Music News & Reviews

Philharmonic presents a wintry mix with ‘Finlandia’ and ‘Northern Lights’

José Francisco Salgado photographs northern lights at Hunter Creek, AK in March 2013.
José Francisco Salgado photographs northern lights at Hunter Creek, AK in March 2013. Vectors & Pixels Unlimited, Corp.

Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell wanted to get the music of Christopher Theofanidis before local audiences. He also was itching to program Jean Sibelius, a composer he considers vastly underrated.

Fortunately, the two great composers go great together.

“They seem like a natural partnership,” Terrell said of the composers, who will be paired on Friday night’s chilly concert.

The program will pair the Finnish icon’s “Symphony No. 1” and patriotic “Finlandia” with Theofanidis’ “The Northern Lights,” which was written to accompany a film of the distinctly high-latitude phenomenon.

For Terrell, programming multimedia works is becoming something of an annual event. A previous presentation included Hubble telescope images with Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”

Filmmaker Jose Francisco Salgado has created films to accompany existing musical works, including one for “The Planets.” But “The Northern Lights” happened in reverse.

“He already knew what the visuals were going to be,” Salgado said of Theofanidis.

Salgado traveled to the French Alps and to Canada’s Northwest Territory to film the Northern Lights, shooting all night as long as the phenomenon was active. The project paralleled Salgado’s mission of “using art to communicate science,” something he has done since 2005. He formed the group KV 265 to present science through the arts. In addition to the Friday night concert, he will participate in educational presentations of “The Northern Lights.”

“Many, many scientists are interested in music and the arts,” Salgado says. “I like that orchestras are open to exploring new concert performance formats.”

The piece premiered two years ago in a performance by the Grant Park Orchestra at Chicago’s massive Millennium Park. Salgado, who will be in Lexington to present the film, says that in subsequent performances, the presentation has worked well in concert halls, particularly because it also involves an adult and child actor, who present the story, based on a children’s tale by Canadian author Walt Terry.

Terrell’s interest in Theofanidis began with other works including “Rainbow Body,” his best-known piece.

“I see him like Adam Schoenberg,” Terrell says, referring to a recent Philharmonic composer in residence. “They don’t compose in the abstract. They realize that it’s going to be performed for an audience.”

Works by current composers have become a near-monthly occurrence for the Philharmonic, including last month’s presentation of Christopher Rouse’s “Rapture” and Stephen Paulus’ “To Be Certain of the Dawn” in November. But in the turn-of-the-20th century composer Sibelius, Terrell is presenting an artist he doesn’t think gets his due from the classical music world.

“It’s brilliant music that has never gotten the level of appreciation that, say, Mahler does,” Terrell says. “He writes in so much detail, and when it’s executed well, it can be thrilling.”

Friday’s concert will feature Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 1” to open the evening, and then his nationalistic “Finlandia” to open the second half of the show and lead into “The Northern Lights.” Terrell says the latter two works are a particularly strong pairing, as they both are highly evocative of northern landscapes. The symphony, on the other hand, is a less-often heard work by Sibelius that packs a lot of drama.

As he was planning the season with “Northern Lights,” it became something of a no-brainer that the concert presents “an opportunity for Sibelius to get an important hearing.”

Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @LexGoKY.

If you go

Lexington Philharmonic

What: Scott Terrell conducts the orchestra in performances of Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 1,” “Finlandia” and Christopher Theofanidis’ “The Northern Lights.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21

Where: Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall, 405 Rose St.

Tickets: $25-$75

Call: 859-233-4226

Online: Lexphil.org

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