Music director Martin Majkut of the Rogue Valley Symphony. - Photo by Jamie Lusch

On Barber, Haydn, Liszt and Keith Emerson

Maestro Martin Majkut discovered ideas for the Rogue Valley Symphony's upcoming concert series while reading 100-year-old concert programs from performances of the New York Philharmonic.

"They were so much bolder in those days," Majkut says. "They'd shuffle pieces around, mix genres and combine chamber music with big symphony pieces. So I thought we should think outside the box."

The first concerts of RVS's 2011-2012 season will showcase piano concertos by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and progressive rock composer Keith Emerson, played by crossover musician Jeffrey Biegel. Also set are Samuel Barber's First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12, and Josef Haydn's Symphony No. 45, "Farewell."

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, at the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St., Grants Pass.

"Ninty-nine percent of the time, the formula for a performance includes the overture, followed by a concerto with a solo, then the symphony work in the second half," Majkut says.

Maestro Majkut wanted something more exciting to kick off his second season with the symphony, and he knew that unusual perf-ormances need some motive for using a different format.

"I thought of going from dark to light," Majkut says. "From very serious to pure fun, so the audience will take a journey with us."

The symphony's performances this weekend will begin with the Barber piece, Majkut says, because it speaks of loss or something that no longer exists.

"I wanted to start with that kind of mood," he says.

Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major with its grand fate motif will follow, with Biegel at the piano.

"The motif gives this concerto a dramatic beginning," Majkut says. "Then it moves toward virtuosic fireworks of sound."

The pure fun Majkut speaks of will begin after intermission, with Haydn's "Farewell."

"It tells the story of court musicians who want to return home to Vienna, but their patron, a Hungarian count, will not let them go," Majkut says. "So in the last movement, each musician stops playing and leaves in turn."

The orchestra dwindles to two instruments and the conductor.

"I've asked the musicians to use dramatic antics as they exit the stage," Majkut says. "They will surprise even me. It's going to be great fun."

Biegel and the symphony will conclude with Emerson's Piano Concerto No. 1, written in 1977 and recorded with the London Philharmonic for rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer's album, "Works."

"There was a period in the '70s and '80s when rock artists shared ambitions to write something like classical compositions, not just tunes," Majkut says. "It's an era that I love. It was about using rock to present stories as classical music does."

Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer often fully orchestrated their shows and based their pieces on classics. The trio achieved instant fame in 1970 at the Isle of Wight Festival, where they performed a rock adaptation of Russian composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

ELP's first single, "Lucky Man," ended with a startling new sound — a lead solo from a Moog synthesizer. Afterward, Emerson became known as the "God of Moog." Between '70 and '77, ELP released six platinum-selling albums.

"This will be a good concert to bring your teenagers to," Majkut says.

Soon after Biegel signed on to perform Emerson's piece for the symphony's opening shows, Canadian video production company Crosswood Productions invited the Rogue Valley Symphony to participate in a documentation of Emerson's work, "Pictures of an Exhibitionist." The company interviewed Biegel, who keeps the Emerson piece in his repertoire, and filmed the orchestra's dress rehearsal. It also will film one of this weekend's performances.

"It's exciting," Majkut says. "There's a chance our symphony will be part of a documentary shown in many different countries. I'm a big believer in taking risks. It's something out of the ordinary. The next thing you know, someone else is knocking at your door for collaboration."

Tickets cost $33 to $44 for the Ashland show; $28 to $38 for the Medford show; and $20 to $34 for the Grants Pass show. Student tickets cost $5 at all shows. Some $10 tickets will be available for the Medford and Grants Pass shows. Call 541-552-6398.

Season subscriptions to RVS's 2011-2012 shows also are available. Call the box office or see www.rvsymphony.org for ticket prices and performance information.

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