KEARNEY — Some composers use certain elements of music to create an image or a story.
For Kearney Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Alison Gaines, those images and plots can seem obvious — or they merely can set a mood. Either way, compositions that evoke images or impressions of events, often called program music, can create powerful experiences for audiences.
“‘Epic Tales,’ is the theme of our season,” she said. “Each concert has a subtopic. The first one is ‘Heroes and Villains.’ The program was picked first and then we looked for the best title. How is all of this music connected? There are definite heroes and villains in the story of Peer Gynt. Peer Gynt is about a fellow who is a mischievous adventurer. Sometime his actions, to satisfy his curiosity, hurt people.”
Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg wrote incidental music to accompany a play by Henrik Ibsen produced in 1867. Almost two decades later, Grieg extracted movements from the incidental music and created two suites. KSO will play the first suite featuring four movements. Most audiences will recognize “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” part of the suite. Another expressive movement is “The Death of Åse.”
“One of the movements we’re doing is ‘The Death of Åse,’” Gaines said. “Peer Gynt comes home from his travels and misdeeds to visit his mother who is dying. She basically expresses how disappointed she is with him. It’s a heartbreaking piece of music. It’s so sad.”
Peer Gynt must leave the town because of his actions, thus breaking his mother’s heart.
“This movement is all about that,” Gaines said. “He’s a bit of a villain and a bit of a scamp.”
Central Nebraska audiences can hear the Peer Gynt Suite, along with other music, in the opening concert of the Kearney Symphony Orchestra’s 2021-22 season at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Fine Arts Recital Hall in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. General admission tickets are $13.
Ludwig van Beethoven also wrote incidental music for the theater. The orchestra will perform the overture to “Egmont,” a series of pieces composed in 1787 for a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The music tells the story of the life and heroism of 16th-century nobleman Lamoral, Count of Egmont from the Low Countries.
“In ‘Egmont,’ you can hear the struggle against tyranny,” the director said. “At the end you can hear this great, triumphant melody. Good defeats evil in the end of that story. No one, myself included, seems to know much about the story of Egmont except that it was a play that had some political basis about triumphing over evil. But the overture is fantastic. Nobody knows the play that the music was written for anymore, but everybody remembers the overture.”
The concert also features a U.S. premiere of a concerto by Adam Wesolowski. UNK faculty member Robert Benton will perform the euphonium solos in the piece.
Gaines sees this musical selection as an outlier.
“There’s no hero or villain in this one,” she said. “It’s just fun music.”
The concerto draws inspiration from popular music. At one point in the piece, the score calls for the soloist to “beatbox” on the euphonium.
“I like the contemporary musical influences,” Gaines said. “I like that it incorporates classical idioms with more contemporary genres.”
Back on the theme, the concert will include a piece by Ennio Morricone, the composer who wrote music for Clint Eastwood’s film, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” and more than 70 award-winning films. The orchestra will perform “Gabriel’s Oboe” from “The Mission,” an Academy Award-winning film released in 1986 starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons.
For audiences unfamiliar with “The Mission,” Gaines believes that the music evokes more of an image than a true source of conflict in the plot.
“I feel that with ‘Gabriel’s Oboe,’ it’s hard to get the idea of conflict with the music,” she said. “You might think more about a sense of innocence that might be spoiled. I hope audiences will enjoy our musical celebration of heroes and villains with a touch of popular musical influence.”