Music News & Reviews

Sacramento classical music fans have 2 shows this weekend — but you can only choose 1

Maestro Andrew Grams returns to the capital city to launch the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera’s new season in the Memorial Auditorium.
Maestro Andrew Grams returns to the capital city to launch the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera’s new season in the Memorial Auditorium.

Sacramento’s classical music fans are facing a dilemma about what to do this weekend.

On Saturday, maestro Andrew Grams gives the downbeat at Memorial Auditorium to open the fifth season of the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera. At the same time, the magisterial baton of Don Kendrick, the longtime music director of the Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra, will inaugurate the ensemble’s 24th season across town at Fremont Presbyterian Church.

What is a music lover to do? Both events offer tempting selections, but you can only choose one.

The current renovation of the Community Center Theater has required Sacramento’s music organizations to make special arrangements for performance venues. The Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera will pay tribute to the 1927 concert with which the original Sacramento Symphony opened the Memorial Auditorium. The first selection on that inaugural performance was the march from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” and so it will be again on Saturday.

“It’s a celebration of this whole year,” said Alice Sauro, the Philharmonic’s executive director, explaining the theme of the opening program.

The second selection will be the violin concerto by Mendelssohn, with William Hagen as the soloist. Conductor Grams, who trained as a professional violinist, takes a special interest in leading such concertos.

“It really does seem that conductors work best with concertos written for their particular instrument,” Grams said. “I feel most comfortable following the ins and outs of violin soloists than pianists because I have an internal recognition of what the physical needs are for the successful execution of any particular passage.”

The Philharmonic will conclude its program with Tchaikovsky’s final symphony, the famous sixth, also known as the “Pathétique.” Grams feels that the French subtitle is an unfortunate translation of the original Russian, which he said is closer to “passionate.” He added, “My conducting teacher would call this symphony the ‘Symphony of Life,’ which I think is a very appropriate description of the journey one takes through the four movements — the beginning of life, the triumphs and tribulations, all leading to our shared end.”

The theme of the Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra’s opening concert is music itself, a tribute to St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music. With Ryan Enright on organ and singers Carrie Hennessey, soprano, Michael Desnoyers, tenor, and Kevin Doherty, baritone, maestro Kendrick will present repertoire specifically dedicated to St. Cecelia, as well as complementary selections.

In the first category are “A Song for St. Cecelia’s Day” by Scott Perkins (a world premiere commission) and “A Hymn to St. Cecelia” by Malcolm Archer.

“The main work is the ‘Messe solennelle de Sainte Cécile’ by Gounod, which is unbelievably beautiful,” Kendrick said. “No one in this town has ever done it before, so it’s brand-new repertoire from the late 1800s that no one has heard.”

Companion pieces include Daniel Elder’s setting of “Ave Maria,” David Dickau’s “If Music Be the Food of Love” and Handel’s “Zadok the Priest.” Kendrick pointed out that “Zadok the Priest” is one of the four hymns traditionally incorporated in every coronation in London’s Westminster Abbey. Its inclusion on the program was inspired by the notion of St. Cecelia as a queen presiding over the realm of music. “It adds festivity and brightness to a really beautiful program,” Kendrick said.

The Choral Society is back from a successful summer tour in Europe, which inspired an accolade from Brian Street, the deputy public affairs officer of the U.S. embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia, who said, “The SCSO was a stunning example of how cultures and nations can collaborate to make the world a more beautiful place.”

If you go

Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera

What: Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique”

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, October 19

Where: Memorial Auditorium, 1515 J St., Sacramento

Price: $32 to $52


Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra

What: Stained Glass: Music for St. Cecelia

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, October 19

Where: Fremont Presbyterian Church, 5770 Carlson Drive, Sacramento

Price: $30 to $40 (adults); $15 to $20 (students)