James Sommerville conducts Tchaikovsky and Sibelius as the RI Philharmonic kicks off its 73rd season on September 16

The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra kicks off its 73rd season with guest conductor James Sommerville at the podium. The Orchestra will play Sibelius’ Second Symphony and Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral. Violinist Simone Porter makes her debut with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The concert is Saturday, September 16, at 8:00 p.m., with an Open Rehearsal Friday, September 15 at 5:30 p.m.


TACO Classical Concert
Saturday, September 16 at 8:00pm
Tickets start at $15, available at tickets.riphil.org

James Sommerville, conductor
Simone Porter, violinist

 HIGDON blue cathedral
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto
SIBELIUS Symphony No.2

Open Rehearsal
Friday, September 15 at 5:30pm
All tickets are $15, available at tickets.riphil.org

“This season brings the excitement of eight brilliant guest conductors,” said David Beauchesne, executive director of Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School. “James Sommerville is a gifted leader, educator and instrumentalist, and we’re honored to hand him the baton to launch our 73rd season. Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride!” 

About James Sommerville, guest conductor

James Sommerville
“An inspiring and inspired conductor” (jamesstrecker.com), conductor, hornist and educator, James Sommerville joins the Rhode Island Philharmonic for the first time. He is Music Director of the Canadian National Brass Project and was Music Director of the Hamilton (Ontario) Philharmonic Orchestra from 2007 to 2014. Principal Horn of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he has enjoyed an active solo, orchestral and chamber music career for over 25 years. A lifelong advocate of new music, Mr. Sommerville inspired the commission of Elliott Carter’s 2006 Horn Concerto, which he premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He is a member of the faculty of New England Conservatory of Music and Boston University.

About Simone Porter, violinist

Simone Porter Violinist Simone Porter has been recognized as an emerging artist of impassioned energy, musical integrity and vibrant sound. At age 20, Ms. Porter has already appeared with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Houston Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic. After she performed recently with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the LA Times declared Ms. Porter “on the cusp of a major career.” She made her professional solo debut at age ten with the Seattle Symphony and has performed with the San Diego Symphony and Charles Dutoit, the Pittsburgh Symphony and Leonard Slatkin, and the New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall and with dozens of other major orchestras. Raised in Seattle, Ms. Porter plays a 1745 J.B. Guadagnini violin.

About the concert: stories behind the music

Jennifer Higdon (1962 –  )
blue cathedral

She’s the top:  Jennifer Higdon is one of the leading women in American music.
She graduated from Curtis Institute of Music, where she now chairs Compositional Studies. The first woman to be named a featured composer at the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival, Ms. Higdon’s honors include the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters and the National Endowment for the Arts. There are more than a hundred performances of her works every year.

About the piece: blue cathedral is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral works in the United States. Ms. Higdon reflected: “Blue…like the sky. Where all possibilities soar…. Cathedrals…a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression…serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth…. Coming to the writing of this piece at a unique juncture in my life, I found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make…. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the whole of the group…our journeys and the places our souls carry us.”

Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)
Violin Concerto in D, op.35

Best of times, worst of times:  1878 was one of Tchaikovsky’s worst years, and one of his best. In Italy and Switzerland, recovering from a shattered marriage and a near breakdown, he finished the depressive Fourth Symphony and his operatic masterpiece, Eugene Onegin. In the Swiss resort town of Clarens, in a sudden burst of inspiration, he wrote the brilliant, cheerful Violin Concerto.

Hindsight is 20-20, even for critics: Reviews were scathing. Tchaikovsky was permanently wounded by Vienna’s most influential critic, Eduard Hanslick, who wrote, “Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto brings to us for the first time the horrid idea that there may be music that stinks in the ear.” Today, audiences and critics cherish the concerto. The first movement presents three ingratiating themes that drive toward the brilliant cadenza. The Canzonetta reveals what scholar David Brown terms “Tchaikovsky’s burning love of Russia.” The final movement is even more recognizably Russian, demanding both acrobatics and panache from the soloist with a Trepak, a stamping Cossack dance, and a gypsy melody played to the droning accompaniment of bagpipes or a hurdy-gurdy.

Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D, op.43

The composer at work:  Sibelius wrote of his symphonic process, “It is as if the Almighty had thrown down pieces of a mosaic from Heaven’s floor and asked me to put them together.” In the pastoral opening movement, we can hear him examining the thematic pieces, organizing them into a pattern, and finally redisplaying them as a conclusion. The Andante movement is also fragmentary, and Sibelius sketches the melodic fragments of the Scherzo against a scurrying perpetual-motion background. The momentum of the first three movements targets the majestic opening of the finale. The first theme literally climbs out of the depths of the orchestra. The second theme is then adorned by rushing strings, and the symphony concludes in triumph.