Kory Katseanes and the Brigham Young University Philharmonic will be making history
this weekend when they play Richard Strauss’ monumental – and autobiographical – Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). “This is the first time the piece will have been played at BYU,” Katseanes told Reichel Recommends, and as far as he knows this will also be the first time it’ll be done by a university orchestra in Utah. “I’d be a little surprised if it has been done somewhere before, because the forces alone are difficult to muster for any academic ensemble.” But, he added, it’s not just a major undertaking for a student orchestra, “it’s an event any time it’s done by any orchestra.”
Ein Heldenleben is a work that Katseanes has been wanting to do for quite some time, and things have finally worked out for him to get his wish. “The stars kind of aligned with the current crop of students,” he said. And besides the talent, the orchestra has enough players to fulfill the requirements of the score. “We have enough players in the group for eight horns and five trumpets. The brass we have can pull it off, and I feel our concertmaster can do it, too.”
But beyond logistics, Katseanes is more intently focused on the artistic side of the work and he’s ecstatic with how the students have embraced it. “I certainly feel like it’s a piece we’re capable of playing, and I’m thrilled with how hard they’ve worked on it. They’ve taken it very seriously.” And that’s heartening for Katseanes and validates what he’s been trying to do with the philharmonic since coming to BYU. “I’m asking the students to reach beyond what they thought they were capable of,” he said. It also gives them a taste for what they can expect as professional musicians after they leave school. “Once they leave here they’ll be able to see the value of climbing these peaks. It will give them perspective to being a professional musician.”
A little more than a week ago Katseanes held seating auditions behind a screen so he couldn’t see who was playing (which is the norm for auditions with professional orchestras), and he was struck with the level of playing he was hearing. “Hearing the parts individually is important,” he said, “and doing this made me realize that (programming Ein Heldenleben) was the right thing to do. I saw that what I was hoping for is possible. It was jaw dropping to hear them play their way through these auditions.”
Katseanes has noticed a definite rise in the quality of playing among young musicians over the years. “In my day, there were maybe four, five or six players who could do this, not a whole group of players. It’s really impressive.”
Before playing Ein Heldenleben, Katseanes will give a short talk on the piece with the orchestra playing examples to help the audience maneuver its way through the work. “It’ll be kind of a road map to give them an idea of what to listen for,” he said.
In addition to the Strauss, the philharmonic will also play two much shorter pieces, Ludwig van Beethoven’s overture to Egmont and Felix Mendelssohn’s overture to Die schöne Melusine (The Fair Melusine).
What: BYU Philharmonic, Kory Katseanes, conductor
Venue: de Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University
Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18