Chalk up another first for the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra.
“This is the first time the Philharmonic has played a Haydn symphony in Savannah,” says Peter Shannon, the orchestra’s conductor and artistic director. “His last symphonies are full of humor, and a lot of it is tongue-in-cheek.
“I’m looking forward to bringing that out in the music,” Shannon says. “It’s so often missed.”
The Philharmonic will present “A Classical Symphony” on April 13, which will open with Haydn’s final work, Symphony No. 104. It will be followed by Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony.”
“I’ve juxtaposed Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, a work inspired by Haydn in which Prokofiev also tries to capture that sense of fun,” Shannon says. “It’s difficult to bring off well, so I’m looking forward to hearing what the Phil musicians bring to the table.”
The final work of the evening will be Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, commonly known as “The Italian Symphony.”
The composer himself described it as “the jolliest piece I have ever done.”
“Its beginning is a burst of joy, but it, too, requires a lot from the players,” Shannon says. “On reflection, it seems as if ‘fun’ requires a lot of hard work, but we’re definitely up to the challenge.”
A pre-concert talk will be presented at 6:30 p.m. by the Savannah Friends of Music. Its purpose is to provide a deeper understanding of the music the audience is about to hear.
“These are ebullient, energetic little rockets, really,” Shannon says. “Haydn is considered ‘the Father of Symphony,’ a title he deserves. So many people got their inspiration from him, including Mozart, who was the greatest musician who ever lived.”
Prokofiev was a 20th- century composer.
“His symphony is only 15 minutes long, but is ridiculously difficult to play,” Shannon says. “It is notorious among musicians.
“It is difficult technically and musically. It tends to move quite fast, and the last part is very, very fast. The combination of crisp cleanliness needed for classical form requires great finesse.”
In brochures, posters and advertisements, the orchestra is advertising the concert with reproductions of three cellos. One is plain, one has a British flag on its back and the other is embellished with an Italian flag.
“Haydn spent a lot of time in England,” Shannon says. “This is one of his London symphonies.
“Mendelssohn spent time in Italy. His symphony is modeled after an Italian dance.
“He saw a procession going through town,” Shannon says.
“There are all kinds of influences in this piece, which is really, really beautiful. There’s something of an international theme going through this concert.”
The audience is in for a rare treat.
“We’ve got three symphonies in one program,” Shannon says. “It sounds like a heavy program, although it’s not. It’s certainly going to be a lot for the orchestra to do in a short time.
“I’m very happy with this program,” he says.
“I’ve done two symphonies here in Savannah before, but I’ve never done a concert with three symphonies. It’s going to be interesting, with a lot of notes for me to learn.”