QUAD CITY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

100th Anniversary Season

 

MASTERWORKS CONCERTS 2014-15



PROGRAM NOTES for Concerts on March 7-8, 2015

 

WILLIAM CAMPBELL (b. 1969)

"Where the River Bends” WORLD PREIEMERE (2015)

 Commissioned by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra


Though they all have local ties of one kind or another, none of the composers on this season is closer to home than William Campbell. Now celebrating 10 years as professor of music theory and composition at St. Ambrose University, Campbell is a fixture in the musical life of the Quad Cities, having worked with many local musicians and ensembles, as well as serving as contemporary music director at St. Paul Lutheran Church. This is his second work for the QCSO; his Coyote Dances was premiered here in 2011.

 

If you are curious about Campbell’s musical passions, just ask him about the other composers on tonight’s program. Few musicians have a deeper knowledge and understanding of American symphonic music than Campbell, and his new work Where the River Bends has a prairie-inspired pathos and sunny harmonic optimism found in the works of composers like Harris, Copland, and John Adams. After a slow, chorale-like introduction, Campbell’s music sails forward into an extended passage of rich, soaring brass and string melodies offset by steady, exciting rhythmic accompaniment. This, like the work of so many American composers, is attractive and accessible music, full of immediacy and dramatic power.


 

 

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 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 College in Pennsylvania, 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, 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–placed 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, piano, 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 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 performance by Quad City Symphony of selections from Rodeo: January 20, 1962, Charles Gigante, conductor.

First performance of all four Dance Episodes: March 7, 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.

 



PROGRAM NOTES for Concerts on April 11-12, 2015

 

 

JAMES STEPHENSON (b. 1969)

"A-ccord” world premiere (2015)

 Commissioned by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra


Like the other composers writing world premieres for this season, James Stephenson was faced with the difficult task of crafting a new work to precede an orchestral masterpiece. He titled it A-ccord, which is in one sense a pun, since Beethoven’s Ninth begins with an "A chord”. But Stephenson was hoping for more than just a tangential relationship to Beethoven. "I wanted to stretch myself a bit to see if I might be able to come up with something different, a new take on the existing format.” He continues:

 

I began thinking of the text of Beethoven’s symphony, and it’s focus on brotherhood. Almost at the same time, there seemed to be more political and racial unrest in the world than usual, and an idea began to unfold in my brain. I decided that the orchestra and chorus would play/sing entirely in unison… but otherwise never using a single note of harmony. This would represent the ‘brotherhood’ aspect; in other words, all members of the orchestra/chorus would have to take full responsibility to their part of the process, so that a cohesive whole could be achieved… The symbolism is obvious, of course: everyone working together, regardless of color or (orchestral) family history, in an effort to ‘all just get along’.

 

This is the other "accord” from which the work draws its title: the unity of diverse persons working together toward a common end.

 

The piece’s opening unison, marked "whisper-soft” in the score, is striking not just for its unusual color, but also because it begins by outlining a simple major triad. However, as the melody continues you will notice it takes on a rather exotic, mysterious quality. Instead of using a major or minor scale, Stephenson uses the octatonic scale, so-called because it includes eight pitches instead of the usual seven.

 

 

This scale, made of alternating whole steps and half steps, is a favorite of many composers, most famously Rimsky-Korsakov in the opening movement of Scheherazade ("The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship”). Stephenson uses this scale throughout the piece, so despite its unusual harmonic sound and wide variety of orchestral colors, you will hear an elegant consistency. As the orchestra scurries, blasts, and sails through this scale, the choir joins in with portions of the same text you will hear tonight during Beethoven’s Ninth (in English translation), as well as the work of Quad City poet Dick Stahl.


 

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

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

First performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra: April 11-12, 2015; Quad City Choral Arts with Mark Russell Smith, conductor.

 

Arnold Schoenberg began his career firmly dedicated to the Romanticism that had ruled European musical traditions for more than sixty years. His musical models were the 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 Vienna and Berlin before immigrating to the United States in 1934 to escape the rise of Hitler and National Socialism.

                 

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 performance by Quad City Symphony Orchestra: February 18, 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.