A few years back, Sean Paul Mills, the musical director of the Willamette Valley Symphony, invited fellow cellist Noah Seitz to join the symphony as a soloist for one of its weekend performances.

Seitz agreed, the two musicians picked a selection to perform and Mills set about building the rest of the program.

And then they discovered that another orchestra in the region (Mills declined to identify the offender) had programmed the same piece that Seitz was planning to perform with the Willamette Valley Symphony.

"It was back to the proverbial drawing board," Mills said in a recent interview with The E. Not only did the two have to find another cello concerto, Mills had to rebuild the program from scratch.

Not to worry, though: Mills and Seitz settled on a piece that Mills said has "sort of a built-in audience:" Luigi Boccherini's Cello Concerto No. 9. 

And Mills found two other companion pieces for the program: Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture" and Schumann's Symphony No. 1, "Spring."

"It morphed," Mills said of the orchestra's weekend program, "as many things do."

The Boccherini concerto is a popular work, and it's one that will be familiar to many a younger cellist. But the work that we know today, Mills explained, comes to us in part because of an arrangement by an interloper of sorts.

Boccherini, a gifted cellist, wrote the concerto in the late late 1760s or early 1770s, but the work largely languished until the late 19th century. That's when a noted German cellist, Friedrich Grutzmacher, pieced together another arrangement of the concerto, using pieces from some of Boccherini's other works.

The result, Mills said, is that "We have this concerto that's not truly Boccherini, but not truly Grutzmacher. ... I think Grutzmacher wanted to create a piece that he could put his stamp on, that he could tour with."

And it's a piece that cellists working to master their instrument cut their teeth on. And because Boccherini was so familiar with the cello, it's a work that's a good fit for the instrument, Mills said: "Everything's very playable."

The addition of the Boccherini forced Mills to rethink the other works on the concert, and he worked to maintain a certain lightness of tone throughout. The concert now begins with Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture," a work that Mills said relies on four major tunes — "and all four of them are beer-drinking songs." 

And the concert ends with Schumann's Symphony No. 1, "Spring," a piece the composer wrote two years after he was married. For Schumann, it was a time, just two years or so after he was married, when "he had a tremendous outpouring of energy," and the work reflects that, Mills said: "It certainly does show the joy that he was experiencing."


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