This week’s KUSC rebroadcast program on Sun., Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. features an intriguing, atmospheric work by Christopher Rouse, one of America’s most prominent composers of orchestral music. His works have garnered him a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award. The New York Times described his body of work as “some of the most anguished, more memorable music around.” The concert opens with Rouse’s “Prospero’s Room,” a short work that the composer considered to be “an overture to an unwritten opera.”
Rouse notes on his website: “In the days when I would have still contemplated composing an opera, my preferred source was Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death.’… However,… I decided to redirect my ideas into what might be considered an overture to an unwritten opera. The story concerns a vain Prince, Prospero, who summons his friends to his palace and locks them in so that they will remain safe from the Red Death, a plague that is ravaging the countryside. He commands that there be a ball—the ‘masque’—but that no one is to wear red. But of course, a figure clad all in red does appear; it is the red death, and it claims the lives of all in the castle.”
The remarkable Grammy Award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich performs Niccolò Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Paganini was famous for the virtuosity of his compositions, and the first violin concerto is no exception. And Hadelich is a consummate virtuoso who is up to the task. The New Yorker described him as “a singularly gifted, characterful musician. When Hadelich first came on the scene, he was noted for his pinpoint brilliance and for his sweet-cultured, almost old-fashioned tone. It was as if a Golden Age violinist had jumped out of the grooves of a 78-r.p.m. record…He has a flair for bringing older music into the present tense.”
The final piece in this rebroadcast is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor. The composer described the premiere of his First Symphony as “the most agonizing hour of my life.” This “agonizing hour” would be one that plunged him into a mental state that would most likely be diagnosed today as clinical depression. Yet he went on to composes a second and finally a third symphony. Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony opens with a motto theme that returns in the later movements. That haunting theme is derived from half-chant and half-prayer, heard in unison by the muted clarinet, horns, and cellos. As the movement unfolds, Rachmaninoff daringly combines both slow and scherzo characteristics.