AUCS to present romantic concert to warm a winter’s night

Jean Hellner

ABERDEEN, S.D. – The Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony will present its winter concert, “Romantic Genius,” in the main theater of the Johnson Fine Arts Center on Feb. 25, 2017, at 7:30 p.m.

The program will feature the Symphony in D Minor by Robert Schumann and the winners of the 2016 NSU Concerto/Aria Competition. There will be a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. in the Blue Room with guest speaker Dr. Jean Marie Hellner.

Salvatore Scavo, baritone, of Bordertown, N.J., won the vocal portion of the 2016 competition. He will performed the aria “Avant de quitter ces lieux,” from Charles Gounod’s opera “Faust.” Scavo is a senior at NSU and is well known to Aberdeen audiences, especially for his chilling portrayal of Monsieur Thénardier in the 2014 NSU production of “Les Misérables.” Scavo is a pupil of Mr. Michael Skyles.


Katie Appl of Aberdeen won the instrumental portion of the competition. She will perform “Concerto in E-Flat for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra” by Alexander Glazunov. Appl is a pupil of Mr. Fred Hemke.

Symphony in D Minor

The featured work on the concert will be Robert Schumann’s Symphony in D Minor. The work has an interesting history. Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara, were a musical power couple in 19th century Leipzig. In 1840, Robert had experienced a brilliant success with his First Symphony, and the D Minor Symphony was expected to be another gem. Musicologists believe that one of the themes in the symphony is actually a musical acrostic spelling out Clara’s name, and in that sense the work portrays the love this couple shared.

Robert gave the symphony to Clara as a birthday present in September 1841. It was premiered later that year. The concert opened with another work of Robert’s, and Clara performed on the program as well, in a duet with the great pianist Franz Liszt. It was meant to be a showcase for both musicians, but unfortunately Clara’s performance grabbed all of the critics’ attention and negative criticism of the symphony appeared in the reviews. Robert took this badly and withdrew the symphony.

He revised it in 1853. Clara preferred this second version of the work and included it in the complete edition of Robert’s music. The work stands as a milestone in symphonic composition, at once a love-letter from a brilliant romantic composer to his wife and an important essay in symphonic form.

Aria from Gounod’s ‘Faust’

The aria “Avant de quitter ces lieux” comes from the second act of Gounod’s masterpiece “Faust.” In the aria, Marguerite’s brother Valentin is about to leave for war, and entrusts the care of his sister to his friend Siebel. Valentin prays to God to watch over her and guard her from harm.

Saxophone Concerto

The saxophone was invented in the 1840s, but at the time that Glazunov wrote his concerto in 1934, the instrument had barely found its place in the classical repertoire. The German saxophonist Sigurd Raschèr changed all of that when he championed the instrument. Glazunov, who was fascinated with the sound of the saxophone, was not so enchanted with Raschèr! Glazunov was reported to have said that he was not so much commissioned as “under the influence of attacks” to write the concerto.

Glazunov died in 1936 and likely never heard his concerto performed. It is a minor masterpiece. The work is in a one movement, divided into four sections: an exposition, a brief development, a transitional slow section leading to a cadenza, and concluding with a dazzling fugue that introduces a sprightly jig-like theme against which all of the earlier themes are played.

The program will open with Béla Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances.” Bartók composed them as a suite for piano in 1915 and orchestrated them in 1917. The suite is in six brief movements, including a Stick Dance, Sash Dance, Dance on One Spot, Dance from Buscum, a Polka, and a Fast Dance. Bartók was a musicologist as well as composer, and these popular dances brilliantly capture the spirit of Romanian peasant life.

Pre-Concert Conversation

Jean Marie Hellner will join Robert Vodnoy for a pre-concert conversation about the Schumann symphony and other works on the concert. The conversation will begin at 6:30 p.m. in Berggren Recital Hall. Hellner holds a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Texas. Her dissertation was on this symphony. Currently, she writes prefaces for Musikproduktion Höflich in Munich, works as an accompanist and vocal coach for Minnesota State University, and plays organ at various churches in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Her biggest current project is translating Handbuch Orgelmusik from German into English.

Ticket Information

Tickets are $18 for adults, $9 for NSU faculty and staff, and free for all students. NSU now offers reserved seating for concerts so that patrons can attend the pre-concert conversation and be guaranteed of a good seat when going to the concert hall. Concert goers who hold vouchers for tickets must redeem them no later than Friday, Feb. 24. Tickets are available online through ARTS|NSU and the JFAC box office. For information on all fine arts events at Northern State, call 605-626-2900 or 605-626-2497 or visit the NSU School of Fine Arts. JFAC box office hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, noon - 4:00 pm. Information about the orchestra can be found at Also online, view AUCS Program Notes for Feb. 25.

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