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Program Notes © 2017 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

Chamber Orchestra Concert

Maria Jette
, soprano
Emmanuel Feldman, cello
Members of Aurea Ensemble
The Maverick Chamber Players
Alexander Platt
, conductor



Sunday, August 26, 2017, 6 pm



PROGRAM

Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914-1919)     Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Arranged by Wolfgang Renz
Prélude: Vif (Lively)
Forlane: Allegretto
Rigaudon: Assez vif (Fairly lively)
Menuet: Allegro moderato
Toccata: Vif

Six Elizabethan Songs, for Soprano and Ensemble (1958)     Dominick Argento (b. 1927)
Spring • Sleep • Winter • Dirge • Diaphenia • Hymn

After Reading Shakespeare, for Cello (1980)     Ned Rorem (b. 1923)

INTERMISSION

Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)     Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) Arranged by Wolfgang Renz
Promenade • Gnomus • Promenade • Il Vecchio Castello • Promenade • Tuileries • Bydlo • Promenade
Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells • Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle • Promenade
Marketplace at Limoges Roman Catacombs • The Hut on Chicken’s Legs • The Great Gate of Kiev



TOMORROW

Sunday, August 27, 4 pm     |     Trio Solisti     |     New Foundations X      |     Music of Schubert, Dvořák, and Jennifer Higdon

NEXT WEEK

Saturday, September 2, 8 pm      |     Jazz at the Maverick
In the Spirit of Don Cherry, with Karl Berger Octet

Sunday, September 3, 4 pm      |     Concert for the Friends of Maverick      |     The Horszowski Trio
Music of Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Daron Hagen

A 60-minute program with no intermission. Regular Maverick tickets are not valid for this event and there is no
“Rock Bottom” seating. Admission is by contribution only. A donor of $50 receives one ticket;
a donor of $100 or more receives two. Reception for the Friends of Maverick follows the concert.


The Yamaha DC7XE grand piano in the Maverick Concert Hall is
a generous loan from Yamaha Artists Services.



 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Soprano Maria Jette’s wide-ranging career has encompassed everything from early Baroque opera to world premieres, in the United States and abroad. Her orchestral résumé includes the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; the Minnesota Orchestra; the Houston, Kansas City, San Luis Obispo, Santa Rosa, Charlotte, Buffalo, Grand Rapids, Austin, Marin, and San Antonio Symphonies; the New York Chamber Symphony; the Portland Baroque Orchestra; Musica Angelica; Berkshires Opera; Roanoke Opera; Sacramento Opera; and the Ex Machina Antique Music Theatre. At home base in Minneapolis–St. Paul, she’s often heard with VocalEssence (led by Philip Brunelle), the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, Minnesota Sinfonia, the Schubert Club, and Lyra Baroque Orchestra.

In addition to performances at Maverick Concerts, Maria has been a regular guest over many seasons at the San Luis Obispo Mozart and Oregon Bach Festivals and the Oregon Festival of American Music. She’s often heard nationally on A Prairie Home Companion.

Maria is an ecumenical recitalist: her programs range from songs of Grieg and Fauré through Edwardian parlor music and Latin American chamber music, liberally interspersed with Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook. She’s performed her own productions of Robert Kapilow’s Green Eggs and Ham and Gertrude McFuzz (both based on the classics by Dr. Seuss) for over fifty thousand kids around the country, with pit bands, symphony orchestras, and even just piano and train whistle!

Hailed by John Williams as “an outstanding cellist and truly dedicated artist,” Emmanuel Feldman has emerged as one of the most innovative and expressive cellists of his generation. He enjoys a multifaceted career as soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and educator.

With a solo concert career that has taken him throughout Europe and North America, Feldman has performed at Carnegie Hall, Boston Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, the Phillips Collection, Salle Gaveau, Radio France, Franz Liszt Academy, and countless other venues in Germany, France, and Spain. He has also appeared as a soloist with the Boston Pops, Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, New England String Ensemble, Merrimack Valley Philharmonic, Greensboro Festival Orchestra, and Boston Philharmonic, amongst others. As a chamber musician, he has collaborated with pianists Robert Levin, Gilbert Kalish, Yehudi Wyner, Jorge Bolet, and Joy Cline Phinney. He has performed with the Borromeo String Quartet and members of the Lydian and Jupiter string quartets. He has also appeared frequently on radio and television broadcasts, including WQXR, WCRB, WGBH, Vermont Public Radio, and Radio France.

A champion of new music, Feldman has premiered works by composers Richard Danielpour, Michael Gandolfi, John Harbison, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Diamond, Gunther Schuller, Charles Fussell, Jan Swafford, Andrew List, Yakov Yakoulov, John McDonald, and Gilbert Trout, among others. Feldman’s own compositions have been performed by the New England String Ensemble, Cello e Basso, and the Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival.

Feldman is on the cello faculty at New England Conservatory, and on both the cello and chamber music faculty at Tufts University, Heifetz International Music Institute, and Killington Music Festival, while also maintaining an active private studio in the Boston area. He has taught at Yellow Barn, Summit Music Festival, and Chappaquiddick Music Festival.

Following his solo orchestral debut at the age of fourteen, Feldman went on to study cello at the Curtis Institute of Music. He was a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, and was invited to participate in numerous other festivals, including Meadowmount, Encore School for Strings, and Marlboro. He has held principal cello posts with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and the New England String Ensemble, and section cello and substitute positions with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra.

Aurea takes its name from Catena Aurea Homeri, or the Golden Chain of Homer, a symbol of eighteenth century esoteric alchemy, which strove for the refinement of the human condition. That alchemy—combining disparate elements into a divine new element—defines every Aurea event.

The mission of Aurea is to investigate and invigorate the relationship between music and the spoken word. Aurea aspires to unify the humanities and fine arts in dynamic, accessible, and engaging ways through performance and educational outreach. Aurea’s concerts combine poetry with classical, folk, and contemporary music to create performances that sweep from intimate chamber settings to major theatrical venues.

Their eclectic humanities-based repertoire, featuring an extraordinary string ensemble, is built on a strong musical framework of original or previously composed music with eloquent spoken word including poetry, journals, and prose—all laced together with soaring harmonica improvisations. Aurea collaborating guest artists have included musicians, actors, puppeteers, dancers, and visual artists.

Aurea approaches cross-cultural themes in their programming, believing the arts inform our understanding of these issues. Serving a broad audience, Aurea reaches national festivals including the Chicago Humanities Festival, the NYU Humanities Festival, Maverick Concerts, Providence International Arts Festival, FirstWorks, university concerts, an annual concert series, and educational outreach.

The Maverick Chamber Players are a group of professional musicians who live and work in the Hudson Valley. As members of area ensembles—including the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, West Point Concert Band, and Albany Symphony Orchestra— all are accomplished performers of repertoire ranging from orchestral masterpieces to world premieres. Most of the players teach music privately and in local high schools and colleges. In addition, most of these musicians play together in chamber ensembles of varying instrumentation.

Alexander Platt is the music director of the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Philharmonic, and Curator for Chamber Music at the Westport Arts Center. He spends his summers as Music Director of the Maverick Concerts. He just completed twenty-two years of service as the conductor of the Marion Indiana Philharmonic, and spent twelve successful years as Music Director of the Racine Symphony Orchestra. Platt recently concluded twelve seasons as resident conductor and music advisor of Chicago Opera Theater (2001–2012), where he led the Chicago premieres of Britten’s Death in Venice, John Adams’s Nixon in China, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Moscow Paradise, and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Under Platt’s direction, Chicago Opera Theater mounted the world premiere of the Tony Kushner/Maurice Sendak version of Hans Krása’s Brundibar; Schoenberg’s Erwartung; Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle (with Samuel Ramey and Nancy Gustafson); and the world premiere recording of Robert Kurka’s The Good Soldier Schweik. Platt spent twelve years as music director of the Racine Symphony Orchestra, three seasons as principal conductor of the Boca Raton Symphonia, and two years as apprentice conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera, where he conducted Colin Graham’s production of Madama Butterfly.

For the entirety of his career, Alexander Platt has been devoted to the music of our time, having conducted the US premieres of works by Britten, Shostakovich, Rorem, Colin Matthews, Daron Hagen, Joseph Schwantner, John Corigliano, Harold Meltzer, Libby Larsen, Joan Tower, Judith Weir, William Neil, and Simon Holt, as well as those of his brother Russell Platt (who is also the classical-music editor at The New Yorker magazine). A signal success was the 2007 premiere of Alexander’s new version for chamber orchestra of David Del Tredici’s 1976 masterpiece Final Alice. The production was supported by a major grant from the New York State Music Fund, and The New York Times praised Mr. Platt’s traversal of Del Tredici’s notoriously difficult score.

A graduate of Yale College, King’s College Cambridge (where he was a British Marshall Scholar), and conducting fellowships at both Aspen and Tanglewood, Platt has led, as guest conductor, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Illinois Philharmonic, Germany’s Freiburg Philharmonic, Denmark’s Aalborg Symphony, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia, Camerata Chicago, the Banff Festival, the Aldeburgh Festival, and the Houston, Charlotte, Columbus, and Indianapolis symphonies. In 2013 he made his debut at the Ravinia Festival, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to high praise in the Chicago Tribune. He has recorded for Minnesota Public Radio, National Public Radio, Southwest German Radio, and the BBC, and his Cedille Records disc with Rachel Barton of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy is frequently heard on radio stations across America.


ABOUT THE MUSIC

Maurice Ravel left the Paris Conservatoire in 1895, returning two years later solely to study with Gabriel Fauré, the only teacher who could appreciate his innovative musical gift. Like his older contemporary Debussy, Ravel is considered an Impressionist composer, although neither of them used or agreed with the term, saying it should be reserved for painters. In some ways, Ravel was more of an iconoclast than Debussy, since he insisted on using musical techniques that were strictly forbidden by the Académie (such as parallel fifths and parallel triads). Ravel sought to create sharp outlines, while Debussy deliberately blurred the edges. Where Debussy was solely concerned with the music’s effect on the heart, Ravel’s music appeals to the intellect as well as the senses. His music emphasizes clarity of expression, as did that of the French Baroque composers; Stravinsky called him a “Swiss watchmaker.”

A tombeau, derived from the French word for “tomb,” is a piece conceived as a memorial on the death of a notable individual, and Ravel wrote Le Tombeau de Couperin in homage to the great exponent of the French Baroque, François Couperin (1668-1733). Le Tombeau de Couperin was originally a six-movement Baroque-style dance suite for solo piano. Ravel dedicated each movement to a friend who died in the Great War (World War I), and orchestrated four of the six original movements. This version, of five movements, was arranged by Wolfgang Renz, who is the house arranger to Ensemble Berlin, the solo players of the Berlin Philharmonic.

French composers are often said to favor wind instruments, and in this piece, the woodwinds have the melodies most of the time, with strings providing accompaniment. The prelude has a ceaselessly moving line in a moderately slow rhythm, and a faster melody line. The forlane is an Italian folk dance in 6/8 time. A rigaudon is a country dance of the Renaissance, similar to the bourrée from Southern France. Ravel gives it a bold, strutting feeling. The Menuet is a graceful, courtly dance in 3/4 time in which a solo voice sings a lullaby-like song. The final toccata, originally a breakneck virtuoso keyboard showpiece, becomes a lively cascade of energetic notes in this orchestrated version.

Dominick Argento has been called the greatest living American lyric composer, and Alexander Platt has chosen to celebrate Argento’s career in this, the composer’s ninetieth year. Argento served as a cryptographer during World War II, then studied at the Peabody Conservatory on the GI Bill. He received a Fulbright grant and studied with Luigi Dallapiccola in Florence, Italy. He earned his master’s degree from Peabody (where he studied with Woodstock composer Henry Cowell) and his PhD from Eastman School of Music. In 1958 he began teaching music theory and composition at the University of Minnesota, and became the composer laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra. He is particularly known for setting prose as well as poetic texts, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for his song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. Among his many honors, he received a 2003 Grammy for his song cycle Casa Guidi, and was awarded membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Throughout his career, Argento has continued to spend summers in Florence, making it his base for composition. His compositional style does not belong to any particular school, and although he uses some serial technique and polytonality, the music retains a tonal framework that is accessible to audiences. In setting the Six Elizabethan Songs, the composer writes that he seeks to honor the past as he brings a new perspective to the words: “The songs are called ‘Elizabethan’ because the lyrics are drawn from that rich period in literature, while the music is in the spirit (if not the manner) of the great English composer-singer-lutenist, John Dowland. The main concern is the paramount importance of the poetry and the primacy of the vocal line over a relatively simple and supportive accompaniment.”

This is one of several performances here at Maverick of contemporary composer Ned Rorem as he approaches his ninety-fourth year. In his notes on After Reading Shakespeare, Rorem says that he provided partial quotations to help the audience grasp the music intellectually. In case some of us may have forgotten the details, the contexts of these quotations are here provided.

Lear (King Lear, Act V, Scene 3): “…Thou’lt come no more, never, never, never, never, never.” These words are spoken by King Lear as he stands over the body of his beloved daughter Cordelia. He has lost all three of his daughters, and is about to die himself, undone by his own pride. The music starts with a high anguished wail and proceeds through frenetic activity, deep troubled thoughts, and a final fading moan.

Katharine (Henry V, Act V, Scene 2): “We are the makers of manners, Kate…” This is what Henry says to Katharine, a princess from France, when she declines to kiss him, since ladies in her country do not kiss gentlemen before marriage. Henry argues that he, as king in his own country, and she, as a princess, are the arbiters of what is proper. The music is short and sweet, with a gentle melody in the major mode.

Titania and Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1): Shakespeare’s stage direction for this scene: [Enter from one side, Oberon with his train; from the other, Titania, with hers.] Oberon is the King of the Fairies, and Titania is their Queen. In the play, they are fighting over an Indian boy whom both want. For this movement, Rorem uses pizzicato (plucked strings) to portray Oberon and his coterie, and a mellow, bowed cello line to stand for Queen Titania. They enter separately, but join forces in a passage that requires the cellist to pluck and bow at the same time.

Caliban (The Tempest, Act I, Scene 2): “…all the charms of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!” In this scene, Caliban (a monster) is bemoaning the fact that Prospero has come to Caliban’s island and now treats him like a slave. When Prospero says that he taught Caliban to talk, the ogre says that he is grateful only because language allows him to curse Prospero. Sycorax is Caliban’s mother, also a monster. Rorem uses short phrases with distinct pauses to portray the ogre’s stilted swearing.

Portia (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1): “The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…” In this scene, Portia, disguised as a judge, tries to persuade the merchant Shylock to have mercy on Antonio, rather than take a pound of his flesh as payment for a debt. The sermon doesn’t work, but has become one of the Bard’s most-quoted passages. Portia’s prayer for merciful justice is portrayed by a legato line and a sweet final chord.

Why Hear’st Thou Music Sadly (Sonnet 8): “Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly? Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.” In this poem, Shakespeare draws the analogy between musical harmony and the harmony between people, whether friends, lovers, or family. Remaining single, he says, does not produce sweet music. Rorem employs double stops to illustrate Shakespeare’s thoughts on togetherness.

Our Minutes Hasten to Their End (Sonnet 60): “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end…” In this sonnet, Shakespeare reflects on mortality. Only in the final couplet is there a glimmer of hope, since the poet’s words, and thereby the beloved’s praise, may escape the inevitability of death. Short bowed notes travel the range of the instrument in this shortest movement, lasting less than a minute.

Remembrance of Things Past (Sonnet 30): “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past, I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought….” This sonnet describes the past sorrows that come back to haunt the poet in reflective moments, but ends on a happy note, since the remembrance of a dear friend erases all the sad thoughts. The music is a lyrical melody with occasional arpeggios.

Iago and Othello (Othello, Act V, Scene 2): “‘…demand that demi-devil why he hath thus ensnared my body and soul?’—‘Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.’” Here, Othello asks Cassio to find out why Iago has manipulated him into such a jealous state that he has killed his own wife. Iago refuses to explain his actions. This final movement, like the first, is longer and more varied than those in the middle. The music is fraught with angry tension, and ends with an upward glissando (slide) that mirrors the descending high moan from the opening movement.

Modest Mussorgsky was part of “The Mighty Handful,” a group of five composers who rebelled against the ideals of German Classicism and sought to create music that embodied the Russian spirit. Of these (the others were Alexander Borodin, Mily Balakirev, César Cui, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov), Mussorgsky had the least schooling in composition. After Mussorgsky’s death at the age of forty-two, Rimsky-Korsakov completed and “corrected” what he called Mussorgsky’s “artistic transgressions.” It took many decades before the music world began to criticize this wholesale rewriting, but in 1928, the Russian government finally began to compile Mussorgsky’s original music. This effort was cut short by World War II. Pictures at an Exhibition, originally composed for solo piano, has been orchestrated many times, most famously by Maurice Ravel. This arrangement is by Wolfgang Renz, the house arranger to Ensemble Berlin, the solo players of the Berlin Philharmonic.

The inspiration for this suite was an exhibit of drawings and watercolors by Viktor Hartmann, a close friend of Mussorgsky’s who had died a year earlier. The music is evocative and descriptive, capturing the character and essence of the various paintings.

The work opens with a Promenade, which presents the visitor strolling through the gallery. The pleasant tune is accompanied at a steady walking tempo. In Gnomus, Mussorgsky uses dark, ominous sounds to depict a painting of a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a gnome with deformed legs. The Promenade returns, quieter and more thoughtful. Il Vecchio Castello was a painting of a troubadour singing outside an ancient castle. A pedal point in the bass—the same note repeated over and over—accompanies a lyrical love song.

The next Promenade is short, purposeful, and incomplete, as the viewer is suddenly drawn to the next painting. Tuileries describes an afternoon in the public gardens in Paris. The familiar sound of children’s taunting cries (a repeated descending minor third, as in “Rain, rain, go away!”) combines with bustling activity. In Bydlo, Mussorgsky expresses the slow, ponderous progress of an oxcart that approaches, then fades into the distance.

The Promenade returns, this time changed to the minor mode, as the gallery visitor is affected by the images. The Ballet of Chickens in Their Shells uses jerky, scurrying sounds to parody the dance of the half-hatched chicks. Two of Hartmann’s paintings (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle) are combined by Mussorgsky to portray two Polish Jews, one rich and one poor. Not surprisingly, Mussorgsky uses the modes and melodies of Jewish music, here in a dialogue.


The next Promenade is short and again lighter in mood. In The Marketplace at Limoges, the music becomes increasingly frenetic up to a sudden confrontation with the following painting. The Roman Catacombs depicts the crypts beneath Paris in slow sustained bass chords, expressing resignation to the inevitability of death. The Promenade, also marked “Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua” (With the Dead in the Language of the Dead), describes Mussorgsky, now clearly the gallery visitor, drawn to the skulls in the Catacombs, which glow from within.

The Hut on Chicken’s Legs comes from a Russian fairy tale about Baba Yaga, a crone who lived deep in the forest in a hut that whirled around perched on the legs of a chicken. Only one who was pure of heart could enter the fearsome witch’s domain, and that one would be rewarded with magical gifts and wisdom. The conclusion of the piece is the final Promenade, here turned into a grand portrait of the Great Gate of Kiev (an architectural drawing of a gate that was never built). The Promenade theme is enhanced with chorale tunes, bell-like scale runs, and majestic chords.




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 © 2017 by Miriam Villchur Berg