UC Davis Symphony Orchestra Starts Season With ‘Exciting Worlds’ and will keep excitement going all year


Christian Baldini, UC Davis Symphony Orchestra music director

The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra kicks off its season Nov. 19 with music by Johannes Brahms and two less familiar composers, Henri Dutilleux and Witold Lutosławski. The five additional concerts of the season likewise blend the older with the newer, the better known with the lesser known.

“We like to invite people to come on a journey with us and find something new,” said Christian Baldini, orchestra music director and conductor and associate professor in the Department of Music.  “My passion is opening new doors as much for the orchestra as the audience.”

The season gets off to a rousing start with Brahms’ “Academic Overture.” Brahms wrote it in 1880 as a musical “thank you” to the University of Breslau for awarding him an honorary degree. In a letter, the composer described it as a "very boisterous potpourri of student drinking songs.” 

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Orchestra Season 16 - 17

Nov. 19
“Exciting Worlds”
"Academic Overture,” 1880, Brahms
Concerto for Orchestra, 1954, Witold Lutosławski
“Tout un monde lointain (A Whole Distant World),” 1970, Henri Dutilleux

Dec. 2
University Chorus, With The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra
“Coronation Anthems,” 1727, and “Laudate pueri Dominum,” 1710, George Frideric Handel
“Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War),” 1796, Franz Joseph Haydn.

Feb. 18
“Nocturnes And Dreams”
“Piccola musica notturna (Little Night Music),” 1954, Luigi Dallapiccola
“Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester),” 1905, Maurice Ravel
“Introduzione all’oscuro (Introduction to Darkness),” 1981, Salvatore Sciarrino
“Rapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody),” 1907, Ravel

March 12
Alumni and University Choruses with the orchestra

Requiem, 1868, Brahms
“Blest Pair of Sirens,” 1887, Hubert Parry
Conducted by Jeffrey Thomas, conductor of the University Chorus, Alumni Chorus and Chamber Singers and professor.

May 13
“Heavenly Life”
“Carnival Overture,” 1891, Antonín Dvořák
Cello Concerto, 1850, Robert Schumann
Richard Andaya, cello
Symphony No. 4 in G Major, 1900, Gustav Mahler
Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano

June 3
“Heroism And Twilight Serenity”
Serenade for Strings, 1892, Edward Elgar
“Octandre,” 1923, Edgard Varèse
Symphony No. 3 in F Major, 1883, Brahms 

Music inspired by poetry and native land

Dutilleux wrote “Tout un monde lointain (A Whole Distant World)” in 1970 for Mstislav Rostropovich, one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. It was inspired by the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and is considered an important 20th-century addition to the cello repertoire. This year is the 100th anniversary of Dutilleux’s birth; he died only three years ago.

“It is a work with fantastic imagination, delicacy and very strong visual images,” Baldini said. “Percussion has a key role in this work, interacting with the cello soloist in a cadenza type of way, and coming up with unexpected colors that blend with the orchestra in a unique way.”

The cellist will be Leighton Fong, principal cellist of the California Symphony and a long-time member of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble.

Polish composer Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra (1954) was the pinnacle of his nationalistic, folk-inspired period.

“Later on in his life, he would be ‘an outsider’ within his own style because he somehow resented the fact that everyone knew him for this piece, and he had become a more experimental composer,” Baldini said.

All orchestra concerts are at 7 p.m. at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for UC Davis faculty and staff, and $10 for students and children. https://www.mondaviarts.org/event/2016-17/uc-davis-symphony-orchestra-3

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A season not afraid of risk taking

The orchestral season includes pieces that span several centuries and styles.  

“We want to do works that are not normally performed by a university orchestra and music that other orchestras in the area don’t do,” Baldini said. “We don’t have the same concerns that a regional orchestra might have and I feel that as an orchestra at a university we have a mandate to do this.”

That means paring contemporary Italian composers Luigi Dallapiccola and Salvatore Sciarrino with Maurice Ravel, and Edgard Varèse – whose music was championed by Frank Zappa - with a Brahms symphony. The orchestra will also for the first time perform pieces with smaller ensembles – the Varese piece which is an octet for woodwinds and an Edward Elgar work for strings.

“That’s something new this year and allows me to work closely with a smaller group of students,” Baldini said.

The orchestra has about 100 members, most of whom are not music majors. Each year nearly half of the players are new to the orchestra. 

You can support adventuresome music making by donating to the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra Endowment.

- Jeffrey Day, content strategist, Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. jaaday@ucdavis.edu