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Work of the Week – Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis

This week, Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber will receive two performances: on 3 August by the Suffolk Youth Orchestra under Philip Shaw in Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Suffolk, United Kingdom and on 6 August at the Britt Music & Arts Festival in Oregon, USA with Teddy Abrams conducting the Britt Festival Orchestra.

In 1936, a final ban was issued by the Nazi government on performances of Paul Hindemith’s works, leading to his eventual emigration to the United States four years later. Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis was the first work he wrote in his new adopted homeland.

Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis – A Ballet’s transformation into symphony

In 1938, Hindemith composed music for the ballet Nobilissima Visione for the dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine. It was on the back of this project that the idea for a new piece was formed: Massine asked Hindemith to arrange piano works by Carl Maria von Weber for a new ballet. However, the artists could not reach an agreement. Hindemith decided against Massine’s suggestion and instead composed variations on themes by Carl Maria von Weber, rewritting them in his own style – in a letter to his wife, Hindemith wrote that he had “coloured them lightly and made them sharper”. Massine rejected the result for its complexity and in the end the ballet was never completed. It wasn’t until 1944 that Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis received its world premiere by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Artur Rodzinski. Virtuosity, imagination and humour characterise the work, and the Turandot-Scherzo, with its pentatonic motive and boisterous jazz fugato for winds and percussion, is especially popular with audiences.

Among all the participants in the creation, distribution, and reception of music, the individual with the keenest sense for the technique vested in a piece of music is always the performer. The impeccable technique of a masterpiece he transmits will be the most valuable stimulus for his own technique of re-creation; his performance will be carried along by the composition’s perfection; his craving for the listener’s satisfaction will most readily be crowned with success. – Paul Hindemith

Suffolk Youth Orchestra recently performed Symphonic Metamorphosis in a tour of Germany including Wittenberg, Magdeburg and Dessau. Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, USA will present the first three movements of the work (Allegro, Turandot-Scherzo and Andantino) arranged for concert band on 6 August under conductor Steve Davis.

Other notable upcoming performances of Hindemith’s music include a concert on 28 August in which conductor Kent Nagano and members of Philharmisches Staatsorchester Hamburg will play Kammermusik Nr. 1 at the Mecklenburg Vorpommern Festival.