FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra's musical director, Christopher Zimmerman, is so excited about this week’s concert that he can joke about adding Ludwig van Beethoven as an afterthought.
The Saturday night, Sept. 25, and Sunday afternoon, Sept. 26, concerts at North Dakota State University's Festival Concert Hall will feature two world premieres inspired by world music, a jazz-themed Leonard Bernstein composition and, oh yeah, Beethoven.
“Well, we better have some classical music,” Zimmerman says with a laugh.
The inclusion of music outside the traditional classical music canon shouldn’t come as a total surprise to FMSO followers. Guest performers Ismail Lumanovski and Erberk Eryilmaz performed at a one-off FMSO sponsored concert in 2017 called Symphony After Dark that featured music from the Middle East. Eryilmaz praised Zimmerman’s work on that show for his “ambitious programming.”
Of course, Beethoven wasn’t just an add-on. The composer’s “Symphony No. 1” fits this season’s theme, Reawakenings, with each concert including the first symphonies by major composers Johannes Brahms, Dmitri Shostakovich, Jean Sibelius and Gustav Mahler.
Still, Zimmerman is more excited to premiere two works in the same concert, something he’s never done before.
The lineup started coming together in March when the conductor realized his friend, Eryilmaz, would be visiting the United States from his home in Turkey. Zimmerman commissioned the pianist for a new composition, “Piyanomun Düğümü (My Piano’s Knot),” which Eryilmaz will perform.
With Eryilmaz on board, Zimmerman invited the pianist’s friend, clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski, to perform as a featured soloist. Rather than looking for a suitable piece for the guest, Zimmerman commissioned FMSO’s Russell Peterson to compose something and the bassoonist/saxophonist responded with “Gypsy Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra.”
“It’s a fun piece. There are a lot of virtuosic scales and expressions typical of Gypsy music,” Lumanovski says.
The clarinetist says “Gypsy” is a broad term though it’s mostly tied to Romani culture. In different parts of the world, Gypsy music sounds quite different. In Spain it is the basis for the guitar-driven flamenco style. In Russia, Gypsy music will use different string instruments and maybe accordion.
“Generally, Gypsy music anywhere is emotional,” says the Macedonia native who focuses mostly on the music of the Balkans, particularly in Turkey.
“It’s happy music, very fast,” he says.
“Everything is upbeat and fast in this program,” Zimmerman says, even the Beethoven.
“It’s by far his most amusing, Haydnesque, mischievous piece,” Zimmerman says, referring to Beethoven’s teacher, Joseph Haydn.
Lumanovski sees a lot more interest in orchestras incorporating world music and jazz.
“Composers and musicians are trying to represent something new and interesting to the Western classical audience,” he says.
Incorporating folk music has been happening for centuries, he says, pointing out that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Sonata No. 11” from the 1780s was influenced by Turkish music, and 20th century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was also inspired by folk music.
Lumanovski’s group, the New York Gypsy All-Stars, will soon release an album with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony.
Zimmerman has made an effort to broaden the scope of work over the last few years to incorporate different voices. This season, that will continue in the January concert with “Ethiopia’s Shadow in America” by Florence Beatrice Price, the first recognized African American female composer. In April, FMSO will perform “Spring Morning” by early 20th century composer Lili Boulanger.
If you go
What: Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Masterworks 1
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26
Where: Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University
Info: Tickets range from $14 to $50; all musicians, staff and audience members must wear protective face masks; https://www.fmsymphony.org or call 701-478-3676