Sex, drugs and ... classical music?
For its next concert, the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra will feature Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," a programmatic symphony that tells the story of a young man experiencing opium-induced hallucinations about his unrequited love.
"It is one of the first programmatic symphonies because it has a story ... about a guy who falls madly in love with a woman. His love is not returned, so he intoxicates himself with opium and then starts dreaming," Maestro Gerardo Edelstein said.
German Alexander Schimpf will perform as the soloist for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 during the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra’s next concert, “Symphonie Fantastique.”
Each of the symphony's five movements corresponds with one of his visions.
"The first movement is a daydream - it's when he meets her and falls in love," Edelstein said. "The second, he sees himself dancing with her at a ball. In the third, he's in the country side by himself and starts having bad dreams about the possibility that she is cheating on him or that she falls in love with somebody else. In the fourth movement, it's the famous march to the scaffold. In this movement, he's accused of killing her, so he dreams that he has killed his beloved and that he's condemned and led to the scaffold and is witnessing his own execution ... the fifth is called 'Dreams of a Witches Sabbath.' Now, he sees himself at a witch's Sabbath in the midst of a gathering of spectres, sorcerers and monsters of every kind, which have come to his funeral."
Berlioz wrote the symphony for someone he was infatuated with, who, of course, at the time, did not return his love.
"It is believed that he wrote the piece for somebody he was madly in love with - Harriet Smithson. She was an Irish actress," Edelstein said.
A summary on PBS.org says, " 'Symphonie Fantastique' is nothing less than Berlioz's extravagant attempt to attract Harriet's attention."
The composer first saw Smithson when she performed the role of Ophelia in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." He became "obsessed" with her, wrote the symphony for her and eventually won her attention. The two married but later divorced.
The symphony's format was inspired by the work of another great composer of the time.
" 'Symphonie Fantastique' was composed only four years after Beethoven's death," Edelstein said. "There is a little bit of a relationship between Berlioz and Beethoven. They both were composers looking into the future. It took a little while for them to be accepted into the music world. Although Beethoven enjoyed more success than Berlioz, Berlioz's music was, in a way, pretty new, pretty modern for the time."
Berlioz modeled the structure of "Symphony Fantastique" on Beethoven's Symphony No. 6.
To highlight the relationship between the French and German composers, the WSO also will perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.
"This is my favorite piano concerto," Edelstein said. "That's one of the reasons I picked it. It's also, in a way, revolutionary ... one of the striking things is the beginning. Traditionally, a concerto starts with an orchestral introduction. But Beethoven decides to start with the piano solo, introducing the main theme of the concerto, and then the orchestra joins. It was the first one ever written that reversed that order."
The featured soloist for the piece will be Alexander Schimpf, a winner of last year's Cleveland International Piano Competition.
"The concerto is created to showcase the soloist," Edelstein said. "Beethoven is very good at that. He gives a lot of solo parts and virtuosic parts that make the soloist shine."
Schimpf lives in Germany and is coming to the country specially for the concert.
The Williamsport Symphony Orchestra will perform "Symphonie Fantastique" at 7:30 p.m. May 7 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. For tickets, call 322-0227 or visit www.caclive.com.