McAllen Performing Arts Center

801 Convention Center Blvd.

8:00 p.m.


Hector Berlioz

Born December 11, 1803, La Côte-Saint-André, France: Died March 8, 1869, Paris

Rákóczy March (Hungarian March) from La damnation de Faust


            In 1845, Berlioz embarked on an extended concert tour that earned him great admiration as a conductor. As he travelled from city to city, Berlioz spent his time revising a piece he had written fifteen years earlier called Huit scènes de Faust, which he had never been completely satisfied with. The result of his revisions, now called La damnation de Faust, was a stage work for orchestra, chorus, and soloists with clear operatic leanings in which Berlioz tried to capture the kaleidoscopic array of the doomed Faust's emotions. The overall scope and setting of La damnation de Faust were inspired by stirring melodies of the Hungarian Rákóczy March, a piece that Berlioz had prepared in a special arrangement for a conducting engagement in Budapest. Hungarian nobleman Casimir Bathyány invited the composer to Hungary after seeing one of Berlioz’s concerts in Vienna and recommended that he prepare a Hungarian-style march for the performance. The idea intrigued Berlioz, and he spent the first few days of February of 1846 arranging the traditional Rákóczy March for orchestra with a vastly expanded percussion section. The Rákóczy March was a sort of unofficial national anthem in Hungary, so Berlioz selected it with the intent of appealing to the revolutionary passions of the Hungarians, who were increasingly dissatisfied at being under Austrian rule. Berlioz could not possibly have imagined how popular his arrangement would turn out to be. At the concert, cheering drowned out the music, prompting a large demonstration that spread to the streets, and Berlioz left Budapest a hero. The success of the Rákóczy March prompted Berlioz to change the setting of the then-unfinished La damnation de Faust to Hungary simply to be able to use the march in the opening scene. With its zealous enthusiasm, it is no surprise that this piece remains an audience favorite to this day.



Niccolò Paganini

Born October 27, 1782, Genoa, Italy: Died May 27, 1840, Nice, France

Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Opus 7 “La Campanella”


            Niccolò Paganini is considered to be one of the greatest violinists of all time, whose exceptional musical skills and strong personal magnetism earned him wide international acclaim. Rival violinists were often bewildered by his virtuosic technique and could not figure out how Paganini effortlessly played passages that seemed physically impossible, prompting rumors that he had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for superhuman musical abilities. The focus of Paganini’s concerts was virtuosic showmanship, as the composer was himself an excellent performer who was well-respected by some of Europe’s greatest composers. He was especially close to Rossini, who famously expressed relief that the brilliant Paganini had not chosen to become an opera composer. Paganini deeply admired the Italian beauty of Rossini’s bel canto opera arias, a style the violinist strived to imitate in his own compositions. This influence is evident in Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto from 1826, which he composed in Naples while on one of his many Italian concert tours. The concerto contains many bravura passages that Paganini was known for, balanced by the long melodic lines and florid embellishments associated with the bel canto style. The concerto’s nickname “La Campanella” (The Little Bell) comes from the third movement, in which every repetition of the rondo theme is signaled by a bell. Various passages in the strings and solo part also imitate the delicate ringing of a bell, specifically the solo passages played in the extreme-high register. The “La Campanella” movement inspired other composers to imitate its unique sound, most notably Franz Liszt in his Grand Étude No. 3 and the Walzer à la Paganini by Johann Strauss Senior, both for solo piano.

Justin Writer

Born January 9, 1974, Kansas, United States

Crystal Horizon


            Crystal Horizon was commissioned by Dr. Peter Dabrowski and the Valley Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the opening of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Performing Arts Center in 2015. The inspiration for this short work comes from the mountaineering accomplishments of Reinhold Messner. Messner is the first mountaineer to make a successful solo ascent of the world’s mountains over 26,000 feet. His book, titled Crystal Horizon, describes his solo ascent of Everest as well as his love for the Tibetan people and their culture. The work is a series of variations based on a four-note motive heard in the opening measures (C, D, G, F-sharp). The motive, which lends itself well to multiple tonal possibilities, represents Messner’s determination and the variations represent the various stages of his unprecedented climb, which include moments of reflection, danger, beauty, and triumph. 


  • Program notes by Justin Writer



Maurice Ravel

Born March 7, 1875, Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées: Died December 28, 1937, Paris



            When legendary Russian dancer Ida Rubenstein decided she wanted a new ballet for her company, she immediately sought out Ravel to compose it. Ravel’s primary inspiration for the piece came while vacationing in Saint-Jean-de-Luz with his friend Gustave Samazevilh, where he picked out a simple melody while idly experimenting on the piano and mused, “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality? I’m going to try to repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.” He started working on Boléro seriously in July of 1928 and made quick progress, prompting the composer to tell a friend, “This piece I am working on will be so popular that even the fruit peddlers will whistle it in the streets.” As Ravel predicted, the premiere of the ballet on November 22, 1928 was a huge success. The intense, driving music and the seductive scenario made for the perfect combination, prompting audience members to report that Boléro was “mesmerizing” and describe how, when the piece was finished, “We leapt to our feet, cheering and shouting and brandishing what was left of our programmes, which in our tenseness, we had almost torn to shreds.” Boléro takes place in a Spanish tavern where a girl, performed by Rubenstein, enters the bar and begins to dance. She jumps onto the table and aggressively stomps out the bolero rhythm, stirring the drunken men around the bar to join her. Driven mad by the girl’s seductive movements, the men take out their knives to fight, and at that moment the music ends and the curtain falls, leaving the audience in a state of mad excitement.

Ravel organized Boléro around an altered version of the bolero dance rhythm, which he repeats as a rhythmic ostinato throughout the entire work, led by the snare drum. The piece is based on two folk-like themes that Ravel repeats again and again, always played by different combinations of instruments. This ever-evolving orchestration keeps the audience engaged through the many repetitions of the tune and forms a huge orchestral crescendo that drives Boléro to its conclusion. Like a tidal wave that starts quietly far out in the ocean, the piece picks up speed and arrives with incredible intensity by the time it crashes into the final bars.


  • Program notes by Heike Hoffer

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to engage and inspire the Rio Grande Valley through live orchestral and ensemble performances,

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