Recently returned from his sabbatical serving as Resident Conductor of the Changsha Symphony in Hunan, China for the past year, Dr. Cheung Chau conducted his first symphony since being back in the United States. The performance began on Oct. 11 with the overture to “La Gazza Ladra,” or “The Thieving Magpie,” by Gioachino Rossini, after which the rest of the performance was taken up by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major.
Before beginning the rendition of “The Thieving Magpie,” Chau related the story of how in order to get Rossini to complete the still unfinished piece, he was locked in his room and placed under guard. Each finished page was whisked down to the orchestra to immediately begin practicing.
“The Thieving Magpie” is a French melodrama that tells the story of a girl who is accused of stealing cutlery and sent to jail, but the true culprit is later revealed to be a magpie. The overture is the most popular sequence of this piece and has been used in many pieces of media such as “A Clockwork Orange” by Stanley Kubrick. It grabs one’s attention from the outset with its use of snare drums and describes the devilish antics which will develop into the later themes.
“The Thieving Magpie” was an interesting contrast to Beethoven’s 7th symphony which followed. Both are exuberant and full of life, being part of the romantic period, this is not surprising, but whereas “The Thieving Magpie” is somewhat satirical, Beethoven’s 7th is completely serious. Noted for being written during the time of Napoleon’s conquests, Beethoven directly experienced the turmoil of Napoleon’s reign ravaging Europe, and as a result, the piece deals with the struggle against adversity and ultimate triumph.
Probably the most famous aspect of the symphony is the shocking tonal shift that takes place during the second movement, going from something grand to something somber as if tragedy has struck. But the overall optimism of the piece can’t be kept at bay. Composer Richard Wagner famously described the piece as “the apotheosis of dance,” and it is regarded by some as the greatest piece of Western music.
Chau’s ability as a composer and teacher of music was on full display as the orchestra expertly portrayed these two renowned pieces. Utah Valley University is lucky to have such a talented and recognized person at the helm of its orchestral studies. Witnessing such an event is not something that can be passed up.