The full Paducah Symphony Orchestra will take the stage Saturday at The Carson Center for the first time since February 2020, as the symphony celebrates its opening night of the 2021-22 concert season.
Raffaele Livio Ponti, the PSO’s artistic director and conductor, is happy about the new concert season starting and he “can’t wait to see everyone” at the concert hall. He also expressed appreciation for patrons’ continued support for the PSO, noting the difficult times with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I came in this season with big, big repertoire, because — you know — we’re back and your first time up to bat again, you don’t want to bunt the ball,” Ponti told The Sun. “You want to swing and hit a home run.”
The season’s first concert, which is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, will feature performances of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and a symphony by Louise Farrenc, a female French composer. Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear is the guest musician for the concert, and Ponti described him as “world class.”
“I’ve asked him to do the Tchaikovsky concerto for piano in B-Flat No. 1 — and that’s iconic, that piece,” Ponti said. “That’s just huge, huge, in the piano repertoire and everyone will know this piece.”
Ponti said it’s a work that American pianist Van Cliburn played at the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow decades ago, which Cliburn famously won.
“It challenges the pianist to no limit in the orchestra, so it’s a great way to begin the performance, this season,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ponti said Farrenc’s inclusion carries on his new mission in recent seasons of promoting composers he thinks deserved to be played, but aren’t heard enough. Farrenc, a “great composer,” lived from 1804 to 1875 — a time that Ponti called a fruitful period for art and music.
“We’re going to see a lot of diversity in my programming this coming season, and into the future, for Black composers, women composers, Asian composers, all kinds of things that need to be heard,” he said.
This season’s concerts have a variety of programming, including Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and Georges Bizet’s “Symphony in C” on Oct. 16, and Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” and Richard Strauss’ ”Don Juan” on Nov. 20. The popular, annual Christmas celebration is scheduled for Dec. 11 this year, and it brings listeners the “holiday pops,” Ponti said.
Next year, the symphony is scheduled to welcome singer Joan Ellison for “Judy!” on Feb. 12. The concert will be an evening that highlights the late, legendary Judy Garland, who would have turned 100 in June 2022.
“Joan Ellison is a fabulous soprano who does this show exclusively, and she has the rights — not only to do the music, but she has the actual original orchestrations that Judy Garland actually performed and recorded both live and on her television show,” Ponti said.
“These are not arrangements. These are the real deal things that she actually performs, and she has rights to use them from the Judy Garland foundation.”
The March 12 concert is Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5,” and Franz Schubert’s “Symphony No. 8,” or what’s known as the “Unfinished” symphony. The season will then conclude on April 9 with Mozart’s “Requiem” serving as the finale, featuring the PSO chorus, invited choirs and guest soloists.
“That’s a great, great piece by Schubert,” Ponti said.
“The question is — is it really unfinished, or did he finish it just with two movements? Ah, ha! So, that’s the question. Of course, ‘Shostakovich 5’ is just a war horse. Orchestras love playing that. I don’t think we’ve done a Shostakovich here in Paducah, and the audience is just going to love it.”
PSO General Manager Morgan Walker told The Sun tickets for Saturday’s concert are on sale at paducahsymphony.org, while The Carson Center’s box office opens one hour before the concert. Concertgoers may visit the PSO website for detailed information about the event’s COVID-19 policy, but proof of full vaccination and photo ID are required for entry into The Carson Center.
Follow Kelly Farrell on Twitter, @KellyAFarrell11