The Performances

Notes on the Program - Performance Dates & Tickets

 

Music has the power

to transcend differences, crossing borders, time and space. Mozart looked to the stories of Egypt, Haydn's travels expanded his trademark blend of grandeur, humor and charm, Kodály embraced the folk music of Eastern Europe in his rapturous Summer Evening, and Ravi Shankar has synthesized classical and folk Indian music with Western forms, handing these traditions from father to daughter in a work written especially for his daughter Anoushka.

 

Notes on the Program

Concerto No. 3 for Sitar and Orchestra [2008]

RAVI SHANKAR

For solo sitar and orchestra consisting of piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, timpani, 2 percussionists, harp and strings. Approximately 28 minutes.

Ravi Shankar’s performing career began in India nearly 70 years ago. After establishing himself nationally as a sitar virtuoso, he became the leading ambassador of his native style around the globe, introducing Indian classical music and the sitar to millions of new fans. He has long recognized the fertile possibilities of cross-cultural projects, and his impressive list of collaborators includes George Harrison, Yehudi Menuhin and Philip Glass. Besides performing and teaching, he has also composed a wide range of concert music and film scores. He wrote his first Sitar Concerto in 1971 for the London Symphony Orchestra, followed in 1981 by his second concerto, Raga Mala, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic.

In the first two concertos, Shankar doubled as composer and soloist. For his third concerto, commissioned by Orpheus, he calls on his daughter Anoushka Shankar, a leading sitar player of her generation and a rising world music star. To meet the challenge of notating Indian musical concepts in Western notation, Shankar enlisted the Welsh conductor David Murphy to help transcribe the work into an orchestral score. The concerto begins with an energetic orchestral overture, introducing the exotic musical language of sinuous melodies, shifting rhythms and drone notes. Unlike typical Western concert music, which derives much of its momentum from harmony and key relationships, Shankar’s hypnotic movements build intensity almost solely through melodic and rhythmic elaboration. Call-and-response passages offer special insight into the translation of the sitar’s sonorities into an orchestral idiom.

 

Incidental Music from Thamos, King of Egypt [1780]

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

For orchestra consisting of 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings. Approximately 16 minutes.

Mozart first wrote incidental music for the play Thamos, King of Egypt in 1774. Though he was still 10 years from his initiation into the Freemasons, he must have been receptive to the exotic and quasi-spiritual undertones of the drama by Tobias Philipp, baron von Gebler, himself a Mason. (These themes would return later in Mozart’s Masonry-inspired final opera, The Magic Flute.) Mozart revised and expanded the Thamos music at various points until 1780.

The play revolves around Thamos, who succeeds his father Ramesses as the king of Egypt. However, Ramesses had usurped the throne from the rightful king, Menes, and Menes poses as the high priest until he can reclaim his sovereignty. Menes has a daughter, Tharsis, who, also posing as a priestess, attracts the romantic attention of Thamos. Meanwhile, an evil general, Pheron, plots with the high priestess Mirza to steal the throne and marry Tharsis himself. The first act ends with the devious pact between Mirza and Theron, and the ensuing music begins with an ominous C-minor introduction and theme. The second act closes with Thamos, which leads to lovely andante music in E-flat major; Mozart marked the entrance of the oboe’s theme with the annotation “Thamos Ehrlichkeit” (Thamos’ Honesty). The third act concludes with another treacherous conversation between Mirza and Theron, captured in the turbulent G minor music. The entr’acte dovetails into underscore music for Act IV, which begins with the princess/priestess Tharsis alone outside the Sun god’s temple. The background music makes quick character and tempo changes, corresponding with Tharsis’ lines spoken to herself. The fourth act ends in general turmoil, and Mozart’s music captures this mood with dramatic offbeat accents, chromatic inflections, and surprising key changes. In the end, Menes condemns Mirza and Theron to death and allows Thamos to rule with Tharsis, an outcome that is celebrated in a final triumphant chorus.

 

Summer Evening[1906, rev. 1930]

ZOLTÁN KODÁLY

For orchestra consisting of flute, oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns and strings. Approximately 18 minutes.                     

Zoltán Kodály is one of Hungary’s great musical heroes. The son of a railway stationmaster, he grew up in the countryside, mostly in the Galánta region that he would later memorialize in one of his most famous compositions, Dances of Galánta. In 1905, Kodály began collecting folk songs from rural regions, a pursuit that would continue for decades and help spearhead the rise of Ethnomusicology. He was joined in this undertaking by another emerging composer, Béla Bartók (the two had been students at the Academy of Music concurrently but had never met there), and their shared passion for collecting folk music led to a life-long friendship and close collaboration. Bartók, the most famous Hungarian composer, once wrote: “If I were to name the composer whose works are the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit, I would answer, Kodály. His work proves his faith in the Hungarian spirit. The obvious explanation is that all Kodály’s composing activity is rooted only in Hungarian soil, but the deep inner reason is his unshakable faith and trust in the constructive power and future of his people.”

In 1906, Kodály presented a composition at the Academy of Music’s diploma concert. This precocious tone poem for chamber orchestra, Summer Evening, earned the young composer a scholarship to study abroad, leading to crucial contact with the music of Debussy and other Continental luminaries. Not long after his return, he joined the faculty at his alma mater, and gradually built an international reputation as a composer and educator, despite disruptions from the turmoil that rocked his region for decades. By the 1920’s he began attracting the attention of high profile conductors, including Arturo Toscanini. The Italian maestro was then Music Director for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1930 he arranged for a performance of Summer Evening, revised for the occasion by Kodály.

Modal, folk-like melodies are central to Summer Evening, beginning with the plaintive English horn theme that opens the work. The music progresses in a stream of interlocking episodes, with much broad and languorous music fitting the spirit of the title. Kodály’s orchestration is quite lush for such an intimate ensemble, but in some passages he opts for clarity with bright and pointed woodwind solos. Unlike Bartók, for whom Hungarian themes were launch pads to polytonality and rhythmic collision, Kodály handles his melodies nostalgically, creating musical reveries unshaken by modernity.

 

Symphony No. 99 in E-flat Major [1793]

FRANZ JOSEPH HADYN

For orchestra consisting of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings. Approximately 25 minutes.

Haydn composed his final 12 symphonies at the request of Johann Peter Salomon, a German violinist and impresario who had settled in London. The first six of the “London” symphonies debuted at Salomon’s 1791-92 concert series to wide acclaim, earning Haydn legions of adoring fans and profit equal to years worth of his Kapellmeister salary. After attending to duties for the Esterházy family in Vienna, Haydn eagerly returned to London early in 1794. He brought with him a new work composed in Vienna that winter, a symphony in E-flat, which he premiered at another Salomon concert just days after his arrival. The review that appeared the following day in The Morning Chronicle was indicative of Haydn’s reception in London: “The incomparable Haydn produced an overture [symphony] of which it is impossible to speak in common terms. It is one of the grandest efforts of art that we ever witnessed. It abounds with ideas, as new in music as they are grand and impressive; it rouses and affects every emotion of the soul. – It was received with rapturous applause.”

Haydn reached the pinnacle of his orchestral powers in the second set of “London” symphonies. The music demonstrates Haydn’s total comfort and mastery in the symphonic genre paired with his characteristic inquisitiveness, seen in the new addition of clarinets and through his daring harmonic and structural choices. As with all the final symphonies, No. 99 begins with a slow introduction. This prelude introduces a harmonic wanderlust that characterizes the entire work, touching on the remote key of E minor and the more native C minor before returning to E-flat major. The tender Adagio movement may have been a tribute to Haydn’s good friend Marianna von Genzinger, who had died in 1793. Atypically, this slow movement includes trumpets and timpani. The Menuetto gently touches a wide range of keys before pivoting deftly to a sunny trio in C major. Haydn’s bridge back to the da capo return, an extra feature necessitated by the remote key relationship, is one of the work’s delightfully sophisticated touches. The bright Finale mostly elaborates one main theme by means of fluid contrapuntal layering and clever dialogue between small subsets of instruments.

© 2008 Aaron Grad.

There Were Four Premiere Performances

New York Premiere

Carnegie Hall

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chicago Premiere

Pick-Staiger Concert Hall

Sunday, January 25, 2009

 

Pennsylvania Premiere

Williams Center for the Arts

Thursday, January 29, 2009

 

New Jersey Premiere

South Orange PAC

Friday, January 30, 2009

     

 

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