Series 4: Apr 16 – Apr 20


David Alan Miller


Overture to the opera The Thieving Magpie
by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Uzu and Muzu from Kakaruzu
by Avner Dorman (born 1975)
based on the book by Ephraim Sidon
Avner Dorman narrator (Thu, Fri)
Wendy Kriss narrator
Haruka Fujii percussion
Luke Rinderknecht percussion


Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120
by Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
The symphony is in four movements,
which are played without pause:
Ziemlich langsam [Rather slow] – Lebhaft [Lively]
Romanze (Ziemlich langsam)
Scherzo (Lebhaft)
Langsam [Slow] – Lebhaft


Gioachino Rossini is best-known for his sparkling, witty operas, composed in the first part of the 19th century – The Barber of Seville is the one x staged most often. But even if you’ve never set foot in an opera theater, you’ve almost certainly heard some of the overtures that he wrote for these operas. Some have become staples in the concert hall, played as “curtain raisers” by orchestras all over the world, but the real source of Rossini’s popular fame in modern times is Bugs Bunny. Thanks to those classic cartoons, some of Rossini’s greatest tunes became known outside the world of classical music: the William Tell overture with its “Lone Ranger” finale, the “Largo al factotem” aria and the overture from The Barber of Seville, and the overture to The Thieving Magpie. (Carl Stalling was the genius composer and arranger behind most of these cartoons.)

This particular overture begins with a very loud and very long drum roll before it launches into a jaunty march tune. Rossini often recycled his overtures, re-using them for different operas, but the Thieving Magpie overture quotes a tune from act three of the opera – a sure sign that it was composed specially for the occasion. This noisy and exciting overture comes to a conclusion with one of the composer’s most famous trademarks: the “Rossini crescendo,” in which he adds more instruments and ramps up the volume for a thrilling effect.


This is truly living music! It’s based on a Hebrew fairy tale but it’s a modern fairy tale by a living author, Ephraim Sidon. And it’s a story that speaks to today. The music itself is just over a year old: Uzu and Muzu was premiered in March last year by the orchestra that commissioned it, the Stockton Symphony.

The composer, Avner Dorman, was born in 1975 and grew up in a musical family (his father was principal bassoonist in the Israel Philharmonic). And – unusually – he began composing music before he’d learned to play an instrument. It was only later than he learned cello and piano. He studied first at Tel Aviv University; then he completed his doctorate at the Juilliard School in New York as a student of American composer John Corigliano.

When Dorman was 12 years old, Sidon published his children’s picture book Uzu and Muzu from Kakaruzu and it quickly became a classic – a story of tolerance overcoming prejudice that has already touched several generations. Dorman says…For many years, I dreamt of turning Uzu and Muzu from Kakaruzu into a dramatic musical piece. The story tells of two loving brothers who are so close that they literally “felt each other’s joys and pains,” until one day when they get into an absurd, meaningless fight and stop talking to each other. They build a wall in the middle of their house, and, for generations to come, their descendants believe that horrible monsters reside on the other side of the wall. It takes the naïveté of two of Uzu and Muzu’s great-great-great-great grandchildren to demolish the wall of prejudice built up by their forefathers.

Sidon himself told Dorman: “This is not just a story about nations or populations fighting with each other but a story that every family knows from home.” And as Dorman explains: “This is a story about feuds within families that no one remembers what they’re about, it is about quarrels within a nation, it is about prejudice against foreigners, and it is about the senselessness of war.”

Serious stuff. But… the original story is full of humor wit – some people have called it an Israeli Dr. Seuss! And there is equal humor and excitement in Dorman’s musical interpretation of it. Just one example: about a fifth of the way into the story, Uzu and Muzu get tired, they sleep, and they snore with an “identical tune.” At this point Dorman shows how an orchestra can “snore”! Listen for the rumbling, buzzing sounds from the clarinets and the brass instruments, and the weird, whistling chords in the flutes.

But perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you listen – and watch! – is that the two solo percussionists represent the two brothers in the drama. Dorman describes it this way:

At first they complete each other’s musical phrases seamlessly, as if they are one. After the quarrel, they drift away musically, and even build a virtual wall between them. As the piece progresses, members of the orchestra take sides with one brother or the other.

Listen as the soloists and the orchestra use a whole range of sounds – including some unexpected ones – to create the big fight, and then a cheerful, toe-tapping resolution.


1841 was a good year for Robert Schumann. He composed busily, with two symphonies and the piece known as Overture, Scherzo and Finale, among other works. And at home he was enjoying the first year of marriage to Clara Wieck (finally! after much resistance from her father). In September their first child, Marie, had been born. Less than two weeks later it was Clara’s 22nd birthday – “a day filled from morning to night with enjoyment and happiness” – and among the surprises from Robert was his completed symphony in D minor.

The symphony had been composed in what he called a “brainstorm” in just over three months. When he began work, Clara had written in her diary: I can hear “D minor sounding wildly in the distance, so I already know in advance that it is again a work created out of the deepest soul.” The minor key contributes to this effect, giving the music its often dark and troubled character.

Schumann considered calling the music a “Symphonic Fantasy” and even though it ended up as a conventional numbered symphony there are still signs of “fantasy” in its sounds. It has, as one writer has described it, an “irresistible momentum.” And there’s an intriguing blend of spontaneous, “improvisational” character and the perfectly engineered architecture of a large-scale symphonic work.

One of the architectural pillars is put in place with the opening notes of the slow (Ziemlich langsam) introduction, which in turn anticipates the musical ideas of the fast (Lebhaft) main section of the first movement. Already Schumann is building the structure that will give this symphony with its four contrasting movements a feeling of unity and cohesion.

The second movement is a “Romanze” – musical storytelling, in other words, with the first oboe as the narrator, supported by the principal cello. The effect is like a duet in a tragic opera, with a third character entering midway in the form of a violin solo.

Again, the music transitions directly into the next movement, a playful but slightly hectic Scherzo. The seamlessness of the music in performance only adds to the feeling of unity and the sense of metamorphosis as the symphony progresses. The theme, which grows out of the lower strings, is related to the music of the first movement’s introduction, while the contrasting “trio” section in the middle echoes the filigree of the violin solo from the previous movement.

The Scherzo doesn’t end with a bang or even a“throwaway” gesture. Instead it quietly shifts into the slow introduction of the finale. It’s a miraculous effect, once more emerging from the depths of the orchestra, slow and mysterious with solemn notes from the brass section. And then a sudden buildup before the music plunges into the cheerful (D major) music of the main movement. Here that “irresistible momentum” comes to the fore and carries us along to a brilliant and enlivening conclusion.

Yvonne Frindle © 2013
Illustrations by Charles Krenner © 2013

Gioachino Rossini

Every opera that Rossini wrote is introduced by an exciting and lively overture. The Thieving Magpie is a complicated love story with some close shaves, a happy ending and a real magpie who likes to steal silver spoons – thus getting the human characters into a lot of trouble. But you don’t need to know any of this to enjoy Rossini’s music, which is designed to grab your attention and make you smile.

Avner Dorman
(born 1975)

Uzu and Muzu from Kakaruzu, by Avner Dorman, takes a much-loved children’s story by Ephraim Sidon and brings it to life with narration and music. The story begins far, far away beyond the mountain and ends ‘happily ever after’ with a match made in heaven. But along the way there’s a silly disagreement that grows until it drives a family apart.

Sidon himself told Dorman: “This is not just a story about nations or populations fighting with each other but a story that every family knows from home.” And as Dorman explains: “This is a story about feuds within families that no one remembers what they’re about, it is about quarrels within a nation, it is about prejudice against foreigners, and it is about the senselessness of war.”

Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann was a German composer of the 19th century who loved nothing better than to write musical miniatures that tell little stories or paint pictures. But he also composed in larger scale forms such as concertos and symphonies, of which he wrote four. His Fourth Symphony is admired for the energy with which it carries listeners along. It was composed during one of the happiest periods of Schumann’s life: new wife, new baby and optimism for the future. Perhaps that’s why, even though it begins in a dark and solemn mood, it can’t help but end cheerfully!

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