The Fields - Recording Recommendations!

Getting a head start on your Fields listening? We've got you covered.

This is an odd post. After all, one of the missions of Phoenix is to eliminate prerequisites for coming to classical music concerts. You don't HAVE to know any of the music we're playing to enjoy it, and we'll help you get to know it during the show. That being said, we do get a lot of requests from people looking to listen to music ahead of time OR trying to find great recordings of pieces they loved after the show.

So... here ya go. A guide to some of my favorite recordings of the pieces we're performing on The Fields:

Dvorak - Serenade for Winds in D Minor, Op. 44

Starting off with a recording I've been listening to for most of my life, you can't go wrong with the Wind Soloists of the Oslo Philharmonic. Every player sounds absolutely fantastic individually but the real standout here is their attention to detail in ensemble sound. They play so, so, so together in style and rhythm. Also, I'm a little embarrassed, but it's a Phoenix fun fact that I performed the exact same arrangement of this piece (skipping the second and third movements) that we're performing on Thursday on a From the Top show in 2007.

Ligeti - Concert Romanesc

I hadn't heard it until a month or so ago, but I'm completely obsessed with Esa-Pekka Salonen's recording of this piece with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They really nail the joyous, Romanian spirit. Even more impressively, it's a live recording, including all the little sounds of page turns, coughs, and stands creaking that come with all live recordings. I suspect the live nature of the recording contributes to the beyond incredible energy Salonen gets from the orchestra.

Beethoven - Symphony No. 4 in Bb Major

My absolute favorite recording of this piece isn't readily available online, but Paavo Jarvi's utterly pristine performance with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen IS. This video is actually from a complete series of Beethoven Symphonies by Jarvi and the DKB that are all available on YouTube. Every single one finds this perfect marriage of traditional 20th century Beethoven performance practice with obvious influence from the period performance movement that's swept the classical music world the last few decades. They use old-style trumpets and timpani, but the violins and wind instruments are modern. Oh and Jarvi is just... a genius. The entire time.


Well hey! Welcome back. It’s been awhile. I had to look it up, but we last posted on our blog in Season 2, almost exactly a year ago. As I write this the last show of Season 3 (Our Spring show, The Fields, May 11th) is just a few short weeks away. A LOT has happened since that last post.

So, why did we stop blogging? And why are we starting again now?

Honestly? I’m asking myself the same things. The simple answer is, like most blogs in the world… We forgot to blog. The long answer is that this blog is indicative of the journey we’ve been on these first three years, and where we’ve arrived at the end of the Season 3

Phoenix - Season 1

Phoenix - Season 1

The first season of Phoenix was filled with questions: Who are we? What are we doing? How are we going to do it? We experimented a lot and, frankly, overthought everything. We were reasonably anxious about being the new kids on the block, especially in a city with enough orchestras to fill a state.

Season 2 saw expansion and focus. We added a show (expanding from two to three), and worked on refining our events and identity. We eliminated unnecessary tasks from our schedule and concentrated on reusing materials and templates from show to show to reduce costs and workloads, making a three show season possible for an administration with members who have at least one, if not two, full-time pursuits outside of Phoenix.

Phoenix - Season 2

Phoenix - Season 2

By the beginning of Season 3 we’d grown up, but still faced new challenges. Season 3 has had a scrunched schedule. Because of venue availability we started the season in late November, instead of mid-October. Not only that, but we expanded our season again, this time to four shows. So rather than the three shows in seven months of Season 2, we now had four shows in six months.

Despite those obstacles, Season 3 has been a finely tuned season of confidence. The questions of Season 1 finally seem to have answers. We know who we are, we know what we’re doing, and we know how to do it. I’ll admit, though, that as we’ve gone through the process of honing our craft, we’ve lost sight of some things. This blog, and the behind the scenes personality it brings with it, is one of those things.

Another? Dreaming big. A couple of months ago I was looking at some meeting notes from our first season. There were long lists of creative ideas for events that we wanted to pursue, from times when we sat around tables in coffee shops and living rooms and challenged each other for new ideas.

Phoenix - Season 3

Phoenix - Season 3

At a recent meeting I blocked off a half hour of time and challenged our administration and players, myself included, to start dreaming again. Within minutes the ideas bouncing around the room filled a notepad sheet. Our minds were overflowing with ideas we’d tucked in the back of our heads as we’d focused on executing a four show season.

The good news is that the confidence we’ve gained allows us to get back to the some of the things that have lapsed while we were busy gaining it. We’re getting back to blogging, and we’re getting back to dreaming. And as excited as I am to share those dreams with you next season, I’m just as excited to share this blog with you again.

In the lead up to The Fields on May 11th stay tuned here for behind the scenes insights from the musicians of Phoenix. This Summer we’ll wax poetic with fleeting nostalgia about the third season we neglected to blog about, share our Summer travels with you, and look forward to Season 4 and the new ideas that come with it. We hope you’ll stick with us on this journey as we build on the foundation we’ve established these first three years. None of it would have been possible without you.

See you soon!

Matt Szymanski,
Music Director

A little about the pieces we will be playing...

Hello everyone,

Have you ever wanted to know a little bit about the pieces you will be hearing at the upcoming concert? If you have, this blog post is for you!

Christina, our Admin Director, who also happens to be a brilliant musicologist, put together program notes for you so that if you wanted, you could read up on it before the concert!

Here it is, and we can't wait to see you tonight at the concert!

Dectet for Winds, Op. 14
George Enescu (1881-1955)

Born in 1881, George Enescu was one of Romania’s greatest treasures. A composer, violinist, and conductor, Enescu completed his studies in Vienna and Paris under the tutelage of Fuchs, Massenet, Fauré, and Gédalge, among others. After his schooling was complete, in 1899, Enescu split his professional life between France and Romania, and divided his time between performing as a violinist and working as a composer. Enescu’s compositional output extends to only 33 opus numbers, a reflection of both his busy life as a performer and his obsession with perfection.

Enescu’s compositional style was influenced by many of the great Romantic-era composers including: Schumann, Brahms, Fauré, Wagner, and Strauss. He was also quite passionate about the integration of his Romania heritage, and turned to folk music like many of his Polish, Hungarian, and English contemporaries. However, instead of directly quoting parts of the folk music in full, Enescu used a technique of superimposing melodic content in order to create a more organic technique.

The Dectet for Winds (sometimes called by its French name Dixtour) was written in 1906, shortly after Enescu graduated from the Paris Conservatoire. Written as three movements, tonight you will hear the third movement entitled: Allegrément, mais pas trop vit. This finale makes a few nods to the music of Brahms, especially his second symphony, and also makes use of Wagnerian harmonies that showcase the magnificence of a consort of ten winds. It is bright, fast, and full of euphoria—a perfect jumping off point for tonight’s concert!

Symphony No. 92 in G Major, “Oxford”
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Commonly known as the “father of the symphony, “ Austrian composer Joseph Haydn is celebrated as one of the first three “Viennese Classics,” the other two being Mozart and Beethoven. With an output of over 100 symphonies, Haydn is regarded as the most productive and historically important symphonic composer. After spending the early part of his career in Vienna (1750-61), Haydn spent the majority of his time working at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy in Hungary (1761-90). This period was followed by his time in London (1791-95), before the final return to Vienna for the last fourteen years of his life.

Almost the entirety of Haydn’s symphonic output was written for the castle orchestra at Esterháza, and until 1779 his contract with the Esterházy family prohibited performance outside of said orchestra. However, once word of mouth allowed Haydn’s fame to grow, his contract was amended to allow outside commissions. The first of these commissions were the six “Paris” symphonies (No. 82-87), commissioned by Count d’Ogny. As a result of their success Haydn was immediately asked to write three more symphonies, Symphony No. 92 being one of them (symphonies 90-92). Haydn completed Symphony No. 92 in 1789. While Paris has some claim to this symphony, it was one of the works that Haydn brought with him to London in 1791. After quickly gaining popularity in London, Haydn chose to perform Symphony No. 92 when he received his honorary doctorate of music at Oxford University in July 1791, thus earning it the moniker “Oxford.”

Written in four movements, Symphony No. 92—like many of Haydn’s mature symphonies—begins with a slow introduction to the Allegro spiritoso. Composed in sonata form, this spirited first movement knits together a series of themes, showing Haydn’s command over thematic integration and innovation. The second movement, Adagio, paints an idyllic world that gets interrupted by the unexpected minor-key entrances of the trumpets and timpani—unexpected, since these instruments were normally marked tacet in Classical era slow movements—and some dramatic pauses. The dramatic pauses continue to reign in the Minuet and Trio, highlighting the blatant syncopation that undermines the conventional dance rhythms of the minuet. The Trio begins with stubborn off-beat entrances in the horns and bassoons that challenge the anticipated dance rhythms, which only come to fruition in time for the return to the Minuet. The final Presto possesses a bustling melodious theme that Haydn crafts into a magnificent sonata form movement.

Salut d’Amour, Op. 12
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Inspired by his country’s culture and landscape as well as his colleagues on the Continent, English composer Edward Elgar produced an impressive output of music throughout his career. Elgar was born into a family of little means; his father, an organist, owned a small music shop, and made sure that all of his seven children received a musical upbringing.

Elgar originally composed his Salut d’Amour as an engagement present to his future wife, Caroline Alice Roberts, in 1888 after she gave him two poems for the same occasion. It was originally entitled Liebesgruss (Love’s Greeting) and written for piano. In the same year he arranged the work for violin and piano, and soon after, in 1889, he orchestrated the work. All three versions (solo piano, violin and piano, and orchestral) were published by Schott and renamed Salut d’Amour, with Elgar’s permission. A breakthrough for the composer, Salut d’Amour sold quite well once Schott Frenchified both the title of the work as well as the name of the—at the time unknown—composer, writing Ed. Elgar instead of Edward Elgar.

Salut d’Amour is now one of Elgar’s most widely recognized pieces, and its popularity has led to arrangements for almost every instrument. Tonight you will hear Elgar’s fully orchestrated version. This short work utilizes a very simple, tuneful melody that beautifully weaves its way around the orchestra. It is an incredibly sentimental piece that tears on your heartstrings just a little, and gives you a glimpse of the love that Elgar felt.

Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 Classical
Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Born in 1891, composer and pianist Sergey Prokofiev was a revolutionary artist both deeply rooted in his Russian heritage and willing to push the boundaries of its traditions. Like many of his countrymen he left his homeland after the October Revolution in 1917 and spent time in the United States (1918-22) and Europe (1922-36) before he returned to the Soviet Union in 1936. He remained there until his death, March 5th 1953, which went virtually unnoticed since Joseph Stalin died the same day. Prokofiev’s musical output includes: seven operas, seven symphonies, eight ballets, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, one cello concerto, and nine piano sonatas, among other works.

Prokofiev began working on his Symphony No. 1, Classical in 1916. He wrote most of it the following year, and completed it on September 10, 1917. Prokofiev himself gave it the subtitle, Classical, and remarked, “I though that if Haydn were alive today he would compose just as he did before, but at the same time would include something new in his manner of composition. I wanted to compose such a symphony: a symphony in the classical style.” He premiered the work, conducting from the podium, on April 21, 1918 in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). The symphony is in four movements, and is an early nod to neo-classicism; however, the term wasn’t officially used until 1923 when it was applied to Stravinsky as a reaction to his Pulcinella (1919-20). The Classical Symphony is written in sunny D Major—despite the tense background of the Russian Revolution—for a Haydn or Mozart sized orchestra (strings, double winds, no low brass).

In typical Classical period fashion the opening Allegro conforms to a sonata form. As a twist it makes use of Prokofiev’s idiomatic 20th Century harmonies, and undermines the tonic D Major constantly, sending the listener on a tonal roller coaster. The Larghetto is quite lively and full of wit with its continuous running sixteenth notes. It eschews the overtly sentimental slow movements of the great Romantic era composers. The Gavotte replaces the traditional minuet and trio. It is a nod all to the Baroque era, in its over stylized dance form, and later will find itself recycled and expanded in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The closing Molto Vivace is also a sonata form movement, and recalls the same driving force of many of Haydn’s symphonies. This movement is a direct result of Prokofiev experimenting with composing away from the piano, and places quite a technical demand on many of the instruments, especially the first violins.