It was in 1832 that the great virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini—also an extraordinary violist—became the proud new owner of a Stradivarius viola. Wanting to show it off, but frustrated by the lack of concertos featuring the instrument, he commissioned Hector Berlioz to write a work that would help him put his purchase on display.
But Paganini would reject Harold in Italy, telling Berlioz that the viola part wasn’t big enough. Berlioz, however, held firmly to his belief that his composition afforded plenty of opportunities for the soloist to shine, and wouldn’t change a note.
Four years later, upon hearing the work for the first time, Paganini proclaimed that he had never been so impressed by a work at a concert, and gave Berlioz the sum of 20,000 francs, a gracious gift that enabled Berlioz to compose his next big work, Romeo and Juliet, which he dedicated to Paganini.
On the third and final Philadelphia Orchestra Paris Festival concert this Sunday, March 19th at 1 PM, the Orchestra’s Principal Viola C.J. Chang is the soloist, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts this Berlioz masterpiece that begins a program focusing on two French masters who were enchanted by the south, and found inspiration in the culture and landscape of Italy and Spain, Hector Berlioz and Maurice Ravel.
Three works by Ravel after intermission are infused with the rhythms and spirit of Spain -- the spirited scherzo Alborada del gracioso (Morning-Serenade of the Jester), the exotic Rapsodie espagnole, and the ever- popular Bolero, one big repetitive crescendo for orchestra. Ravel was, after all, born to a Basque mother in the French Pyrenees, not far from the Spanish border, and he also had some Spanish ancestry on his father’s side.
During intermission, WRTI’s Susan Lewis speaks with C.J. Chang, and Debra Lew Harder interviews the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen, who plays a lovely viola-harp duet with Mr. Chang after the opening measures of Harold in Italy.
Not to be missed! The final week of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Paris Festival on Sunday, March 19th, from 1 to 3 pm on WRTI’s Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcast.
Berlioz: Harold in Italy, Op 16
Choong-Jin Chang, viola
Ravel: Alborado del Gracioso
Ravel: Rapsodie espanole
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Gregg Whiteside is producer and host of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts on WRTI, every Sunday at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1 FM, online at WRTI.org, and on our new mobile app! NEW: rebroadcast of Sunday’s concert Monday at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2, as part of our new "Symphony at 7" lineup!