Pine trees are common in the Gulf Coast region and often go unnoticed by many Southeast Texans during their everyday scurry, but for early 20th century Italian composer Ottorino Respighi, the pines of the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome were more than mere trees — they were part of a glorious setting that inspired a musical masterpiece.
Saturday, Sept. 14, The Symphony of Southeast Texas (SOST) will perform Respighi’s four-part symphonic poem inspired by Villa Borghese and other landscapes of the Eternal City as part of its “Roman Journeys” concert starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Julie Rogers Theatre in Beaumont.
“(Respighi) is trying to recreate the picture that he has in his mind from his experience in Rome in an instrumental setting,” said SOST Music Director Chelsea Tipton. “He’s trying to capture this idea of nature and music. Nature has been a great inspiration for a lot of different types of artists whether visually through paintings or, in this case, through music.”
The journey through “Pines of Rome” will be captivating, Tipton said, with off-stage musicians from the Lamar University Wind Ensemble and the brass section from Calvary Baptist Church contributing to a surround-sound effect. The symphonic poem takes the audience through four movements illustrating various scenes concluding with a musical portrayal of a mighty Roman legion marching to battle down the Appian Way in the early dawn.
The SOST percussion section will rumble the audience’s seats with Russell Peck’s “The Glory and the Grandeur,” a dynamite concerto featuring Gary Parks, James Strawther and Justin Collazo as soloists. The piece is visually engaging as the soloists move around to play on an array of percussion instruments, according to Tipton.
“This piece is also inspired by the glorious grandeur of mountains and nature,” Tipton said. “Russell Peck, an American composer from Greensboro, N.C., where I grew up, has a way of writing music that really connects with audiences. He really wanted audiences to come away from his performances having felt like they’ve been moved. There is definitely some American and jazz influence in his music that the audience will hear.”
The concert also includes an exploration through the Roman countryside through Louis-Hector Berlioz’s dynamic “Roman Carnival Overture,” described as “nine minutes of dashing music, orchestrated in Berlioz’s brightest colors.” Belioz’s overture was born from a failed opera — “Benvenuto Cellini.” Performed at the Paris Opera in 1838, the work incited a riot by the audience due to its radical nature and was deemed too difficult to master by the orchestra and other performers despite 19 rehearsals. A decade later, a brief orchestral overture was born from a love duet and a lively carnival scene selected from the opera; the name was derived from the latter.
“In this case, the opera really didn’t survive but the overture did,” Tipton said. “It gives you the impression of what’s happening in the opera — a festive, carnival scene with the fast movement and a love theme for the first theme.”
The concert kicks off the SOST’s 61st season and is the first in its Classics Series for 2013-2014. Future concerts include “Russian Tragedy to Triumph” on Oct. 26, featuring “Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2,” one of most popular piano concertos ever written, which embodies the epitome of romanticism, and “Home for the Holidays” on Dec. 8, a joyful celebration of the season featuring popular seasonal songs performed in grand style by the orchestra and a holiday carol sing-along, according to the SOST website.
“The Classics Series is the orchestra playing at its highest artistic level,” Tipton said. “We have the most rehearsals and put the most time into these performances to try and get all the details of the music realized so the audience can appreciate it.”
Tipton said that while the concert will offer plenty of exciting sounds for SOST enthusiasts, it is also a great opportunity for first timers, as well.
“If you haven’t heard the orchestra, this is great first concert to come to,” Tipton said. “We have a lot of instruments on stage. The percussion piece is really fascinating. ‘The Pines of Rome’ will have the orchestra on stage, but also there will be brass out in the audience as well. It’s a very unique type of experience.”
“Roman Journeys” is sponsored by Rosine McFaddin Wilson. Additional support for the special performance of “Pines of Rome” came from Virginia Bean and A.B. Bernard, Carlo Busceme III, Judy and George Dishman in honor of Melanie Dishman, Dr. and Mrs. Russ Schultz, and Cynthia and Michael Wolf.
“We could not make the music come alive without the sponsors in the community, both individuals and businesses,” Tipton said.
Single ticket prices range from $17 to $41; senior, student and group discounts are available. Season tickets are available with prices ranging from $77 to $153. To purchase tickets or get more information, go to www.sost.org  or contact the Symphony office at (409) 892-2257.