Maverick Chamber Concert

Paul Appleby, tenor
The Aurea Ensemble

Malcolm Ingram
, reader
Chris Turner, harmonica, reader
Katherine Winterstein, violin
Charles Sherba, violin
Consuelo Sherba, viola, music director
Emmanuel Feldman, cello
The Maverick Chamber Players
Alexander Platt, conductor

Saturday, July 27, 2013, 6:30 pm

“A Portrait: Britten at Woodstock”

program

Harmonica Improvisation Elegy for Solo Viola (1930) Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
“On this Island” W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
Chacony in G Minor
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
“Musée des Beaux Arts” Auden
Rhapsody for Strings (1929) Britten
“Seascape [In Memoriam, M.A.S.]”
Stephen Spender (1909-1995)
Daybreak Spender from Waves... p. 7
Virgina Woolf (1882-1941)
Idyll No. 1: Adagio molto espressivo
Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful…” Britten, on music
Idyll No. 2: Allegretto poco lento Bridge
“When the success of The Sea brought him to Norwich...” Britten, on Bridge
Idyll no. 3: Allegro con moto Bridge
“The person, I think, who developed my love of poetry was Auden...” Britten, on Auden
“In those days of exuberance...” Spender, on Auden
“By 1937, Auden had become the most famous British writer of his generation...”
Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), on Auden
“The Shield of Achilles” Auden
Elegy for solo viola Britten
Notes from Britten’s writings...Divertimento I (1936): March Britten
Notes from Auden’s writings... “Underneath an Abject Willow” Auden
Divertimento II: Waltz Britten
From “Waves” Woolf
Divertimento III: Burlesque Britten

intermission

Notes from Woolf’s writings... “We are equally prisoners tonight…” Woolf
“The whole of my life has been devoted to acts of creation...” Britten
“All things considered, I am enjoying myself very much.” Britten
Les Illuminations, Op. 18, for high voice and string orchestra (1939) Britten
1 Fanfare: Maestoso. largamente
2 Villes: Allegro energico
3a Phrase: Lento ed estatico
3b Antique: Allegretto, un poco mosso
4 Royauté: Allegro maestoso
5 Marine: Allegro con brio
6 Interlude: Moderato ma comodo
7 Being Beauteous: Lento ma comodo
8 Parade: Alla marcia
9 Départ: Largo mesto. Largamente

tomorrow

Sunday, July 28, 4 pm
The Escher String Quartet

Music of Elgar, Britten, Sir Harrison Birtwistle,
and Beethoven

next week

Saturday, August 3, 11 am
Young People’s Concert

Marc Black, vocals and guitar

Admission is free for all young people under 16.
These wonderful concerts, long a Maverick tradition,
are designed for enjoyment by school-age children.
Adults pay $5 each.

Saturday, August 3, 6:30 pm
Perry Beekman,
guitar and vocals,
with Peter Tomlinson, piano,
and Lou Pappas, bass

Songs of Rodgers and Hart

Sunday, August 4, 4 pm
The Leipzig String Quartet

Music of Beethoven, Lutosławski, and Franck

 

 

 

 

 


LOGO
Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

A recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and a recipient of the 2012 Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Performing and Visual Arts, tenor Paul Appleby has emerged an admired and exciting presence on the world's leading concert, recital, and opera stages.

Mr. Appleby took the 2012 Top Prize by the Gerda Lissner Foundation, the 2012 Martin E. Segal Award, a 2011 Richard Tucker Career Grant, and the George London Foundation Award, and he was a winner of the 2009 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He holds an Artist Diploma and a master's degree from The Juilliard School.

Paul has sung major roles at the Metropolitan Opera, and has performed with the Santa Fe Opera, Oper Frankfurt, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Boston Lyric Opera, with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He has performed recitals at Alice Tully Hall, the New York Festival of Song, the Kennedy Center, the Aspen Music Festival, the Caramoor Festival, and Music@Menlo, and has been a guest on A Prairie Home Companion.

The ensemble Aurea is based in Providence, Rhode Island. Through the medium of performance, interfacing music with the spoken word, Aurea seeks to unify the humanities and fine arts in dynamic, accessible, and engaging ways. Its artists meet at the margins of their disciplines and push the boundaries back and forth in a joyous pursuit to investigate and invigorate the harmony of music and the spoken word.

Malcolm Ingram is a British actor, director, and voice teacher. He has appeared at the National Theatre with Sir John Gielgud and at the Royal Court with Nigel Hawthorne. He has performed numerous Shakespearean and other roles in regional theaters in England and the United States, and was Frank Langella’s understudy in two plays on Broadway. He is an associate professor teaching voice, classical text, and acting at Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Born into a musical family in London, England, Chris Turner has been playing harmonica and recorder professionally since 1967, working in a variety of idioms. In 1975, he was awarded the European Harmonica Championship. Composer, music director, and arranger, he has worked in film, animation, radio, and television.

Katherine Winterstein has often performed in Boston’s Ashmont Hill Chamber Music Series, and appears with the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, Firebird Ensemble, the Art of Music Chamber Players, and the Chamber Music Foundation of New England. She is on the faculty of Middlebury College in Vermont.

Charles Sherba is concertmaster of the RI Philharmonic, the Simon Sinfonietta, and the Boston Festival Orchestra. He has also performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony. He teaches at Brown University, the Cape Cod Conservatory, and the RI Philharmonic Music School.

Consuelo Sherba is artistic director of Aurea, and principal violist of the Simon Sinfonietta. She performs with the RI Philharmonic, the Buzzard’s Bay Music Festival, and has performed with the Milwaukee Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, and the Boston Chamber Music Society. She teaches at Brown University, Wheaton College, and the RI Philharmonic Music School.

Emmanuel Feldman enjoys an active career as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and educator. He has performed as soloist with the Boston Pops, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and the New England String Ensemble. A graduate of the Curtis Institute, he teaches at Tufts University and at the New England Conservatory preparatory school.

The Maverick Chamber Players is a group of professional musicians who live and work in the Hudson Valley. As members of area ensembles—including the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, the West Point Concert Band, and the Albany Symphony Orchestra—all are accomplished performers of repertoire ranging from orchestral masterpieces to world premieres.

Alexander Platt has forged a unique career among the younger American conductors, combining a true commitment to regional orchestras and their communities with an ability to lead cutting-edge projects on the international scene. Alexander is music director of the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Symphony, the Greater Grand Forks (North Dakota) Symphony, the Marion (Indiana) Philharmonic, and the Wisconsin Philharmonic.

Mr. Platt made his debut with Chicago Opera Theater in 1997. In 2007 he made his Canadian debut at the Banff Festival, and that same year he made his New York debut with the Brooklyn Philharmonic before thousands in Central Park, the first of several appearances with the orchestra. As a guest conductor, Alexander Platt has led orchestras in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and numerous cities throughout Europe and the United States. He was educated at Yale University, at both Aspen and Tanglewood, and at King's College Cambridge.

 


 


 


ABOUT THE MUSIC

From age thirteen to sixteen, Benjamin Britten was under the tutelage of Frank Bridge, who insisted on careful composition and would not put up with sloppy or amateurish writing. He also believed that the young Britten had remarkable talent. Bridge introduced Britten to the Late Romantic style as well as to the music of Debussy, Ravel, and Schoenberg. At the age of seventeen, Benjamin Britten submitted some of his compositions to the Royal College of Music, and won a scholarship. He graduated from prep school around the same time, and the day after leaving school, wrote the Elegy for Solo Viola.

The viola is rarely heard as a solo instrument, since its deep and mellow timbre is thought to be better suited to accompanying or filling in the sounds of other, brighter instruments. But Britten had studied the viola, and Bridge was a world-renowned violist, so it was natural for the young composer to feature this instrument. Even at the beginning of his career, Britten was already establishing techniques he would go on to use throughout his career—juxtaposing small intervals with large leaps; using standard scales but making the key uncertain; and presenting a long theme followed by subtly changed versions of that theme. In the Elegy, the tune is plaintive, as it climbs inexorably from the lowest notes to the highest and then descends. A central section is pizzicato (plucked), and the piece ends with one plucked note followed by a long bowed note that finally tells us where the tonal center is. The Elegy was not published until after Britten’s death.

Britten had health problems throughout his life. At boarding school, he suffered from fainting spells, and it was during one of his stays in the school’s sanatorium that he composed the Rhapsody for String Quartet. After a lush opening in Frank Bridge’s Late Romantic style , the viola presents the warm second theme. Britten presents two aspects of the 3/4 time signature—now hesitant and
halting, now lilting and forward moving. The whole is a satisfying miniature, and a remarkable feat for a fifteen-year-old lying in a hospital bed.

In 1935, Britten was living in London with his sister and enjoying city life (as he had not done while in school). He got his first job, composing music for the GPO (General Post Office) Film Unit. He had the opportunity of working with painters, film directors, and poets, including W.H. Auden, who became a close friend and later a collaborator when both were in the United States. He began a five-movement string quartet, but decided to cut two movements and publish the remainder as divertimenti. The full title at its first performance in 1936 was Three Divertimenti for String Quartet: Go play, boy, play. The title is a quote from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, in which King Leontes, thinking his queen has been unfaithful, sarcastically tells his son to play, the way his mother has been “playing.”

It opens with a March, a genre Britten returned to very often during his career. A series of rising and falling lines impel the music forward, with the raw sound of open fourths, like the open strings of the instruments that are heard when they are tuning up. In the Waltz, the first violin and viola play lyrical lines with pizzicato (plucked) accompaniment. The cello takes the lead, and the relaxed pace gives way to a somewhat hectic feeling. The final Burlesque is a fast, playful romp, but with an edge. As with many of Britten’s works, a calm surface barely conceals a mysterious undercurrent.

Britten is credited with reviving British opera with Peter Grimes (1945). Prior to that, the last (and, in fact, the first) great English opera was Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689). Britten acknowledged his debt to Purcell, and sought to renew interest in his music. He produced performing editions of Dido and Aeneas and other Purcell works; he arranged a wealth of Purcell’s songs to perform with Peter Pears; and he used a Purcell theme in The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

Purcell wrote the Chacony for Strings early in his career, arranging it for a consort of four viols. He used an unusual spelling of Chaconne, the word for a set of variations over a repeating bass line—in this case, a pattern that is a mere eight measures long. In Purcell’s day, composers did not include markings to indicate tempo or dynamics. When Britten arranged it for the modern string orchestra. He added those subtleties, providing each variation with its own character—slow and somber, or quiet and pensive, or solemn and majestic. The dotted rhythm gives the work a processional feeling, and the minor key adds its own sense of austerity. After repeating the bass theme for many variations, the cello briefly breaks free to play the faster- moving decorative line, but soon returns to its assigned role of holding down the bottom.

Frank Bridge was Britten’s great mentor, giving him private lessons in composition from age thirteen to age sixteen, when he started studying with John Ireland at the Royal College of Music. Bridge had been a Late Romantic composer, so he was able to give Britten a solid background in musical structure. But Bridge had been influenced by Berg and the serialists, so he was also able to introduce modern musical concepts to the young Britten.

Bridge dedicated his Three Idylls for String Quartet to Ethel Elmore Sinclair, who sat next to him in the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra. She must have liked the piece, since she married Bridge the following year. In the first Idyll (Adagio molto), the viola (Bridge’s instrument) takes the melody, while all four instruments stay in their lower ranges. A central section brightens the mood, with the first violin finally playing in its higher range. The darker sound returns for the last word.

The second idyll (Allegretto poco lento) was made famous by Benjamin Britten when he employed it as the basis of his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge. Britten admired Bridge for his subtle harmonic ambiguities, here given a treatment that is both hesitant and continuous, both dreamy and down-to-earth. The ending is wispy and abrupt.

In the final movement (Allegro con moto), we hear the more typical pastoral style suggested by the title “Idyll.” A cheerful trio plays above a bouncy cello. This reverie is periodically interrupted by a more sophisticated, “urban” sound. A fountain of rising notes announces the ending.

In 1938, Benjamin Britten was living in London, but the colonies were calling to him. He had moved in with the tenor Peter Pears, referring to Pears in a letter as “the guy I share a flat with.” Audiences were appreciative of Britten’s music, but the critics were very hard on him, panning his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge and his Piano Concerto. There were other reasons to consider a trip across the pond: War seemed probable in Europe; Britten was overworked, and his doctor was recommending rest and relaxation; both Peter Pears and Britten’s great mentor Frank Bridge had enjoyed considerable success in the United States; his friends and W.H. Auden had emigrated to the States to avoid the coming conflict; and he had just met and become friends with the American composer Aaron Copland, who was planning a pleasant working summer vacation in Woodstock.

So, in April of 1939, Britten and Pears set sail for Canada. Britten was well received there, as he was during his entire stay in North America, by critics and audiences alike. The couple traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and then joined Copland and his lover, the photographer Victor Kraft, in Woodstock for the summer. During the trip, Britten and Pears’ relationship became more than friendship, and they remained devoted partners for the rest of their lives.

Britten wrote many letters home to his sister. “Peter and I are now settled for a month up in a place called Woodstock in the Kingston district of the Hudson River (look it up in the map) near the Catskill Mountains. It’s very beautiful and we’ve rented a studio there. Aaron C. is near and we have a great time together….” Their two cottages were probably along the Millstream, where there are several places to swim. Victor Kraft took a photograph of Britten, Copland, and Pears on Millstream Road.

One of the pieces Britten worked on while in Woodstock was Les Illuminations, a song cycle of settings of poems by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. When he was a teenager, Rimbaud’s lover was the poet Paul Verlaine. He produced his entire oeuvre in a three-year period between 1872 and 1875, after which he gave up writing (at the age of twenty-one) and became a traveling salesman in Asia and Africa. He is considered a precursor to the surrealists of the 1920s (García Lorca, Artaud, and others). Some of the titles of these poems are in English, such as “Being Beauteous”—Rimbaud worked with the sounds of words as well as their meaning, and enjoyed collecting words from different
languages in his travels.

Although Britten wrote copious letters to friends and family, he rarely spoke of his music, other than noting what he was working on or what he had finished. Fortunately, Les Illuminations is an exception to this rule. His correspondence with soprano Sophie Wyss, to whom the work is dedicated and who gave the premiere, gives us great insight into the composer’s thoughts and processes:

“October 19, 1939

“I have now completed this work, which I am very pleased with, and in a few days I hope to send you the rest of the songs…. The work as it now stands is very much of a whole—the pieces are to follow each other without interruption. In order that you should not be a nervous wreck at the end of the work, I have put in the middle an orchestral interlude. The character of the whole work is difficult to describe, since anything dealing with Rimbaud must necessarily be enigmatic. But roughly, the idea is this: Les Illuminations, as I see it, are the visions of heaven that were allowed the poet—and, I hope, the composer…. The clue to the whole work is, I think, to be found in the last line of Parade: “J’ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage” [“I alone have the key to this wild parade”], which I have used in all three times…. Incidentally, the second time it happens it is marked pianissimo, but it must not lose its heraldic character. Now, roughly, this is the scheme of the movements:

FANFARE. This is to call attention, prepare the mood, and give thematic suggestions for the work. Its character is obvious from the music.

VILLES. This poem, I believe, was written in London, and certainly is a very good impression of the chaotic modern city life…. The end is simply a prayer for a little peace.

PHRASE. This short section, very dreamy, is merely an introduction to…

ANTIQUE… which is a slow dance.

ROYAUTÊ. Pompous and satirical. The idea merely is that, given the right circumstances, it is in the power of anyone, however humble, to imagine himself King or God, whichever you prefer.

MARINE… about which you know everything. [Note: Wyss had already performed this song.]

The ORCHESTRAL INTERLUDE is a reproof for the exaggeratedly ecstatic mood of Marine.

BEING BEAUTEOUS. No one in the world could tell you how to sing this one. [Note: Britten dedicated this song to Peter Pears, and performed the song cycle with him many times.]

PARADE. You will enjoy, because it is a picture of the underworld. It should be made to sound creepy, evil, dirty (apologies!), and really desperate. I think it is the most terrific poem and at the moment I feel the music has got something of the poem!! After this,

DÊPART. Should be sung quietly, very slowly, and as sweetly as only you know how. ‘O Rumeurs et Visions!’ should bring tears to the eyes of even the program sellers at the back of the hall.”

Themes of childhood, simplicity, and innocence often figure in Britten’s compositions. With these poems of Rimbaud, the added aspect of young passion, just as Britten was falling in love, must have made the verses irresistible. The string orchestra is the perfect backdrop for the songs—strong and direct in places, and nuanced and subtle where needed. This song cycle remains one of Britten’s most memorable works, and Woodstock helped bring it into the world.

Britten’s time in the United States was extremely important in his artistic evolution. On the one hand, he came to accept his differentness, including his homosexuality. As Pears wrote to him years later, “We are after all queer & left & conshies [i.e., conscientious objectors] which is enough to put us, or make us put ourselves, outside the pale.” On the other hand, being away from home, and finally receiving the public acclaim he deserved, gave him a perspective on his potential importance to English music, and made him bound and determined to become a force for change and for excellence in the creative life of his own country.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at miriam@hvc.rr.com Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg