Valdosta Daily Times


March 5, 2014

Guest composer leads Valdosta Symphony in the ‘complete Russian experience’

VALDOSTA — Today, when guest conductor Alasdair Neale arrives in South Georgia for his weekend performance with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, he will find a group of musicians prepared for his visit by a good friend.

Neale is the music director for the Marin Symphony near San Francisco, but it was his work as associate conductor with the San Francisco Symphony where he met Valdosta Symphony conductor Howard Hsu. This connection led to Neale being invited to serve as guest conductor for the VSO “Human Inspiration” concert featuring Stravinsky’s “Scherzo a la russe,” Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture — Fantasy,” and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major this weekend.

Neale says it’s been several years since he’s seen Hsu and looks forward to visiting with him this weekend. The visit also marks a different scenario than the usual situation of the guest conductor. Normally, the regular conductor is out of town for the weekend of a guest conductor’s visit. In this case, Hsu will host Neale throughout the weekend.

Though they haven’t seen each other in many years, they have been in regular contact for the past several months preparing for this concert. Once Neale agreed to be guest conductor, Hsu sent him a list of recent works performed by the VSO, so there would be no repetition in the program.

Neale chose a repertoire of music that reflects “the complete Russian experience,” he says. It should be noted this theme was selected more than a year ago, long before recent events involving Russia in the news for the Olympics and now the embattled situation with the Ukraine.

Neale describes the Stravinsky work as “zesty and buoyant.” He describes the Tchaikovsky work as having its “heart on its sleeve ... full of romanticism.”

But it is Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony that will be at the heart of the concert and a composition that represents one of the premier moments in Neale’s career.

Neale has conducted orchestras around the globe. He has received raves for tours that have taken him to Amsterdam, Leipzig, St. Petersburg, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Dublin, Copenhagen, and Vienna. It was a concert in Moscow, where Neale conducted Prokofiev’s Fifth in the same hall, on the same stage, where the famed Russian composer first introduced the composition in 1944.

This piece “was written near the end of World War II,” Neale says. “... It premiered with the sounds of tanks and bombs exploding as the music was being played.”

Prokofiev’s Fifth is “one of the great 20th century symphonies by any composer,” Neale says. “... It covers the range of the human experience. Like all great symphonies, you feel like you’ve run the gamut of human emotions by its end.”

In preparing for this performance, Hsu has led recent rehearsals with the VSO. After his expected arrival today, Neale will take the podium and lead the Valdosta Symphony in rehearsal Thursday and Friday evenings then Saturday morning prior to the Saturday night concert.

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