Rutgers Symphony Orchestra presents Rutgers premiere of Strauss’ "Ein Heldenleben" Dec. 2

Kynan JohnsThe Rutgers Symphony Orchestra continues to work its way through Richard Strauss’ tone poems with a program on Friday, December 2, 2011, that features the Rutgers premiere of Strauss’ 1898 Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). The concert, which also includes Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, takes place at Nicholas Music Center. Kynan Johns conducts.

Johns says Ein Heldenleben is not often attempted because the music is “fiendishly difficult”—mostly for horn players, but ultimately for the entire orchestra. He describes this tone poem as a “humongous work in concept and realization” that touches on the heroic artist who begins with optimism, faces snarling critics, responds, attempts to win them over and then ultimately finds refuge in love at home.

“Love conquers in the end,” Johns says of the piece, which some contend is arrogant and self-referential. In fact, Johns says, Strauss was criticized as being “too grandiose, rambunctious, loud, egotistical.” But Johns says he keeps returning to Strauss’ tone poems because the composer’s emotion is “honest and sincere. Simple melodic lines are how he expresses his emotion. Such an intimacy in large-scale works—I don’t find that in Wagner or Bruckner.

“This piece is relevant to anyone,” Johns adds, “because there will always be critics, always be people trying to pull us down. We have to rise above that.”   

Samuel Barber’s 1939 Violin Concerto, Op. 14, has a soapy history: Soap magnate Samuel Fels commissioned the piece for his violin-playing son, who apparently spurned it for not being sufficiently showy. In retaliation, perhaps, Barber composed a frenetic final movement, which comes in stark contrast to the slow and lyrical feel of the two preceding movements. The piece, which Barber was said to have nicknamed the Concerto del Sapone (Soap Concerto), is one of the most widely played violin concertos from the 20th century. Student Jane Kim will play the violin concerto.

The concert takes place 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 2, at Nicholas Music Center, in the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center at 85 George Street (at Ryders Lane), New Brunswick, N.J. Tickets are $20 for the general public, $15 for Rutgers employees and alumni as well as senior citizens, and $10 for students with valid I.D. For more information about any Mason Gross event, visit, or call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 732-932-7511.

Media Inquiries: Laurie Granieri, 848-932-5239