This year, the APU Symphony Orchestra’s spring concert featured a rare performance of Swedish composer Allan Pettersson’s Symphony No. 7, marking only the second U.S. performance of this piece and the West Coast debut of any Pettersson symphony.
The orchestra of 70 student musicians, conducted by Christopher Russell, took an audience of more than 100 students, faculty, staff, and guests on a journey through a dramatic musical landscape. “This work contains moments of intensity, mystery, and overwhelming sadness,” said Russell. “However, toward the end comes one of the most gorgeous sections for string orchestra ever written, in which all of the previous pain and anguish fades into a place of serene beauty.”
Born in Sweden in 1911, Pettersson began studying music at age 19 and composed his first symphony in 1951. Although plagued with health problems, he finished 16 full symphonies, including Symphony No. 7, written in 1967 and eventually recognized as his greatest masterpiece.
“The technicality and emotion of the piece required hours of practice and focus. It was easy to get lost in the changing tempos, keys, time signatures, and dramatic changes in mood,” said violin performance major Charatmanat Lertsukon ’14, first violinist. “All of the musicians learned to pay closer attention to the conductor, listen to one another’s individual parts, and appreciate this form of contemporary music much more.”
“Performing a composition that involves high musical value by a little-known composer allowed for an experience of discovery,” said Donald Neufeld, dean of the School of Music. “The performers and audience joined together in hearing and exploring musical ideas presented in new ways.” The rare performance garnered worldwide attention and was featured on Slipped Disc, a London-based international music review blog.
Symphony No. 7 comprises 45 minutes of continuous music, requiring much energy and effort to perform. “The performance called for enormous concentration and stamina from the orchestra players,” said Russell. “Second, it was completely unfamiliar to the orchestra, and so the musical language was something they had to learn, unlike performing Beethoven and Brahms.”
The orchestra also performed Johannes Brahms’ Tragic Overture and accompanied the Men’s Chorale and soloist Patricia Edwards, DMA, School of Music faculty, on Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody. The Symphony Orchestra gives concerts throughout the year encompassing music from the early Baroque period to the 21st century and collaborates regularly with APU choral groups.