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The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI: Saint-Saëns, Smetana, and a world premiere

Conductor Xian Zhang and organist Monica Czausz Berney
Chris Kendig
Conductor Xian Zhang leads The Philadelphians in May, 2022. Organist Monica Czausz Berney is soloist.

Join us on Sunday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 when our Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series brings you a performance recorded live in May, 2022.

Guest conductor Xian Zhang, music director of the New Jersey Symphony, leads a program that shines a spotlight on nature and on the Kimmel Center’s Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ.

Organist Monica Czausz Berney makes her solo debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra in the world premiere of a new work for organ and orchestra by Australian composer Melody Eotvos, When It Hits the Ocean Below. Later in the program, she is also featured in Saint-Saens "Organ Symphony,” the Symphony No. 3 in C minor.

In between, the orchestra performs “The Moldau” from Bedrich Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems, Ma vlast. 

Organist Monica Czausz Berney talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis

Melody Eotvos writes music that is both philosophical and tied to the earth – especially what is happening to the earth in a time of climate change. When It Hits the Ocean Below, a four-movement piece scored for solo organ and orchestra, transports us into the frozen seascape of the Antarctic, and sonically describes the process by which rising temperature inexorably works to cause an iceberg to break away from a glacier.

"At the end of the third movement there's a moment where you get this resonance of the lowest pedal note we have. And it's almost like all the air is sucked out of the room and it's the slow motion version of the glacier actually hitting the ocean below." —Monica Czausz Berney, talking about When It Hits the Ocean Below.

The concert continues with another work inspired by the natural world, Bedrich Smetana’s symphonic poem, “The Moldau.” It’s part of a cycle of six symphonic poems that this 19th-century Czech composer called
Ma vlast (My Homeland).

“The Moldau” is a magnificent river that originates in Smetana’s native land, and flows through its heart. With the music’s opening bars, we are in the forest at the source of the river, as two intermingling streams represented by two flutes gradually join forces.

Gaining strength, the river flows through Bohemian valleys, woods, pastures, and farms, then pushes through rocky chasms and over the imposing cliffs on its way toward Prague. The now-mighty river, broad and serene, flows through the capital city and on toward the horizon as the work draws to a close.

The concert closes with Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 in C minor, also known as his “Organ Symphony” because of the prominent role played by the organ at key moments in the score.

"If you think of the entire symphonic literature, especially ones with the organ … this is the grandest in terms of sound and majesty." —Xian Zhang, talking about Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3

The Third Symphony is a product of the 1880s, when the composer was at the forefront of contemporary innovations in form. In it, he masterfully applied the thematic transformation technique pioneered by Franz Liszt, in which a single musical idea reappears in different guises throughout a work.

After a short slow introduction, the main idea is introduced by the violins. As it returns in subsequent sections, it takes on a significantly different character in each. Saint-Saëns also cast the work in just two movements, but still achieved the full symphonic sweep, as each movement consists of two contrasting sections that mirror the movements of a typical four-movement symphony.

Organist Monica Czausz Berney, who was a soloist in the first work on this program, also plays in the Saint-Saëns symphony, but in a different position. She is at the main console of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ, behind the Orchestra and high above it.

Conductor Xian Zhang talks to Susan Lewis

Detailed program notes from the concert.

Eotvos: When It Hits the Ocean Below
Smetana: "The Moldau" from Ma vlast (My Homeland)
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 (“Organ”)

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Xian Zhang, conductor
Monica Czausz Berney, organ

Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 p.m. 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 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast onWRTI 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.