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Martin Majkut conducts Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra's tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Christopher Briscoe

Martin Majkut remembers Martin Luther King Jr.

With a contemplative beginning and a jubilant ending, the Rogue Valley Symphony’s third Masterworks concert of the season promises to be a satisfying holiday musical experience, says conductor Martin Majkut.

The program opens with Raymond Horton’s “Make Gentle the Life of this World,” in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The approximately 13-minute work uses a recording of a speech Kennedy made the night King was assassinated. Horton’s music reflects the speech’s sentiments.

Majkut first heard the piece about three years ago and is pleased to perform it in the 50th anniversary year of King’s death, he says. Kennedy himself was assassinated a few months later.

“In these times, there is an even deeper message when we hear Kennedy say, ‘What we need in these United States is not a division,’ ” Majkut says.

Some really interesting things are going on in the music.

“When Kennedy’s mentioning racial tension, we hear bitonal passages with two conflicting harmonies,” says Majkut. “And when unity is mentioned, the harmonies move together.”

Concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, in the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, in the Music Recital Hall, 450 S. Mountain Ave. at Southern Oregon University in Ashland; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, in the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St.

Tickets range from $15 to $53 for the Medford show; $36 to $60 for the Ashland show; and $15 to $45 for the Grants Pass show. Student tickets are $15 at all shows. See rvsymphony.org or call 541-708-6400 for tickets and information. Medford concert tickets also can be purchased at craterian.org, by calling 541-779-3000, or at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St.

When Kennedy’s speech mentions the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, audiences will hear the trumpet miss a note. It’s symbolic of an incident at JFK’s funeral when, in the cold weather, a trumpeter played a sour note during a musical interlude.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, and Antonin Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8 conclude the program.

“What I like about the concerto and the symphony is they are works of mature artists,” Majkut says. “They have nothing to prove, and that’s very liberating. The composers know their work and know their style.”

Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky will perform the Mendelssohn piece.

“Alex Sitkovetsky is a Moscow-born, London and Vienna trained virtuoso, who has been making the rounds in Europe,” Majkut says. “I am so pleased to have him bring the old-world sensibilities to one of the most inspired romantic violin concertos ever written.”

The concerto is Mendelssohn’s last large orchestral work, and one of the most popular and most frequently performed violin concertos in history.

Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8 embraces its composer’s roots. Many of its themes are based on Bohemian material.

The fourth and final movement begins with a fanfare of trumpets. Czech-born conductor and composer Rafael Kuberlik is reported to have said in a rehearsal, “Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle — they always call to the dance!”

Majkut says the music reflects Dvorák just being himself.

“It’s folksy. It’s joyous. It’s real rollicking fun,” he says.

Rogue Valley Symphony’s Candlelight Concerts are back this year.

A chamber orchestra made up of Rogue Valley Symphony instrumentalists will present candlelight concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at the First Presbyterian Church, 1615 Clark Ave., Ashland, and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at Parkway Christian Center, 229 N.E. Beacon Drive, Grants Pass.

“The music will be mostly baroque,” Majkut says, “but we’ll also have a brass ensemble play Renaissance pieces. I’ll be conducting from the harpsichord.”

The program will feature works by Michael Praetorius, Giovanni Gabrieli, Francesco Manfredini, Dvorák, and Johann Christoph Pez, plus a carol sing-along.

George Gershwin’s rarely performed “Lullaby” will be included, and RVS oboist Kristin Kessler will be featured in Tomaso Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto No. 2.

Tickets are $38 for the Ashland show, $32 for the Grants Pass show, and can be purchased at rvsymphony.org or by calling 541-708-6400.

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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