This weekend’s concerts feature one of my very favorite works, Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter). This work is actually a full opera by Hindemith based on a historical 15th century figure, Matthias Grünewald – a painter who drops his creative work to fight in a war, but after a series of dramatic events and visions, is convinced that he can best help humankind with his art. It was a subject close to Hindemith as he was struggling with the Nazi government during the writing of the work in 1933-34. In the end, plans to stage this opera were thwarted by the Nazi government (when they realized the political message of the work) and Hindemith’s music was publicly denounced. But the project of Mathis der Maler meant so much to Hindemith that he crafted a symphony from the music and it was premiered by the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who famously ignored the ban on Hindemith’s music in Germany at the time.
It is this three-movement symphony that the MSO will be playing this weekend. The scope of this relatively short work is enormous. Already a technical tour de force for the orchestra, Hindemith places layer upon layer in textures and it is filled with complex fugal passages. My personal favorite moment comes at the end of the third movement and in the middle of what seems like never-ending, diabolical-fiddling in the strings – we suddenly hear a church hymn being played in the upper woodwinds. Only Hindemith is such a genius orchestrator, that it sounds exactly like a pipe organ in the distance. The conflict of textures are so extreme at this moment that everything suddenly comes to a screeching halt as a new hymn in all its glory bursts forth from the brass and drives this work to its conclusion.
Bringing this sprawling masterpiece to life this week is our guest conductor Michael Francis. He will be joined by our principal clarinetist, Todd Levy, for Carl Maria von Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto. The program will be finished off with Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor. Hope to see you there!