The Topanga Symphony had a guest classical guitarist for their summer performance at the Topanga Community Center. Jordan Charnofsky, principal guitar for the LA Opera Orchestra, played a beautiful composition from 1939.
By Kriss Perras
Here in the Canyon Charnofsky performed Guitar Concerto #1 in D major, Op. 99 written by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 – 1968) on the eve of World War II. This composer was Jewish and from Italy. He became known during the 1920’s. His works were soon banished from the Italian airwaves, even though he was a well-known and revered in Italian music. His musical performances were canceled. Hatred of Jews stoked by Mussilini was the impetus for Castelnuovo-Tedesco to emigrate from Italy to the United States, specifically to Hollywood. There he scored over 200 films including: The Loves Of Carmen, And Then There Were None, Time Out Of Mind, Superman (1948) and The Prince Of Thieves.
“There has long been since the symphony’s original performance the idea in critics circles that this symphony possibly had an unfinished feeling, or was much like a tone poem. A tone poem is descriptive or rhapsodic and often describing certain elements in nature, like The Pines Of Rome.”
While still in Italy in 1932, Castelnuovo-Tedesco met Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia. They were at the Venice International Society of Contemporary Music where this meeting inspired Castelnuovo-Tedesco to write Guitar Concerto #1 in D.
Charnofsky played with such depth of feeling. He is surely destined to be among California’s long remembered classical guitar icons. He has accompanied the Opera greats like Luciano Pavarotti, Juan Diego Flores and Bryn Terfel. When he finished his breathtaking performance, he was greeted by a standing ovation.
The Topanga Symphony also broke down into a brass quintet performing a composition by Jerome Kessler himself. He is the Topanga Symphony’s conductor and Music Director. He has written numerous compositions for orchestra, voice, cello and ensembles. He’s also the director of the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra and a cellist. This particular piece was Andante and Scherzo for Brass Quintet and was the work’s world premiere. This was a beautiful melody for Brass. The Scherzo in particular was well executed by the quintet.
During rehearsal prior to the performance, Kessler had worked out certain bars with different sections of the orchestra: first violins, brass and the bird like flutes in Dvorak’s Symphony #8 in G, Op. 88. He was mostly conveying ideas like pianissimo, telling the instrumentalists they couldn’t possibly be soft enough in certain sections. This group readily took to his instructions. By performance time, Dvorak’s symphony was vibrant and alive when necessary, pianissimo. The original intent of the symphony was clear. There has long been since the symphony’s original performance the idea in critics circles that this symphony possibly had an unfinished feeling, or was much like a tone poem. A tone poem is descriptive or rhapsodic and often describing certain elements in nature, like The Pines Of Rome.
Originally the idea this symphony was a tone poem was meant as a slam against Dvorak. The early critics of his day said it was too strongly grounded in loose intervention. He was writing music that was going against the current strain of his time. Music of his day was not happy or vibrant. It was darker, moody and tragic. But there is also something deeper, possibly more hidden in why the composition sounds the way it does. Dvorak was invited to Russia by Tchaikovsky prior to composing the work. In deciding which symphony might be performed for a subsequent visit to Moscow, Dvorak decided a new composition he was working on would be the one, this was Symphony #8 in G. He was also considering ideas of life during the time he was composing this work. He was considering appreciation of nature and beauty, and the joys of life. It also calls up pastoral images. Plus it is very lyrical. These are all elements of a tone poem. The influence of his Czech and Slavonic music roots are also evident in this work. Also Beethoven and Brahms were the precursors to this work. And as they were precursors for Dvorak, he too was the catalyst for late 19th Century music.
The Topanga Symphony is made up of both professionals and amateurs. Topanga is one of the few towns where a person can go to a professional theater performance in the afternoon and a professional level symphony performance that night just a few steps away. We’re a town of just over 8,200 people, according to the latest census. It is a Bohemian place with a lot of talent nestled inside this Canyon. What a treat to get to have the sun set behind the Canyon mountains outside the window while we listen to the sounds of Dvorak, Kessler’s own compositions and Charnofksy’s classical guitar.
The Topanga Symphony will return November 11 for their fall performance.
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