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Santa Fe Symphony to perform Brahms, Grieg, Liszt

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Santa Fe Symphony will open the new year with the “Free but Happy” motif that was the motto of the perennially single Johannes Brahms.

The musicians will play the composer’s Symphony in F Major, op. 90 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Jan. 21.

Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, op. 46 and Liszt’s Les préludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3 complete a program of 19th century east European musical styles.

Written in 1883, the Brahms follows the composer’s three-note motto: the rising sequence of F-Ab-F. The trio of notes saturates the piece, functioning melodically as an accompaniment and as a thread binding the sections together.

“It’s his most distinctive symphony, because he has a thematic idea that runs through it,” conductor Guillermo Figueroa said. “It’s a kind of subdued and tender piece, even though it begins in an heroic fashion,” he continued. “All the movements end quietly, which is rare. It’s an absolutely ravishingly beautiful piece.”

Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite is perhaps most famous for its final movement, “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” otherwise known as the theme from the “Bugs Bunny” cartoons.

“It’s probably his most popular piece next to the piano concerto,” Figueroa said. “It’s been used in so many commercials. It sounds like a beautiful, fresh, clear morning.”

The music also appeared in D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915), “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “Mad Men,” among many other productions.

Liszt’s Les préludes have always been the most popular of the composer’s 12 symphonic poems.

“This is the epitome of a style that Liszt created,” Figueroa said.

To reflect the title, Liszt printed a lengthy paraphrase of a poem by the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine within the score. A flowery discourse on the tribulations of life, the poem was actually grafted onto the music Liszt originally wrote for a male chorus. He reconfigured it to Lamartine’s work.

“The elements are recycled and recombined,” Figueroa said. “He invented a story to the music in order to explain it. It’s sort of backwards.”