There's lots of good news about the Rogue Valley Symphony. In addition to a compelling season of performances set for 2012 and 2013, the orchestra will add a series of outdoor shows next summer at EdenVale Winery and begin its new elementary-school program next fall with the Phoenix-Talent School District.
"Audiences' responses are unprecedented," says Martin Majkut, the symphony's director. This year, the symphony's Ashland and Medford shows sold out with its season subscription drive. A few tickets remain but will be hard to get.
"With the support we've been given, we feel compelled to expand our programs," Majkut says. "Audiences are demanding more, and we are thrilled to be here for them."
More is what they'll get when violinist Stephanie Chase joins the symphony this weekend to kick off the first of its shows. Chase will perform solos of such sonic fireworks as Maurice Ravel's "Tzigane" (or "Gypsy") and Pablo Saraste's "Carmen Fantasy."
"They are virtuosic pieces," Majkut says. "Ravel was inspired to write 'Tzigane' while visiting London in the '20s after hearing a Hungarian violinist named Jelli d'Aranyi playing Gypsy tunes. Saraste's 'Carmen Fantasy' takes simple tunes from the opera, and he makes them his own by using musical elaborations. It's this virtuosity that makes music more exciting for the audience and the player."
This weekend's program will open with Jennifer Higdon's 1999 "blue cathedral,"a piece inspired by Claude Debussy and Ravel though its sounds are contemporary, Majkut says.
"Higdon utilizes all of the orchestra's instruments," he says. "If that's not enough, towards the end, it calls for Chinese reflex bells — and glasses to be filled with water and played by running fingertips around the rims."
The symphony will close with a perennial favorite, Majkut says, playing Ravel's instrumentation of Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."
"I absolutely love this piece," Majkut says. "It really brings up vivid pictures."
It was inspired by visual artist Victor Hartmann — a close friend of Mussorgsky, Majkut says. When the artist died suddenly of an aneurysm, Mussorgsky wrote pieces that represented each work of art at his friend's exhibit.
"One is called 'Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks,' another describes a French market and another describes the catacombs in Rome," Majkut says. "It closes with an anthem called 'The Great Gate of Kiev.' It's hymnic and stately. Hartmann also was an architect, and he designed this 'Great Gate of Kiev' that was never built. Yet Mussorgsky brings it to life musically."
Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, in the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at the Grants Pass High School Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St. Seats are still available at the Grants Pass venue.
In November, the symphony will showcase works by Gabriel Faure, Ludwig von Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with flutist Rhonda Larson; Beethoven with pianist Alexander Schimpf in January; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Peter Zagar, Henryk Gorecki and Zoltan Kodaly with cellist Michal Palzewicz in February; and Giuseppe Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Takashi Yoshimatsu with Rhett Bender, Terry Longshore and Alexander Tutunov in April.
"We are also doing Handel's 'Messiah' in December," Majkut says. "I have a wonderful cast of soloists that will be led by Julianne Baird, an international star. This is as good as it gets."
In March, the symphony will present a recital with clarinetist Jon Manasse, a teacher at the Julliard and Eastman music schools, and pianist Jon Nakamatsu, winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Programs set for summer at EdenVale Winery will be a little lighter and less formal, with smaller chamber groups. Look for guitarist Ana Vidovic in June, cellist Jason Vale and violinist Anthea Kreston in July, and the symphony will rock the classical world with Peter Breiner's "Beatles Go Baroque" in August.
Majkut says he's most excited about the symphony's new music-education program with elementary-school students in Phoenix and Talent.
"We have a three-year plan that will expose third- through fifth-grade classrooms to music," he says. "We'll provide music education to a school district that has none. There's not a single bad thing about that.
"The important thing is that we're growing. We have a terrific rapport with our audiences, and we're looking at a bright future."
Tickets cost $33 to $44 for the Ashland show, $28 to $38 for the Medford show and $20 to $34 for the Grants Pass show. Tickets cost $5 for students and Oregon Trail Card holders. Call 541-552-6398 or see rvysymphony.org.