Thursday, October 16, 2008

Program Notes: October 25

On October 25, the VSO will begin its two-year 75th Anniversary celebration with "Music of Our Time." The 2008/2009 Masterworks series will feature music written only in the last 74 years, or the lifetime of the VSO. The program notes have been included here. For bios of Augustin Hadelich and Joseph Schwantner, scroll down to the posts featuring each guest artist.

Chasing Light…
Joseph Schwantner

One of the special pleasures of living in rural New Hampshire is experiencing the often brilliant and intense early morning sunrises, reminding one of Thoreau’s words, “Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me” (Walden). Chasing Light… draws its spirit, energy and inspiration from the celebration of vibrant colors and light that penetrate the morning mist as it wafts through the trees in the high New England hills. Like a delicate dance, those images intersected with a brief original poem that helped fire my musical imagination.

Chasing Light…

Beneath the sickle moon,
sunrise ignites daybreak’s veil
Calliope’s rainbowed song
cradles heaven’s arc
piercing shadowy pines,
a kaleidoscope blooms
morning’s embrace
confronts the dawn

The four-movement work, about eighteen minutes in duration, proceeds from one movement to the next without pause. Each movement’s subtitle is associated with a pair of lines from the poem.

Mvt. I: “Sunrise Ignites Daybreak’s Veil” (Con forza, feroce con bravura) opens with an introduction containing three forceful and diverse ideas presented by full orchestra: (1) a low rhythmic and percussive pedal point on “F” followed by (2) a three-note triplet figure in the brass overlaid by (3) a rapid swirling cascade of arch-like upper woodwind phrases cast in a stretto-like texture. These primary elements form the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic materials developed in the work.

Following the introduction, the strings present a theme derived from the pedal point rhythmic gesture and the brass three-note figure leading to an extended series of upward thrusting six-note sonorities and a long increasing assertive line (first brass, then later strings and woodwinds) partitioned into two parts. The movement ends with a return to the introductory material and a sustained pitch on “G” providing a link to the next movement.

Mvt. II: “Calliope’s Rainbowed Song” (lontano) The rapid arched woodwind phrases in the introduction to the first movement, occur in a variety of divergent contexts throughout the work, not only as small scale gestures but in larger more extended designs. Cast in a major arch-like palindrome form, this movement begins softly, first with solo clarinet followed by a repeated piano sonority that forms the structure of a theme played by solo flute. Gradually, this theme builds to an exuberant midpoint, followed by sections that appear in reverse order finally ending quietly and gently with solo clarinet and a high ethereal violin harmonic on “A” that carries over to the third movement.

Mvt. III: “A Kaleidoscope Blooms” (lacrimoso) a slow expressive and elegiac movement for oboe (for Andrea Lenz, principal oboe of the Reno Chamber Orchestra), opens with a low dark repeated pedal played by piano, contrabass and tam-tam. Sudden rapid woodwind gestures contrast and frame a succession of gradually ascending oboe phrases that accumulate ever-greater urgency as the music approaches its maximum intensity at the end.

Mvt. IV: “Morning’s Embrace Confronts the Dawn” (lontano…leggiero) The rapid and aggressive woodwind phrases in the first movement now emerge in delicate and shimmering string textures. These earlier elements prepare for a stately but urgent chorale theme that builds forcefully to the palindromic music of the third movement, the introductory materials of the first, and a final climatic conclusion.

Chasing Light… a “Ford Made in America” Commission, the largest commissioning consortium in the United States involving some fifty-eight orchestras in all fifty States, is a Partnership Program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer, generously funded by the Ford Motor Company Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from the Aaron Copland Fund, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts and the Amphion Foundation.

Known for his dramatic and unique style and as a gifted orchestral colorist, Joseph Schwantner is one of the most prominent American composers today. He received his musical and academic training at the Chicago Conservatory and Northwestern University and has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music, and the Yale School of Music, simultaneously establishing himself as a sought after composition instructor. Schwantner's compositional career has been marked by many awards, grants, and fellowships, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his orchestral composition Aftertones of Infinity and several Grammy nominations. Among his many commissions is his Percussion Concerto, which was commissioned for the 150th anniversary season of the New York Philharmonic and is one of the most performed concert works of the past decade. Schwantner is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Schwantner’s music is published exclusively by Schott Helicon Music Corporation and recorded on the RCA Red Seal/BMG, Hyperion, Naxos, Koch International Classics, EMI/Virgin, Sony, Delos, New World Records, Klavier and Innova labels. Schwantner’s recent commissions include works for the 75th anniversary of the National Symphony Orchestra, eighth blackbird, Flute Force, a work for flute and piano to honor flutist, Sam Baron’s memory and a Concerto for Percussion Section, Timpani and Orchestra for the Percussive Arts Society and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, for the Society’s 50th anniversary.

Ballet Suite from Estancia
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Alberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires and died in Geneva. Educated in Buenos Aires, his professional career included teaching positions at Argentine conservatories and universities, several years in the USA, and the directorship of the Latin American Center for Advanced Musical Studies. He is celebrated as one the foremost composers of his generation from the Americas, and a number of his works, such as his first string quartet, the harp concerto, and several symphonic works, have achieved a permanent place in the international repertory. The ballet Estancia is one of Ginastera's earlier mature works. An earlier ballet, PanambĂ­, composed in 1937 when Ginastera was still a student, impressed the New York ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein, who commissioned Estancia in 1941 for a planned South American tour by his company. Unfortunately, the troupe disbanded in 1942, and the work had to wait ten years for a stage premiere. In the meantime, Ginastera extracted the suite of four dances heard here. The ballet depicts the work of a single day, from dawn to the following dawn, on an estancia, or Argentine ranch. During the course of the day, a country woman rejects a suitor from the city until he demonstrates that he can work as hard as the gauchos.

In style, the music falls in the main stream of the mid-twentieth century, drawing particularly on early Stravinsky and Bartok, and bearing a similarity to some works of Aaron Copland, who became a friend of Ginastera's. Ginastera builds each movement from short, relatively simple, folk-like modal melodic ideas often of primarily rhythmic interest. Indeed, rhythm is of central importance; seemingly all the instruments of the orchestra are used at times as extensions of the percussion. The first dance, Los trabajadores agricolas ("The Farm Workers"), from the "morning" sequence of the ballet, introduces the laborers with rapid, energetic music full of ostinatos, cross-rhythms, and a large battery of percussion. Danza del trigo ("Wheat Dance") is a mostly quieter episode that builds to a lyrical climax, but with an ever-present pulse in pizzicato strings and pulsing winds. Los peones de hacienda ("The Cattlemen") is another fast dance, switching bewilderingly among different meters, in which the influence of The Rite of Spring is clearly audible. The suite, like the entire ballet, ends with a malambo, or competitive dance, in which the gauchos strive to outdo one another with increasingly vigorous steps. Ginastera made a specialty of adapting the malambo for concert music. The malambo from Estancia is a characteristic example, with an unrelenting and precipitous rhythmic drive that builds in intensity through a series of varied episodes and leaves the listeners -- and no doubt the dancers as well -- breathless.

--Nathaniel Lew

Violin Concerto No. 1 in a minor
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

This work was written in 1947-48, under the shadow of the repressive cultural measures of Stalin’s regime. Because of the composer’s denunciation by Stalin, it was not performed until 1955. The dedicatee, David Oistrakh, who also premiered the work, commented on the “depth of its artistic content” and described the solo part as “a pithy Shakespearian role.” He also characterized the first movement as “a suppression of feelings” and the second as “demoniac.” There are four movements, with a cadenza linking the final two.

Nocturne: Moderato – A semi-homage to the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Anguish and apprehension are conveyed in the deep tones of bass clarinet and contrabassoon.

Scherzo: Allegro – Notable for its pent-up energy and also for the near-complete statement of what was to become Shostakovich’s personal musical signature: the motif D, Eb, C, B, which--using the German letters--spells D-S-C-H, representing the composer himself.

Passacaglia: Andante – Includes a somber utilization of the fate motif from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, first heard in the horns, and elaborated upon in the cadenza.

Burlesque: Allegro con brio/Presto – A ferocious dance in contrast with the sensitive communing found in the slow movements. The theme in the solo violin’s entrance resembles the solo flute entrance in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka.

The Violin Concerto is one of the pieces that has enjoyed a resurgence of attention with the celebration of the composer’s centenary, though it remains a technical (and musical) challenge.