To those who say that the Portland Symphony Orchestra strays too far from the classical repertory, Robert Moody offers two pieces of evidence to the contrary: Mozart and Beethoven.
During the next two weeks, the PSO will perform two concerts that feature some of the most revered and, dare we say, sacred music in the classical canon: Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
The orchestra will perform Mozart at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Merrill Auditorium on what would have been the composer’s 257th birthday. At 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5, it will perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which Moody calls “the most well-known symphony in the world.”
The concerts are part of a busy month of performances for the PSO. On Feb. 23-24, the PSO Pops! will perform “A Night at the Movies” with guest conductor Carl Topilow, who cautions people from making the assumption that music from Hollywood is not substantial.
The program includes music from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Psycho,” the James Bond movies and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” among others, written by the likes of John Williams, Bernard Hermann and Bill Conti.
“There is no reason this music has to be segregated into a pops program,” said Topilow, whose podium presence is unique among conductors in that he also plays clarinet on stage. “This music is first-class, and can be played anytime on any program.”
But first, Mozart.
Sunday’s concert features Moody on the podium and concertmaster Charles Dimmick, who will be spotlighted on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. Also on the program is Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1.
Moody is among Dimmick’s biggest fans.
“Charles is one of the most elegantly beautiful players I’ve ever worked with,” he said in an email. “This isn’t to say that he can’t bring the power in bigger romantic and/or 20th-century works. He can, and does. But he interprets music from the classical era so brilliantly. Folks won’t want to miss his take on a Mozart concerto.”
The maestro describes Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 as an example of the composer at his best. His last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40 and 41) all came near the end of his life and represent some of his most perfect writing, Moody said.
“The classical era is all about form and structure and the composer’s ability to create power and beauty within that structure. For me, Symphony No. 39 of Mozart is the hallmark classical work,” he said, noting that he refers to the “classical era” as lasting from about 1750 until 1825.
“Mozart, Haydn and early Beethoven are the masters of this style,” Moody said. “And Mozart’s sheer genius — writing this music to pristine and nearly perfect first drafts — seems to indicate that the music came from somewhere else. God? The cosmos? Who knows? But for sure from the mind of one of the greatest masters ever to compose.”
The Feb. 5 program includes Beethoven’s Fifth, Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Madarin” suite and Chen Gang and He Zhanhao’s “Butterfly Lovers” violin concerto.
Beethoven’s Fifth is a landmark piece of music, beginning with what Moody calls the most-famous four-note theme in musical history. This will be Moody’s fifth time conducting the Fifth. “Every time, I learn more about it.”
He’s just as excited about Bartok and “Butterfly Lovers.” The Bartok piece is dark and powerful, telling the story of three thugs and a seductress who lure a mystical and scary Chinese man into their hotel room, planning to rob him. They eventually attempt to murder him, but he can’t die. Only when the seductress actually softens her heart and offers him true love does he die in her arms.
The PSO will display text on a screen above the orchestra to help the audience follow the story. But the music should suffice. “The music that tells this story is some of the greatest music written in the 20th century,” Moody said.
The “Butterfly Lovers” concert for violin and orchestra also tells a story of Chinese legend. “The Asian and Western mix of melody and harmony weave perfectly in this piece,” Moody said.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: