Monday, March 15, 2010

Program Notes: March 20 & 21, 2010

Back by popular demand, guest conductor Sarah Hicks leads the orchestra as our music director and his wife share their artistry in Richard Danielpour’s moving tribute to the healing power of music. “Simple Gifts” refers to the Shaker melody Copland used in his beloved ballet; our concert package also contains hot-blooded music from Mozart and De Falla, and salutes to the vernal equinox.

Saturday, March 20, 8 PM Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Burlington

Sunday, March 21, 4 PM Paramount Theatre, Rutland

Sarah Hicks, conductor
Jaime Laredo, violin
Sharon Robinson, cello

Keep reading for program notes. Visit the VSO's biographies page to read about our guest artists.

Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Mozart’s first great public triumph in Vienna was his comic opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, first produced on July 16, 1782. Mozart had just left what he called his “slavery” to the arrogant Archbishop of Salzburg, he was a success in the musical capital of the world, and he was in love. No wonder Seraglio is filled with youthful exultation! Carl Maria von Weber called it “a picture of what every man’s joyous, youthful years are to him, years the bloom of which he will never recapture.” This opera went far beyond the usual limits of the tradition with its long, elaborately written songs (hence Emperor Joseph II’s famous observation: “Too many notes, my dear Mozart.”) Despite the Emperor’s opinion, the work was a great success, and was taken into the repertories of many provincial companies (for which Mozart did not, however, receive any compensation).

The story of the opera is a Spanish nobleman’s attempted rescue of his fiancée from Turkish captivity. Turkish plots were popular in 18th century plays, operas, and novels, and Turkish music (Janissary music) had a special vogue in Vienna during Mozart’s day. The composer wrote to his father that the overture to his opera was very short and kept alternating loud and soft, with Turkish music in the loud passages. “It modulates on and on, from key to key, so that I don’t believe anyone could fall asleep, even if he hadn’t slept at all the whole night before.”

A Child’s Reliquary
Richard Danielpour (1956- )

The composer writes: “When I began composing A Child’s Reliquary in the summer of 1999, I had just learned of the tragic death of 18-month old Cole Carson St. Clair, the child of Carl and Susan St. Clair. Carl St. Clair is a great American conductor (the music director of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles) and a dear friend and colleague. I was stunned upon hearing this news and found that the music I began to write that summer was all a series of variations on, or around, the Brahms Wiegenlied (“Cradle Song”). I could not get the Wiegenlied out of my mind during that time, nor could I stop thinking about the child who had drowned in a strange accident before reaching his second birthday. In many ways, A Child’s Reliquary was about not only the death of this child, but also about the death of innocence. The work is entitled A Child’s Reliquary because the piece is not unlike a musical shrine, with the outer first and third movements evoking public and private aspects of mourning, while the middle movement represents a flashback or snapshot of somewhat happier times.”

The work, which was originally written for string trio, was commissioned by the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and premiered in April of 2000. It has been performed by the same group over twenty times in the U.S. and Europe since that time. In 2006, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra commissioned Danielpour to create the present orchestral version of the work.

Suite No. 1 from The Three-Cornered Hat
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

Manuel de Falla was the most important Spanish composer of the 20th century. As a youth he was equally interested in literature and music, and later became quite well known for his articles about music and for writing his own librettos. He eventually leaned toward composition and enrolled at the Madrid Conservatory. In 1907 Falla took an engagement as an accompanist for a tour of France and settled in Paris for the next seven years. He returned to Madrid a well-established composer. In 1920, seeking a quieter lifestyle, he moved to Granada. Although not directly involved with the Spanish Civil War, he did attempt (unsuccessfully) to intervene in the execution of his good friend Federico García Lorca. He was all too happy to leave when offered a conducting post in Argentina in 1939, and lived the rest of his life there.

The Three-Cornered Hat, or El Sombrero de Tres Picos, was first conceived as a pantomime ballet in two scenes. It was based on the novella, The Governor and the Miller's Wife, by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, and the music drew liberally from Andalusian folk music. Sergei Diaghilev, famed impresario of the Ballets Russes, saw the premiere in 1917 and commissioned Falla to expand the work to a full ballet. Pablo Picasso was engaged to create the sets and costumes, and the premiere took place on July 22, 1919 at London’s Alhambra Theatre.

The story is a humorous tale of a magistrate who becomes infatuated with the wife of a miller, has him arrested on trumped-up charges, and then tries to seduce her. It includes such time-honored theatrical comedy traditions as pratfalls, clothes-swapping, and seduction-as-revenge, with everybody happy at the end except possibly the lecherous magistrate. Falla extracted two orchestral suites from the score, both of which have become staples of the repertoire. The first includes music that sets scenes, introduces characters, and moves the plot along. The opening fanfare was intended to highlight Picasso’s bullring-inspired curtain, and leads directly into the opening scene of the ballet. A bassoon solo introduces the magistrate, who is teased and mocked by the dances of the miller’s wife. As she picks grapes from the vineyard she leads him in a dance that ends with him tripping and falling, and the miller rejoins her to reprise the fandango.

--Gabriel Langfur

Upon Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Frederick Delius (1862-1934)

An English composer of German parentage, Delius lived for most of his life in France, yet his music most often evokes a sense of the English landscape. He is sometimes called an “English Impressionist.” Sir Thomas Beecham, the British conductor who championed his music, is largely responsible for his fame. Delius’ family had discouraged him from pursuing music as a profession, but while working on an orange plantation in Florida for a couple of years, he studied music in his spare time. He proved to be a better composer than orange grower, and soon was supporting himself as a musician. His friend Edvard Grieg helped persuade his family to allow him to move to Paris and begin living the life of an artist. Delius’ writing was strongly influenced by Grieg, and in fact “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring,” one of his most popular works, is a sort of meditation on one of Grieg’s Norwegian Folk Tunes (No. 14, Op. 66). It dates from the happy period of his life before the ravages of syphilis rendered him almost a complete invalid. Interestingly, his mind and speech remained unimpaired even after he was blind and almost completely paralyzed, and he continued actively composing with the aid of Eric Fenby, his musical amanuensis. Often paired with his “Summer Night on the River,” the work breaks each melody into phrases, and lingeringly develops each phrase in various colors as the clarinet repeats the cuckoo’s familiar call.

Suite from Appalachian Spring
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Arguably Copland's best known work, Appalachian Spring was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for Martha Graham's dance company. It was completed in 1944 and premiered that same year, with Martha herself dancing a principal role in the production. The following spring it received the Pulitzer Prize for music and the Music Critics Circle award for outstanding theatrical work of the season.

Copland's notes for the orchestral suite, which he arranged a year later, state: "…the music of the ballet takes as its point of departure the personality of Martha Graham." He mentions also that the title was chosen by Miss Graham, who borrowed it from one of Hart Crane's poems. Copland describes the action thus: "…A pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the last century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, which their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house.”

The original score was for chamber orchestra, but the more frequently heard concert arrangement for full orchestra was intended for use in larger halls.

The movements of the suite are linked in a continuous whole. Towards the end of the piece is heard the famous Shaker melody “’Tis a Gift To Be Simple” with five variations. Although this is the only true quotation from American hymnody, the style and spirit of devotional music prevail throughout. This is in keeping with Copland’s own assertion that composers who use folk melodies must “re-express in their own terms the underlying emotional connotations of the material.”