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Symphony boldly showcases French pieces
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At Saturday night's Gainesville Symphony concert, be prepared to get blown out of your seat.

Not just by the talented musicians gracing the stage for the fall classical concert, "French Masterworks," but because of the pure volume of them - there's added musicians in each section, including an additional trumpet, a French horn, piccolo and more woodwinds. Plus, there's the addition of the biggest instrument of all - Pearce Auditorium's pipe organ.

All four pieces in Saturday's performance are by French composers, said Gainesville Symphony music director and conductor Gregory Pritchard, and they were all written within 13 years of each other.

The first two pieces - Claude Debussy's "Prelude: Afternoon of a Faun" and Maurice Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" - are examples of Impressionist composers, who were writing music during the rise of Impressionist painters, Pritchard said.

The second two pieces - Paul Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and Camille Saint-Saens' "Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78" - are examples of French Romantic composers, he said.

The organ comes in during Saint-Saens' piece when, during the first and fourth movements, audience members can experience the instrument's big, bold sound.

"The start of the fourth movement is this overpowering organ chord. It just makes you want to jump out of your seat," Pritchard said. "Just this huge sound filling the hall, and it just really accents with the expanded orchestra."

The piece's lush, beautiful melodies, Pritchard said, have him comparing Saint-Saens to his favorite composer, Russia's Tsaikovsky.

"I'd say Saint-Saens is the French equivalent of Russia's Tsaikovsky, as far as being the premier Romantic composer from France," he said.

The other romantic composer on the bill, Dukas, is probably only known for the piece the symphony will be performing on Saturday. Made famous in Disney's film "Fantasia," the tune easily evokes images of brooms coming to life and Mickey trying to bail himself out of trouble.

But otherwise, Pritchard, said, Dukas is a one-hit wonder.

"‘The Sorcerer's Apprentice' is really just a playful, fun piece and it's very recognizable," he said. "It's very fun to listen to, and I would be hard pressed to name any other compositions by Dukas that were worth anything."

But preceding the classic romantic composers on Saturday evening are Debussy and Ravel, who create musical paintings in tones from the instruments.

While artists like Claude Monet were creating paintings that used splashes of color rather than the traditional, true-to-life versions of older artists of their time, these composers were doing the same thing with music, Pritchard said.

"In the orchestral music of Debussy and Ravel, what they did was utilize that different tone color of the orchestra," he said. "What I mean by that is using instruments that weren't normally used in the orchestra, such as the contrabassoon and the English horn. And, also creating different tambours out of the more common instruments by utilizing the extreme arrangement of the instrument.

"So, you might hear some really low flute or some really high bassoon playing, for example, for a different kind of tone."

When "Afternoon of a Faun" begins, Pritchard said, it starts with a chromatic flute solo that has an ambiguous tonal center - the audience can't tell what key it's in and it's played in a free style of rhythm.

"So right away the audience has really heard a different sound, and the different tambours in the orchestra are different tone colors."

Overall, Pritchard said, the Impressionist and Romantic composers come together for one full evening of music.

"We're pulling out all the punches here."

On Friday, the Gainesville Symphony will present two short concerts geared toward the younger crowd.

The Young People's Concerts, featuring soloist Kunal Lahiry, will take place at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Friday at Pearce Auditorium at Brenau University.

Tickets are available at the door and are $5.

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