'Best impression'

The Rogue Valley Symphony will open its 43rd season Friday, Sept. 24, with its new music director, Martin Majkut, leading the 70-piece orchestra in three concerts around the valley. Guest artist and pianist Alexander Tutunov will perform Gershwin's Piano Concerto, and the orchestra will play Slovakian composer Vítězslav Novák's "In the Tatras" and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, in Southern Oregon University's Music Recital Hall in Ashland (sold out), 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center in Grants Pass. Majkut plans pre-concert talks an hour before each performance.

Majkut won the symphony's top job, succeeding Arthur Shaw, after a nearly year-long competition among five conductors from around the nation. He says that in rehearsals for the first RVS concerts of his tenure he was pleasantly surprised by the level of preparation among the symphony's musicians.

"I think they wanted to make the best impression on me, just as I wanted to make the best one I could on them," he says.

The orchestra has added several new musicians in the strings, and the concert's first number also requires additional wind players.

Majkut says the mountains of Oregon remind him of the mountains of his Slovakian homeland. And Vítězslav Novák's Romantic tone poem "In the Tatras" depicts a storm in the Slovakian Tatras Mountains, so a performance of it is a statement of Majkut's heritage as a sort of musical postcard to his audience.

Novák (1870-1949) was a leading figure in the Czech Neo-Romanticism movement. "In the Tatras" was written in 1902 and ranges from a musical evocation of a raging storm to a tranquil landscape.

"If you like your music loud, this is a good concert," Majkut says with a laugh.

He says he's directed the piece in this country once before, in Arizona, and it was well-received.

Gershwin's Piano Concerto, on the other hand, could be seen as a postcard about Majkut's new home in America. Local favorite Alexander Tutunov of Ashland will play the jazz-classical hybrid with its infectious rhythms and singable melodies.

The final piece on the program crosses all borders. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is an icon not only of the Romantic style but the entire orchestral canon. The 1808 symphony is one of the best-known compositions in the world and one of the most often played symphonies.

"It's the first movement everybody knows," Majkut says.

"Beethoven built the whole movement out of the fate motif (the four notes that go da-da-da DAH). I love it for its simplicity and balance."

He says the symphony can be heard as the composer coming to terms with his feelings about his deafness.

"If he hadn't worked it out," he says, "it would be a completely different story."

Tickets are on sale now for the Symphony's 2010-2011 season. First-time subscribers to the full season will receive a 50 percent discount. Call the RVS Box Office at 541- 552-6398 or visit tickets@rvsymphony.org.

In its November concerts, the symphony will perform music by Schubert, Elgar and RVS principal trombonist Mark Jacobs. The January concerts will have music by Mozart and Grieg.

In February, cellist Elinor Frey will return to the Rogue Valley for a program of Schumann, Stravinsky and Dvorak, along with the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon. The final concert of the 2010-2011 season will bring music by Berlioz, Sibelius and Brahms to the valley.

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