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The Bard Conservatory Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, will perform Monday, October 18, 2010 at 8:00 pm, in the Daniel Arts Center’s McConnell Theatre. The orchestra, composed of seventy students from Bard College at Annandale’s Conservatory of Music, will perform Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Strauss’s Don Juan and Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra.

Regarded as a game-changer in the history of symphony that expanded the sense of what and how music in particular could express narrative, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique was composed in 1830. A representative piece of French Romantic music, it is a program symphony—an instrumental piece with a narrative presented in the program notes—that students examine in faculty Larry Wallach’s course Music of the Romantic Era.

Wallach notes that “Berlioz changed the story several times between 1830 and 1845. He wanted his audiences to be thinking about the narrative and the protagonist’s experience. The hero tries to kill himself by taking opium, and has a hallucination where he murders the woman he loves. It’s been regarded as garish and at the same time has been revered for its composition: this is a piece that must be encountered.”

Strauss, a personal favorite of Botstein’s, composed Don Juan in 1888. By that time, the type of musical storytelling pioneered by Berlioz had been fully accepted and was host to an array of characters imported from literature, like Don Juan. Simon’s Rock students get familiar with an earlier, operatic treatment of the famous libertine listening to, and reading the libretto for, Mozart and Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni in First-year Seminar II.

Schoenberg composed Five Pieces for Orchestra in 1909. The piece represents an important early transition in the Austro-American composer’s career. It develops the expressionist, modernist style that Schoenberg is known for, characterized by atonal sounds, and marks a distinctive break from previous work that was more indebted to the composer’s late-romantic forbearers.

The three pieces have in common that they are important works composed early in their respective authors’ careers: Berlioz was 27, Strauss 24, and Schoenberg 35. They are all also difficult works to perform, orchestral showpieces which allow soloists to shine. The Bard Conservatory Orchestra rehearses and regularly performs at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, a Frank Gehry-designed, world-class theatre on the Bard College at Annandale campus. Recent professional engagements have taken the students to Beijing and the Library of Congress. The event is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 7:30 PM.