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The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert: Rossini, Beethoven, Strauss

Conductor Xian Zhang
Benjamin Ealovega
Conductor Xian Zhang leads The Philadelphians in a concert performed in December to welcome 2022.

Join us on Sunday, Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 when The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you a performance from the 2021-2022 season.

This celebratory concert, perfect for welcoming new beginnings, is led by Xian Zhang, music director of the New Jersey Symphony. It pairs Rossini’s sparkling William Tell Overture with Beethoven’s expansive and uplifting Seventh Symphony, with all its brilliance and energy. A couple of festive encores by Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr. bring the event to a rousing close.

Rossini wrote his final opera, William Tell, in 1829, basing it on Friedrich Schiller’s play about medieval Swiss patriots struggling for independence from Austria. Unlike his earlier opera overtures, which often had little or no thematic connection to the works they introduced, the William Tell Overture includes melodies from the opera and is something like a tone poem. Its subdued opening sketches a serene picture of dawn in the Swiss countryside. This gives way to a turbulent storm before the pastoral scene reappears. Finally comes the galloping return of the victorious Swiss troops, in music that has become firmly embedded in popular culture for multiple generations. Famously the theme of the old Western TV series The Lone Ranger, it has also been used in countless cartoons, commercials, and movies.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major dates from 1813, when the composer was enjoying the height of his popular fame and success. It came at a moment of public celebration in much of Europe, as the tide turned in the Napoleonic wars, and brilliantly captured the triumphant spirit of the time. At the premiere, which the composer conducted, the symphony met an ecstatic reception, and the second movement Allegretto was encored. The symphony’s dancelike energy derives from compact, recurrent rhythmic figures, building a compelling drive even as Beethoven unfurls a seemingly limitless variety of melodies and countermelodies, harmonic and dynamic surprises, and masterful touches of orchestration.

New Year’s concert tradition mandates music by the Viennese Strauss family, and Xian Zhang and the orchestra delight the audience with appropriate encores to close the program: the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss Sr. and the Thunder and Lightning Polka by Johann Strauss Jr.


Rossini: William Tell Overture
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
J. Strauss, Sr.: Radetzky March
J. Strauss, Jr.: Thunder and Lightning Polka

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Xian Zhang, conductor

Melinda Whiting, host
Susan Lewis, producer and lead interiewer

Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your favorite smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay.

Melinda has worked in radio for decades, hosting and producing classical music and arts news. An award-winning broadcaster, she has created and hosted classical music programs and reported for NPR, WQXR—New York, WHYY–Philadelphia, and American Public Media. WRTI listeners may remember her years hosting classical music for WFLN and WHYY.
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.