Masterworks 2 & Encore Performance

Featuring: Takayoshi “Tad” Suzuki, Guest Conductor

Program Notes by David Chavez

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Roman Carnival Overture (1837), Hector Berlioz

Approx. 9 minutes
Orchestration: two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes (second doubling English horn), two clarinets, four bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, timpani, cymbals, two tambourines, triangle, and strings.

Hector Berlioz’s father was a physician and assumed that his son would follow in the same profession. This caused young Berlioz’s musical aspirations to be mostly ignored. As a result, Berlioz learned a little bit of piano and his abilities as a performer were limited to lessons on flute and guitar, both of which he played with some accomplishment but short of virtuosity. His unorthodox compositional style was a direct result of his limits as a performer. He did not conform to what was perceived as limits on each instrument.

Berlioz attended medical school but disliked the experience. Eventually he enrolled in private music studies and, beginning in 1826, the composition curriculum at the Paris Conservatory. The major goal for all Conservatory composition students was the Prix de Rome, and in 1830 (after several failed attempts) he was finally honored with that prize. Apart from providing a measure of recognition for his skills and a welcome source of income, the award included a residency in Italy, a nation whose cultural lineage was considered at that time to wield an indispensable influence over the formation of the creative intellect. Curiously, however, while he was largely uninspired throughout his tenure in Italy, upon returning to France several years later his nostalgia for its climate, its people, and its culture would serve as the inspiration to several of his works including the Romeo and Juliet suite, Harold in Italy, and the opera which contains the overture being performed today.

The famed Roman Carnival Overture was written as a prelude to the second act of his opera, Benvenuto Cellini. Despite the failure of the opera (it only played three shows in its original run and to this day, continues to be seldom-performed), the Roman Carnival Overture quickly became Berlioz’s most widely-performed piece.

Opening with a triumphant theme, punctuated by the trumpet section, the overture quickly gives way to one of the most important English Horn solos in the repertoire. Boasting melodies lifted from the first act of the opera, the lyricism that Berlioz’s score demands makes this piece a frequent audition excerpt for several instruments in orchestras all over the world.

Petite Suite (1889), Claude Debussy

Approx: 14 minutes
Orchestration: two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes (second doubling English horn), two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, triangle, cymbals, tambourine, harp, and strings

Originally written as a work for two pianos, Debussy’s petite suite was adapted for full orchestra by a skilled composer and teacher at the Paris Conservatory named Henri Büsser. Büsser’s genius arrangement manages to convey Debussy’s message in such a way that balances the denser sound of an entire symphony with the subtleties characteristic of French music at the time.

Written in four movements, Debussy’s suite was composed shortly after he had completed his formal music studies. Enamored by the work of famed French poet, Paul Verlaine, the first two movements of the Petit Suite are settings of two poems from a set of Verlaine’s works, entitled “Féte Galantes.” Debussy would later go on to use another of Verlaine’s poems for the setting
of arguably his most famous work, the third movement of his Suite Bergamasque, “Clair de Lune.”

The first poem, “En Bateau” (sailing), depicts an intoxicating scene wherein boaters relax atop a lake as the sun begins to set and their minds turn nostalgically and hopefully to romance. But as with all nostalgia there is a tinge of sadness and longing that Debussy expertly conveys.

The second poem, entitled “Cortège”, is much more lighthearted in nature. Verlaine’s poem describes a playful scene wherein a woman and her monkey and pageboy make their way upstairs, an air of playfulness and flirtation padding the ambience.

The final two movements give way to a lively display, reminiscent of the entirety of Verlaine’s “Fêtes Galantes”, whose title is fittingly used to describe an outdoor or rural entertainment festival.

Interestingly, there is a degree of parallelism between the characteristics of the poetry of Verlaine and the music of Debussy. Both artists work in subtleties, suggesting settings, colors, and themes, rather than overtly stating them.

Camille Saint-Saëns, Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op 78 “Organ”

Featuring: Albina Asryan ~ soloist

Approx: 36 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, piano, organ and strings

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, subtitled “avec orgue” (with organ) by the composer, is widely regarded as Camille Saint-Saëns’ tantamount achievement as a composer. Completed in 1886, of his symphony the composer said, “What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.”

The Symphony No. 3 was groundbreaking in many respects, most overtly in its instrumentation, which reflects that of a typical romantic style symphony but with the addition of piano for two and four hands, and an organ. Saint-Saëns himself was an accomplished organist, having taken first prize in a competition held by the famed Paris Conservatory whilst he was a student there. Saint-Saëns further pushed the boundaries of the repertoire in dividing his symphony into just two movements, rather than the typical four which had been the style up until that point. And finally is the composer’s outlandish use of tonality, sometimes modulating a mere half-step away from his original key of C, which was novel for his time. Saint-Saëns aptly dedicated his third symphony to Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, whose innovative compositional techniques of cyclical thematic transformation and extended development are riddled throughout the entire symphony.

But outside of the concert hall, the composer’s gorgeous melodies have been adapted into countless forms: many audiences might recall a theme from the symphony being used as the main theme in the 1995 children’s film, Babe.

Premiered in London, England in the same year it was completed (1886), this prolific work has become an exciting staple of the symphonic repertoire.
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