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San Jose Symphonic Choir Season Opener


San Jose Symphonic Choir, con-ducted by Music Director Leroy Kromm, will present its first concert of the 2018-2019 season on December 1, at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 13601 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga, at 7:30 p.m.

The performance will feature Giacomo Puccini’s exquisite Messa di Gloria; other music on the program includes two festive Vivaldi concerti for double solo instruments, and a suite from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake. The choir will be accompanied by Nova Vista Symphony. Tickets are: General, $30 in advance, $35 at the door, Seniors/Students/Military $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Visit the Choir’s website, www.sanjosesymphonicchoir.org for a direct link to tickets and more information.

One usually does not think of sacred music when the works of Puccini are discussed. In fact, few people even realize that he wrote any sacred music, let alone a complete mass, since he is known today as an opera composer, renowned particularly for La Bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. But he did; Puccini was the fourth generation of a family of church musicians from Lucca in northern Italy, and was destined to become the town organist and chorus master at the cathedral of San Paolino, like his forefathers. In 1876, during his studies at the Lucca Institute Musicale, he walked twenty miles from Lucca to Pisa and back to hear a performance of Verdi’s Aida. This performance changed his life: he decided to pursue a career in the theatre rather than the church. Puccini spoke of that fateful performance of Verdi’s Aida later in life when he said, “I felt that a musical window had opened for me.”

Shortly thereafter, he composed the Messa di Gloria as his graduation piece. Though it was performed to great success in 1880, praised by both critics and public alike, Puccini filed the piece away and it was not heard again in his lifetime. Musicologists believe Puccini intended it to be a farewell to his association with sacred music. In 1951, Father Dante del Fiorentino, an émigré Italian priest living in New York, who had known Puccini when he was a young curate, was visiting Lucca to collect mate-rial for a biography of the composer. He came upon a copy of the mass and on his return home organized the first American performance of it in Chicago in 1952, seventy-two years after its premiere in Lucca. Since its publication in 1951 it has become a firmly established part of the choral repertoire. The Messa di Gloria is a delightful work, full of Puccini’s beautiful melodies and operatic flourishes, clearly influenced by Puccini’s hero, Verdi, and foreshadowing his great successes to come.

Antonio Vivaldi, the “Red Priest” of Venice, was a prominent and prolific Italian composer of the late Baroque; over 500 concerti are attributed to him. At the age of 25 he became the music teacher at an all-girls orphanage school, the Ospedale della Pièta. It was his job to teach the girls to play music, as well as to write concerti to showcase their talents. The two concerti on the program each feature two soloists: one piece written for two violins, and the other for two trumpets.

The ballet Swan Lake, with music by Pyotr Illyichtchaikovsky, was considered a failure at its premiere in 1877 – it was “too noisy, too Wagnerian, too symphonic – altogether unmemorable,” according to the critics of the day. Despite its initial failure, the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse, is now one of the most popular of all ballets, and has inspired or provided scores for both live action and animated movies, theatrical productions, video games, and more. The Suite contains its most beautiful and familiar melodies.