Hold onto your merkins 'cause this weekend, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic will play the second symphony by Jean Sibelius. It's a really great piece, just incredible, wonderful... FOR ME TO POOP ON! Seriously kids, this is one rousing piece! Audiences love it. Conductors REALLY love it (in fact, one conductor over in Finland actually married the piece! Read all about it in the World Weekly News)! One reviewer actually referred to this symphony as "bodice-ripping", though he was immediately ostracized by his peers for such language. I have it on good authority that no bodices will be ripped this Saturday evening at the lovely Embassy Theatre.
Sibelius. Not a name you see all the time on candy bars and big Holl-lee wood movies. But a good name. A Finnish name. Ya see, this feller was born in 1865 and died ninety-two years later. Betwixt these dates, a lot of things happened, namely that he helped to reassert Finnish culture as something distinct from that of Russian and Scandinavian, becoming a cultural figurehead for Finnish nationalism. "So what?" you cry, you who are little more than the cultural figurehead for picking yon nostrils at traffic lights. He also wrote some of the greatest symphonic music in the last hundred years. And he's on the Finnish 100 Mark banknote. Put THAT in your nostrils and pick it!
But back to the basics. He started life very small, about seven pounds, and by the time he went to college he had increased his mass exponentially. His big mistake was to follow in the footsteps of Tchaikovsky and Fort Wayne's own David Lutz by enrolling in law school when he should have enrolled in music school. Fortunately, he discovered his mistake, switched schools, and wrote a choral symphony based on the mythology of Finnish legends. And there's NOTHING funny about Finnish legends! By the time he wrote his first non-choral symphony, he had already been granted a small pension for life from the Finnish government, plus all the Wacky Taffy he could shove into a duffel bag. Such endless supplies of taffy, and the pension, allowed him to further develop his own style, becoming more refined and organic. The result is that he became one of the most original symphonists since Beethoven, and he developed many cavities. His orchestration is complex, rich and chewy with a great many textures. Overall, there is a broad, open, warm feel to his music. Most people who have been to Finland agree that the majestic Finnish landscape is an obvious inspiration for Sibelius. Indeed, all visitors to Finland are required by law to listen to three Sibelius symphonies before they are allowed to leave the country.
The second symphony marks a transition period between his frivolous youth where he would soap moving carriages and spook horses and his more mature period, where he would send strangers telegrams asking if they had Prince Albert in a can. Mostly composed in Italy, the melodies are open and inviting, like a ride through the open country, except for the dark section in the second movement, but let's not talk about that. Borrowing from a very Russian concept, Sibelius ends the symphony with a stirring Big Tune (I think it was Camptown Races... no, that was Ives). The symphony was an instant hit on the Finnish charts but took nearly forty years to catch on in the rest of the world with some critics calling it "vulgar and provincial beyond description." These critics obviously needed to cut back on the caffeine. Around WW2 it was chic to like Sibelius. Then his music became something you hid in the attic with the bodies. Regardless of if his music has come back around to full public favor, in my humble, incredibly biased opinion, it's good stuff! Good tunes, great orchestration and creative solutions to the symphonic form. So if you like it, listen to it!
But wait! That's not all! Attendees of this weekend's performance will also witness the majesty, the wonder, the glory of Christian Lindberg. Known to marketing people as "The Paganini of the Trombone" and to his neighbors as "they guy with the loud sliding horn", he will startle and amaze you as he 'bones his way through Haydn's Concerto for Trombone. I can see you do not yet appreciate the scale of this. Paganini. Remember him? He was the guy who played the violin so fast that he pre-invented death metal, complete with satanic marketing hype. And the trombone, you know, that horn with the thing that slides in and out, that they play in parades making long, sliding whoops and always manages to knock the hairpiece off some old guy in the Three Stooges films. Yes? Now you're with me! So this Saturday you're going to see some fast and furious sliding! And spit valving galore! Like at a Gallagher show, if you plan on sitting in the front row, bring a raincoat. And, um, don't pick your nose during the show.
Copyright 2000 Jason Hoffman