the audience something a little bit different to close out each concert series.

“Different” in this case can mean many things, whether it be by size, scope or unique repertoire. 

HSO’s Classics III: Stories in Music offers something for everyone, featuring Müller-Stosch’s California colleague and violin virtuoso Moni Simeonov, the winning piece from the symphony’s 2015 Young American Composer’s Competition, and a work that takes the audience on a stroll through the museum with Pictures at an Exhibition.  

The April 29 concert opens with a six-minute long overture, Tracks, that sounds like a diesel freight train is coming, according to composer Bryce Craig. He wrote the piece in honor of his grandmother, Shirley, who had the “fortitude and constitution of a freight train,” and also because he remembers plenty of trains in his hometown of Olathe, Kan.  

“I was basically surrounded by trains, hearing and seeing trains every day, getting caught by a train,” he said.

The sound of a train is baked into the piece rhythmically, harmonically and melodically, he said. 

“Just try to imagine a big, speeding diesel locomotive,” he said. “It’s upbeat to be sure. I wanted to give it the character a big freight train deserves, stout and noble.” 

The middle is more contemplative and introspective, then the song  “puts the gas back on in the last two minutes or so,” he said.

Craig, first-place winner of the HSO’s composer competition, wrote Tracks for another contest held by the Duluth Superior Symphony in Minnesota, which the piece also won. It’s his first original piece for orchestra and he wrote it during graduate school at the encouragement of his composition professor, David Gillingham.

Craig, 26, received a $1,000 prize for winning the Holland competition, plus an online video-conference and critique, working with orchestra and guest composer Christopher Theofanidis. Craig now lives in North Carolina and works as a music editor and audio specialist for C. Alan Publications. This is the Michigan premiere of Tracks, and he plans to attend rehearsals and the concert to hear it performed live — with the revisions and a part for harp. 

“He gave me a lot of nice tips and ways to improve it,” Craig said of Theofanidis. 

Following Tracks, guest violinist Simeonov accompanies the symphony for Chausson’s Poème and Ravel’s Tzigane, both for violin and orchestra. They are two of the most famous solo works in the violin repertoire. 

Chausson, a French composer, wrote the sublime and dreamy Poème after a request from another famous violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe. It has a lovely, lyrical theme, showcasing the emotional intensity of the composer and skill of the artist. 

“Chausson is very contemplative,” said Music Director Müller-Stosch. “I guess the title, Poème, it can almost be viewed as poetic and expressionistic.”

Shorter and more fast-paced, the mood changes with Ravel’s violin showpiece, Tzigane, which means “gypsy,” and opens with a challenging solo cadenza for the violinist. Joined by the orchestra, the technically-advanced violin solo culminates in “violinistic fireworks.” 

“You need a virtuoso violinist to pull off the Chausson and Ravel,” Müller-Stosch said. 

A native of Bulgaria, Simeonov knows Müller-Stosch through teaching at California State University and has a long list of education credentials, recordings and guest performances. He has worked alongside Midori for her Orchestra Residencies, and dedicates time to working with young people in Holland area schools. 

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, one of the classics of the orchestra repertoire, is the focus of the second half. While it’s considered a well-known masterpiece, this is the first time HSO has performed the piece during Müller-Stosch’s tenure, and it requires a larger orchestra. 

“We try to do that for our last concert of the year, bring out everybody,” he said. “I’m in my tenth year with the Holland Symphony and there is only one piece we’ve repeated. We try to give our audiences a wealth of repertoire and give them new things they may not have heard before.”

Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, Pictures at an Exhibition was first written as a suite of piano pieces organized as a tribute to paintings created by his friend, Viktor Hartmann. The audience is taken on a stroll, observing the musical depictions of the various paintings throughout the work: a grotesque nutcracker, a troubadour serenading his love, children in a garden, a musical picture of a big oxcart, chickens in their shells, and finally the great gate of Kiev with all of its pomp and majesty. 

“None of these pieces are called absolute music. Everything relates to something that’s not absolute, but that is descriptive,” Müller-Stosch said. “Everybody is going to find something they love on this program. It’s really an all-inclusive program that should speak to just about everybody.”

Classics III: Stories in Music
Holland Symphony Orchestra
Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts
221 Columbia Ave., Holland 
April 29, 7:30 p.m., $5-$20, (616) 796-6780