‘Spring Concert’

Featuring: Guest Conductor  ~ Darryl One

Guest Artist ~ Mykola Suk

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ronn2Savannah River Holiday – by Ron Nelson (b. 1929); composed in 1953, published 1957; first performance: NBC Radio, March 16, 1953
Length: Approximately 9 minutes
Orchestration: 2 Flutes, Piccolo, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 3 Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, Side Drum, Cymbals, Tambourine, Triangle, Xylophone, Orchestra Bells, Harp, Strings

Ron Nelson was born in 1929 in Joliet, Illinois. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1952, Master’s degree in 1953, and the Doctor of Music Arts degree in 1956, all from the Eastman School of Music. He studied in France the Ecole Normale de Musique in 1954, and in 1955, received a Fulbright Grant to study at the Paris Conservatory. Dr. Nelson joined the Brown University Music Department faculty in 1956 as an Assistant Professor; he rose to the rank of Associate Professor in 1960 and became Full Professor in 1968. He also served as Chairman of the Department of Music from 1963-1973, and in 1991 he was awarded the Acuff Chair of Excellence in the Creative Arts, being the first musician to hold that position. Although best known for his compositions for wind ensembles, Dr. Nelson has composed in various genres, including orchestra, opera, film, choral, and chamber works.

The Savannah River borders both South Carolina and Georgia and is both formidable and tranquil. These contrasting moods are apparent in Ron Nelson’s appealing overture, Savannah River Holiday, where a sense of tension dominates the mood of the Overture as liveliness alternates with quiet introspection. Originally composed for orchestra, Savannah River Holiday Overture received its premiere over the NBC Radio network on March 16, 1953, and subsequently its first public performance at the Founder’s Day Concert of the 23rd American Music Festival in Rochester, New York.  The Overture was later recorded for Mercury Records by Howard Hanson and the Eastman Symphony Orchestra.  The Overture was later transcribed for wind ensemble as a commission by the New Rochelle High School Wind Ensemble, who first performed the work at 1973 convention for the Music Educators National Conference (now the National Association for Music Education).

beethovenConcerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in G major, Op, 58 – by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827); composed between 1805-06; first performance: Vienna, March 5, 1807; published August, 1808.
~Allegro moderato
~Andante con moto
~Rondo. Vivace
Guest Artist ~ Mykola Suk, piano
Length: Approximately 33 minutes
Orchestration: Flute, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, 2 Horns, Timpani, and Strings

Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto was most likely completed in July 1806, as it was mentioned in a letter dated July 5, 1806, which was sent by the composer to his publisher Breitkopf and Härtel: “My brother is visiting Leipzig in connection with his business, and I have . . . given him a new Piano Concerto to take with him.” The Fourth Concerto was premiered at a concert in Vienna in early March, 1807, with the composer as soloist, and featured many works, as was the usual for performances of the time, and included Beethoven’s first four Symphonies, the “Coriolan” Overture, and arias from his opera, “Fidelio.” The sketches for the concerto are contained in the same notebook as those of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and both works share in common Beethoven’s preoccupation with a four-note motif consisting of three short notes and one long. This motif also appears in the composer’s other works written around the same time, including the Appassionata Piano Sonata, the Violin Concerto, and the first “Rasumovsky” Quartet from Op. 59. The elegant and lyrical writing style of the Fourth Piano Concerto follows the dark and brooding Third Piano Concerto and precedes the noble Fifth, or “Emperor” Concerto, and its placement is similar to that of the Fourth Symphony appearing between the “Eroica” Symphony and the Fifth Symphony, and therefore offers a view of the composer as a tranquil and easy-going person, rather than as the revolutionary Titan, as is the more Romantic perception of him.

The first movement, in G major, begins with an unusual occurrence for the time: the solo piano states the first theme without the orchestra—and then disappears for seventy-four measures of music, during which time the orchestra states all of the melodic content in a lengthy introduction, or exposition. When the orchestra restates the first theme immediately after the piano, it is in the “wrong” key of B major. After the orchestra exposition, the soloist reappears and re-presents all of the music previously heard (as well as new material) with highly varied and embellished form. Two notable moments in the first movement include the return of the first theme, heard fortissimo, or extremely loud—some ten minutes into the piece, and a cadenza, or long solo episode of improvisatory nature, written by Beethoven himself, and heard before the conclusion of the movement. The second movement, in the related key of E minor, features an alternating dialogue between the piano and orchestra: the orchestra strings are heard alone first in unison, playing loudly, with a stern and rigid, almost accusatory melody. This is answered by the piano in a pleading and apologetic manner. Gradually, the string accusations become less forceful and the piano pleadings become more eloquent and confident. The great nineteenth-century Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt stated that this movement reminded him of the scene in Christoph von Gluck’s opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, where Orpheus confronts the angry Furies in Hades and gradually tames them through his beautiful singing. The second movement proceeds into the final movement without pause, as directed by Beethoven. The third movement is in rondo form, where the main theme recurs throughout, like a refrain, and in alternation with contrasting music. Beethoven uses a “wrong” key juxtaposition in this movement, as he did in the first—here the orchestra begins in C major, before it finds its way back to the home, or tonic key of G major. The main theme of the Rondo is bright and and extrovert. This is in contrast with the more lyrical second theme, which seems to almost foreshadow the composer’s famous “Ode to Joy” melody of his Ninth Symphony, written some eighteen years later.

claudeSymphonic Poem: Prélude à “L’Aprés-midi d’une faune” (Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun”) – by Claude Debussy (1862-1918); composed in 1894; first performance: Paris, December 22, 1894; published July, 1895
Length: Approximately 10 minutes
Orchestration: 3 Flutes, 2 Oboes, English horn, 2 Clarinets (in B flat and A), 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 2 Harps, 2 Antique Cymbals (Crotales), and Strings

Claude Debussy was the most important French composer of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. He was born near Paris and was considered a prodigy at an early age. Debussy entered the Paris Conservatory when he was eleven, where he caused great consternation among his professors by breaking all the rules of harmony by using strange new chords, as well as musical scales and modes from ancient times and from other cultures (particularly Asian). His new style of music, which clearly showed a conscious effort to break away from the dominance of German Romanticism, was eventually accepted, allowing him to win the coveted Prix de Rome, which was a prestigious honor bestowed by the French Government that allowed music recipients to study composition in Rome for three-to-five years. Debussy’s musical style was developing during the same time as the rise of the great Impressionistic painters; painters, such as Degas, Renoir, Monet, and Manet, who sought to capture first impressions of an idea through different ideas of color, light, and shadow. Debussy endeavored to also emulate in his music this new use of color and incandescence that exemplified Impressionism. Of his own style Debussy wrote: “The music I desire must be supple enough to adapt Itself to the lyrical effusions of the soul and fantasy of dreams.” And describing French music in general, Debussy declared: “French music is clearness, elegance, simple and natural declamation . . . aiming first to give pleasure.”

The French Symbolist poets of the time, such as Stéphane Mallarmé, who chose to describe truth indirectly though metaphoric and suggestive means, likewise appealed to Debussy’s sensibilities. Mallarmé’s poem from 1876, “L’Aprés-midi d’une faune,” about a mythological half man, half goat whom, after becoming drunk with wine, dreams of a sensual frolic in the woods with nymphs,
inspired Debussy to write his most well-known symphonic poem by the same name. The work is in a loose, three-part, A-B-A form. The opening “A” section starts with a well-known flute solo, featuring half-step, or chromatic intervals, played in the manner of cadenza. The solo flute melody is punctuated by harp glissandi, oboes, and horns, and later accompanied by tremolo strings, which creates a wonderful floating affect in the music that tends to obscure any regular metrical feeling to the music and any sense of a tonic or home key center. The middle or “B” section, is more animated in nature and begins with the clarinet, answered by the flute in playful dialogue, accompanied by harp chords and plucked strings. This leads to a lyrical theme heard in the strings and winds that eventually soars, becoming louder, and impassioned, leading to a return of the opening “A” section music, with reminisces of the animated “B” section. Toward the end or the work, Debussy adds antique cymbals, which give the music an ethereal, almost magical, faraway quality. Like an Impressionistic painting created with the organization of colors on visual artist’s palette, the work employs a “coloristic” harmony, and uses “instrumental color” as an organizing feature. Debussy writes: “The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé’s beautiful poem. By no means does it claim to be a synthesis of it. Rather, there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naïads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realize his dreams of possession in universal Nature.”

modestMussorgskyPictures at an Exhibition – by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), Original version for Solo Piano composed in 1874; published 1886; Orchestrated in 1922 by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937); first performance: Paris, October 22, 1922
Length: Approximately 30 minutes
Orchestration: 3 Flutes, 2 Piccolos, 3 Oboes, English horn, 2 Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, 2 Bassoons, Contrabassoon, Alto Saxophone, 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, Glockenspiel, Bells, Tambourine, Tam-tam, Ratchet, Whip, Cymbals, Side Drum, Bass Drum, Xylophone, Celesta, 2 Harps, Strings

Viktor Hartmann (1834-1873) was a primarily a Russian architect, but was also active as a designer of theatrical settings and costumes, as well as metal and wood craftwork, in addition to being a painter of monuments and still life. Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) became friends with Hartmann in 1870 through their mutual friendship with Vladimir Stassov, who was Director of Academy of Fine Arts for the Russian Imperial Library in St. Petersburg. It was Stassov who arranged for a showing of 400 examples of Hartmann’s paintings at the Academy of Fine Arts, when the latter died suddenly at the age of thirty-nine from a brain aneurysm. Stassov’s memorial showing inspired Mussorgsky to compose a suite of piano pieces that depicted the composer as he wanders through the display of paintings, at times slowly, other times hurriedly, so that he could approach a particular picture that caught his attention, all the while remembering and mourning the memory of his dear, departed friend. There is no evidence that Mussorgsky’s “Pictures” suite, which was dedicated to Stassov, ever received a public performance during the composer’s lifetime; perhaps it was too personal a memory for him to have to relive. The piece did not receive any real exposure until Mussorgsky’s close “Mighty Five” colleague, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (of “Scheherazade” and “Capriccio Espagnol” fame), orchestrated it. However, “Pictures” did not achieve the widespread popularity it enjoys today until it was re-orchestrated in 1922 by Maurice Ravel—at the request of Russian conductor, double bassist, and composer, Serge Koussevitsky—and it is Ravel’s brilliant and colorful orchestration that will be heard in tonight’s concert.

“Pictures” begins an introductory “Promenade,” which portrays the composer while “he wanders through the display of paintings.” The Promenade melody recurs four times and, typical of Mussorgsky’s style, features a harmonic language that recalls the old Medieval/Renaissance church modes. The time signature of the Promenade alternates between five and six beats per measure and creates an almost unsteady waddling effect, which could be a literal self-portrait of the composer’s somewhat ungainly manner in which he walked. The Promenade is first heard in the trumpets, and it taken up by the full orchestra in its subsequent appearances.
Gnomus: Hartmann’s drawing represents “A little gnome awkwardly walking on deformed legs,” according to Stassov.
Promenade: Mussorgsky walks on until he comes to:
Il Vecchio Castello (The Old Castle): A troubadour, whose voice is represented by a solo saxophone, sings before a Medieval Italian castle.
Promenade: Trumpets, trombones, and then full orchestra.
Tuileries: Dispute of the Children After Play: Hartmann’s picture shows a walk in the famous Parisian Tuileries, with a group of children and their nursemaids.
Bydlo: The Polish word for cattle. A watercolor by Hartmann of a Polish peasant wagon with large, wooden wheels and drawn by oxen. The music gets louder as the wagon approaches and softer at it drives away.
Promenade: Winds are featured.
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks in Their Shells: A costume sketch by Hartmann showing chicks as they emerge from their eggshell costumes.
Two Polish Jews, One Rich, the Other Poor: Later titled “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” by Stassov; a watercolor depicting a poor man begging from a rich man. Hartmann gave Mussorgsky a gift of this painting.
The Marketplace at Limoges: Representing the hustle and bustle of the famous marketplace as women have spirited conversations while pushing their shopping carts.
Catacombae, Sepulchrum Romanum: Hartmann’s drawing represented the artist himself and a friend walking through the catacombs of Rome with a guide who holds a lamp. This leads without pause to:
Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua: This movement is an extremely sad restatement of the Promenade theme, as if Hartmann’s picture of a burial place had brought a special pang of grief to the composer. Mussorgsky wrote, as a footnote to the title, “A Latin text: ‘With the dead in a dead language.’ Well may it be in Latin! The creative spirit of the departed Hartmann leads me to the skulls, calls out to them, and the skulls begin to glow dimly from within.”
The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba Yaga): Baba Yaga is a Russian witch who lives in a hut supported by a fowl’s legs. She eats human bones that she grinds to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Baba Yaga uses the mortar to ride up into the sky and into:
The Great Gate of Kiev: Hartmann entered a competition for a magnificent gateway to be erected in Kiev to commemorate April 4, 1866, when Czar Alexander II miraculously escaped death at the hand of an assassin. The competition funds fell through and the gate was unfortunately never built. Mussorgsky, however, was very taken by the spirit of Hartmann’s “Gate” plans, for the composer’s music not only evokes a regal procession with splendid pomp and pageantry complete with religious chants, but puts him in the center of the processing crowd by including one last statement of the Promenade.

— Dr. Gregory Maldonado

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