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Radio France Philharmonic Brings Ravel to Town

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 1, 2010 8:20PM

2010_03_01_RadioFrancePhilharmonicOrchestra.jpg At one point in the not so distant past, there existed a primitive form of podcasting called "radio." Radio stations would broadcast programming at a specific frequency that you could tune in to. During the development of these stations, many added in-house symphony orchestras to provide music for their various shows, as well as to perform separate stand-alone concerts.

Radio orchestras varied in quality, but many were very, very good. They don't exist in North America any more (although we hosted the most renowned one, the Arturo Toscanini-led NBC Symphony Orchestra), but a few still survive elsewhere, particularly in Europe, thanks in part to state-funded radio stations. One of these still-existing groups is the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (or, if you prefer your modifiers in front of your nouns, the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra), and they'll be performing at Symphony Center this Friday.

The all-Maurice Ravel concert is exactly the kind of program you want to see a French orchestra perform. Along with Claude Debussy, Ravel is considered one of the greatest composers of Impressionist music, a term, ultimately inaccurate (both composers disavowed it), applied by other people in a strained attempt to draw an analogy between this French-born music and the visual art movement that preceded it.

Ravel's (and Debussy's) music is marked by an abandonment of formal tonal rules without delving into the crunchy atonality developing around the same time in Vienna. The resulting music can be quite ethereal, challenging while still being legitimately gorgeous. The character of the music is helped in no small part by Ravel's brilliant knack for orchestration, resulting in thick, lush textures (and which likely fueled the comparisons with Impressionist paintings). The pieces on Friday's concert are some of Ravel's best: two suites from his 1912 ballet "Daphnis and Chloe," "La Valse," the full orchestra version of his piano piece "Mother Goose," and "Shéhérazade," which will feature mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter.

Friday, March 5, at 8:00 p.m., Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, $22-$98