Orchestration by Ravel

I’ve always loved the way this piece — the “Habanera” from “Rhapsodie espagnole” — is orchestrated, the whole thing, but particularly the aromatic chord change from minor to major starting at the one minute mark in this recording and repeated at the end.

Mussorgsky: ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ sans Ravel

A good way to prepare for this week’s performances by Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in Ravel’s incomparable orchestration is to hear the piece in its original version, for solo piano.

Here’s Alice Sara Ott playing it live.

Tickets for this week’s performances are here.

Pacific Symphony 40th season announcement


Music director Carl St.Clair and President John Forsyte unveiled plans today for Pacific Symphony’s 40th anniversary classical season in 2018-19. The schedule includes eight subscription programs (in multiple performances) conducted by St.Clair, who celebrates his 29th season as the orchestra’s leader. The Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation again sponsors the classical series, which is presented at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The season opens Sept. 27-29 with concerts that commemorate the 40th anniversary. The program will include a new version of Frank Ticheli’s “Shooting Stars,” written for the orchestra for its 25th anniversary and updated here; and a performance of Ravel’s “Boléro” coupled with a newly commissioned film documenting the history of Pacific Symphony. Van Cliburn competition gold medalist Olga Kern will also return to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

The orchestra marks the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth in the season’s second program (Oct. 25-27). St.Clair leads this tribute to his mentor, which includes the “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,” with Symphony principal clarinetist Joseph Morris as soloist; the “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium),” with violinist Augustin Hadelich as soloist; the “Chichester Psalms”; and selections from his Broadway musicals sung by Celena Shafer.

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Listen to this: ‘Bolero’

In our ongoing efforts aimed at improving the listening skills of people new to classical music, we come to instrumentation. It is helpful in learning to understand a particular piece to be able to identify, just with your ears, which instruments are playing when and what. Putting mental labels on sounds is an aid to our brains in sorting things out.

There are two melodies in Ravel’s “Bolero,” each played twice before alternating with the other. The piece is basically one long crescendo in C, and Ravel sets the melodies in a variety of solo instruments, and then groups of instruments.

For the sound file below (which features a performance of “Bolero” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Claudio Abbado), we have added the timings for the entrance of every appearance of the melodies, and the instrument(s) that Ravel has decided will play them. (Later in the piece, when Ravel has large groups of instruments play the melodies, it is difficult to aurally distinguish every single instrument, but you can hear changes in the overall tone color.)

  • 13”: Flute
  • 59”: Clarinet
  • 1’46”: Bassoon
  • 2’32”: E-flat clarinet
  • 3’19”: Oboe d’amour
  • 4’05”: Trumpet with mute, flute
  • 4’50”: Tenor saxophone
  • 5’36”: Sorpanino saxophone, then at 6’07” soprano saxophone
  • 6’21”: Piccolos, French horn, celesta
  • 7’06”: Oboe, oboe d’amour, cor anglais, clarinets
  • 7’50”: Trombone
  • 8’37”: Piccolo, flutes, oboes, cor anglaise, clarinets, tenor saxophone
  • 9’22”: Piccolo, flutes, oboes, clarinets, first violins
  • 10’07”: Piccolo, flutes, oboes, cor anglaise, clarinets, tenor saxophone, first and second violins
  • 10’53”: Piccolo, flutes, oboes, cor anglaise, trumpets, first and second violins
  • 11’38”: Piccolo, flutes, oboes, cor anglaise, clarinets, sopranino saxophone, trombone, violins, violas, cellos (last four bars tenor saxophone and bass clarinet).
  • 12’22”: Piccolo, flutes, sopranino saxophone, tenor saxophone, piccolo trumpet, trumpets, violins
  • 13’07”: Piccolo, flutes, sopranino saxophone, tenor saxophone, piccolo trumpet, trumpets, trombone, violins.
  • At 13’46” the only chord change in “Bolero” is heard, a blazing E major. At 14’06” we return to C major for the raucous denouement.

Van Cliburn winner to visit Pacific Symphony

This year’s gold medalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Yekwon Sunwoo, the first Korean to take the top prize, will perform with Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony on Sept. 9 at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa. His vehicle will be Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Here he is in the quarterfinals of the Van Cliburn playing the last section of Ravel’s “La Valse.”