Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony

Masterworks VI

Friday & Saturday, May 5 & 6 at 8:00 PM at Maryland Hall

Sunday, May 7 at 3:00 PM at Strathmore Music Center – *Single tickets for the Strathmore performance on May 7, 2023 are sold through Strathmore’s website. Click here to purchase.


ASO Chat


Michael-Thomas Foumai World Premiere, “Living Pono”, ASO co-commission

Erich Wolfgang Korngold Concerto for Violin in D major, op. 35, James Ehnes, violin

Camille Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”

Masterworks VI opens with a powerful performance of Dr. Michael-Thomas Foumai’s “Living Pono”, a co-commission earned through the partnership “Embracing 21st Century Voices” between the ASO and Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music.

Dr. Michael- Thomas Foumai

Dr. Michael- Thomas Foumai, a native of Hawai’i, is currently the Director of Artistic Engagement and the first Composer in Residence for the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra. His music, described as “vibrant and cinematic” (New York Times) and “full of color, drama, and emotion” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), encompasses an extensive catalog of symphonic music, spanning commercial arranging to the avant-garde, and focuses on the culture of his Hawaiʻi home. Dr. Foumai’s orchestral works have been conducted and performed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Lidiya Yankovskaya with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lina Gonzalez-Granados with the National Symphony Orchestra, George Manahan with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and Osmo Vänskä with the Minnesota Orchestra. In addition, Dr. Foumai designs and hosts the HSO education series Beyond the Music; he is the program notes annotator for the HSO Masterworks series and is the principal HSO arranger for guest artists who have included Yo-Yo Ma, Jake Shimabukuro, Raiatea Helm, Amy Hānaialiʻi, and Robert Cazimero. His honors include a Fromm Foundation Grant from Harvard University, the MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year Award, the Jacob Druckman Prize from the Aspen Music Festival, and three BMI composer awards. Dr. Foumai is currently on faculty at the University of Hawaiʻi, West Oʻahu and holds multiple degrees in music composition from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (BM) and the University of Michigan (MM, DMA).

Charles Overton will be the solo harpist for each of the performances. Mr. Overton began his harp studies at the age of ten under the direction of Lynelle Ediger, at her “American Youth Harp Ensemble”.  Mr. Overton is a 2016 graduate of Berklee College  of Music, Boston, where he was the first harpist to be accepted to Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute – a prestigious and highly specialized  program at the school in which students are able to study and work intimately with master jazz artists such as Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, and Terri-Lynn Carrington. Mr. Overton currently performs internationally and serves on the faculty of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

About “Living Pono”

The Hawaiian word “pono” has many definitions but generally refers to being balanced and doing what is right. Dr. Foumai says the call to live pono, rings strongly today: “”Living Pono” speaks to the act of living righteously, to live in balance with the environment.” “Living Pono” is an expression of Dr. Foumai’s journey to finding purpose to advocate environmental awareness through music and the lens of indigenous knowledge. Featuring harp as the main protagonist, the work is in one continuous dramatic narrative, a musical journey that illustrates the search to live pono in the climate crisis.

Artistic Director and Conductor José-Luis Novo says of Dr. Foumai’s composition: “It is always incredibly exciting to perform a symphonic work for the first time, when nobody else has yet heard it. I am particularly thrilled to present Living Pono by Michael- Thomas Foumai with solo harpist Charles Overton to our audiences because it speaks passionately about the importance of living in balance with the environment. Michael is a brilliant exponent of a new generation of American composers who understand the significance of bringing public awareness to issues of wide community interest through their art—a truly honorable position for an artist.”

Erich Wolfgang Korngold Concerto for Violin in D major, op. 35, James Ehnes, violin

Korngold’s Violin Concerto is the late work of a prodigy that defies any suggestion that its composer lost his flair once his brilliant childhood was past. Part of the rich Viennese tradition, Korngold, famous for elevating the Hollywood film score to a high art, expected great artists to be endowed with a complete command of their technical resources and richly expressive.

Korngold had vowed to give up composing anything other than film music, with which he supported himself and his family, until Hitler had been defeated. With the end of World War II, he retired from films to concentrate on music for the concert hall. The Violin Concerto was the first such work that Korngold penned, following some initial persuasion from the violinist and fellow émigré Bronisław Huberman. Korngold had been hurt by the assumption that a successful film composer was one who had sold his integrity to Hollywood, just as earlier he had been hurt by many critics’ assumptions that his works were performed only because he was the son of music critic Julius Korngold. He was thus determined to prove himself with a work that combined vitality and superb craftsmanship. The concerto was dedicated to Alma Mahler, the widow of Korngold’s childhood mentor Gustav Mahler. It was premiered on 15 February 1947 by Jascha Heifetz and the St. Louis Symphony under conductor Vladimir Golschmann. James Ehnes will be the solo violinist for each performance.

James Ehnes began his violin studies at the age of five, became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin aged nine, and made his orchestra debut with L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal aged 13. He continued his studies with Sally Thomas at the Meadowmount School of Music and The Juilliard School, winning the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music upon his graduation in 1997. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2010 was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada. He was awarded the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Award in the Instrumentalist category. Mr. Ehnes has an extensive discography and has won many awards for his recordings, including a Grammy Award (2019) for his live recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot, and a Gramophone Award for his live recording of the Elgar Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis. His recording of the Korngold, Barber and Walton violin concertos won a Grammy Award for ‘Best Instrumental Soloist Performance’ and a JUNO award for ‘Best Classical Album of the Year’. As a chamber musician, he has collaborated with leading artists such as Andsnes, Capucon, Lortie, Lugansky, Yo-Yo Ma, Tamestit, Vogler and Yuja Wang. Ehnes is a favourite guest of many of the world’s most respected conductors including Ashkenazy, Alsop, Sir Andrew Davis, Denève, Elder, Ivan Fischer, Gardner, Paavo Järvi, Mena, Noseda, Robertson and Runnicles. Ehnes’s long list of orchestras includes, amongst others, the Boston, Chicago, London, NHK and Vienna Symphony Orchestras, the Los Angeles, New York, Munich and Czech Philharmonic Orchestras, and the Cleveland, Philadelphia, Philharmonia and DSO Berlin orchestras.

Mr. Ehnes plays the “Marsick” Stradivarius of 1715.

Camille Saint-Saëns, Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, (1886)

Wagner famously espoused that after Beethoven’s Ninth the symphonic form could not be bettered. Camille Saint-Saëns with his Third Symphony said not so fast. His “somber and agitated” first movement and tranquil adagio leave you unprepared for the thundering finale announced by the organ roaring to a grand and glorious conclusion.

The Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, was completed by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1886 at the peak of his artistic career. It is popularly known as the Organ Symphony, since two of the four sections use the pipe organ. The composer inscribed it as: Symphonie No. 3 “avec orgue” (with organ).

The symphony was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the first performance was given in London on 19 May 1886, at St James’s Hall, conducted by the composer. After the death of his friend and mentor Franz Liszt on 31 July 1886, Saint-Saëns dedicated the work to Liszt’s memory. The composer seemed to know it would be his last symphony, and he wrote the work as a retrospective of his own career. Saint-Saëns noted: “I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.” Daniel Aune will be the organist for each performance. Mr. Aune is the Coordinator of Organ Studies and serves on the faculty at The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, the oldest music conservatory in the United States. He is also the Director of Music and Organist at Christ Lutheran Church at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

*Single tickets for the Strathmore performance on May 7, 2023 are on sale through Strathmore’s website. Click here to purchase.