Orchestra will be playing 'Gods'

Slapping the title "Wagner and the Gods" on a concert program of Wagner music might have been considered an insult by the composer.

After all, in Wagner's own eyes, HE was the god.

"He was the most obnoxious person in the history of music, nobody else was even close," said Jere Lantz, who will conduct the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale in "Wagner and the Gods" Feb. 19 at Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall.

"Wagner said, 'I can do this.' And he could," Lantz said. "He knew his genius."

The composer, who lived from 1813 to 1883, was self-centered, rude, domineering — and then there's the dark side. Wagner was an anti-Semite, which later helped make him a favorite of Adolf Hitler.


There's no question, though, that Wagner was brilliant. He changed the way music was written and played, Lantz said. "If Wagner isn't the most influential composer ever, he's darn close," he said.

Problem is, aside from his devotees, most listeners are scared off by Wagner's reputation before even giving his music a chance. This concert is intended to give listeners a sample of Wagner's greatest hits, so to speak. Wagner's output is so sprawling and deep, and the works so lengthy, that, as Lantz said, "We're only going to dip our toes in it."

Of course, much of what audiences fear in Wagner is based in fact.

"The reason people think 'ponderous and heavy' is because a significant amount of what he wrote was ponderous and heavy," Lantz said. "On the other hand, a lot of what he wrote is light and pretty."

That, in fact, is how the orchestra will open its program, with the prelude to Act I of Wagner's opera "Lohengrin." "It's soft and highly ethereal," Lantz said. "It's absolutely gorgeous."

Immediately following that will come the prelude to Act III of the same opera. "It's loud, boisterous, fast. I put them side by side to show the contrast," Lantz said.

After a detour to Anton Bruckner's "Te Deum," one of many composers and pieces influenced by Wagner, the orchestra will play a selection from each of the four operas that make up Wagner's masterwork, "The Ring of the Niebelung."

The concluding piece will be "Entry of the Gods into Valhalla," from "The Rhine Gold." "This is grandeur itself," Lantz said.


It's an ending even Wagner would have liked.

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