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What's The Connection Between Stokowski, Barnes, and the Music of Palestrina?

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

A dramatic look at the cultural contributions of 20th-century Philadelphia arts champions Albert Barnes and Leopold Stokowski finds remarkable connections, starting with music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a master from the 16th-century Italian Renaissance.

The sacred music of Palestrina, with its counterpoint and rich musical phrasing, was a big influence on Leopold Stokowski, who orchestrated Palestrina's vocal work, Adoramus Te.

"Stokowski said the four pillars of music, for him, were Palestrina, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner," says conductor Stéphane Denève, who conceived the idea of a festival honoring Barnes and Stokowski. "And Barnes, who loved music, was also a fan of Palestrina."

It's just the beginning of a story revealing connections between the art collector who was building his famous collection, and the conductor who was shaping The Philadelphia Orchestra. It's a story presented dramatically on the concert stage, with a symphonic play written by Didi Balle.

Tune in on Sunday, January 19th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, when Stéphane Denève leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a program of music and theater celebrating Barnes and Stokowski, featuring a symphonic play by Didi Balle.

Balle describes a symphonic play as a dynamic blend of classical music and classical theater:  "You have this triad of energies on the stage. You have the entire orchestra, you have the conductor and then you have the actors. It's like a Broadway play."

This symphonic play tells a story that also highlights the parallels between art and music, a subject that intrigues Maestro Denève. "I'm always fascinated by the rapport between visual art and music, and why in music we speak about colors and light and why some painters seem more musical than others." 

And why do some composers write so visually, such as Debussy?

"I would say the whole French music always have something to do with visual aspect of music. We love very complex harmonies that give right away a sense of atmosphere and of color by itself just by the pure harmony." 

Color and light, art and music, Barnes and Stokowski: great works springing from human experience and visionary dreams.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.