Thanks to Kent Nagano, who has served as music director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra since 1979, the organization has received national recognition for its performances of works by Olivier Messiaen and other contemporary composers. Even while serving as music director of Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, associate principal guest conductor of the London Symphony, and principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Opera, Nagano regularly returns to Berkeley to conduct the orchestra that remains close to his heart.
"The orchestra has a very strong personality," he explains. "I love the musicians, which is one of the main reasons I continue my affiliation. It's not often that you meet an ensemble with such strong motivation and dedication."
According to Nagano, the uniqueness of the BSO's repertoire reflects the special nature of the community. "Berkeley has always enjoyed a colorful reputation as a hub of creativity, intellectual ferment, progressive thought, social consciousness, and leadership.
"If you added up the number of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners living here, it would be astonishing. There's an inherent sense of sophistication, cultural depth, and aesthetic awareness -- it really allows an orchestra to play to the highest common denominator, which is a challenge for everyone."
Next Tuesday evening's BSO Zellerbach Hall concert (call 510-841-2800 for information) validates the orchestra's cutting-edge reputation. As part of its season-long exploration of the music of Viennese composer Franz Schubert, the orchestra will perform his infrequently heard Symphony No. 3.
Nagano explains that "through the experience of living in Berlin, I've realized in a much more profound way what a tremendous visionary Schubert was. I feel that his music is underappreciated these days; certainly the symphonies are underplayed, and it is important to reintroduce them to the Berkeley community."
The three other works on BSO's intriguing program are in harmony with or reflect a relationship with Schubert. Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg is represented by his pivotal Piano Concerto, played by Nagano's wife Mari Kodama. Written at the beginning of World War II, the work's four movements -- "Life was so easy," "Suddenly hatred broke out," "A grave situation was created," and "But life goes on" -- seem especially relevant to post 9/11 madness.
Then comes the world premiere of young Japanese lyric composer Ichiro Nodaira's duo-piano work Kodama (Echo). Written for the sister team of Mari and Momo Kodama, the title is actually a play on words: The family name Kodama can be written two different ways, one of which signifies "echo"; the two pianists echo each other in the composition.
The concert concludes with baritone Dietrich Henschel singing eight songs from Gustav Mahler's Rückertlieder and Wunderhornlieder. Performed in their original chamber orchestra versions, six of the songs appeared on the recently released disc that the intriguingly voiced singer recorded with Nagano and the Hallé Orchestra.
Future concerts include two other world premieres, David Sheinfeld's Different Worlds of Sound on January 22 and 23, and Pierre Boulez's Dialogue de l'ombre double on May 9.
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