The Mill Valley Philharmonic (MVP) is turning its attention to the “father of the symphony” for a trio of free shows in March.

In its “Haydn’s Reach – Haydn to Ives” shows, which begin March 11 at the Mt. Tam United Methodist Church, the local award-winning community orchestra providing dedicated volunteer musicians the opportunity to rehearse and perform orchestral repertoire is diving into the compositions of Franz Joseph Haydn.

Widely known as “the father of the symphony,” Haydn had an enormous influence on composers from the 18th century onward. MVP explores Haydn’s impact on Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Ives in a program featuring Haydn’s Symphony No. 94, The Surprise; Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, The Classical; Stravinsky’s Ode: Tryptichon for Orchestra; and Ives’ The Unanswered Question. Conductor Laurie Cohen includes commentary and orchestral demonstration to enhance the audiences’ enjoyment of the music. All MVP concerts are free, with walk-in seating.  Everyone is welcome.

A central feature of Joseph Haydn’s symphonies is the development of large musical structures out of short, simple themes.  “The symphony is like a story.  Characters are introduced and then their interactions create a larger drama,” says Cohen. Like the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, Classical symphonic form depends on symmetry and rhythmic balance, but lest that sound too formal, Haydn was known for his sense of humor.  His Surprise Symphony has hiccups and laughing motifs – and of course, surprises. Cohen says, “Haydn does something really unusual at the end of the Andante (the movement whose theme we can all sing.)  He takes it into a harmonic structure that had never been heard before in a symphony. It’s subtle, and fantastically creative. There are other surprises, but we don’t want to give them away and spoil the pleasure of the audience.”​

The rest of the program was chosen with Haydn’s influence in mind. While obvious choices might have been Mozart or Beethoven, Mill Valley Philharmonic is taking a more adventurous approach with Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Ives.  Cohen says she hears Haydn’s influence most strongly on Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, a symphony most audience members will recognize. The musical hiccups and laughing lines prevail.  Was Prokofiev stealing from Haydn? “Great composers take ideas and themes from composers that have gone before and rework them in their own voices. I don’t think of it as stealing. The composer hears something that affects him and internalizes it, creating something new.”

Stravinsky wrote Ode: Tryptichon for Orchestra during his Neo-Classical period. “The dissonant harmonies are a challenge and will stretch the audience’s ears.  They’re certainly stretching the orchestra’s ears,” explains Cohen. She selected Ives’ The Unanswered Question, as the “anti-Haydn.”  

​“For my final choice, I was thinking, Okay, where shall we go? Mozart? Beethoven?” Cohen says. “Then I thought, what is a kind of anti-Classical form? And that’s when I chose Ives, the perfect, anti-Haydn composer.”
Dates, Times and Venues for Haydn’s Reach – Haydn to Ives
Friday, March 11th  at 8:00 pm, Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church, 410 Sycamore Ave., Mill Valley
Saturday, March 12th  at 4:00 pm, Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church, Mill Valley
Sunday, March 13th at 1:00pm, Angelico Hall, Dominican University, 50 Acacia Ave., San Rafael.
For more information go to or call 415.383.0930.

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