Nov. 6 symphony concert features local violinist

The Great Falls Symphony continues its 63rd season on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m, at the Mansfield Theater, with String Theory, featuring Great Falls’ own Megan Karls on violin as she performs Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

[For tickets, contact the Mansfield Box Office at 406-455-8514, or visit gfsymphony.org]

Maestro Grant Harville hosts a free pre-concert Symphony Preview, at Great Falls College MSU or via Facebook Live at noon Nov. 4. Participants can learn more about the music featured in the upcoming program and participate in a Q&A with Harville and Karls.

Karls performs as co-concertmaster of the symphony and as violinist with the Cascade String Quartet. An established performer across the state, Karls is also the associate concertmaster of the Billings Symphony and has frequented as guest concertmaster for the Bozeman, Billings and Butte symphonies, Intermountain Opera Company and with the String Orchestra of the Rockies. She has previously held orchestral positions across the U.S., with the Boise, Idaho; Wichita, Kan.; Green Bay, Wis.; Des Moines, Iowa and Fox Valley, Wis. symphony orchestras, among others, according to a release.

In solo endeavors, Karls was honored to be supported by the Montana Arts Council for her debut video album entitled “Decommissioned: Solo Violin in Cold War Relics,” a project showcasing unaccompanied Bach and contemporary composers recorded in decommissioned military structures across northern Montana.

Hillary Shepherd, GF Symphony executive director, interviewed Karls about her upcoming performance.

With all of the fantastic violin concertos out there to choose from, why did you choose Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1?

“I first learned to play this piece about 15 years ago and every time I work on it I find new things to love and explore. Preparing a concerto like this for performance with orchestra takes hours of practice and study every day for almost a year. Even so, the music teaches me new things each day about playing violin and about myself. I chose this Prokofiev concerto because I knew that every morning I would wake up excited to embark on a deeper discovery of it.”

What makes this piece particularly challenging or interesting for you?

“It is a funny thing, but many of my fellow violinist friends from around the country have reached out to share their enthusiasm and encouragement about this performance, and truthfully, more often than not they have said something like, ‘I love that concerto, it is so beautiful and unique – but I have always been terrified of playing it! Break a leg!’

Prokofiev D major is famous for incorporating nearly every violin technique that existed by the early 20th century. Listen for the acrobatics in the second movement, the long stretches of scales, and the stratospheric trills in the first and third movements. It is short in duration, compared to the more commonly performed romantic era concerti like Brahms and Tchaikovsky, but it really packs a punch! I have always been charmed by Prokofiev’s one-of-a-kind voice, as well as the combination of refinement and rugged physicality it takes play his music.”

Why is this concert a must-see?

“We have something so special in Great Falls with our symphony and the incredible wealth of talent right here in our community. That is true all the more so when we feature our own at center-stage.

On a personal note, it has been a lifelong dream of mine to perform this concerto with an orchestra. Even so, never in my wildest dreams could I have hoped to experience that thrill with an orchestra full of musicians I love this much. From my amazing colleagues in the Cascade Quartet and Chinook Winds, to my grown students in the violin section who have worked hard to join us, to my friends across the orchestra, and all under Grant Harville’s visionary leadership, it is a profound and humbling honor.”

What else would you like people to know about the upcoming concert?

“I just have to get nerdy here for a moment and say that there are two musical tricks that have always pulled on my heartstrings, and Prokofiev uses both of them simultaneously in the third movement. This is probably why every time I listen to it I turn into a melty, weepy, full-hearted puddle. The first is introduced in the violas and second violins – ascending intervals of a 7th. This interval (“do” to “ti” for the Sound of Music fans out there) is always reaching and yearning for resolution, but it carries so much optimism in the process. The second is contrary motion. Simply put, as the solo violin reaches up higher and higher, as if to stretch into the heavens, the equally prominent and simultaneous tuba melody moves lower and lower, as if to stretch roots deep into the earth.

It has taken me years to parse out a theoretical explanation for the profound and instinctive emotional reaction I have always had to this piece. To be sure, music will always have the power to move us in ways that defy our understanding. But for me, I think it is the humanity and optimism of digging deep roots while reaching for the sky that speaks to me in this piece.

If you come to the concert, I hope this music will also touch your heartstrings, in any way that is meaningful to you.”

COVID-19 Policy: The symphony continues to follow the health department’s guidelines for safety and any additional safety guidelines imposed by the venues in which they perform. At the Mansfield Theater, masks are recommended but not required. The symphony is also continuing to video record our performances and make the concerts available to subscribers online at a later date.