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Reno Phil Concert Preview

Published October 13, 2023

Reno Phil Concert Preview

by Scott Faulkner

Scott Faulkner with his Bass; Photo credit Lee Pfalmer

The first four notes are probably the most recognizable musical phrase in Western music. Duh, duh, duh, dahhhh. Beethoven was not a melodist with an endless stream of tunes in his head. Instead, he made the most of small melodic building blocks. Nowhere does he do this better (or more famously) than the first movement of his 5th Symphony, which the Reno Phil will perform in this weekend’s opening concerts of the 55th season. The four-note motif is repeated almost exclusively throughout that movement. That the movement actually starts with silence (the first eighth note is a rest) makes it even more inventive.

A few years ago, Reno community pillar Bill Kolton introduced me to the concept of Miles’ Law. Miles’ Law states “where you stand on an issue is determined by where you sit.” It’s all about a person’s perspective. As one who sits in the bass section of the orchestra, my reflection on Beethoven’s 5th won’t spend too much time on the iconic first movement. Like most symphonies, this work is divided into four movements. Most people stop at the first movement in their consideration of this piece. It is so famous and so recognizable, that the following three movements are often swept aside. They are also stunning in their composition, and together, comprise one of the great masterpieces of classical music. The 2nd movement is flowing and beautiful, and the 4th is virtuosic, optimistic, and triumphant. But it is the 3rd movement string bassists like myself spend much of our lives mastering. 

Reno Philharmonic Orchestra Bass and Cello; Photo credit David Calvert Photography

Typical of many third movements, this one is in a meter of three; that is to say there are three beats per measure (think waltz). The movement opens with the basses and cellos playing a fairly fast, whisper quiet line that is really challenging for a section to play transparently and perfectly together. However, it is the contrasting middle section, known as the Trio, that shows up on every bass audition in the world. It is a blizzard of fast moving eighth notes that are deceptively difficult to spit out cleanly and with the right sense of accent, pulse, and volume. With all the basses and cellos of an orchestra playing this fairly lengthy section in unison, it is always exciting, and at times downright scary… especially if a well-intentioned conductor decides that goosing the tempo would add to the energy. In the worst of situations, this can cause things to sound a bit like a herd of buffaloes racing toward the edge of the cliff. This passage is almost certainly the music I have practiced most in my life, and I always look forward to the challenge of performing it.

When the Reno Phil performs this weekend, my low string colleagues and I get to accept this challenge, as the concert will conclude with this masterwork. As Laura Jackson and the artistic leadership thought about programs for the 55th season, the idea of anchoring it with “5’s” seemed to stick. So, during the season, the Phil will play the 5th symphony of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Mahler. Three great pieces by three great composers.

Reno Philharmonic Orchestra Bass; Photo credit David Calvert Photography

On this first concert weekend, the orchestra will open with another monumental audition excerpt staple, Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan. This musical portrait of the legendary lascivious literary character is a tour de force for orchestra. Every player in the orchestra has their hands full when playing this colorful and epic adventure.

In between the Strauss and the Beethoven, the virtuoso young pianist Daniela Liebman will join the orchestra for a performance of Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Clara Schumann is a crucial and influential figure in music history. The wife of famed composer Robert Schumann, Clara was a renowned piano soloist and accomplished composer. One of the handful of women during that era who history has, very rightfully, remembered, her music is more known about than known. That is to say it isn’t performed all that often. The Reno Phil’s performances of this engaging concerto will help to remedy that.

Together, the three works on this concert constitute a blockbuster program that shows off what an orchestra can do, and will make for an exhilarating start to the Reno Phil’s 55th season. The fast-selling tickets, and more information about the concert, can be had by going to 

Scott Faulkner is principal bassist of the Reno Phil and the Reno Chamber Orchestra. He is director of the League of American Orchestras’ Essentials of Orchestra Management seminar, as well as its League Alumni Network. He is also the former executive director of the Reno Chamber Orchestra.

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