Photo: Hart House Orchestra will perform Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony on February 17 at St Matthew’s church.
Credit: Courtesy of Hart House Orchestra
Saint-Saëns Third (Organ) Symphony
By Margret Nankivell
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church is delighted to welcome the Hart House Orchestra from the University of Toronto on Saturday, February 17 at 7:30 pm. Admission will be free, with a freewill offering.
The featured work on the program will be Symphony Number 3 by French composer and organist/pianist Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Often known as the “organ symphony,” the work will feature the pipe organ played by St. Matthew’s director of music Robert Hall.
The orchestra is well known for its presentation of large orchestral works. It has performed all but one of Gustaf Mahler’s symphonies and plans to complete the Mahler cycle next year. Conducted by Henry Janzen, the music director and principal conductor, the orchestra has toured Europe and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. As a violist, Janzen performed last year during St. Matthew’s Lenten Recital series.
“I am looking forward to returning to St. Matthews in February,” says Janzen. “Having performed there a couple of times and enjoyed the people and the space, I think it will be fantastic to bring the Hart House Orchestra to Ottawa to do a concert with Dr. Hall.”
Janzen says that for some years he has wanted to perform this symphony with Hall playing the organ part. “The opportunity to do so never presented itself until now and so it is with great anticipation that I look forward to this performance,” he says. “For me personally, it will mean a great deal to accompany him instead of the other way around!”
Hall calls the Hart House Orchestra “an ensemble that embodies the spirit of amateur music-making in the true sense of the word.” He adds that the players belong for the love of music, and their playing embodies respect and love for the great symphonic music of the classical tradition.
Orchestra members include students, alumni and faculty from the University of Toronto, representing academic disciplines such as fine arts, medicine, engineering and astrophysics. Rigorous annual auditions for the orchestra are highly contested and ensure an extremely high level of musicianship.
Other works on the program will include Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2, featuring clarinetist Sean Lin, and Hector Berlioz’s Overture to Benvenuto Cellini.
Saint-Saëns was an influential composer whose works included The Carnival of the Animals which has also been performed at St. Matthew’s. A child prodigy on the piano, he was a church organist before becoming a freelance composer and pianist. He also taught at L’École de musique classique et religieuse in Paris, and his students included composer Gabriel Fauré.
Popular in England, Saint-Saëns was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society of London to write the Third Symphony. Two months after its 1886 London premiere, the composer dedicated the work to his late friend Franz Liszt.
The Third Symphony is the final symphonic work written by Saint-Saëns. Not surprisingly, it features the organ since he was a highly regarded organist, says Janzen. The structure is similar to the traditional symphonic movements, but it combines the outer movements to create only two disparate sections. Unlike most symphonies at the time, it uses expanded winds and brass, and it also features the piano in both two-hand and four-hand arrangements. It is an intriguing work with cyclical uses of thematic material as well as an excellent use of orchestral and keyboard colours, he says.
Proceeds from the performance will support the ongoing maintenance of the pipe organ at St. Matthew’s.
Margret B. Nankivell is a long-time St. Matthew’s parishioner and regular contributor on music to the Glebe Report.
Saint-Saëns Third Symphony (Organ Symphony)
Hart House Orchestra, University of Toronto
Saturday, February 17, 7:30 p.m.
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in the Glebe, 130 Glebe Ave., near Bank St.