It will be story time Friday and Saturday nights in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle when the Toledo Symphony launches its 2010-2011 Classics Concerts series.
Stories set to music by three towering 20th century composers - Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Igor Stravinsky - are the essence of the program set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The program title is "Simple Gifts," but there's nothing simple about this music or the stories which inspired these composers. Written for major productions of dance and opera, the three works have come to stand on their own as popular concert pieces.
"The Firebird," which will bring the evening to a frenzied finale, is officially 100 years old. Written by Russian composer Stravinsky at the behest of choreographer Michel Fokine, its fantastic narrative was cobbled together from Russian folk tales.
Story elements include 13 dancing princesses, petrified knights, a magic carillon, an evil sorcerer, one heroic adventurer, and above all, the fabulous magical bird listeners will be encouraged to imagine at the opening of this work.
The TSO, led by principal conductor Stefan Sanderling, will perform the original, two-act (tableaux) version premiered at the Paris Opera by Ballets Russe in June, 1910. Its success drew Stravinsky and his family out of Russia; they eventually settled in the United States, and the composer became a naturalized citizen in 1946.
By then, American musical genius Aaron Copland had witnessed the first performances of his benchmark work, "Appalachian Spring." The evocative score was written for the dance created by revolutionary choreographer Martha Graham and premiered in 1944 in Washington.
The title refers to a mountain spring celebrated in a Hart Crane poem, but the story line focuses on a seasonal celebration by American pioneers. "Simple Gifts," a Shaker tune, has emerged as the signature melody from this evanescent work in eight sections.
As all-American as "The Firebird" is thoroughly Russian, Copland's beautiful music also has assumed a rightful place on the concert stage, although its haunting melodies now inspire today's choreographers to set their own versions for performance. (The SonoNovo Chamber Orchestra led by Wayne Anthony performed the shorter version of this work while Ballet Theatre of Toledo dancers moved to Nigel Burgoine's choreography in 2009).
Opening the concerts will be the rollicking, witty overture to Leonard Bernstein's great 1956 comic operetta, Candide.
Based on the 18th century classic by French playwright Voltaire, it relishes the crumbling optimism of the naive title character as he encounters life's harsh realities. The opera continues to be performed - the Toledo Opera produced a staged version in 2009 to mark its 50th anniversary - but the overture has become a stand-alone work for orchestral concerts, often serving, as it will this weekend, as the brilliant kick-off for an evening's program.
Tickets for "Simple Gifts" are $20-$50 at 419-246-8000 or toledosymphony.com.
Contact Sally Vallongo at firstname.lastname@example.org.