Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Program Notes: March 21 & 22

The VSO is gearing up for two concerts this weekend, the fourth Masterworks Series installment and the final concert of the Sunday Matinee Series. We'll be playing more repertoire written in our time, all of it by American composers. Barber's Capricorn Concerto features two of our principal players, Nancy Dimock on oboe and Mark Emery playing the trumpet, plus a last-minute substitute on flute, Melissa Mielens, who was able to jump in when our principal, Albert Brouwer, was called away on family business. Listen carefully for the presence of three singing bowls (in A, C#, and E) in Richard Danielpour's Rocking the Cradle. We searched high and low for these bowls, but thankfully Mr. Danielpour came through with a loaner set. Keep reading for the complete program notes for this "All-American" program.

Overture to Candide
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Candide, a musical based on Voltaire’s short, satirical novel, opened on Broadway on December 1, 1956. It closed after only 73 performances. The score became an underground favorite, which led to the popular success of a completely retooled version twenty years later. The show combined a wide range of styles, witty parodies, and sheer technical brilliance. The bright and sassy overture has become one of the most frequently performed orchestral compositions by a 20th century American composer. In its current incarnation for full orchestra (which incorporates changes made by Bernstein in December 1989), it includes tunes from the songs “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” “Battle Music,” “Oh Happy We,” and “Glitter and Be Gay.” An edited version was used as the theme music for TV’s Dick Cavett Show.

Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 3
Henry Cowell (1897-1965)

The composer wrote: “I believe in music, in the force of its spirit, in its exultation, its nobility, its humor, and in its power to penetrate to the basic fineness of every human being. I believe that a truly devoted musical work, dedicated to human integrity, into which the composer has put the best of himself, acts to humanize the behavior of all hearers who allow it to touch their innermost being.”

Born in California and raised by leftist writers who encouraged him to study violin and piano, even after the 1906 earthquake which left the family impoverished and living a nomadic existence, Cowell was tremendously well-read. His interest in music of the Pacific Rim resulted in an oeuvre which John Cage called “occidental and oriental at one and the same time.” Cowell was a passionate advocate of new music, and upon achieving attention for his piano compositions, shocked the world with techniques which included playing with his forearms and stroking the strings. He had a prodigious intellect but also a social impulse and generous idealism. He lived to share his music.

Of his third Hymn and Fuguing Tune, Cowell said: “This Hymn is a sustained piece in the Dorian mode, and was borrowed from southern revival meetings rather than New England anthems; it adopts the dance rhythms that have been taken over by the big singing gatherings in the south. It is a modern development of the southern Fuguing Style, in which popular minstrel show rhythms and tunes were turned to religious purposes in revival meetings. The general effect I hope is one of good nature and enthusiasm. The tunes are of course my own, but both tunes and treatment were suggested by the music of the singing schools. I have tried to develop them in ways suitable to the modern orchestra without abandoning their essential character.”

Rocking the Cradle
Richard Danielpour (1956- )

Richard Danielpour is a composer whose distinctive American voice is part of a rich neo-Romantic heritage with influences from pivotal composers like Britten, Copland, Bernstein, and Barber. The New York Times says of his music, “Mr. Danielpour’s soothing eclecticism is like an attentive host seeing to his guests’ every need,” and the San Jose Mercury News calls him “a brilliant composer who is unafraid to let his emotions show and who possesses the skill to bring off grand orchestral effects.”

Danielpour has received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, five Macdowell Colony Fellowships, and a Rockefeller Foundation grant. Danielpour serves on the faculties of both Curtis Institute and the Manhattan School of Music; he himself studied at New England Conservatory and the Juilliard School.

“I have a hot-blooded relationship to music. I tend to write works of necessity rather than works focused on the creation of beauty, art, and artifice. I never write abstract works; I always need an internal or extra-musical scena involved in order to create a work. I’m really a theater or opera composer in disguise.”

Rocking the Cradle was commissioned and premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007. With its double reference to the Cradle of Civilization and the upbringing and nurturing of our children, it continued Danielpour’s musical/political activism. About his motivations for composing the piece, he wrote, “One of the things that propelled this piece into being was the sense that we had come to a point where what was once a political issue, has become a humanitarian one. Gandhi said, ‘An eye for an eye makes everyone blind.’ I feel that the United States is going through a period of temporary blindness. As an artist, I can’t do much, but I can speak out through my music.” He continued: “The second movement is a kind of large-scale eulogy not only for the death of our young in Iraq, but also for an America that is no longer in existence—that is dead, or maybe only asleep.”

According to Danielpour, the two movements “contain the same material and yet are opposites of each other. The first is rhythmically driven, relentless. The second is more tender, gentle, rounded, and melodically driven. I believe that if I need to explain the piece and it can’t be heard, I’ve failed. A surgeon doesn’t need to talk about the tools he uses in open-heart surgery—what matters is that the patient lives!”

Capricorn Concerto
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Samuel Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, began piano lessons at age six, and made his first forays into composition by the time he was seven. At fourteen he entered the Curtis Institute of Music as part of its inaugural class, studying piano, composition, conducting, and voice. He won many awards, including the Bearns Prize of Columbia University in 1928 and 1933, a Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship, and the American Prix de Rome, all of which helped him to travel and study in Italy, where he met Toscanini, one of the early and important champions of his music. Barber was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received two Pulitzer Prizes, in 1958 for the opera Vanessa, with a libretto by his partner Gian Carlo Menotti, and in 1962 for his Piano Concerto. Barber’s musical language is clearly rooted in tonality and the tradition of lyrical romantic expressiveness. In fact, he was often criticized or dismissed for being unoriginal and backward-looking, but his angular melodic lines, effective use of dissonance, and rhythmic energy place him firmly in the twentieth century, with a uniquely expressive voice that has always communicated directly and immediately with concert audiences.

Barber served in the army during the Second World War, but was given much time and freedom to compose, and the Capricorn Concerto was completed in 1944. It was named for the home he shared with Menotti in Mount Kisco, New York, purchased the year before with the help of his patron Mary Curtis Bok. “Capricorn” soon became a haven for artists and intellectuals from many disciplines. It is said that each member of the household – Menotti and his adopted son Chip as well as Barber himself – is represented with thematic material in the score. The instrumentation is the same as Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, and the homage to Bach is also apparent in the contrapuntal writing and form reminiscent of a Baroque Concerto Grosso.

--Gabriel Langfur

Melissa Mielens, flute

A native of East Greenbush, New York, Melissa Mielens received her B.M. and M.M. from New England Conservatory, both with distinction in performance. As one of the youngest recipients of a Fulbright grant, she had the opportunity to study in Paris with Alain Marion.

Mielens has traveled throughout the world playing with various orchestras, including a tour of Japan with the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra; the United Kingdom with the New World Symphony; and tours of Europe and South America with the Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra. She was principal flutist with the New Hampshire Symphony and is currently principal flutist with the Indian Hill Symphony. She has also played principal with the Portland Symphony, Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Springfield Symphony, and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

A prizewinner in several national and regional competitions, including the James Pappoutsakis Flute Competition and the National Flute Association Young Artist Competition, Mielens has performed live on WGBH’s “Boston Performances,” and “Morning Pro Musica.” She teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and at Phillips Exeter Academy, and her students have been accepted at the Curtis Institute of Music, Tanglewood Institute, and the Interlochen Performing Arts Academy.

Nancy Dimock, oboe

Nancy Dimock, principal oboist of the VSO, has been a frequent soloist with the orchestra, performing the Bach Double Concerto with music director Jaime Laredo, the Haydn Symphony Concertante, the Barber Canzonetta and David Ludwig’s Radiance. In addition, she is a member of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva and the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, and a former member of the Albany Symphony. She frequently performs as a guest with the Boston Lyric Opera, Portland Symphony, Rhode Island Philharmonic and the Boston Pops. She has been the principal oboist of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and can be heard performing with the HSO on the Grammy-nominated CD, “Rosemary Clooney: The Final Concert.”

Ms. Dimock has been on the Prairie Home Companion radio show and PBS’s Great Performances television broadcast. She has recorded for the Concord, Albany and Chandos labels. She has been singled out for mention in numerous reviews, among them one by Susan Larson from the Boston Globe, who wrote: “The Chameleon Arts Ensemble opened with Joan Tower's lovely 1989 Island Prelude in its wind quintet incarnation. Lush, serene wind chords create an opalescent soundscape over which the oboe, gorgeously played by Nancy Dimock, soars and swoops in increasingly active volutes and trills; the ensemble joins the oboe in a final orgy of birdcalls and trills.”

Ms. Dimock lives in Stoneham, Mass., with her husband Joel and their son Marco

Mark Emery, trumpet

Mark Emery grew up in Ojai, California and Portland, Oregon. In his family, it was mandatory that he and his three brothers play in band for at least one year. After seeing a brass quintet perform an instrument demo at his school, Mark fell in love with the trumpet, and began learning how to read music while singing hymns in church. He attended Portland State University in Oregon where he earned his B.M. in 1998. His primary teachers were Fred Sautter, Gerald Webster, and David Bamonte. During that time, Mark performed and toured as a substitute with the Oregon Symphony. He is also on their recording under James DePreist “Respighi’s Rome” (Delos Label).

In 1998, Mark moved to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory where he studied with Charles Schlueter. At that time he joined the Huntington Brass Quintet and at the conclusion of the year, the group won an NEA grant through Chamber Music America. The members suspended their educations in order to bring musical education to a small rural area of Stephenville, Texas. This area had raised half of the grant money needed over many years. During 1999-2000 the Huntington Brass Quintet performed for over 60,000 students in 325 concerts. They also taught academic subjects like math and history in classrooms using an NEC based program called “Learning Through Music.” Mark has been featured on NPR, and as a speaker at two Chamber Music America National Conventions, New England Conservatory, University of Texas, and Tanglewood Music Center. The residency year led Mark to two years of work in the chamber music department of the University of Maryland where he helped start an outreach program. Most importantly, Mark met Stephanie Peacock in Stephenville, Texas. They have been married for four years.

Mark returned to Boston and while completing the second year of his masters degree, he began playing as a substitute with the Boston Ballet and with many regional orchestras throughout New England. He spent two summers as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center where in 2002 he won the Roger Voisin Trumpet Award. At this time, Mark also began singing as a cantor at St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston, where he still sings seven masses each weekend he’s not in Vermont. Mark’s current teachers and mentors are Tom Rolfs, Benjamin Wright, and James Pandolfi.

Mark performs frequently as a substitute with the Boston Symphony, and has appeared with the group three times in Carnegie Hall. He has also performed extensively with the Boston Pops Orchestra, including a tour with celebrated tenor, Andrea Bocelli. Mark teaches at the Winchester Community Music School in Winchester, MA. The life of a musician is made up of lots of layers and affiliations. One of the most signifigant of those for Mark is the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Performing as a substitute during several seasons, then winning the job of principal trumpet was a dream come true. Touring the state, forming strong relationships, and sharing artistry with affluent audiences are truly treasured experiences. Mark resides in Boston.

Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

In all that Shakespeare penned on the theme of love, nothing has proven more enduring than his Romeo and Juliet. This story, in modern garb, is told through Bernstein’s brilliant score for the Broadway musical West Side Story. Tony and Maria are the star-crossed lovers, and their warring clans are teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. In a rapidly changing America, two themes of the 1957 musical remain contemporary, much to our regret: racial disharmony and urban violence.

Before West Side Story, Bernstein had copiously illustrated his love for the many facets of New York City with the ballet Fancy Free and the related musical On the Town in 1944; the film score for On the Waterfront, and the 1952 musical Wonderful Town. West Side Story was a subject suggested to Bernstein which he adopted as an experiment to see if it was possible to write a serious musical. After 973 performances on Broadway and a screen version which won ten Academy Awards, little doubt was left as to the viability of his goal.

The original pit orchestra numbered 25. Scoring for the movie version demanded up to 70 players for some sequences. The use of the word “symphonic” in the title of these collected excerpts does not refer to the size of the performing group but rather to the way the dances were originally conceived. Most of the score was derived from a few basic themes which were altered or combined to provide for a variety of moods and situations. The work is performed continuously, without pause.

1. Prologue: Allegro moderato. The scene is set with music that suggests the simmering tensions between the Jets and the Sharks.
2. Somewhere: Adagio. In a dream sequence, the two gangs enjoy a brotherly comradeship.
3. Scherzo: Vivace leggiero. The teenagers escape the city confines to find sunlight and fresh air.
4. Mambo: Presto. Sharks and Jets turn a neighborhood dance into a dance-floor competition.
5. Cha-Cha: Andantino con grazia. Tony and Maria dance together.
6. Meeting Scene: Meno mosso. The lovers exchange their first words.
7. Cool, Fugue: Allegretto. The aggression of the Jets is expressed in a contrapuntal dance.
8. Rumble: Molto allegro. The inevitable conflict takes place and both gang leaders are killed.
9. Finale: Adagio. Tony has died in Maria’s arms and the “Somewhere” motif of the dream sequence accompanies his funeral procession offstage.

--Hilary Hatch