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The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI 90.1: Berlioz and Ravel Abroad

Matej Drha/Unsplash
Scene from Chianti, Italy

It was in 1832 that the great virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini—also an extraordinary violist—became the proud new owner of a Stradivarius viola. Wanting to show it off, but frustrated by the lack of concertos featuring the instrument, he commissioned Hector Berlioz to write a work that would help him put his purchase on display.

But Paganini would reject Harold in Italy, telling Berlioz that the viola part wasn’t big enough. Berlioz, however, held firmly to his belief that his composition afforded plenty of opportunities for the soloist to shine, and wouldn’t change a note.

The rebroadcast of this Philadelphia Orchestra concert from 2017 is on Sunday, June 20, 2021 at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, and on Monday June 21st at 7 PM on our HD-2 channel.

Credit Jessica Griffin
Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Viola C.J. Chang

Four years later, upon hearing the work for the first time, Paganini proclaimed that he had never been so impressed by a work at a concert, and gave Berlioz the sum of 20,000 francs, a gracious gift that enabled Berlioz to compose his next big work, Romeo and Juliet, which he dedicated to Paganini.

The Orchestra’s Principal Viola C.J. Chang is the soloist, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts this Berlioz masterpiece that begins a program focusing on two French masters who were enchanted by the south, and found inspiration in the culture and landscape of Italy and Spain, Hector Berlioz and Maurice Ravel.

Three works by Ravel after intermission are infused with the rhythms and spirit of Spain -- the spirited scherzo Alborada del gracioso (Morning-Serenade of the Jester), the exotic Rapsodie espagnole, and the ever- popular Bolero, one big repetitive crescendo for orchestra. Ravel was, after all, born to a Basque mother in the French Pyrenees, not far from the Spanish border, and he also had some Spanish ancestry on his father’s side.

Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen

WRTI's Debra Lew Harder speaks with Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen.

During intermission, WRTI’s Susan Lewis speaks with C.J. Chang, and Debra Lew Harder interviews the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen, who plays a lovely viola-harp duet with Mr. Chang after the opening measures of Harold in Italy.


Berlioz: Harold in Italy, Op 16

     Choong-Jin Chang, viola


Ravel: Alborado del Gracioso

Ravel: Rapsodie espanole

Ravel: Bolero

The Philadelphia Orchestra

     Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Gregg Whiteside is producer and host of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1, streaming online at WRTI.org, and on the WRTI mobile app! Listen again on Mondays at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2.

Gregg was the host of WRTI's morning drive show from 2012 until his retirement from WRTI in January, 2021. He began producing and hosting The Philadelphia Orchestra In Concert broadcasts in 2013, joining the Orchestra in Hong Kong for the first-ever live international radio broadcasts from that island in 2016, and in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for two historic broadcasts in 2018. You can still hear Gregg as host of the Orchestra broadcasts every Sunday and Monday on WRTI.