Asking an orchestra of musicians what they really want to play can be a dangerous thing. After endless gigs of “The Nutcracker” and Dvorak’s “New World” symphony, they’re just as likely to request something completely esoteric as anything that might actually sell tickets. But for the opening concert of the 2015-16 season — happening Sunday at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts — the Olympia Symphony decided to trust its musicians, resulting in a program of music both familiar and unusual.
“We asked our players last year what they’d like in the program, then molded it out of all their submissions,” music director Huw Edwards said.
Edwards has led the orchestra for 12 years and just signed a contract extension for another 10 more, so he obviously trusts his musicians. And while he hopes no one will get upset if their request wasn’t chosen, he’s happy with the resulting program: The lush Prelude to Act II of Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major with Northwest soloist Brittany Boulding, Waldteufel’s popular “Skater’s Waltz,” and the complex “Symphonic Metamorphoses” of Hindemith, far less common on orchestral programs than the other works.
“The Wagner is very ecstatic, and the Tchaikovsky is supremely lyrical,” Edwards said. “It’s the centenary of Waldteufel’s death, so that seemed appropriate, and the brass section wanted to do Hindemith. The “Metamorphoses” is arguably his showcase, and I thought that it would be good to start the season by sinking our teeth into something challenging.”
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The rest of this year’s season focuses on melody, Edwards said, while making sure there’s a balance of styles, genres and lengths. Concerts include an all-Beethoven program Nov. 8 (the third Piano Concerto with soloist John Pickett and the “Pastoral” symphony) and a Valentine’s Day show Feb. 14 with romantic works like Rachmaninov’s Piano Concert no. 2 (soloist Angie Zhang) and the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.” On March 13, the orchestra goes to the countryside with “The Highlands and Lowlands,” a program contrasting works like Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy,” Vaughan Williams’ “Norfolk Rhapsody no. 1” and Seattle composer Lauren Wells’ “Before I Wake,” a landscape of sounds heard in the dead of night while you’re trying to sleep.
April 17’s season finale sees the orchestra collaborate with the Olympia Choral Society and Timberline High School Camerata Choir in a performance of Brahms’ “Deutsches Requiem,” unusual among requiems as it aims to comfort the living rather than mourn the dead. Fitting in with the season theme, it too is a “richly melodic and tuneful work,” Edwards said.
“A piece can have great harmony or rhythm, but what are you singing the next morning?” Edwards asked. “The melody.”