SC Symphony Orchestra brings new energy to Vivaldi’s classic work | Weekend | The music
Bacco Liu practiced on his treadmill in anticipation of the upcoming Sioux City Symphony Orchestra (SCSO) concert.
So why does the concertmaster need so much cardio for the next show?
Liu, the SCSO’s principal violinist, is invited to perform the violin concerto from Antonio Vivaldi’s legendary “The Four Seasons” as well as contemporary classical composer Max Richter’s reworked version of the same piece.
That’s right, he’ll perform both plays, back-to-back, at the same performance SCSO presents “Immersive Vivaldi,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Orpheum Theater, 528 Pierce St.
“Playing a single solo violin concerto can be daunting,” Liu explained. “Having two concertos on the same night is unheard of.”
Still, bandleader Ryan Haskins knew Liu was more than up for the challenge.
“As soon as Bacco understood the concept behind the gig, he was totally on board,” Haskins said.
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Indeed, “The Four Seasons” – which dates back to 1723 – remains one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music ever composed.
Vivaldi’s baroque series of violin concertos have been featured in movies, commercials and even episodes of “The Simpsons.”
In 2012, Richter, a German-born Briton, reworked “The Four Seasons” into a performance piece that incorporates both postmodern music and a light show in a very theatrical way.
“Audiences need to hear both Vivaldi’s original work and Richter’s recomposition, side by side, to understand the impact,” Haskins said. “Add the strings, electronics and lighting, people will be truly immersed in Vivaldi during the concert.”
Which is good for Liu, originally from Taiwan, who started playing the violin at age 5.
The first recipient of the National Taiwan Violin Competition Youth Division Prize, he went on to earn a master’s degree from the Boston Conservatory and a doctorate in music from the University of Minnesota.
Since then, Liu has been concertmaster of several symphony orchestras. Additionally, he maintains an active private teaching studio in Minneapolis and teaches music at an immersive Chinese charter school.
“I think young people can have an appreciation for classical music,” Liu said. “But you have to make it feel relevant to them.”
Raised in the TikTok era or through 15-30 second sound bites, kids often want instant gratification, he concedes.
“For all its attributes, classical music does not lend itself to instant gratification, especially during a symphony concert,” Liu said.
To prepare students for an immersion in the classical, he will often give them a unique assignment.
“I’ve always been a fan of movies as well as a fan of film music,” Liu explained. “I will have students watch the ‘Star Wars’ movies without any music by (composer) John Williams in the background.”
Students are amazed at how much symphonic music adds to the drama and excitement of George Lucas’ iconic science fiction films.
“‘Star Wars’ is boring without music,” Liu said. “Once kids understand the power of classical music, they’ll also recognize that it’s also fun to play.”
Haskins certainly agrees with that sentiment. This is also why he wanted to bring “Immersive Vivaldi” to the SCSO.
“Performance is about storytelling,” he explained. “Vivaldi was telling the story of the four seasons to audiences in the 18th century. The recomposed version (by Richter) takes the music and tells the story in a spacy, spacey, very modern way.”
Haskins said this was the new approach he wanted to bring to the SCSO concerts.
“We take classical music, bring it to life,” he continued. “Whether through new composers, new adaptations, or with lights and electronics, we try to push the boundaries.”
That said, Haskins also wants to impart knowledge during the gig.
“Audiences may think they know everything there is to know about Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons,'” he said. “During the performance, I will tell them stories they may not have heard before.”
Hopefully Haskins’ version of “VH1 Behind the Music: Antonio Vivaldi” will give Liu some breathing room.
“I’m ready,” Liu said. “Two more violin solos on the same night take a lot of stamina.”