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Casey Christie / The Californian

Professor Doug Davis is a guest on "First Look with Scott Cox" Tuesday in downtown Bakersfield along with Bakersfield Symphony conductor John Farrer (not pictured).

The Bakersfield Symphony is challenging itself with works the orchestra hasn't played before.

This weekend's program will include Nicolas Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol," Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," Heitor Villa-Lobos' Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra with guest soloist Roberto Bonfiglio, and a new work by Doug Davis, which Davis will conduct.

Called "Passion's Glance Beyond," Davis said this work was a journey into new musical territory for himself as well.

"This piece is probably the most tonal I've ever written," Davis said. "Because it starts with dissonance and then struggles to resolve itself -- so the materials of the composition take shape around that."

Davis said the piece will begin with a "stab of dissonance" performed by a solo cello -- which sets the trajectory of the rest of the work. "This part of the piece, like for most pieces, that first moment is psychologically important," Davis said.

Think the very opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and you'll know what Davis means. Davis' stab of dissonance is based on the intervals of a major seventh and a major third. Anyone who has heard Davis' music over the decades will recognize this musical element as a defining characteristic of his, especially when he is at his most expressive.

"As a composer, at some point you take a look at what you have done," Davis said. "The hyper-expressivity of a major seventh and a major third -- that became the leaping-off place for the composition."

Davis said the rest of the piece is like a tug-of-war between major and minor tonalities that some people could interpret as a conflict between the human condition and a "glimpse of purity beyond."

"In actuality, the extra-musical meaning doesn't exist for me inside my creation of the music," Davis explained in his program notes. "All the meaning for me is in purely musical terms."

The concert will open with the "Capriccio Espagnol" and "Le Tombeau de Couperin," works that demand virtuosity from every part of the orchestra.

"Both Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakof were masters of orchestration, but they produced radically different sounds -- they couldn't be more different," said conductor John Farrer.

Rimsky-Korsakof wrote "Capriccio Espagnol" in 1887, at the height of Romantic composers' interest in the "exotic" -- especially folk music of other cultures. The Russian composer was especially interested in Spanish dances and "gypsy" music, and wrote this five-movement work not as an exercise in orchestration but as he put it, "a composition for orchestra."

Rimsky-Korsakof's mastery of all things orchestral can be heard in the intense colors of the orchestra -- the use of the harp, a full range of percussion instruments, guitar-like effects in the string sections and virtuosic passages for soloists throughout the orchestra.

You would never know that Ravel originally wrote "Le Tombeau de Couperin" as a piano suite, an hommage to the 18th century keyboard dance suite, including a prelude, a forlane, a rigaudon and a minuet. Ravel's work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I; when he completed the work in 1917, each movement of the suite became a memorial to a different friend who had died in military service.

Like the "Capriccio Espagnol," the Ravel piece imposes huge demands on the orchestra, especially on the woodwinds, and the oboe in particular. Surprisingly lively and cheerful for a post-war piece, Ravel was quoted as responding to critics by saying, "The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence."

Completing the concert is the performance of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra, with guest soloist Roberto Bonfiglio. Recognized internationally as the leading virtuoso of the harmonica, Bonfiglio has performed this concerto over 400 times, and has performed the world or U.S. premieres for several others.

Concertgoers can get a preview of the music at the 7 p.m. lecture offered by Dr. Jerome Kleinsasser.