Berlioz and Rogé will trip the light ‘Fantastique’
A broom carrying buckets of water goes haywire. Mickey Mouse, wearing a blue magician's hat with green stars, looks on helplessly. In the background? That music you remember so well is Paul Dukas' "Sorcerer's Apprentice." Thanks to Disney's "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" has become one of the most famous pieces in classical music.
Honolulu Symphony Orchestra performs with soloist Pascal Rogé, piano; conducted by Andreas Delfs:
» In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Tickets: $21 to $74; 20 percent discount for students, military and seniors. Available at Ticketmaster outlets or call (877) 750-4400
» Information: 792-2000 weekdays; 524-0815, ext. 245, evenings; or visit www.honolulusymphony.com
You can hear all of Dukas' fantasy this weekend as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" opens our latest Honolulu Symphony concert.
But as it turns out, Dukas' piece is only a prelude to even more fantasy. A more grown-up version of fantasy, you might say.
The real sorcerer here, conjuring up his "Symphonie Fantastique," is Hector Berlioz.
Like Dukas, Berlioz was a Frenchman, and was ... well, not exactly what we think of today as a good role model. For one thing, he wrote "Symphonie Fantastique" under the influence of opium. (In his defense, he was only 27 at the time.)
Also, he might seem to have been something of a stalker. The piece is built around one musical theme, which Berlioz called his "ide fixe," or obsession. The theme represents a beautiful British actress of the day named Harriet Smithson who had appeared in Paris. Berlioz fell in love with her from afar, wrote her a few letters which she never answered ... then she left town.
Berlioz's reaction was to write a work depicting a lovesick, opium-addled artist who keeps seeing his beloved everywhere. Think Kurt Cobain with a crush on Keira Knightley. The actress and her theme appear and reappear in all kinds of settings. Hector sees Harriet at a ball and in a pastoral field complete with shepherds playing pipes. Then comes a witches' Sabbath/orgy, where a solemn Latin religious chant (the Dies Irae) is "burlesqued."
But perhaps the most extraordinary scene is a dream sequence in which the artist-hero is marched to the scaffold to be executed for murdering his beloved. The scene ends in one loud, killing chord.
Berlioz had a big imagination, but he also knew what he was doing musically. He literally wrote the book on orchestration: the "Treatise on Instrumentation" in 1844. And the good news is that he might not have really been a stalker after all. Harriet Smithson did finally hear the piece that portrayed her, two years after it premiered. After that? She married Berlioz.
In between these two fantastic French pieces comes a third, Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. The soloist will be Pascal Rogé, a world-renowned French pianist. If anyone doubts his credentials as a fantasist, they need only visit his Web site, www.pascalroge.com. There, he invites fans to "enter and dream with me."
But the Ravel concerto is actually a pretty down-to-earth piece. Full of jazzy touches, it opens with the snap of a whip. That should wake up anyone who's thinking about dreaming.
Jazz, Mickey Mouse and a witches' Sabbath: Who could resist all that?
Sasha Margolis is a Honolulu Symphony violinist.