MSO to present Italian-themed program

Emens Auditorium will be hosting an "Italian Feast" on Sunday, but patrons will not be sampling lasagna or garlic bread; rather, they will be treated to three classic, Italian-themed works performed by the Muncie Symphony Orchestra.

The concert, which starts at 2:30 p.m., will feature guest conductor David Amado leading the MSO through pieces by Gioacchino Rossini, Ottorino Respighi, and Felix Mendelssohn.

According to MSO musical director and conductor Leonard Atherton, the fact that this concert's guest is a conductor rather than an instrumentalist gives the orchestra more of a spotlight, because it often plays the role of accompaniment to the guest artist.

"The orchestra is front and center," Atherton said of Sunday's program.

Amado, who is an associate conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, arrives with a Hoosier connection -- he earned his master's degree in orchestral conducting from Indiana University.

"There are many young conductors who are on that kind of rung of the career, and they don't get the chance to make all the decisions about things [when part of an orchestra staff with more senior conductors]," Atherton said.

"He's done a great job there, and it's very nice to be able to offer the opportunity for a talented young conductor to come here and work with the orchestra."

Guest concerts rarely allow the featured performer or conductor much rehearsal time with the host orchestra.

"If you're a guest, you have three rehearsals to connect with musicians," MSO executive director Catherine Levin said. "It's a challenge for everybody."

Two of the pieces on the program are works by Italian composers Rossini's "Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri" and Respighi's "Trittico Botticellianol."

Respighi's piece, which means "Three Botticelli Pictures" in English, is the composer's musical reflection on three works by the painter Sandro Botticelli. Atherton and Nancy Huth of the Ball State Museum of Art will lead a discussion of the paintings at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Editor's Nook, located in the Atrium of the Art and Journalism Building.

The third piece, Felix Mendelssohn's "Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 (Italian)" was inspired by the time the German composer spent in Italy.

"He was so taken with Rome he was inspired to write this piece," Levin said. "[Listening to it] you can just imagine yourself in Italy."

The Mendelssohn work's opening theme will likely be the segment of the concert with which most concertgoers will be familiar, Levin said.

While MSO has done more contemplative, "serious" tones, Sunday's repertoire will be a bit lighter and more festive.

Atherton encouraged first-time concertgoers to attend the program, saying some might be deterred by the "stiff" image some have about classical music.

"It's really sad there are cliches placed ignorantly on orchestras," Atherton said. "That's nonsense."