Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on February 21st, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 51

Santa Maria Philharmonic plots an emotional journey with works by Copland, Mahler, and Mendelssohn


February is always a good month to explore matters of the heart.

For Santa Maria Philharmonic Society Music Director Michael Nowak, the idea was a perfect springboard for the Philharmonic Orchesta’s third concert of the main season. But, there’s a little more to it than that, he explained.

The Santa Maria Philharmonic Orchestra and Maestro Michael Nowak (pictured, center) will perform the program Journey to the Heart, which includes “heartfelt” selections from celebrated composers.

“Valentines doesn’t hurt, but mostly this is very heartfelt music,” Nowak said. “It’s music that really kind of touches us all when we listen to it.”

The Feb. 24 concert is titled Journey to the Heart, and will include three works: “Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copland, the Adagietto movement from “Symphony No. 5” by Gustav Mahler, and the entirety of “Symphony No. 4” by Felix Mendelssohn, known as the “Italian” symphony.

Nowak explained that Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” is a piece that evokes emotions of nostalgia and joy as it explores and epitomizes America through symphonic music. It’s a work that “people really identify with,” he said.

The 8-minute Adagietto from Mahler is much heavier, he said. It’s a “very emotional” and “deep piece of music,” one that symbolizes grief more than romance.

“This is often played for the loss of someone deeply loved; I’ve played it at memorial services for people,” Nowak said. “It can be mournful. It’s a piece of human struggle with resolution at the end.”

Nowak programmed the Adagietto to end the first half of the program on a poignant note, he explained.

“People are going to walk out into intermission just kind of thinking about things,” he said. “It’s not the way to end the concert, but it really is a way to lead into an intermission.”

After the friendly banter and snacking of intermission, the second half of the concert is entirely dedicated to Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony. One of the leading composers of the early musical Romantic period, Mendelssohn (who lived from 1809 to 1847) composed the symphony in his younger years.

According to local musicologist Linda Shaver-Gleason, Mendelssohn was inspired to write the piece after his “grand tour” of Europe when he was 18 or 19 years old. The “grand tour” was a tradition of the European bourgeois, when privileged young men would get to see and experience cities like London, Paris, and Rome as they came of age.

“He gets to travel around Europe as a young man with few responsibilities,” Shaver-Gleason said. “And so, the ‘Italian’ symphony was written a few years after the grand tour, and it was definitely influenced by his time in Italy, his experience there.”

The up-and-coming composer premiered the symphony, but never published it in his lifetime, she said. Mendelssohn was a lifelong perfectionist, and was obsessed with improving the work, marking changes over the following years before giving up on it.

Felix Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 4” is known as his “Italian” symphony, meant to convey the composer’s visit to Italy during his “grand tour” of Europe as a young man.

The work became available after the composer’s death, and it has been a staple of concert repertoire ever since, Shaver-Gleason said.

Nowak said he prizes the work for its use of “tonal color.”

“It’s exciting, it has beautiful themes, a lot of energy, and it’s fun to play,” he said. “It’s a journey more than anything, I mean, this is Mendelssohn’s love of Italy, just the sounds and the rhythms of the place that he took with him.”

Conveying specific ideas in instrumental music is known as “programmatic,” or “program” music, an idea that flourished in the Romantic era.

Mendelssohn was hoping to convey the sights, sounds, and smells of his trip in the symphony, which is why he gave it the title “Italian.” Publishers often gave pieces of music nicknames like that, Shaver-Gleason explained, but when the composer names a work, they’re guiding the listener on how to interpret it.

“The first movement is very bright and chipper, and has a lot of ‘Italianisms’ in the music,” she said. “The second movement is supposed to be a kind of depiction of pilgrims on their way to worship. So, you know, with Italy and Rome and Catholicism and the Vatican, it’s kind of somber and processional like that.”

Catch the show
The Santa Maria Philharmonic Orchestra presents the concert Journey to the Heart on Feb. 24, featuring works by Copland, Mahler, and Mendelssohn. The concert happens at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Baptist Church, 605 E. McCoy Lane, Santa Maria. Cost is $35, $30 for seniors and military, and $15 for students. More info:

Shaver-Gleason explained that “Italianisms” are certain musical cues or techniques that scholars recognize as originating from Italy. There’s the “Neapolitan” sound from Naples, she said, that uses a specific harmonic technique.

“The whole thing about Italy is it’s all these different cities,” she said, “and so sometimes you have this certain rhythm associated with a city because it’s the fanfare that gets played in the morning in the town square.”

The final movement of the symphony includes rhythms associated with Italian dances, like the “Saltarello,” which later develops into a “Tarantella,” Shaver-Gleason explained.

“There’s just little hints of Italy to those who are in the know who’d recognize it,” she said.

The Romantic-era obsession with conveying non-musical things with music was part of Mendelssohn’s impetus for the piece. And among German composers of the time and generations past, Italy and its musical tradition came to symbolize romance and a certain kind of passion.

That’s why the piece fits in so well with the Philharmonic’s Journey to the Heart, Nowak said.

“Mendelssohn of course was at the beginning of the Romantic period, Mahler was right in the middle of the late Romantic period, where it’s about as gushy as you could possibly get,” he said. “Oh yeah, they’re just wearing their hearts on their sleeves here. I think that’s what music is all about.

“We need to have our emotions around us,” he added. “We can’t keep them stuffed inside all the time, and especially beautiful songs that really evoke the more wonderful parts of our humanity.”

Managing Editor Joe Payne is on a journey of the heart. Contact him at

Weekly Poll
Should Congress fund President Trump's border wall?

Yes. Our southern border is in crisis!
No. It's a waste of tax money!
We don't need an actual wall. Just beef up border security.
I'm more worried about the Canadian border.

| Poll Results