Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Program notes: Made in Vermont Music Festival

The Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour is less than a month away. I'm gearing up to trade in my 26-foot truck for a more maneuverable 14-foot model, the musicians are learning what ancient myths sound like when brought to life musically, our percussionist is practicing yoga (I hear the percussion parts require a bit of aerobic activity to execute), and high school students across the state are wondering what dinner with an orchestral musician will be like (our Green Room Program pairs musician mentors with students around the state for a behind-the-scenes concert experience). The tour schedule is listed in the right sidebar. Visit our website for more info about tickets. Read on for program notes for the concerts.

String Quartet No. 4 in C Major, KV 157
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

This string quartet has been arranged for string orchestra by Anthony Prnciotti. Composed while the teenaged Mozart was in Milan in 1773, the piece shows signs that the composer was simultaneously working on an opera (Lucio Silla). The first movement, for example, is full of parallel thirds and sixths in the violins, intervals common in vocal duets. On the other hand, the opening Allegro’s primary theme is based on ascending and descending scales, which is a more instrumental than vocal derivation. This bright but fairly gentle tune is graced with trills in the first violin part. The firsts and seconds “converse” antiphonally as a bridge to a singing melodic segment that begins with something resembling a bird call. All voices participate pretty equally in the development section, followed by the usual recapitulation of the beginning.

The Andante shifts to minor, and definitely evokes an opera aria, especially in the first violins’ plaintive line. The movement features rich and sometimes arrestingly modulating harmonies and a rocking rhythm which seems to presage the barcarole, a genre developed early in the following century.

The finale (there is no minuet in this particular quartet), is a brief Presto, a rollicking movement with lively syncopations and brief excursions into the minor mode. It concludes with a tiny, but stimulating coda, consisting of a crescendo (not yet a common technique) designed to bring Mozart’s surprised audience to its feet.

Mozart never tired of the string quartet. He wrote six of them during his early years in Vienna (ten or so years after K 157 was composed), and dedicated them to Haydn, the acknowledged master of the string quartet form. Haydn told Mozart’s father that Mozart was “the greatest composer known to me in person or by name.”

"Odzihozo and the Lake."
Derrik Jordan

Derrik wrote us recently to explain: "Since we are going back in history 400 years and celebrating the discovery of Lake Champlain by Samuel de Champlain, I decided to go even further back and celebrate the connection and stewardship of the lake by the original inhabitants, the Abenaki. I contacted some Abenaki people and did a little research and it turns out they have a beautiful creation story about Lake Champlain featuring a supernatural being called Odzihozo. The story goes that he made himself from the leftover dust that fell from the Creator's hands but forgot to make legs for himself and dragged himself around the land making mountains and gouging out rivers. He finally made Lake Champlain and thought it was so beautiful that he decided to stay there and watch over it always. He turned himself into a standing rock on a very small island just south of Burlington between Shelburne Point and Juniper Island that people now call Rock Dunder. It's still a very sacred and symbolic place for the Abenaki, and they sometimes go there to leave tobacco offerings and do ceremony."

Jeux d’enfants, Op. 22 (Children’s Games)
Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Georges Bizet is best known for his operatic masterpiece, Carmen. He died of a heart attack only a few months after its first performance, at the tender age of 36. Like others who died tragically young (Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert), he was an exceptional musical prodigy. Against all rules, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of nine! Contemporary French composers who influenced his musical development to various degrees were Gounod, Delibes, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, and Offenbach.

Also known as the Petite Suite (Little Suite), this charming work is a slight but genuine masterpiece, filled with inventive vivacity, witty and urbane in the best French tradition. Despite its miniature nature, it has achieved great popularity. It was not performed until 1880, five years after Bizet’s death. Originally composed in 1871 as a set of twelve vignettes for two pianos, Bizet later orchestrated five of the numbers. The piece showcases Bizet’s natural gift for melody and a remarkable artistic confidence.

The perky first movement (“Marche”) is marked by crescendos and diminuendos, with brass calls and drum beats descriptive of the gradual approach and retreat of a troop of soldiers. The second movement, which is entitled “Berceuse” (Lullaby) and subtitled “La Poupée” (the Doll), is a sweet, gently rocking lullaby. Next comes “Impromptu” (subtitled “La Toupie,” or The Top), which maintains a spinning figure in the background of a scampering main theme. “Petit mari, petite femme” (Little husband, little wife), a slow movement just for strings, offers a contrasting emotional depth inspired by children playing at tender domesticity. This delightful suite comes to a close with “Galop” (subtitled “Le Bal,” or The Ball), an exuberant music-hall finale.

Jeux d’enfants has been re-orchestrated slightly by Alyssa Weinberg to comport with the VSO’s Made in Vermont orchestration.

Symphony No. 82 in C Major, “L’ours” (The Bear)
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Portraits of composers are so often drawn in shades of gray: everywhere there is poverty, deprivation, physical and mental infirmity; brief lives of painfully unrecognized genius. The picture of Haydn, in contrast, is refreshingly pink-cheeked. Here was a man firmly comfortable with his rustic origins, and his music is a reflection of his sanguine character. In the words of Brockway, “Any one of his great symphonies is the man in small: one and all they breathe his sunny disposition, his wit, his sane and healthy love of life.”

In 1761 Haydn began his tenure as Kapellmeister to the Esterhazys, an employ which lasted almost 30 years. Isolated at the country Esterhazy estate, Haydn said of his situation, “I could make experiments, observe what produced an effect and what weakened it, and was thus in a position to improve, alter, make additions or omissions, and be as bold as I pleased. I was cut off from the world, there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.”

Toward the end of his service to the Esterhazys, Haydn’s contract freed him from the obligation to compose exclusively for the prince. An era of purposeful individual development was inaugurated with his acceptance of a commission from the Parisian concert organization “Les Concerts de la Loge Olympique” for six symphonies. Marie Antoinette and the ladies and gentlemen of the court of Versailles were frequent attendees at this fashionable concert series, but luckily for us, the popularity of the so-called Paris Symphonies outlived the ancien regime.

Vivace assai. The energetic first movement begins with a boldly soaring figure derived from the C-Major triad. A sudden hush, and the strings alone sing a pensive phrase. A brilliant outburst—almost like a military fanfare—follows, and then the opening passage is transformed into a delicate pizzicato for the violins, accompanied by woodwinds. The entire movement is filled with harmonic surprises (including some dissonance) and rich inspiration.

Allegretto. A two-part theme provides the foundation for what is technically a theme-and-variations movement, although the recurrent familiarity of the first part of the theme gives the impression of rondo form.

Menuetto. The opening of this movement is festive and ceremonial in a way that recalls the courtly origins of the minuet, but Haydn soon alters the character and color of the music, giving the traditional form his own unique stamp.

Finale: Vivace. The humorous drone featured in this movement prompted the symphony’s nickname, “The Bear.” A drone suggests bagpipes, and bagpipes were often used by street performers at country fairs, some of whom were handlers for dancing bears. It has also been observed that the repeated appoggiatura which punctuates the low drone might sound like a bear’s growl. The material is simple yet imaginative, and full of infectious high spirits.

--Hilary Hatch

Derrik Jordan

Living in southern Vermont and playing throughout the northeast, Derrik Jordan has sung national jingles, worked with many bands and has had his songs recorded by other artists, but what really excites him is writing, recording and performing his original music for people. “Creating live music is a sacred trust. That moment of ecstatic communion when performer and audience become one is one of life’s greatest experiences,” says Jordan.

As a recording artist, award-winning singer-songwriter and composer, multi-instrumentalist (electric violin, percussion, guitar and piano), producer and teacher, Jordan is used to wearing a lot of hats. “Brazilliance – Everyone Loves Brazil,” a 29 track double CD, showcases the best of his original sambas and bossa novas written in the classic and timeless Brazilian style. It contains a new recording of his song “Share Your Love,” first released by Angela Bofill in 1978 on her debut album for Arista Records.

“Expecting A Miracle,” an acoustic-pop-soul CD he co-produced with Tom “T-Bone” Wolk (Hall and Oates, Saturday Night Live Band), features top NYC musicians Marc Shulman and Ben Wittman on guitar and drums. “Speak Through Me” from the CD was awarded 1st place (Gospel-Inspirational) and 2nd place overall out of 32,000 songs in the 2004 USA Songwriting Competition, the world’s leading international song contest.

His CD “Touch The Earth,” an environmentally themed concept album, was produced by Jordan and he sings and plays most of the instruments on it. The songs are recorded in a variety of world music styles (reggae, afro-pop, samba, salsa and funk). “Something’s Gonna Change” from the CD won top honors as 2002 Reggae Song of the Year from Just Plain Folks, the world’s largest songwriter organization.

He has released two CDs under the name SuperString Theory (including 2007’s “SuperString Theory Goes To Senegal”), showcasing his 5-string electric violin in a variety of world fusion settings (African, Middle Eastern and Asian) with exotic instruments like hoddu, balafon, kora, didgeridoo and sitar and featuring award-winning NYC free jazz singer Lisa Sokolov and Ethiopian vocalist Helen Kerlin-Smith.

In 1992, Jordan made his national debut as a recording artist on “Right As Rain,” a CD benefiting the Rainforest Action Network that featured Jerry Garcia and Paul Winter. He has studied percussion with master drummer Milford Graves and composition with Henry Brant. In his journey to further develop his craft he has traveled to Brazil, Trinidad, Ghana and Senegal. He has produced jazz, folk, spoken word, Native American and award-winning children’s independent recordings for others. He performs in many bands including Tony Vacca and the World Rhythms Ensemble, Zabap!, Simba and Natural History. His first commissioned piece for string orchestra and percussion, "Four Unknowns" was performed by the Sage City Symphony in Bennington, VT on February 24, 2008. "Sky Mirror" a piece composed for shakuhachi, string quartet and electric guitar won the Shakuhachi Chamber Music International Prize 2008. The Vermont Symphony Orchestra has commissioned him to write a piece for their 2009 Made In Vermont Festival Tour, which will be performed in 10 venues around Vermont in September 2009.