Musical Notes Graphic

Vive la différence.

If you've only heard orchestral works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and those guys, the next Long Beach Symphony Classical concert on Nov. 16 at the Terrace Theater will sound — different.

Generally speaking, French music is more sensuous and less formally structured than that from the German-Austrian tradition. It lends itself less to analysis and more to just sitting back and wallowing in the vibrant orchestral colors and luscious harmonies.

This program is called "French Fantastique," so you might assume that it includes the "Symphonie fantastique" of Hector Berlioz. You would be wrong. There are, however, works by Debussy, Schmidt (more about him later), Franck, and Saint-Saëns.

"Clair de lune" by Claude Debussy is a well-known piano piece (my mother made me take piano just so I could learn it), but it opens this concert in the orchestral arrangement by André Caplet. Music director Eckart Preu designed his program to begin calmly and then grow more and more exciting, and "Clair de lune" is about as calm as it gets.

Wait. You can't fool me; Franz Schmidt wasn't French. He was an Austro-Hungarian composer, roughly contemporary with Richard Strauss. Schmidt did, however, write an opera, "Notre Dame," based on the Victor Hugo novel about a hunchback, which is set in Paris, so I guess it counts. The "Intermezzo" from that work is lushly Romantic, and Preu is fond of it. He hopes you will be, too.

Things really start to heat up with César Franck's "Le Chasseur maudit," (The Accursed Huntsman). The tone poem tells the story of a nobleman who violates the Sabbath by going hunting, is therefore cursed, and then pursued through the forest by demons. Like this concert, the piece begins calmly enough, gathers in intensity, and ends with orchestral fireworks depicting the wild pursuit. Things do not end happily.

After intermission comes the main event, and it's a doozy. Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3, known as the "Organ" Symphony, is scored for large orchestra, the eponymous organ, and four hands piano.

This thing is huge and bombastic in conception and execution, and the finale is majestic and triumphantly grand; we are a long way from "Clair de lune." You may recognize a tune from the movie "Babe."

Many concert halls have a pipe organ installed; alas, the Terrace Theater is not one of them, so a Rodgers instrument will have to do. Our organist is Jung-A Lee, who teaches at Biola and performs regularly with Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale.

So there you have it: a concert of (mostly) French music, beautiful, sensuous, and colorful. We can make Franz Schmidt an honorary Frenchman for this one.

The Long Beach Symphony plays Classical concerts at the Terrace Theater, part of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with a pre-concert discussion beginning at 7 p.m. and free performances by local musicians in the lobby. The concerts begin promptly at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 562-436-3203 or click on www.longbeachsymphony.org.

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