PORTLAND — The Portland Symphony Orchestra will take a look at France and the music it inspires with its final classical concert of the season, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 17. The highlight of the concert is Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The concert will take place at Merrill Auditorium, led by PSO Maestro Robert Moody with guest pianist Pascal Rogé.

Rogé is internationally recognized for his skill with French piano music. Along with his partner, Ami Rogé, he has traveled the world, appearing at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, the Hong Kong Joy of Music Festival, the Australian Festival of Music, and many more. Their orchestral performances include the Shanghai Symphony, the Poznan Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Orchestra of Lisbon.

The concert opens with Gershwin’s take on life in Paris, before pianist Rogé takes the stage to share a Frenchman’s view of the exotic east with Saint-Saëns’ Fifth Piano Concerto, “Egyptian.” The PSO will then delve into Parisian Maurice Ravel’s bittersweet take on 18th-century French music with Le Tombeau du Couperin, and the concert concludes with a look at simpler times and the effects of World War I with Ravel’s La Valse.

Gershwin stands apart from other songwriters of the era with his desire to make jazz music a staple in concert halls and the sense of Americanism that permeates his music. An American in Paris examines the life of a homesick Yank in France’s dynamic capital through a succession of fleeting images and memorable tunes. Gershwin composed the piece in such a way that leaves the specifics of the theme to the imaginations of individual audience members.

Saint-Saëns, considered old-fashioned by critics, took inspiration from Luxor, Egypt, to add an exotic twist to his Fifth Piano Concerto, resulting in a piece Saint-Saëns compared to the rocky journey of a sea voyage to the Far East.

Composer Ravel’s original intention with Le Tombeau de Couperin was a Baroque-style tribute to Couperin. Shortly after he began composing the piece, the world was suddenly at war and Ravel spent three years as a driver in World War I. After this experience, Le Tombeau morphed into a memorial to his fallen friends. Originally composed as six movements for the piano, a request from the Swedish Ballet inspired Ravel to transform the piece into one for the orchestra.

Another post-war composition, La Valse, poème chorégraphique begins with a low grumbling from the strings before bursting into a series of waltz episodes. As the waltzes intensify, so does an underlying sense of unease, until the piece loses all order and comes to a furious ending. Ravel uses this piece to make a statement about the change brought about by the war; the uncertainty of the future is captured in every note of La Valse.

For a preview of the pieces that will be featured in this concert, PSO has a special playlist and program notes available online at portlandsymphony.org.

The concert is preceded by a Concert Conversation in the Rehearsal Hall at Merrill Auditorium, beginning an hour and 15 minutes prior to the concert’s starting time, and followed by a PostConcert Q&A with the artists on stage.

The concert can be heard on MPBN at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 9.

Tickets range from $25-$75 and are available at 207-842-0800, www.porttix.com or 20 Myrtle St., Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.


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