SASO launches new season with stirring hymns against tyranny

St Albans Symphony Orchestra will launch its 2008-9 season on Saturday 18th October with Finlandia by Sibelius, one of the most stirring and best-loved compositions in the classical music repertoire (7.30pm, St Saviour’s Church, Sandpit Lane, St Albans).

Written in 1899, when the composer was ardently committed to the Finnish struggle for freedom from Russian oppression, it was originally titled ‘Finland Awakes’. The tone poem established Sibelius’s international reputation and became even better known after its central anthem was adopted for a popular church hymn ‘Be still my soul’.

Musical protest also features in Dmitry Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony which will conclude the concert under SASO’s conductor, James Ross. The symphony could easily have cost the Russian composer his life had Josef Stalin and the Soviet authorities grasped its true nature when it was first performed in 1937.’

Two years earlier, Shostakovich’s opera ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ had been denounced in a newspaper article possibly penned by Stalin himself. Amid the continuing terror of the dictator’s purges Shostakovich withdrew his Fourth Symphony before its premiere. The Fifth, mixing memorable tunes with searing emotion, was presented with the subtitle ‘A Soviet’s artist’s reply to just criticism’. Yet Shostakovich long after acknowledged that far from celebrating the triumph of Stalinism, the work’s instantly popular finale was exposing forced triumphalism – and reflected an old Russian saying in such circumstances: ‘kiss but spit’.

In an altogether different mood, SASO will be giving the first complete performance of Aspects of Eden by Chris Crawley, a Hertfordshire composer who is also the orchestra’s principal horn player. Inspired by a visit to the ‘global garden’ created in Cornwall by the Eden Project, it depicts ideas, images and sensations associated with the project’s construction and the plant life gathered in its massive ‘biome’ greenhouses.

Chris Crawley is a retired teacher and a largely self-taught composer. Sections of his work were first performed by the orchestra two years ago as part of a New Music Day featuring scores submitted by ‘undiscovered’ composers.

James Ross said: “The parts of Aspects of Eden that we played were very well received and a decision was taken to include the complete work in a concert when an opportunity arose. Chris has worked further on his piece since then and we are delighted to be giving the premiere. We are also very proud to be launching our new season with home-grown talent at the heart of what promises to be a very exciting programme and year.”

Tickets, price £12 and £8 (£1 accompanied children, £5 students) are available from the SASO Ticket Secretary (01727 857422), or on the door.