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UW Symphony with John Turman, horn; Sunny Xia, Seattle Symphony

  • UW Symphony director David Alexander Rahbee (photo: Steve Korn)

The UW Symphony (David Alexander Rahbee, director) performs music by Sibelius, Glière and Tchaikovsky in this end-of-quarter concert. With faculty artist John Turman, horn soloist on Glière: Horn Concerto, Op. 91 in B flat Major; and Seattle Symphony assistant conductor Sunny Xia, guest conductor for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, Op. 36, in F minor. 


Sibelius: Spring Song, op.16

Glière: Horn Concerto, op.91, B-flat major
John Turman, horn

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4, Op.36, in F minor 
Sunny Xia, guest conductor

Program Notes


Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Spring Song, op. 16 (1894)
Born in Finland, Sibelius began playing violin at age 15 and his interest in composition followed soon after. He started composing during Finland’s struggle to create a national identity following their independence from Russia. This is especially evident in his tone poems for orchestra, many exploring themes involving the Finnish landscape and identity. Spring Song is an example of one of these tone poems, illustrating the feeling of a beautiful spring day in Finland. The piece opens with lush solos in the cello, viola, and clarinet before the rest of the orchestra joins in, inviting the audience to feel the warmth of spring. As the piece concludes, bells ring off in the distance celebrating the beginning of the spring season.

Reinhold Glière (1875-1956): Horn Concerto, op.91, B-flat major (1951)
Glière is known for his array of ballets and orchestral works ranging in style and form. Gliere was born in the Ukraine but spent the majority of his career in Russia where he would go on to write until his death in 1956. During his early years he experimented with a more provocative style of composition, but as he got older his style became more conservative. Composed at the suggestion of one of his horn playing colleagues, this concerto is now a part of the standard horn repertoire. Throughout the work’s three movements, Glière utilizes different musical elements such as soaring lines, chants, chorales, marches, and dances all of which had been important stylistic traits in his works over his lifetime. By using all of these different aspects of orchestral music he was able to create this cohesive yet unexpected work.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Symphony No.4, Op.36, in F minor (1877-1878)
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 is an essential part of the standard repertoire due to its rich emotional and musical content. Tchaikovsky had begun composing this work in 1877 before getting married and finished it in 1878 after he and his wife had separated. This was especially significant as he and his wife had only been together for six weeks by the time they parted.

The first movement begins with a regal fanfare, given the nickname “fate”. This fate theme comes back throughout the first movement, and also appears in the finale. After the opening, the violins enter with a melancholy melody allowing the rest of the movement to build in tension. After this first theme, we become privy to the other main idea of the movement, which is the solo clarinet waltz that calls out into the distance. We finish out this movement with a more vigorous version of the fate theme, allowing the tumultuous melodies to resolve.

The second movement works with an opulent melody starting in the oboe, then moving through the cellos. After the opening theme, we reach a peasant music theme, becoming a grand statement as the entire orchestra joins in. In movement three, Tchaikovsky utilizes pizzicato in the string sections to provide light-hearted contrast needed after the first two movements. This movement references a different peasant music melody as the oboe interjects and leads the rest of the winds through a playful trio. The strings then resume and frolic their way to the finale.

The finale begins and it abounds with jovial energy. We hear a playful main theme that the winds and strings play in unison, eliciting excitement from all who experience it. After the exposition Tchaikovsky includes a quote from a Russian folk song In the Field a Little Birch Tree Stood first played by the oboe and the bassoon, then referenced through the rest of the movement by various sections. This choice of folk song expresses a complicated emotional state as it is still surrounded by the rest of the jubilant content of the movement. After this, the fate theme returns and an energetic piu mosso takes us to the end of this majestic work.


Sunny Xia

Recognized for her innate musicality, compelling presence, and technical precision, Chinese-born conductor Sunny Xuecong Xia’s ability to forge an immediate and captivating connection with orchestras and audiences alike has led to engagements around the country. Recently appointed Douglas F. King Assistant Conductor of the Seattle Symphony, Xia begins her new position in September 2022. As Assistant Conductor, she will contribute to Seattle Symphony’s Education and Community Engagement programs, conduct the Family Concerts, as well as serve as cover conductor for subscription concerts throughout her appointment.

In the 2021/2022 season, Xia was selected as Conducting Fellow at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where she made her festival debut leading the world premiere of Marc Migó Cortés' Dumka in July 2022. She led a production of La bohème with the Chandler Opera Company to great success and appeared with double bassist Xavier Foley and violinist Eunice Kim in Foley’s poignant work For Justice and Peace at Mesa Arts Center. Additional engagements included Assistant Conductor of the Phoenix Youth Symphony Orchestra and Cover Conductor for Arizona Musicfest. In the 2020/2021 season, she appeared as guest conductor with the MusicaNova Orchestra and was invited to serve as Assistant Conductor at the National Music Festival and Pierre Monteux Music Festival.

A dynamic advocate for contemporary music, Xia will be leading the Seattle Symphony in works by composers Katy Abbott, Tan Dun, Quinn Mason, Angelique Poteat, Gabriella Smith, and Chen Yi in the 2022/2023 season. She has previously led the Cleveland Institute of Music New Music Ensemble in music series such as the Cleveland NEOSonicFest and CIM New Music Series. She has several world premieres under her credit, including Rodney Rogers’ Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra with violinist Christiano Rodrigues and the MusicaNova Orchestra. She served as a Conducting Fellow in the 2020 Cortona Sessions for New Music Conductor and Advocate Virtual Summit.

Equally at home and in the opera pit, prior to leading La bohème with the Chandler Opera Company, Xia has served as assistant conductor for productions of Hänsel und Gretel, Die Zauberflöte, The Juniper Tree, Le Rossignol and L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. Dedicated to bringing music to the community, while in Cleveland, Xia organized and led concerts in retirement communities and elementary schools, including an interactive presentation of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf in East Cleveland for an audience of 4th and 5th graders.

Highlights of the 2019-20 season include being selected by Marin Alsop as a Conducting Fellow in the Peabody Conducting Workshop, appointment as Apprentice Conductor at the North American New Opera Workshop (NANOWorks) and serving as Cover Conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. Additionally, she led the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra in the 2019 Benefit Concert “A Legacy in Bloom: Celebrating Clara T. Rankin” with violinist Caroline Goulding.

Xia holds a dual master’s degree in Orchestral Conducting and Violin Performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music where she studied under the tutelage of Carl Topilow and Jan Mark Sloman. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University where she studied under the guidance of Dr. Jeffery Meyer and Tito Muñoz. She has had the privilege to be further mentored by a number of prominent conductors, including Marin Alsop, JoAnn Falleta, Giancarlo Guerrero, Ludovic Morlot, Larry Rachleff, and Carl St.Clair. For two summers, she attended the Monteux School and Music Festival as a Kurt & Torj Wray Conducting Scholar. An accomplished violinist, prior to becoming a conductor, Xia performed as a soloist with orchestras in China and Australia, including the symphony orchestras of Harbin, Zheijiang, Hunan and Guangxi, and the Concertante Ensemble. While attending Cleveland Institute of music, she served as concertmaster of the CIM Orchestra.

​Originally from Guangzhou, China, Xia relocated to Sydney, Australia at the age of 14 on a sponsorship from the Australian String Academy that allowed her to further her violin studies with Peter Shi-xiang Zhang and Charmian Gadd. A talented basketball athlete, she competed in the semi-professional New South Wales Metro Junior League before focusing primarily on her musical pursuits. When not performing or enjoying a pick-up game, she can be found reading, kayaking, or learning languages. She speaks Cantonese, English, German, Mandarin and Teochew, and is improving her French and Italian.

David Rahbee

David Alexander Rahbee is currently Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington School of Music in Seattle, where he is Director of Orchestral Activities and Chair of Orchestral Conducting. He is Music Director and Conductor of the University of Washington Symphony Orchestra and founder of the UW Campus Philharmonia Orchestras. He is a recipient of the American-Austrian Foundation's 2003 Herbert von Karajan Fellowship for Young Conductors, the 2005 International Richard-Wagner-Verband Stipend, a fellowship the Acanthes Centre in Paris (2007), and is first prize winner in conducting from The American Prize national non-profit competitions in the performing arts for 2020. His work at UW has earned national recognition. In 2021 he was praised by The American Prize as “Consistently one of the most courageous and comprehensive [orchestral] programmers working in higher education in the U.S. today…”

Dr. Rahbee has appeared in concert with orchestras such as the Seattle Symphony, RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Kammerphilharmonie Berlin-Brandenburg, Guernsey Symphony Orchestra, Chattanooga Symphony, National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, Orchestre de la Francophonie, Orchesterakademie der Bochumer Symphoniker, the Dresden Hochschule orchestra, Grand Harmonie, the Boston New Music Initiative, Seattle Modern Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica de Loja (Ecuador), Savaria Symphony Orchestra (Hungary), Cool Opera of Norway (members of the Stavanger Symphony), Schönbrunner Schloss Orchester (Vienna), the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, the Kennett Symphony, and the Divertimento Ensemble of Milan. His collaborations with the Seattle Symphony include assistant conductor for the performance and recording of Ives’ Fourth Symphony, and as guest conductor for their Native Lands project and the North American premiere of Páll Ragnar Pallson's Quake with faculty cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir. He has collaborated with several prominent soloists such as Sarah Chang, Jon Kimura Parker, Yekwon Sunwoo, Glenn Dicterow and Jonathan Biss. He has been a guest rehearsal conductor for numerous young orchestras, such as the New England Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, The Symphony Orchestra of the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music at Chapman University, and the Vienna University of Technology orchestra. He has served on faculty of the Pierre Monteux School as Conducting Associate, has been resident conductor of the Atlantic Music Festival and guest conductor at the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival.

Dr. Rahbee was an assistant at the Vienna State opera from 2002-2010. As part of his fellowship and residency at the 2003 Salzburg Festival, Dr. Rahbee was assistant conductor of the International Attergau Institute Orchestra, where he worked with members of the Vienna Philharmonic. He has been selected to actively participate in masterclasses with prominent conductors such as Kurt Masur, Sir Colin Davis, Jorma Panula, Zdeněk Mácal, Peter Eötvös, Zoltán Peskó and Helmut Rilling, and counts Nikolaus Harnoncourt to be among his most influential mentors. From 1997-2001, David Rahbee was founder and conductor of the Fidelio Chamber Orchestra in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dr. Rahbeeʼs principal conducting teachers were Charles Bruck and Michael Jinbo at the Pierre Monteux School. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in violin and composition from Indiana University, a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory in orchestral conducting, and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Montreal in orchestral conducting.  He has also participated in post-graduate conducting classes at the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Vienna. His brass arrangements are published by Warwick Music, and his articles on the music of Mahler have appeared in journals of the International Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft, among others.

In addition to being awarded first prize in conducting from The American Prize for 2020, he was awarded 2nd place in 2019. He has also placed among winners for five consecutive years for The American Prize Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award for Orchestral Programming, recognizing his programming with the UW Symphony and its affiliated ensembles for every season since he joined the faculty. The UWSO has also been a finalist in the category of orchestral performance in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Dr. Rahbee is co-editor of Daniels’ Orchestral Music (6thedition) and Daniels’ Orchestral Music Online (DOMO), the gold standard among conductors, orchestral administrators, orchestra librarians as well as other music professionals and students researching for orchestral programming.

John Turman, horn

John Turman joins the School of Music faculty in Autumn 2021 as an artist in residence in horn performance. Prior to becoming a member of the Seattle Symphony, John Turman was awarded the position of principal horn of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in the spring of 2015. During the 2013–2014 season, Turman performed with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as acting third horn. Additionally, he has performed with the Austin Lyric Opera, Austin Symphony, Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Symphony. Turman received his degree in Horn Performance from Rice University in 2015 where he studied with William VerMeulen.