Romance reigns in the symphony's February concert

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Flowing wood carvings on the top of two double bass instruments stand in unison during rehersal of David Glenn's "A Valley of Streams" with the Walla Walla Symphony.

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The strings of a double bass vibrate to life as a musician with the Walla Walla Symphony rehearses for their upcoming concert.

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Walla Walla Symphony conductor Yaacov Bergman takes his musicians through a rehearsal of The Carnival of Animals.

Romance is at the heart of Walla Walla Symphony's February concert, as several works from the Romantic Era will be performed next week on the day after Valentine's Day at Cordiner Hall.

The Walla Walla Symphony's Viennese Romance Concert is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Whitman College's Cordiner Hall.

New this year, is a free half-hour "Inside Music" pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. at Whitman College's Reid Campus Center Ballroom, across the street from Cordiner Hall.

The concert will feature works of the Strauss family, including "Voices of Spring," "Blue Danube," "Tales from the Vienna Woods," "Woman's Heart" and "Radetsky March."

It will also include the impressively long ninth symphony of Franz Schubert nicknamed "The Great C Major," which lasts around 55 minutes.

But it is the work of another Strauss composer, a concerto by Richard Strauss, that will feature an instrument that has truly come to be synonymous with romantic classical music of our modern era.

"We can sound so mellow and rich, but when you have to crack the bell, it is really this big, aggressive sound that you cannot imagine, it is just so amazing," professional horn player Dean Kravig said.

The horn that Kravig referred to is the French horn, which is actually a misnomer.

Though the French are credited with incorporating the horn into orchestras, it was a people who don't even speak a romantic language that first incorporated the horn for a more rustic and utilitarian use.

"Everybody looks back and calls it the French horn, but it is German.

"And it is the horn of the hunt. They could use it tell exactly where you were, exactly what you caught, a buck, how many points and everything," Kravig said.

Now if you question the romantic intonations of what many today inaccurately call the French horn, then what you need to do is listen to some of the most romantic classical music scores that Kravig noted is being written today. And you don't have to go much further than your DVD collection.

"The greatest music being written right now for instrumentalists, the best music that gets played, is in the theaters. It's movie music. The Hans Zimmers. The John Williams. Those guys," Kravig said.

Hollywood is where you probably have heard the horn in all its grandeur and romance, as well as on the battlefield.

Probably one of the best examples is the music score for the 2009 release of "Star Trek," composed by Michael Giacchinno.

"Be sure to listen clear to the end of the Star Trek theme, as it's the last few seconds where the horn does a glissando, or rip, up to our high C sharp -- very cool," Kravig pointed out. And the horn player even provided a short mp3 clip to make his point.

"If you listen to a love scene solo, who gets all the love scenes? Horns. Who gets all the battles scenes? The horns," Kravig said, with perhaps a bit of pride.

"Titanic," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Star Wars" -- the list of movie scores whear the horn gets the solo during the climax is fairly extensive.

And next week, the horn will get the solo again, when Kravig takes center stage for Richard Strauss' "Horn Concerto No. 1."

So what gives the horn its romantic sound?

Kravig said it is a combination of two characteristics, size and range.

The horn, he explained, is almost as long as a tuba. But it is most commonly played in a register closer to what a trumpet would play. The result is a deep sounding instrument that plays in higher ranges, creating a warm, rich timbre.

But alas, the horn is not the favored instrument when it comes to high school bands, because young students would rather play a trumpet, saxophone or other instruments that are more popular in smaller ensembles, such as jazz groups.

"The sad thing is if you get really accomplished at the horn, the bassoon or oboe, you have a better chance of getting a job in a community orchestra," he said.

So, if you who know a youth who is considering an instrument to learn, you may want to take him or her to this performance to hear Kravig play Strauss' "Horn Concerto No. 1."

Or the next time you watch "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Star Trek," point out that the horns get all the solos at the best parts of the movie.

Just don't call it the French Horn.

For more information, call the Walla Walla Symphony at 529-8020.

Music samples

Pirates of the Carribean

Star Trek

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