QUAD CITY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

100th Anniversary Season

 

MASTERWORKS CONCERTS 2014-15

(including Gala Spring Concert)

 

PROGRAM NOTES BY DENNIS LOFTIN

 

 

Masterworks I

OCTOBER 4-5, 2014

Mark Russell Smith, conductor

Garrick Ohlsson, piano

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

JOHN FRANTZEN (b. 1964)

Commissioned work, title to be announced. Notes to come from Jacob Bancks.

 

 

SERGEI RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Concerto No. 3 in D Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 30

 

First performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: February 27, 1949, Joseph Battista, pianist, Oscar Anderson, conductor.

 

                  In the New York Times of November 28, 1909, there appeared a small notice that Sergei Rachmaninov would perform that afternoon as soloist with the New York Symphony in the first performance of his newly-composed Piano Concerto No. 3. The young Russian pianist-composer was in the midst of an American tour that he hoped would better his financial condition, and incidentally, permit him to purchase his first automobile.

                  Rachmaninov had begun work on the Third Concerto earlier that year in anticipation of his American tour. With his own large hands and prodigious talent in mind, he wrote what is considered one of the most demanding piano concertos of the Romantic repertoire. For the concerto’s dedicatee Rachmaninov chose his close friend, the acclaimed Polish pianist, Josef Hofmann. But Hofmann never felt close to the concerto and never performed it. Instead, it was left to Rachmaninov himself and two young pianists, Vladimir Horowitz and Walter Gieseking, to champion the concerto through numerous performances during the 1920s and 1930s.

                  The concerto has the traditional three movements, the first of which begins with a chant-like theme played softly by the piano right from the start. The center point of the movement is a long and difficult cadenza for the piano. The second movement, a gentle intermezzo, is a group of variations on a theme, and includes a central waltz section. The movement ends quietly, but a bravura transitional passage links it directly, without pause, to the final movement. Filled with virtuosic writing for the pianist, the finale well shows Rachmaninov’s gift for intense emotionalism and technical brilliance.

 

 

 

 

 

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World”)

 

First partial performance (two movements) by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: December 3, 1917, Ludwig Becker, conductor.

First complete performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: May 31, 1920, Ludwig Becker, conductor.

 

                  The United States holds a special place in its cultural history and a special fondness for the Bohemian composer Antonín Dvořák. As one of the late 19th century’s most prolific and successful composers, Dvořák was intensely interested in the use of native elements in the development of a national cultural heritage, and his inspired use of folk rhythms and melodies of Bohemia are found in many of his chamber and orchestral works. In the concert hall Dvořák’s music is often compared to that of Johannes Brahms, who, indeed, was one of his closest friends and supporters.

                  In 1891 Dvořák received a letter from Mrs. Jeannette Thurber of New York City offering him the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music, a private music school she operated. Aside from the prestige the school would gain with Dvořák at its head, Mrs. Thurber and others hoped Dvořák would also establish an independent national American art music.

                  Dvořák accepted the position for an initial contract of two years beginning in the fall of 1892. His arrival in New York City coincided with the national celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landings in the "new world.”

                  Dvořák quickly immersed himself in work, composing, teaching, and conducting performances of his works in New York and Boston. From his interest in native music he sought out American music, and particularly the music of black Americans. He was fortunate to have as a student at the conservatory, a gifted black singer, Harry T. Burleigh, who often performed spirituals for Dvořák. He was also interested in the music of Native Americans and even incorporated a brief Indian melody into his String Quintet of 1893.

                  From January to May 1893 Dvořák worked on a new symphony, his ninth, which he completed just before departing New York for a summer vacation in Spillville, Iowa as guest of its immigrant Bohemian community. Back in New York in the fall, Dvořák worked busily at arrangements for the publication of his ninth symphony. He was generously assisted in the proofing of the printing plates by Johannes Brahms. With publication arrangements and proofs completed, the Symphony No. 9 received its first performance by the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall in December 1893. The audience responded with tumultuous applause and critics were ecstatic in their praise. Dvořák remained affiliated with the National Conservatory for two more years, but when the financial well-being of the institution was jeopardized by changing economic times, he regretfully left New York to return to Prague where he lived and worked until the end of his life.

                  Dvořák gave his Ninth Symphony the subtitle "From the New World.” He explained that it simply meant "impressions and greetings from the New World.” He readily admitted that America was an influence on its creation, saying, "Anyone with a nose for these things will detect the influence of America.”

                  The Ninth Symphony has the traditional four movements and opens with a lengthy introduction (adagio) that unfolds in a slow and dramatic manner. Forceful strokes from the timpani lead to the main portion of the movement (allegro molto), which moves at a rapid and agitated pace.

                  The slow second movement (largo) has one of the most famous and moving melodies of all symphonic literature. Much debate has surrounded the source of Dvořák’s sad and haunting tune. Some commentators recognize the influence of black spirituals; others hear Czech rhythmic and melodic features. We do know that the melody was later used as the basis for the song, "Goin’ Home,” which has led many people to assume Dvořák quoted it from a black spiritual. Regardless of its origins, the melody is unforgettable in its simplicity and beauty. The movement opens with an introductory series of seven solemn brass chords before the English horn presents the main theme. Several repetitions of the theme occur together with a second, more active theme before the movement draws to its quiet and reflective close.

                  The third movement is a scherzo, a lively and rapid dance-like movement. Here, Dvořák’s Bohemian roots are evident as the strong rhythms, accents, and intensity reveal his natural spirit. Immediately after, the finale (allegro con fuoco) bursts forth with dramatic intensity from its very beginning. Always moving aggressively forward, it recalls the themes from each of the previous movements before moving to the strongly triumphant conclusion.


Masterworks II

NOVEMBER 1-2, 2014

Mark Russell Smith, conductor

Erin Keefe, violin

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

JAMES ROMIG (b. 1971)

World premiere of commissioned work, title to be announced. Notes to come from Jacob Bancks.

 

 

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 77

 

First performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: December 6, 1942, Joseph Szigeti, violinist, Oscar Anderson, conductor.

 

                  Only in rare instances do composers share credit for their compositions with the performers for whom the works were created. History usually remembers the composer and quickly forgets the performer, who in many cases, was a very active participant in the creation of the work.

                  But Johannes Brahms was not such a composer. Perhaps the best indication of his generosity and willingness to learn from a performer was the process that created his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, completed in 1878.

                  Brahms was by then at the height of his musical powers, recognized and celebrated throughout Europe as one of its great musical geniuses. He had already written numerous works including two symphonies, a piano concerto, and the German Requiem. But he had hesitated in writing a violin concerto, partly out of respect for Beethoven’s own incomparable violin concerto written more than seventy years earlier.

                  From the start Brahms intended his violin concerto for his long-time friend, the virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Joachim had been a child prodigy who, as he grew to adulthood, gained recognition as the century’s greatest classical violinist. Because Brahms was a pianist and had little experience in the technique of violin playing, it was natural that he turn to Joachim for advice while writing the concerto.

                  Brahms originally planned the concerto with four movements, and at the end of 1878 sent Joachim a portion of the incomplete work with instructions for him to correct and mark those parts which were difficult, awkward, or impossible to play. Ideas went back and forth between the two men, with Brahms frequently using Joachim’s suggestions to spur his own creative ideas. In deference to his friend, Brahms chose not to compose the traditional cadenza for the first movement; rather, he left the honor entirely to Joachim, who contributed a magnificent cadenza that is the one most often performed today.

                  As work progressed, Brahms expressed dissatisfaction with the two middle movements and dropped them in favor of a single, slow movement. With this change, the concerto took on its final three-movement form. Joachim presented the first performance in Leipzig on New Year’s Day, 1879. After a few minor changes over the next months, the concerto was published in summer 1879 with its dedication to Joachim.

                  Audiences and critics did not instantly warm to the concerto. Despite Joachim’s impassioned performances, reaction was most often only polite and respectful. What seemed off-putting to listeners then–the concerto’s symphonic design and scale–is the very feature that has created a cherished and distinguished place for the concerto in the violin repertoire today.

                  The first movement unfolds with a sense of leisure and spaciousness. The orchestra plays a major role in alternation with the solo violin. The slow second movement is an expressively delicate and simple adagio. The final movement is a fiery rondo that contains a hint of Hungarian melodies.

 

 

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 ("Pathétique”)

 

First partial performance (two movements) by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: March 12, 1917, Ludwig Becker, conductor.

First complete performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: May 31, 1920, Ludwig Becker, conductor.

 

                  By the time Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky reached the age of fifty, he was praised world-wide as Russia’s best-loved composer and its greatest treasure, equaled by none other than the great Tolstoy himself. But Tchaikovsky’s public acclaim and successes hid his personal gloom. Always a melancholy and depressive man, he had few close friends and many of those were dead or dying. What relationships he did have were often distant and guarded, partly from fear that his homosexuality would be discovered. It was this fear that links his final work, Symphony No. 6, and his strange death eight days after its first performance.

                  In 1892 while traveling abroad, Tchaikovsky drew up an outline for a large symphony to be based on what he viewed as the four stages of life: confidence and passion, love, disappointment, and finally, "death, the result of collapse,” as he described it in a letter. In February 1893 he began work on the new symphony, completing it six months later. He was exceptionally pleased with the outcome, describing it to a friend as "the very best and especially the most sincere of all my works.”

                  Although not known for his conducting talents, Tchaikovsky decided to conduct the first performance of the new symphony himself and to present the performance in his hometown of St. Petersburg. The concert was planned for October 28, 1893, with a second performance to be three weeks later in Moscow. On that October evening, Tchaikovsky stepped onto the stage to thunderous applause. But as the symphony’s last notes died away, the audience responded with only polite applause, more out of bewilderment than disapproval. Newspapers were equally understated in their reports, with one critic suggesting that a different conductor might have brought the work to greater success. Tchaikovsky was bitterly disappointed and could only hope for a better response at the upcoming Moscow performance. On the day following the premiere, Tchaikovsky’s brother supposedly suggested the subtitle by which the symphony has been known ever since–"Pathétique.”

                  Tchaikovsky’s death eight days later on November 5 shocked the world and especially the people of St. Petersburg. The suddenness of his death, initially described as the result of cholera, was too shocking to believe. An epidemic of cholera was present in St. Petersburg, but the disease normally afflicted only the poor who lived in unsanitary conditions. Tchaikovsky’s social status and high standard of living would normally have protected him from exposure to the water which carried the disease. To add to the hardly believable circumstances surrounding his death were a host of discrepancies in the story of his final days. Attending physicians, servants, friends, and family all offered contradicting versions of the composer’s rapid decline. Even the St. Petersburg newspapers were unconvinced that his death was a simple case of cholera. But the questions went unanswered as thousands of St. Petersburg’s citizens mourned Tchaikovsky in its largest-ever public funeral. History books accepted the cholera death story and for almost a century that version was the prevailing belief.

                  However, beginning in 1980s a far different slant on Tchaikovsky’s death began to emerge as the result of critical research, articles, and interviews with confidants and eyewitnesses at the time. It is now thought likely that Tchaikovsky committed suicide by poisoning himself with arsenic. Tchaikovsky was a graduate of St. Petersburg’s prestigious Imperial School of Jurisprudence and his fellow classmates were some of Russia’s most influential and powerful men. In the fall of 1893 one of Tchaikovsky’s former classmates was given a letter addressed to the Tsar which threatened to publicly expose Tchaikovsky’s sexual affairs. A "court of honor” of school alumni was convened, and just two days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony Tchaikovsky was summoned before the "court” to receive its decree: he must kill himself in exchange for their silence. Within two days St. Petersburg was filled with rumors that Russia’s national composer lay on his deathbed.

                  In Moscow at the second performance of the Sixth Symphony, just a week after Tchaikovsky’s funeral, audiences and critics were deeply moved. In retrospect, the symphony seemed to them a premonition of Tchaikovsky’s own death, and that association has remained with the work ever since.

                  The "Pathétique” Symphony is, without a doubt, Tchaikovsky’ greatest, most profoundly emotional and pessimistic work. The first of the four movements begins with a slow and melancholy introduction which emerges from the depths of the orchestra. After several minutes the tempo suddenly increases, leading to the principal portion of the movement. Agitated themes intermingle with tender and emotional ones as outbursts and upheavals mark the progress of the movement before it concludes quietly.

                  The second movement is a graceful waltz of sorts, but one in which the rhythmic pulses limp along in groupings of five beats rather than the expected triple rhythm. The third movement is a brilliant march whose aggressive and hectic nature stands in stark contrast to the fourth movement.

                  As Tchaikovsky’s final musical utterance to the world, the symphony’s last movement is the most emotional of all, with slow, wrenching, anguished harmonies and brooding melodies. Sinking deeper and deeper into gloom, the music gradually retreats and fades away into the same subterranean depths from which it began.

 


Masterworks III

DECEMBER 6-7, 2014

Mark Russell Smith, conductor

Naha Greenholtz, violin; Hannah Holman, cello; Andrew Parker, oboe;

Benjamin Coelho, bassoon; Marc Zyla, horn; Lillian Lau, harp

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

DAVID GOMPPER (b. 1954)

World premiere of commissioned work, title to be announced. Notes to come from Jacob Bancks.

 

 

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Romance for Horn, Op. 36 (1874)

 

First performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: December 6-7, 2014, Marc Zyla, horn, Mark Russell Smith, conductor.

 

                  Camille Saint-Saëns had a long and influential career as one of France’s most important musicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1870s he began work on what would become a handful of concert works for solo instruments that he felt had been neglected by other composers. While the violin and piano were routinely recognized in the concert hall with prominent concertos, several other instruments lacked original works and depended heavily on transcriptions from other mediums for their repertoire. Saint-Saëns’s Romance for Horn from 1874 was one of the works he crafted to meet this perceived need.

                  Lasting just five minutes, the Romance flows gently along with a swaying, waltz-like lilt. Unlike works that emphasize the bravura qualities of the horn, Saint-Saëns’s Romance highlights the instrument’s gentle, pastoral nature. The work’s similar opening and closing sections bracket a somewhat more animated middle section.

 

 

FRANZ JOSEF HAYDN (1732-1809)

Sinfonia Concertante in B-Flat for Violin, Cello, Oboe, Bassoon and Orchestra

 

First performances by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: January 21-22, 1967, Allen Ohmes, violin; Camilla Heller, cello; Nancy Sunstedt, oboe; Ronald Tyree, bassoon; James Dixon, conductor.

 

                  The Classical Era of music–roughly the years 1750 to a little beyond 1800–is most often described in terms of the works of just two composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Josef Haydn. Mozart has generally gotten more attention, chiefly because of his short but spectacular career, his untimely death at age thirty-five, and not a little bit because of a successful Broadway play and Hollywood film about his life. Haydn, whose life was long, uncomplicated and equally successful, has often been unnecessarily overshadowed by the drama of Mozart’s demise.

                  Born a generation earlier than Mozart and living almost a full generation longer than the younger man, Franz Josef Haydn was certainly no rival to Mozart. The two men were close friends and often played chamber music together. But Haydn spent almost thirty years of his professional life as composer and conductor for the royal court of Esterházy, a small principality in rural eastern Austria. When the prince of Esterházy died in 1790, Haydn’s job was eliminated. The fifty-eight-year-old composer was left unemployed but also free to do and travel as he wished. He quickly accepted an invitation from the noted violinist and impresario, Johann Peter Salomon, to visit London as composer and resident conductor for Salomon’s upcoming season of concerts there.

                  Arriving in England on New Year’s Day 1791, Haydn stayed for eighteen months, enjoying himself so much that he returned for a second, similar visit in 1794. Each visit was an enormous triumph; Haydn was received with honors and great respect and the very best musicians were placed at his service. He was even honored with a special degree from Oxford University. In return, Haydn provided his English audiences with numerous compositions including twelve symphonies.

                  Haydn’s great success was envied by other concert organizations in London. One group attempted to undercut Haydn’s popularity by hiring one of his former pupils, Ignace Pleyel, as a rival attraction–even though the two men were personally on good terms. The competing performance showcased one of Pleyel’s then-fashionable compositions–a sinfonia concertante, a concerto for several soloists. But Haydn naturally had the last word when just ten days later he countered with a performance of a sinfonia concertante of his own–this one featuring four soloists: violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon.

                  In the first two movements of his Sinfonia Concertante in B-Flat, Haydn treats the four soloists more or less as equals; thematic lines pass back and forth among the four, with orchestra interjections linking and supporting them. However, for the final movement, Haydn favors the violin over the other soloists, allowing the violin several expressive passages of instrumental recitative.

 

 

MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937)

Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, and Strings (1905)

 

First performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra (Chamber Music Series): April 13, 2003, Sally Goodwin Vogel, harpist.

 

                  The harp may be one of the oldest musical instruments, with its origins stretching back to ancient Mesopotamia. It was often the instrument of choice for bards and troubadours of the Middle Ages and enjoyed some recognition in the 18th century with works written for it by both Handel and Mozart.

                  But the mechanics of tuning its many strings limited the harp’s use as a concerto instrument. Not until the late 19th century did French instrument builders develop a harp with mechanisms that allowed rapid shifts in keys and tuning. In 1904 a competition ensued between Paris’s two harp companies, Pleyel and Érard. The Pleyel Company brought out a new, improved model of harp and commissioned Claude Debussy to write a work to demonstrate the instrument’s new capabilities. Not to be outdone, the Érard Company answered the challenge a year later with its own new-model harp, commissioning Maurice Ravel to write a demonstration piece as well. Harpists could not have been happier. From Debussy they received his Danses sacrée et profane; and from Ravel, his Introduction and Allegro. Today, both works are staples of the harp’s concerto repertoire.

                  Ravel wrote Introduction and Allegro as a chamber piece for solo harp accompanied by flute, clarinet, and a string quartet. But the work is often performed today using a full string section. Ravel worked quickly on the piece, taking just a week to complete it before dashing off on a summer boating holiday with friends. The first performance took place in Paris in February 1907.

                  The work lasts a little more than ten minutes and has two connected sections. The Introduction is brief but languidly atmospheric, as the instruments play the opening theme surrounded by harp filigree and rippling arpeggios. The Allegro begins with an extended solo section for the harp before the instruments join back in. Several minutes of thematic exchanges between the harp and instruments build to a climax followed by a technically demanding cadenza for the harp. With subtle shadings of harmonics, arpeggios, and glissandos the harp outlines the themes, and then is rejoined by the instruments for a gradual acceleration to the ebullient conclusion.

 

 

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550

 

First performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: November 26, 1939, Oscar Anderson, conductor.

 

                  In the summer of 1788 Mozart was caught up in a whirlwind of compositional activity. Writing from personal need rather than on commission, he completed his final three symphonies–numbers 39, 40, and 41– in just six short weeks. Each of the symphonies has its own distinctive character, and together they mark a tremendous growth in the size, complexity, and musical and emotional content of Mozart’s symphonic writing.

                  The Symphony No. 40 is written in G minor and is only one of two symphonies that Mozart composed in a minor key. Its minor-key focus gives it an urgency and seriousness that its many major-key companions do not often share.

                  Written in four movements, the symphony begins with a forceful first movement that is characterized by intensity and rhythmic drive. The slower, more restrained second movement is quite brooding, and the third movement minuet is of a character far removed from its courtly dance origins. The finale, like its preceding movements, is dominated by a strong and agitated rhythmic pattern. After an extensive working through of the musical materials, Mozart concludes the symphony in a quiet manner.

 


Masterworks IV

FEBRUARY 7-8, 2015

Mark Russell Smith, conductor

Demarre McGill, flute

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

MICHAEL TORKE (b. 1961)

Oracle (2013)

 

Commissioned by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra; world premiere performances October 5-6, 2013, Mark Russell Smith, conductor.

 

                  Michael Torke is one of America’s generation of composers who grew up completely under the influence of popular music. Born in 1961 in Milwaukee, Torke studied piano and composition at the Eastman School of Music and continued his composition studies at Yale University. While still in his mid-twenties, he gained widespread recognition for an exciting series of orchestral and chamber works that blended classical music with elements of popular music. His unique style was quickly dubbed "post-Minimalism” because of its emphatic use of rhythm. Torke’s rhythmic energy has also inspired a number of choreographers, and he has collaborated with and written numerous dance works for the New York City Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, Alvin Ailey Company, Netherlands Dance Theatre, and the National Ballet of Canada. His wide compositional output includes chamber and concerto works, vocal and choral compositions, and an opera.

                  One of Torke’s newest works, Oracle, was commissioned by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra as a concert-opener for the 2013-14 season, and also to serve as a prelude to the musical innovations planned for the orchestra’s centenary season in 2014-15. Oracle is just four minutes in length and is based on a brief melodic theme surrounded by high energy and propulsive rhythms. About the title Torke says: "An oracle foretells the future, and I see my Oracle as foretelling the future as well, hinting at and presaging the riches of the musical works that follow it in performance.”

 

 

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)

Concerto No. 1 in G Major for Flute and Orchestra, K. 313

 

First performances by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: November 28, 29, 30, 1980, Ransom Wilson, flutist, James Dixon, conductor.

 

                  It’s a popular notion that the beautiful and silvery tones of the flute were lost on Mozart, who is known to have announced how he disliked the instrument. But there’s certainly more to the story, because Mozart wrote some of his most ingratiating music for the flute.

                  Mozart was just twenty-one years old when he brashly decided to leave his hometown of Salzburg and seek his fortune in Paris. With his mother as chaperone he set out in September 1777 on a long and round-about journey that took him first to Munich, then to Mannheim where he stayed several months, and ultimately to Paris where he hoped to find an audience for his music and perhaps a job in the royal court.

                  During the months in Mannheim Mozart met an amateur flutist who commissioned him to write "three easy little concertos and a pair of quartets for the flute.” But to his great dismay, Mozart found his patron to be a cheapskate who refused to pay the full amount due for the commissions. Of the promised works Mozart only completed the first concerto and two flute quartets, choosing to recast an earlier-written oboe concerto as the second concerto. The whole episode left the young composer angry and disenchanted with both flutists and flutes.

                  Nevertheless, the few works he created for flute are masterpieces in their own right. The Flute Concerto No.1 is a true gem, filled with warmth, humor, and showcasing the flute’s technical capabilities. The concerto has three movements: a light-hearted and jovial first movement followed by a gentle second movement whose two orchestral flutes complement the solo flute’s lines. For the finale Mozart writes a cheerful rondo disguised as a courtly minuet.

 

 

ANTON BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 4 in E-Flat ("Romantic”)

 

First performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: November 2-3, 1996, Kim Allen Kluge, conductor.

 

                  It is difficult to imagine the shy, unassuming Anton Bruckner in the middle of one of the 19th-century’s great musical brouhahas. But unwittingly he became a pawn in a controversy that began in Vienna around 1865 and pitted the music of Richard Wagner–viewed by some as the wave of the future, by others as the end of all that was respectable–against the more traditional and conservative music of Johannes Brahms. The fight was also as much about the men’s personalities as their music. Brahms was a solid and respected resident of Vienna. Wagner, on the other hand, lived a flagrant life of moral excess and self-promotion.

                  Brahms and Wagner camps sprang up with strident partisans on either side. The Brahms forces had an ally in Vienna’s powerful music critic, Eduard Hanslick, whose intense dislike of Wagner and bias toward Brahms was very clear in his newspaper articles and concert reviews. By 1868 the fight had escalated to new levels, and when Bruckner stumbled into the middle of it, his musical future seemed doomed.

                  Until that time Bruckner had spent his professional life as a church organist and music teacher in a small, isolated village far from the cosmopolitan music center of Vienna. He was an excellent organist and his gifts at composition had already received some recognition. So in 1868, at the urging of friends, Bruckner took the bold step of moving to Vienna to seek his musical fortune. He promptly blundered into the middle of the Brahms vs. Wagner turmoil. Bruckner was a great admirer of Wagner and had dedicated an early symphony to him. His own music also sounded a bit like Wagner’s, and that was good enough for the anti-Wagner forces. They labeled Bruckner a Wagnerian and summarily dismissed him as a hack. As one commentator later stated, "Bruckner strayed onto the battlefield and became the only casualty.”

                  The controversy and criticism dumbfounded the unsophisticated Bruckner. Sadly, he gave critics much of their ammunition. His curious quirks made him the laughing stock of Vienna, from his old-fashioned rural manners and ill-fitting peasant clothing, to his habit of abject deference to authority.

                  But one overriding characteristic of Bruckner’s personality was his insecurity. While it never interfered with the creation of his music, it certainly affected the long-term integrity of what he had written. Well-meaning friends had only to mention "improvements” to his works and Bruckner would be plunged into agonizing self-doubt, more than willing to cut and change works that had been totally original and unique. The result today is a whole series of first editions of his major works, followed by revised editions, often followed by revisions of the revisions.

                  But in spite of Bruckner’s personal eccentricities, his music was truly distinctive, and over time it slowly earned an appreciative audience. Much of Bruckner’s music was liturgical, with his strong Catholic faith and long service to the Church clearly evident in many works. On the other hand, his nine symphonies, written over a thirty-three-year period, were not liturgical. But they share a common thread with his church works–a sense of the awe-inspiring, of wonderment, and of power and mystery. To help convey this sense, Bruckner used the musical language of Richard Wagner, following many of the same techniques of slow-moving harmonies, majestic full brass, and intensely emotional writing for the strings.

                  It is his use of the brass section that sets off Bruckner’s musical sound from anyone else’s. Great blocks of brass harmonies function like vertical support beams in a tall building, holding the other elements in place. A first impression of this unique style may be one of much starting and stopping as the music abruptly alternates from quiet to thunderously forceful and back again. Some commentators describe the music in terms of the architecture of medieval cathedrals, where all elements–soaring arches, deep-hued stained glass windows, massive stone columns and buttresses–point heavenward in a great affirmation.

                  Bruckner completed his Symphony No. 4 in E-Flat in 1880. Its first performance six months later by the Vienna Philharmonic and conductor Hans Richter was one of his first critical successes. The symphony’s nickname, "Romantic,” was Bruckner’s idea and may have encouraged the public’s favorable reception. Today the Fourth Symphony is one of Bruckner’s best-known and most performed works. Its four movements are traditionally organized and its number of instrumental forces are quite conservative.

                  The first movement begins quietly with a sustained string chord. The solo horn announces the principal thematic motive, a simple falling, then rising call. Other instruments echo this motive and its many transformations as the music builds in intensity, rising to many musical peaks.

                  The second movement is a reflective andante which moves calmly along. Its tone is mainly wistful and melancholy. Plucked strings from the double basses often propel the music as echoes of the first movement’s horn theme are heard.

                  The third movement is a scherzo, often nicknamed "The Hunt.” Its opening features vigorous hunting calls from the entire horn section echoed by the trumpets and trombones. Contrasting lyrical passages for strings and woodwinds alternate with several returns of the hunting calls before the movement ends.

                  The final movement is built on a grand scale. Beginning quietly once again, it brings together elements from the preceding movements in alternating powerful, then reflective passages. A long and gradual building of volume and intensity brings the symphony to its triumphant and resounding close.

 


Masterworks V

MARCH 7-8, 2015

Mark Russell Smith, conductor

Joel Fan, piano

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

WILLIAM CAMPBELL (b. 1969)

World premiere of commissioned work, title to be announced. Notes to come from Jacob Bancks.

 

 

ROY HARRIS (1898-1979)

Symphony No. 3 (1939)

 

First performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: March 7-8, 2015, Mark Russell Smith, conductor.

 

                  For this concert series conductor Mark Russell Smith has chosen a uniquely all-American program, one of works both old and familiar, and new and unheard. The old and familiar includes George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, an all-time audience favorite, and Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, whose final "Hoe-Down” movement reminds listeners that beef is what’s for dinner.

                  Introducing these two familiar American works is a newly-commissioned concert-opener by St. Ambrose University music professor, William Campbell, followed by works of two mid-20th-century composers who unfortunately have been relegated to the second tier of American composers somewhere behind Aaron Copland.

                  Roy Harris is one of them, and he is surely an unknown name to most listeners today. Yet his music was and still is highly regarded as an example of American classical art as it was struggling during the 1920s and 30s to separate itself from European models.

                  Harris liked to emphasize his pioneer bona fides by reminding everyone he was born in Oklahoma in a log cabin on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. When he was four his father moved the family to an isolated farming community in southern California. Although he had music lessons from his mother, Harris was virtually self-taught as a musician until he began a serious study of composition in the 1920s while a college student. Following graduation he made contacts with the music establishment on the east coast and in 1926, at the recommendation of Aaron Copland, traveled to Paris where he studied for a year with Copland’s teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Returning to the United States, Harris maintained a restless career during the 1930s, teaching at Mills College in California, Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Juilliard School in New York. Through Copland, Harris met and became friends with Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony, who premiered and recorded several of Harris’s works including his most-remembered work today, the Symphony No. 3 from 1939.

                  With his usual directness, Harris wrote about this symphony: "Let’s not kid ourselves, my Third Symphony happened to come along when it was needed.” What was needed in 1939 was a work that broke from European musical models and expressed something decidedly American to American listeners. Harris’s muscular Third Symphony did all this and more. With its tightly woven motives and asymmetrical rhythms, it was his signature work for many years before being eclipsed by later musical trends. The symphony found a new audience in the 1970s and 80s through the advocacy of Leonard Bernstein, who both programmed and recorded it with the New York Philharmonic.

                  The Third Symphony is a single-movement work lasting some twenty minutes. Harris identified sub-sections within the single movement as Tragic, Lyric, Pastoral, Fugue-Dramatic, and Dramatic-Tragic. The work opens with a long melody for cellos alone. Soon joined by other strings, the melody is first harmonized in open-sounding parallel fourths and fifths that recall the musical language of Aaron Copland. The entrance of the horns marks the beginning of the "Lyric” section, which features a broad yearning melody led by the violins. After a climax the music moves into the "Pastoral” section, the longest of the symphony. Gradually the music accelerates into the "Fugue-Dramatic” section, characterized by its exuberant nature, sonorous brass melodies, and attention-grabbing timpani strokes. The "Dramatic-Tragic” section develops from the preceding, eventually becoming a dirge-like march led by pulsing timpani beats. Ambiguous chord sequences from the full orchestra mark the conclusion as timpani, bass drum, and cymbals punctuate the symphony’s final notes.

 

 

GEORGE GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

Rhapsody in Blue

 

First performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: March 28, 1943, Jane Anderson, pianist, Oscar Anderson, conductor.

 

                  In today’s common parlance, a crossover artist is a jazz or rock musician who may occasionally perform something vaguely arty or "classical.” Or the term may run the other way ‘round: a classical artist, perhaps an opera star, who decides he or she should sing the blues. These leaps from one musical stream to another are often embarrassing adventures that the performers ultimately regret.

                  But the crossover artist is hardly a contemporary phenomenon; perhaps the most successful crossover artist and performer of the 20th century was George Gershwin. A New-York-born jazz piano player and songwriter, Gershwin achieved an extraordinary degree of financial and critical success in a tragically short career.

                  Growing up in a Russian immigrant neighborhood on Manhattan’s lower east side, Gershwin started piano lessons around the age of twelve. Three years later he dropped out of school to play piano for a sheet music publisher on Tin Pan Alley. Under the influence of the songs of Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin, the teenaged Gershwin dabbled in song writing, ultimately crafting his first big hit, "Swanee,” before he turned twenty. Success came quickly, with Gershwin’s melodies, paired with his brother Ira’s lyrics, appearing in music revues and vaudeville shows on Broadway and in nightclubs throughout New York.

                  But it was in 1924 that Gershwin’s name became a household word with his completion of Rhapsody in Blue for piano and jazz orchestra. The work was commissioned by Paul Whiteman, a popular big band leader, and was premiered on February 12, 1924 by Whiteman’s band with Gershwin as soloist. The impact of Rhapsody in Blue–praise, condemnation, and controversy–place the twenty-six-year-old Gershwin on center stage, a position he never relinquished. From 1925 to the abrupt end of his life in 1937 from a brain tumor, Gershwin usually produced at least one large-scale "serious” composition yearly, surrounded by dozens of musical comedies written in conjunction with his brother.

 

 

MORTON GOULD (1913-1996)

Interplay for Piano and Orchestra (1943)

 

First performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: March 7-8, 2015, Joel Fan, pianist, Mark Russell Smith, conductor.

 

                  American composer Morton Gould was a contemporary of Roy Harris and Aaron Copland, but he never succeeded in equaling them in fame or recognition. Gould made his reputation primarily as a composer and conductor of lighter concert music that was often heard on popular radio programs of the 1930s and 40s. For a number of years Gould conducted "radio orchestras,” composing music both light and semi-serious for them and their listeners. Although he would ultimately win numerous awards for his ballet, film, and television scores, and even a Pulitzer Prize for music in 1995, Gould is best remembered for his successful mixing of both classical and popular music styles. His American Salute (Variations on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home”) is a perennial program favorite on orchestra pops concerts, as are his many arrangements of Christmas carols and Broadway medleys.

                  Fifty years ago Morton Gould appeared with the Quad City Symphony (then known as the Tri-City Symphony) as guest conductor for concerts in January 1965. Sharing the podium with conductor Charles Gigante, he first led the orchestra in selections from his Foster Gallery, then conducted the orchestra in the world premiere of his Festive Music, which the symphony association had commissioned in honor of its fiftieth anniversary season.

                  Gould composed Interplay for Piano and Orchestra in 1943 as a four-movement miniature concerto for Spanish pianist José Iturbi (who, incidentally, performed with the Tri-City Symphony in 1934). The work was originally titled Concertette, but Gould renamed it Interplay in 1945 when it became the accompaniment score to a ballet by Jerome Robbins.

                  In 1947 Gould, as both conductor and pianist, recorded Interplay with a studio orchestra. His liner notes for that Columbia Masterworks recording read:

                  "The first movement is marked ‘With Vigor and Drive,’ and is very rhythmic and brash in the accepted classical form of two contrasting themes and a short development. The second movement is a Gavotte. It is a gay, short dance with a sly glance back to the classical mode. The third movement is a Blues and is what the title implies–a very simple and, in spots, ‘dirty’ type of slow, nostalgic mood. The last movement, ‘Very fast,’ brings the work to a rousing and exciting close.”

 

 

AARON COPLAND (1900-1990)

Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo

 

First performances of two movements: January 20-21, 1962, Charles Gigante, conductor.

First complete performances: March 7-8, 2015, Mark Russell Smith, conductor.

 

                  If any one composer can be said to have defined and personified American music, it would be Aaron Copland. The son of Russian immigrants, Copland grew up in New York City. Yet the scope and content of his music has always extended far beyond that city’s boundaries.

                  Copland’s first true adventure came in 1920 when he moved to Paris to study composition with the noted teacher, Nadia Boulanger. His four years with her provided him with solid music instruction and also introduced him to the post-war generation of artists who were a part of her salon. Paris in the 1920s was one of the artistic centers of Europe, with all that was new, exotic, and avant-garde taking place there. Copland drew heavily from this rich variety of experiences, using them to help form his own unique musical personality.

                  By the 1930s Copland had found his American voice and had begun to use it prolifically. In 1938 he completed a ballet score, Billy the Kid, and four years later, the ballet score, Rodeo. In the music for both ballets Copland spoke directly of the American experience, portraying it with simple harmonies skillfully intermingled with cowboy tunes and spiked with exciting rhythms. The Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo presented the first performance of Rodeo in October 1942 in New York City, with a young Agnes de Mille as both choreographer and leading dancer.

                  Rodeo as a light-hearted romantic comedy and the music is laid out in a series of episodes. The story is of a cowgirl who tries to match the ranch cowboys in their riding and roping. Infatuated with the head wrangler, she is ignored by him when time comes for the big dance. Finally changing from her ranch clothes into a party dress, the cowgirl arrives at the dance where her unexpected prettiness quickly draws the attention of all the cowboys.

                  Rodeo contains some of Copland’s most familiar and recognizable tunes. The music opens with the rollicking Buckaroo Holiday, which is based largely on the cowboy tune "If He’d Be a Buckaroo by His Trade.” The second episode, Corral Nocturne, includes the ballad "Sis Joe.” The third episode is Saturday Night Waltz, and the final episode is the well-known, foot-stompin’ and fiddlin’ Hoe-Down.

 


Masterworks VI

APRIL 11-12, 2015

Mark Russell Smith, conductor

Soloists to be announced

Chorus to be announced (Quad City Choral Arts + Handel Oratorio Society?)

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LEE HYLA (b. 1952)

World premiere of commissioned work, title to be announced. Notes to come from Jacob Bancks.

 

 

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

Friede auf Erden, Op. 13 (Peace on Earth)

 

First performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: April 11-12, Quad City Choral Arts with Mark Russell Smith, conductor.

 

                  Arnold Schoenberg began his musical career firmly dedicated to the Romanticism that had ruled European artistic traditions for more than sixty years. He chose as his musical models those composers who today represent the height of late 19th-century music: Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler. Austrian by birth, Schoenberg divided his professional career between Berlin and Vienna before emigrating to the United States in 1934 to escape Nazi oppression.

                  In 1907 Schoenberg was already beginning to chafe at the limitations traditional music harmony imposed on him. His notable early works, Transfigured Night for string sextet and Gurrelieder for large orchestra and chorus, were now five years behind him and he was eager to find solutions to the problems of traditional harmony as he saw them. Nevertheless he continued to write works more or less tied to the harmonic traditions of the day. When a prize-bearing music competition in Vienna was announced, he submitted a nine-minute work for mixed chorus, Friede auf Erden ("Peace on Earth”). He did not win the competition, but his entry set an extraordinarily high bar for choral singing because of its challenging vocal lines, ambiguous harmonic shifts, and extreme ranges. Complicating matters even more, Schoenberg expected the work to be performed a cappella: that is, without accompaniment, with the singers finding their notes and harmonies strictly "by ear” and without assistance from instruments. He soon realized the difficulty of this task, and for the work’s world premiere two years later, he issued an optional bare-bones orchestral accompaniment to support the singers. Today however, the accompaniment is rarely used, and modern choirs, though still deeply challenged by the music’s difficulty, most often perform it a cappella, moving relatively more easily through the work’s densely chromatic lines.

                  Schoenberg chose the text for Friede auf Erden from a Christmas poem by the Swiss writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. The poem’s first verse begins with the tidings of peace from the Christmas story, while the remaining verses speak of the many wars endured since the Nativity, and a continuing hope for justice and peace to be led by future generations.

                  The poem appealed to Schoenberg’s own personal belief in world peace. But it was an ambiguous belief, one that he hoped for but was uncertain it could be attained. His often torturous vocal lines and inconclusive harmonies of Friede auf Erden reflect that indecision, even though at the end of the work, the music settles firmly into a major key.

                  Schoenberg soon became disillusioned by world events, with the horrors of the First World War forcing him to question his former assumptions about the goodness of humankind. In 1923 he wrote about Friede auf Erden, describing it as "an illusion for mixed choir, an illusion, as I know today, having believed, in 1907 when I composed it, that this pure harmony among human beings was conceivable.”

 

 

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 ("Choral”)

 

First performances by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: February 18-19, 1956, Piero Bellugi, conductor, with soloists Joyce Morrison, Evelyn Reynolds, Elmer Copley, K. Charles Graves, and the Augustana College Choir.

 

                  The ninth and final symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven holds an extraordinary and exalted place in the world of classical music. From its first performance in Vienna in May 1824, the Ninth Symphony was recognized as a work unlike anything that had preceded it, both from Beethoven’s hand and from other composers. While it was a self-described symphony in four movements, the Ninth’s final movement added four solo voices and a large chorus, making the entire work an unusual hybrid of symphonic music and oratorio. Beethoven worked on elements of the Ninth for more than ten years, beginning first in 1812 with vague thoughts and melodic sketchings that were often interrupted by work on other compositions. Finally in 1822, with an offer from the London Philharmonic Society of payment for a new symphony, he set other projects aside and concentrated on completion of the Ninth.

                  A choral finale to the symphony had been in Beethoven’s thoughts for several years. His notebooks show him pondering the chorus’s entrances, and by 1822 he had settled on a text–Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy. From the poem Beethoven chose various verses, arranged them in his own order, and divided them between vocal soloists and chorus. Audience response at the first performance was overwhelming. Eyewitness reports tell of Beethoven, who because of his deafness was oblivious to the ovation, being turned around by one of the soloists to receive the tumultuous applause.

                  It was after Beethoven’s death three years later that he and the Ninth Symphony began to acquire a mythical status in 19th-century music culture. Romanticists viewed Beethoven as a heroic, suffering figure whose independence and libertarianism found an expressive outlet in the finale to the Ninth, with Schiller’s text and Beethoven’s noble music extolling humanity’s goodness under a gentle Creator’s watchfulness.

                  Each of the first three movements of the symphony serves as a prelude to the giant, choral finale. The opening movement is highly dramatic and filled with symbolic struggles between thematic groups. The second movement is the well-recognized Scherzo, but instead of the light-hearted swiftness that would normally characterize a scherzo, Beethoven opts for a driving, ruthlessly pounding rhythm emphasized by the timpani. The third movement, on the other hand, reveals Beethoven at his most song-like and lyrical. Variations on the movement’s chief theme unfold in elegant calm and feature expressive solos for woodwinds and especially the fourth horn.

                  The finale bursts forth in an angry storm of discordant sounds, destroying the repose of the previous movement. But in answer to this turbulence, the cellos and double basses "sing” a wordless recitative, followed by brief reminiscences of melodies from the first three movements. Quietly the woodwinds introduce the famous "Ode to Joy” melody, gradually followed by other instruments until the entire orchestra joins in. A sudden return of the opening dissonant chords introduces the bass soloist who sings Schiller’s famous opening lines as the celebrated text unfolds between soloists and choir.

 


 

100th ANNIVERSARY

GALA CONCERT

May 14, 2015

Mark Russell Smith, conductor

Yo-Yo Ma, cello

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JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80

 

First performance by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: December 4, 1932, Ludwig Becker, conductor.

 

                  The great German composer Johannes Brahms was a gentle but serious man. He followed a rigorous daily regimen in his composing and music-making and was not known for a lighthearted approach to life. By the time he was middle-aged, he was celebrated as one of Germanic music’s greatest composers.

                  In 1879 the University of Breslau awarded Brahms an honorary doctorate in recognition of his contributions to musical culture. The citation’s wording, "First among contemporary masters of serious music,” brought forth an immediate howl of protest from Richard Wagner, who felt the accolade properly belonged to him.

                  Brahms ignored Wagner’s comments and set about composing an "academic” overture in gratitude to the university. Although he did not attend the degree ceremony, Brahms did conduct the premiere of his Academic Festival Overture at the University of Breslau in January 1881.

                  With the overture, Brahms allowed himself a bit of humor at the expense of the hallowed traditions of German universities. The overture contains several popular student songs, all worked into a finely crafted orchestral texture. At the conclusion, Brahms rousingly introduces the Latin academic hymn, Gaudeamus igitur, punctuated by drums, triangle, and cymbals.

 

 

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture

 

First performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: January 8-9, 1922, Ludwig Becker, conductor.

 

                  As a young man of just twenty-six, Tchaikovsky began a career as an instructor of harmony at the newly-opened Moscow Conservatory of Music. He was very insecure about his ability as a teacher and was quite solicitous of his older colleagues, most of whom were successful composers and performers. He would often invite their opinions about his compositions, opinions that were frequently harshly delivered, even if well-intentioned.

                  At the conservatory Tchaikovsky met the influential composer Mily Balakirev, who suggested that he write a work based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Balakirev even went so far as to suggest the work’s outline and first musical theme. Tchaikovsky took the hint and within six weeks completed his Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

                  Despite a successful first performance in early 1870, the work was heavily criticized by Balakirev, who suggested several improvements to it. Tchaikovsky, not wishing to offend the older composer, took the suggestions to heart and made extensive revisions to the piece. Ten years later he again revised it, and it is this version that has come down to us today as the definitive Romeo and Juliet.

                  The work begins with a slow introduction of an almost religious mood. An extended exposition filled with drama and tumult portrays the feuding Capulet and Montague families. The intensity of their rivalry gradually gives way to the private world of the two lovers, who are portrayed by intertwining themes by the English horn and viola. An extraordinarily passionate restatement of the love music follows, after which low strings depict the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. A series of triumphant chords brings the work to its tragic, yet heroic, conclusion.

 

 

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Concerto in B Minor for Violoncello and Orchestra, Op. 104

 

First performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: two movements, February 19, 1917, Walter Ferner, cellist, Ludwig Becker, conductor.

First complete performance: December 4, 1949, Raya Garbousova, cellist, Harry John Brown, conductor.

 

                  By the final decade of the 19th century Antonín Dvořák was recognized throughout the world as one of its finest composers, and certainly its finest Bohemian composer. His cultural heritage was clearly reflected in his music, with its frequent Czech folk tunes and rhythms. In the concert hall his music was often compared to that of Johannes Brahms, who, indeed, was one of his closest friends.

                  In 1892 Dvořák arrived in New York City to assume directorship of the National Conservatory of Music. He remained there three years, and during summers, vacationed in Spillville, Iowa as a guest of its Bohemian community. His American years produced several notable works including the Ninth ("New World”) Symphony, the "American” String Quartet, and the Cello Concerto in B Minor.

                  In writing his cello concerto, Dvořák drew inspiration and assistance from three different cellists. The first was his countryman, Hans Wihan of Prague, who had long urged Dvořák to write a cello concerto. The second was American cellist and composer Victor Herbert, who was then principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The third was Alwin Schneider, principal cellist of the Boston Symphony, who advised Dvořák in the writing of passage work for the solo cello.

                  When Dvořák began work on the concerto in 1894, he was in New York City and quite homesick for his native land. His nostalgia for his country is reflected in the music’s spirit. He completed the concerto in Prague the following summer, dedicating it to Wihan, who did not perform the work until 1899. Dvořák himself conducted the first performance in 1896 with the London Philharmonic and cellist Leo Stern.

                  Written in three movements, the concerto begins with a long orchestral introduction that presents the movement’s two contrasting themes. With the entrance of the solo cello, the two themes are restated and developed through dialogue between the solo instrument and full orchestra. The second movement is in quiet contrast to the vigor of the first movement. The third movement returns to the energy of the first movement and contains reminiscences of the previous movements. An expressive duet between the solo cello and principal violin appears near the movement’s end, after which the concerto concludes in triumphant brilliance.