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Auerbach and Martinu


Auerbach and Martinu



SUNDAY, MAY 5, 2019, 4:00PM
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
1037 SW Broadway
Portland, OR 97205

Auerbach and Martinu

PYP concludes its landmark 95th season with the powerfully moving Symphony No. 1 by the multi-talented Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach, followed by PYP alumnus Max Blair as oboe soloist in Bohuslav Martinu’s beautiful Oboe Concerto. The performance will end on a joyful note with the Overture to La Belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach, a celebratory parody of Helen’s elopement with Paris of Troy, which sparked the Trojan War.

Hearing is believing. Discover for yourself why The Chicago Tribune called the orchestra “brilliant in all departments!”

Hearing is believing. Discover for yourself why The Chicago Tribune called the orchestra “brilliant in all departments!”


  • Lera Auerbach: Symphony No. 1, “Chimera”

  • Martinů: Oboe Concerto 
    Max Blair, oboe (PYP alumnus 2008)

  • Offenbach: Overture to La Belle Hélène


Soviet Russian-born American Lera Auerbach’s life in art began in 1977 with a song about death, composed when she was 4 years old. Since then, she has created a world of acclaimed piano performance, sculpture, painting, and musical works of every conceivable genre.

The seven movements of this first symphony, premiered in 2007, seem to allude to mortality in some way, although as Pwyll ap Siôn wrote, “Nothing appears quite what it seems in Auerbach’s world, and her aim is often to find beauty ‘in the most unexpected places.’”  Auerbach titles her works after composing them; nonetheless, explanation of a few titles may be helpful:
A “chimera” is both a mythical firebreathing female monster made of several different animals, and, more metaphorically, an impossible vision or goal.  “Et in Arcadia ego” connotes death’s eternal presence, even when life seems most serene; “Siste, Viator” was a common Roman epitaph which forced the attention of the living to the body buried underfoot.

In 2011, Auerbach took the last two movements to make a tone poem entitled “Icarus”, referring to the Greek myth of the young man who ignored his father’s warnings, exulted in flying higher than his earthly wings could carry him, and crashed into the sea. Auerbach wrote: “What makes this myth so touching is Icarus’s impatience of the heart, his wish to reach the unreachable, the intensity of the ecstatic brevity of his flight and inevitability of his fall.”

One can be tempted to read specific meaning into parts of the symphony, yet Auerbach states that “all [her] music is abstract”, which can be taken in every sense, including compositional. Even without traditional programmatic or musical cues, however, her music creates a relatable world of great emotional depth and breadth on its own terms..

Max Blair, oboe (PYP alumnus 2008)

Bohuslav Martinů wrote his Oboe Concerto in 1955 for the Czech-born Australian oboist Jiří Tancibudek. Tancibudek premiered the work with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt in response to the 1956 Sydney Olympic Games.


Paris in the 1860s, the home stretch of the brief, eighteen-year Second Empire, between two bloody wars: Haussmann’s boulevards bringing light and fresh air into the city; industrial and infrastructure growth, along with the first department stores and investment banks, leading to the birth of the bourgeoisie; the everyday landscapes and still lifes of Manet and Monet shaking up the dignified neoclassical mythological/history painting tradition of decades before. The time was right for German-born cellist/composer/practical joker Jacques (Jacob) Offenbach to bring that fresh air to the comic opera tradition, creating the even more comic light opera or operetta which would later inspire Gilbert & Sullivan, Johann Strauss, and others.

In line with his scandalous Orpheus in the Underworld, which ends with the famous Can-Can, with La Belle Hélène Offenbach created another Saturday-Night-Live version of a revered Greek myth, allowing his audiences to have their high culture cake and food-fight with it too.  Early on, Helen describes her boring husband, Spartan King Menelaus, as “bourgeois”, an opening jab at the climbing merchant class who were probably buying many of the opera tickets. She slyly invokes Fate, usually a hand-to-the-forehead kind of tragic force, as a rationalization for eventually giving in to her desire and running away with the cunning, persistent Paris.

The sendup of sacrosanct Greek mythology, the sexual innuendo, even the topical references, made for an irreverent, tantalizing popular hit and is still cherished in raucous, relevant concept productions all over the world today.

Just like Escoffier’s tribute dessert, Poire belle Hélène, this overture capitalizes on the spirit of La Belle Hélène to make the joy available outside the opera house. It’s a perfect feel-good confection to mark the end of our intense, meaningful season 95.

Earlier Event: May 4
Amadeus in Concert
Later Event: May 10