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Rogue Valley Symphony opens its 2014-15 season

The Rogue Valley Symphony's 2014-2015 season marks the fifth for artistic director and conductor Martin Majkut.

"It doesn't feel like it has been that long," Majkut says. "Things still feel fresh and exciting. The concerts are my reward for all of our hard work during rehearsals."

Majkut's inclination to stretch the symphony's repertoire and his penchant for collaboration with diverse groups are reasons concerts stay so intriguing.

RVS' 2014-2015 season opens Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3-5, and will feature "old favorites interpreted anew and new gems to discover."

"That's a general statement," Majkut says. "But it certainly applies to the entire season."

The concert will open with a new piece, "Oaken Sky," written in 2011 by American composer Chris Rogerson.

"Rogerson's piece is inspired by an image of stars through the branches of trees," Majkut says. "Some of the light is blurred by the branches, and he has recreated this blurry effect for the orchestra. There are moments of pure clarity in the sound and moments of this blurriness. It's what I would call a tone poem. I told my musicians that they are individual colors on this palette, and that's how they should pursue the piece. It's not so much about the sound as the atmosphere that they can create with their instruments."

Rogerson is working on his doctorate at Princeton University. Despite his young age, many symphonies around the country are presenting his work.

"He's the new, bright, shiny talent on the scene," Majkut says. "The program then moves to Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, written in 1917. It's viciously difficult for the soloist, but I love it because it is lyrical and full of yearning. My favorite parts are at the end of the first and third movements, when the soloist plays high up in the stratosphere, and a harp plays in high register with high-pitched flutes and clarinets. It evokes the image of snow falling on a dark night, maybe reflected in a street lamp."

Violinist Bella Hristova joins RVS to play Prokofiev's solo. Hristova was awarded a 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant, given to only the most outstanding instrumentalists. Her new album, "Bella Unaccompanied," is a collection of solo violin pieces by J.S. Bach, Astor Piazzolla and others.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, "Eroica," rounds out the program. 

"The scope of this symphony is incredible by the standards of its day," Majkut says. "Its first movement is longer than anything by Haydn or Mozart. The piece singlehandedly started the Romantic movement with its powerful emotional music."

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, at the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St.

Tickets cost $33, $38, $44 or $50 for the Ashland show; $28, $33, $38 or $44 for the Medford show; and $20, $28 or $34 for the Grants Pass show. Tickets can be purchased online at rvsymphony.org or by calling 541-552-6398. Tickets for the Medford show can be purchased online at craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000. Students pay only $5 for tickets to all show.

Pianist Tanya Gabrielian will perform solo in Camille Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 during the symphony's November concerts. Also on the bill are Arthur Honegger's Symphony No. 4 and Hector Berlioz's "Romeo et Juliette: Love Scene."

"It's a little bit of a stretch, but Saint-Saens was considered one of the most educated musicians of the century," Majkut says. "He was a 'wunderkind' and absorbed many, many styles into his music."

In December, the symphony will present Frideric Handel's "Messiah," showcasing soprano Julianne Baird, mezzo-soprano Danielle Reutter-Harrah, tenor Brian Thorsett and baritone David Castillo. The Southern Oregon Repertory Singers return to perform the chorus.

"We did this two years ago, and it was a great success," Majkut says. "It was the first time I saw a person outside the music hall with a sign that read 'Want Tickets.' I usually just see that in big cities."

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel returns to join the symphony for Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in January. The program also will showcase composer John Adams' "The Chairman Dances," music that Adams used in his 1987 opera, "Nixon in China." The show will conclude with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherezade," based on "One Thousand and One Nights."

February's concerts will showcase the talents of the symphony with grand-scale pieces by Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner.

“One thing I have learned about RVS is that the bigger the challenge, the greater the result," Majkut says. "I decided to raise the stakes again with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 ‘Romantic.’ The pairing of Wagner and Bruckner offers so much musical substance that I felt there was nothing that could possibly enhance this program any further.”

The season will close in April when Portland group 3 Leg Torso — a quintet that mixes Eastern European influences with modern chamber music — joins RVS for symphonic arrangements of its own compositions.

"We're branching out a little bit. I wanted to end the season with something cheerful. These are amazing musicians and really represent the humor in music."

Season tickets are available.

Maestro Martin Majkut will lead the Rogue Valley Symphony through its 2014-2015 season of concerts. Photo by Christopher Briscoe.