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Dutilleux - Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou La nuit étoilée

Thursday, 14 November 2013 13:43 Published in Program Notes

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 4 flutes, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, strings (12 celli, 10 double basses).  

Duration: 20 minutes in three sections.


THE COMPOSER – HENRI DUTILLEUX (1916-2013) – Dutilleux passed away in May of 2013 after a career once referred to by Paul Griffiths as “proudly solitary.” Dutilleux left his position as head of music production at Radio France in 1963 to devote himself fully to composition and the string of awards he received throughout his long life (including the inaugural Kravis Prize as late as 2011) confirmed him as a critical contributor to his personal century and beyond.  


THE HISTORY – Timbres, Espace, Mouvement was inspired by Van Gogh’s celebrated painting The Starry Night. As great-grandson to a painter who counted Delacroix among his contemporaries, Dutilleux was often drawn to the spatial fascinations of visual art. He chose to portray his impressions of Van Gogh’s image by plotting a highly specific staging for the orchestra. The unique configuration (featuring a semi-circle of celli right in front of the podium) allows the sounds to travel through space and time in a physical way that makes the music extremely effective in live performance. The instrumentation, though robust, lacks upper strings and depends heavily on the winds to depict whirling motions of the painting and create a sonic divide between themselves and the celli/double bass grouping. Dutilleux claimed to be ever mindful of Van Gogh’s own spiritual questions while he worked on Timbres and the extremes of instrumental register the composer exploited were meant to represent the vertical abyss that separates Earth and the heavens. Timbres, Espace, Mouvement was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony in Washington D.C., who premiered it in 1978. A central interlude for the cello section was added between the Nebuleuse and Constellation movements in 1990.  


THE WORLD – Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first climbers to summit Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Also in 1978, Charlie Chaplin’s remains were stolen from a Swiss cemetery and the Camp David Accords were signed in the U.S.


THE CONNECTION – These are the first Utah Symphony performances of Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou La nuit étoilée.

Stravinsky - Elegy for JFK

Thursday, 14 November 2013 10:34 Published in Program Notes

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 3 clarinets, baritone or mezzo-soprano.

Duration: 2 minutes.


THE COMPOSER – IGOR STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) – Stravinsky wrote brief memorial works throughout his life but by the late 1950s and early 1960s, he had reached an age when they were becoming a far too regular necessity. Among the friends and admired strangers Stravinsky commemorated during that period was festival patron Prince Max Egon zu Furstenburg, Reverend James MacLane, painter Raoul Dufy and writers Dylan Thomas and Aldous Huxley.


THE HISTORY – Huxley died on November 22, 1963 but due to another notable passing that day, Stravinsky was not able to complete the author’s tribute work right away. Stravinsky had been an acquaintance of President John F. Kennedy and was shocked by the news of the assassination. He later told the New York Times: “The idea [for the Elegy] came to me in mid-January 1964. I felt that the events of November were being too quickly forgotten and I wished to protest.” W.H. Auden had come to enjoy a meal with the Stravinsky’s that January and the composer suggested a collaboration in memory of the President. According to Stravinsky, he originally envisioned a chorale and asked Auden for a “very quiet little lyric” but the poet obliged in March with a set of four haiku-like verses that was clearly better suited to solo performance. Stravinsky immediately set to work on the vocal line, using a technique that matched the 17 syllables of each poetic stanza with the musical notes of a serial tone-row. Auden’s poem was not exactly a literary masterpiece but it did capture a respectful balance of the deep emotions felt by Americans after the tragedy. Stravinsky, in “protest” against our ability to move on too soon, fashioned a highly effective miniature lament.


THE WORLD – 1964 was also the year of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the removal of Nikita Khrushchev from power in the Soviet Union, the sentencing of Nelson Mandela to life in prison and the publication of Saul Bellow’s Herzog.


THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Elegy for JFK.

Nielsen - Symphony No. 4, op. 29 (“The Inextinguishable”)

Thursday, 14 November 2013 10:25 Published in Program Notes

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (3rd doubles contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, strings.

Duration: 36 minutes in four movements (played without pause).


THE COMPOSER – CARL NIELSEN (1865-1931) – Nielsen’s domestic life continued to be a source of great stress in 1914. Infidelities (his) and the generally difficult circumstances of a multi-city professional life (his and hers) had begun to put significant strain on his marriage. As always, Nielsen attempted to weather the impasse through hard work as a conductor and educator but the mounting personal pressures where sure to necessitate some self-reflection in his compositional life as well.   


THE HISTORY – Symphony No. 4 (1916) dates from this period and it constituted Nielsen’s strongest and most iconoclastic symphonic statement to date. This was partly attributable to his evolving maturity as a composer but also due to the inclusion of something rather new to his sound so far – outright conflict. If the 3rd Symphony was created to positively convey the musical characteristics of the human spirit and the natural world, the 4th could be read as an effort to present music as discrete and equal to man and nature, not merely their expressive proxy. It was the idea of music as a force in and of itself, capable of giving voice to “The Elemental Will of Life.” Nielsen believed life and music to be enduring in the truest sense of the word and stated as much in the preface to the score. “Music is life,” he wrote, “and, like it, is inextinguishable.” The title of “Inextinguishable” was given to the symphony by Nielsen not as a programmatic reference but as “a suggestion as to a way into this, music’s own territory.” It did not mean the symphony lacked a readable dramatic arc because for a thing to be proven inextinguishable it must be put the test. Hence the aforementioned conflict as depicted in the final movement by dueling timpani in what must be among the most physically realistic journeys from tension to reward in all of music. The four movements of the symphony are performed without pause, which intensifies the experience by keeping the thread taught for the entire 30-plus minutes. This symphony often invites comparisons to Sibelius but these suggested similarities do both men harm. “The Inextinguishable” was pure Nielsen, which then and always spelled pure (and peerless) originality.    


THE WORLD – 1916 was the year of the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, the Battle of the Somme in France, the killing of Rasputin in Russia and the publication of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.


THE CONNECTION – Nielsen 4 was last performed by the Utah Symphony back in 2005. Assistant Conductor Scott O’Neil was on the podium.

Britten - Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, op. 34 (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell)

Thursday, 14 November 2013 10:20 Published in Program Notes

by Jeff Count

 

Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, xylophone, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine, gong, whip, castanets, Chinese block, harp, strings, optional speaker.

Duration: 18 minutes.


 

THE COMPOSER – BENJAMIN BRITTEN (1913-1976) – 1945 was the culmination of an incredibly productive period for Britten. It was highly successful too, so much so that it concerned him. “I am a worried by my excessive local success at the moment…” he had written in a letter two years prior, “…I hope it doesn’t mean there’s too much superficial charm about my pieces.” A strange fear for a man who was about to pen Peter Grimes.


 

THE HISTORY – Once Grimes had been staged and was free to conquer the opera world, Britten turned his attention to other projects, including the interesting commission offered by the BBC back in 1944. Britten was asked to provide the score for an education film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra in which Malcolm Sargent would lead the London Symphony in a narrative/musical tour of the sections that comprise an orchestra. Britten based his piece on the Rondeau movement of Henry Purcell’s incidental music for the play Abdelazer (The Moor’s Revenge). 1945 was the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death and Britten had already paid homage in his Second String Quartet and The Holy Sonnets of John Donne. For the Young Person’s Guide, the Purcell Rondeau was cast as the unifying theme for the entire work. Britten presents the theme first for full orchestra and then uses it to highlight the sonic capabilities of each of the ensemble’s large sections. From there the individual instrument types get their due in turn, followed by a blinding fugue that reassembles the orchestra and builds to the electrifying return of the opening theme. Though intended for film, Young Person’s Guide works equally well as a concert piece and premiered that way in 1946. Britten surely knew this while he composed and it has become one of his most popular works for the symphony stage. Superficial charm? Plenty. Undeniably brilliant craftsmanship? Oh, yes.


 

THE WORLD – The first meetings of the United Nations occurred in 1946. Also that year, Charles de Gaulle resigned as President of France, Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina and the Atomic Energy Commission was formed in the U.S.


 

THE CONNECTION – Young Person’s Guide has appeared often on Utah Symphony education programs. The last Masterworks performance was in 2000 under Keith Lockhart.

 

Britten An American Overture

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:45 Published in Program Notes

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd doubles bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, suspended cymbal, bass drum, chimes, tam-tam, tenor drum, harp, strings.

Duration: 10 minutes.

 


 

THE COMPOSER – BENJAMIN BRITTEN (1913-1976) – Like many fellow European artists, Britten left for North America just ahead of the coming World War in 1939. Aside from safety reasons, he was anxious to take a break from England’s often unfriendly opinions. Britten would spend three years on our continent and his work during that time reflected both the stress of events back home and an honest attempt to capture the cultural uniqueness of his hosts.    

 


 

THE HISTORY – Britten received a commission for a short orchestral work in 1941 from Maestro Artur Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra. For reasons that are unclear today, the piece was never performed and Britten left the manuscript in America when he returned to England in 1942. The original title of the work was An Occasional Overture and when it was unearthed in the 1970s, Britten claimed at first to have no memory of it. The lack of memory soon turned to outright denial until Britten saw the score for himself and was forced to admit that the handwriting was indeed his. The rediscovery necessitated a change of title to differentiate the 1941 piece from another Occasional Overture published later in 1946. It’s hard to say why Britten tried to disavow his stately, Copland-influenced American Overture (the new name). He may have found it lacking or possibly emblematic of the “composer’s block” that plagued him for a time starting in 1942. His own letters from just after he had acknowledged ownership of the music provide some justification for the latter theory. He stated that his “recollection of that time was of complete incapacity to work; my only achievements being a few Folk-song arrangements and some realizations of Henry Purcell.” That mention of Purcell is tantalizing proof that the block did not last for very long.

 


 

THE WORLD – As a war year, 1941 was known for the Babi Yar massacre and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other events in 1941 included Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, the premiere of Citizen Kane and passing of author James Joyce.

 


 

THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of An American Overture.

Lieberson - Remembering JFK (An American Elegy)

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:41 Published in Program Notes

by Jeff counts

 Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd doubles bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, percussion, piano, harp, strings

Duration: 15 minutes.


 THE COMPOSER – PETER LIEBERSON (1946-2011) – American composer Peter Lieberson was best known for Neruda Songs, written for his wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and honored with the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2008. Throughout his compositional career, Lieberson was heavily influenced by the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and many of his works reflect the ideals of the faith’s enlightened leaders. But inspirational Buddhist figures were not the only important people to capture Lieberson’s attention.   


THE HISTORY – Lieberson was commissioned in 2010 to compose a commemorative work for the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Inauguration the following January. Intent on a work consisting of woven narration and orchestral color, Lieberson began to read through the collected speeches of JFK and, as quoted in Thomas May’s note for the National Symphony premiere, stated that he was “astonished that so much of what [Kennedy] said carried presentiments of what we need today.” It must have been a challenge to curate from such a wealth of possibilities but Lieberson chose to present excerpts from three of JFK’s most eloquent speeches. With the famous inaugural address serving as the centerpiece, the choices were designed to present a balanced image of Kennedy the man, leader and mythical icon. Lieberson summed up his text selections by acknowledging “there is an elegiac quality surrounding this inspirational figure, since in the end he was not able to accomplish so much of what he wanted. But there was also a practical element in his understanding of human nature that couples with the visionary. I chose speeches that reflect both.” Lieberson took further inspiration from the fourth of Brahms’ eleven Chorale Preludes, op. 122, an elegiac work entitled Herzlich tut mich erfreuen (“My Heart Rejoices”). Another wise choice by Lieberson.                                                                                                    


 THE WORLD – In addition to other important commemorations, 2011 saw the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program, civil war in Libya, the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan and the entry of Estonia into the Eurozone.


 THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Remembering JFK.

 

Haydn - Symphony No. 4 in G Major

Monday, 11 November 2013 16:21 Published in Program Notes

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, continuo, strings.

Duration: 13 minutes in three movements.


THE COMPOSER – FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) – It was just prior to his 30-year service to the Esterházy family that Haydn began his epic courtship of the symphony form. From around 1758 he was employed by Count von Morzin of Bohemia and though it was to be rather short appointment (in 1761 Haydn would move on to the vice-Kapellmeistership at Eisenstadt), the Morzin period did yield the first 5 of Haydn’s staggering 104 symphonies.

THE HISTORY – While true that Haydn’s most celebrated achievements as a symphonist began during his Esterházy days (starting with No. 6), it would be wrong to relegate his first efforts to history’s dustier shelves. His earliest symphonies are notable for their ready mastery of several pre-existing ideas like the dynamic contrasts and shifting instrumental combinations that grew from the “Italian” overture model of the early 18th century. But they also contain hallmarks of his singular contributions to the art form. From the start, Haydn displays the signature wit and creative spark that made his later works so instantly recognizable and legacy-worthy. Symphony No. 4 was actually quite conventional in comparison to the more “modern” Symphony No. 3. The four-movement innovation and the highly contrapuntal writing of No. 3 would return later in Haydn’s career but No. 4 now feels linked to what came before, not after. This is not to say the expected charms are missing from No. 4, which is every ounce a Haydn symphony and one of the last pieces he wrote for Count Morzin. Prince Esterházy certainly saw something important in the young composer’s Morzin-period symphonies, important enough that he offered Haydn the most significant job of his life in 1761.     

THE WORLD – King George II of Britain died in 1760, as did the Burmese King Alaungpaya. Also that year, Belgian inventor Jean-Joseph Merlin invented the first practical pair of roller skates but injures himself while demonstrating them.

THE CONNECTION – Though they regularly perform Haydn Symphonies on the Masterworks Series, these concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of No. 4.

Nielsen - Symphony No. 2, op. 16 (“The Four Temperaments”)

Friday, 08 November 2013 16:06 Published in Program Notes

 

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (1st and 3rd double piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubles English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings

Duration: 32 minutes in four movements.


THE COMPOSER – CARL NIELSEN (1865-1931) – In the years that bridged the turn of the 20th century, Nielsen was juggling the demands of his professional career with those of fatherhood. In fact, so busy abroad was his artist wife that he often felt like a single father and the situation raised tensions between the parents. It is perhaps due to his marital struggles that Nielsen’s music during this period took on a decidedly “psychological” tone.

THE HISTORY – Hardly an overtly “Domestic” symphony in the style of Strauss, Nielsen’s 2nd was a reflection of his broader interests in the verities of human personality. Nielsen came upon the inspiration at a country inn on the island of Sjaeland where he viewed a peasant painting depicting the Four Humors of Greco-Roman medicine. “Humorism” was a theory that attributed the basic elements of human temperament to the excess or deficiency of four different bodily fluids, namely yellow bile (choleric or “bad tempered”), black bile (melancholic), blood (sanguine) and phlegm (phlegmatic or “calm”). The quaintness of this ancient study was echoed in the paintings at the Danish inn and Nielsen later recalled finding them hilariously naïve. The experience stuck with him however and he soon began to see the potential for interesting musical treatment in the “shoddy pictures.” The symphony was not written as a programmatic representation of the images but rather a set of moods based on the classic temperaments themselves. As such, each movement captures the emotional compass points with incredible style. Not to be content with sonic monochromes, Nielsen hinted at a subtle mixing of his “temperaments” by acknowledging that “the impetuous man can have his milder moments, the melancholy man his impetuous or brighter ones, and the boisterous, cheerful man can become a little contemplative…but only for a while.” Nielsen completed the score just days before the Copenhagen premiere in 1902 and the reception of his highly individual take on the symphony form, though only mildly favorable at first, would grow into considerable international affection before too long.   

THE WORLD – Volcanic eruptions on the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and Martinique claimed over 30,000 lives in 1902. Also that year, Cuba gained formal independence, the Second Boer War ended in South Africa and Alfonso XIII began his reign in Spain.

THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Nielsen’s Symphony No. 2.

 

Vivaldi - The Four Seasons

Friday, 08 November 2013 16:04 Published in Program Notes

 

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: strings

Duration: 37 minutes.


THE COMPOSER – ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741) – Vivaldi became music director of the Ospedale della Pietà (an orphanage for girls) in 1716 after more than a decade as the violin instructor. Much was expected of him there, including a request in 1723 for no less than two concerti per month, to be sent by mail if necessary, for performance by the school orchestra. Records from Pietà confirm payment for at least 140 such works over the ensuing six years.

THE HISTORY – Ever prolific, Vivaldi still found plenty of time to travel and compose other music. His most famous work, The Four Seasons, was first published in Amsterdam (1725) as part of a larger collection with the rather grand title of The Contest of Harmony and Invention. Vivaldi dedicated the work to Count Wenzel von Morzin (yes, of the same Morzin family that would later commission Haydn). The Seasons comprise the first four of the set’s twelve concerti and are each based on evocative sonnets that represent their respective time of year. The authorship of the texts is unknown but there exists some suspicion that the Vivaldi himself wrote them. Regardless, the three-part structure of the poetic words corresponds nicely with what would become the traditional fast-slow-fast configuration of the baroque concerto. Each musical Season is a virtuosic showpiece for soloist and accompaniment, replete with allusions to the birds of Spring, the heat of Summer, the harvest celebrations of Autumn and the bitter winds of Winter. Vivaldi was reportedly an expert violinist in his own right and he has often been credited with bringing his instrument out of the ensemble and to the fore as a featured solo voice. His Four Seasons may well be the culmination, historically if not intentionally, of that effort. The effect of hearing the entire “year” in one sitting is both a thrilling pictorial experience and a fascinating evolutionary snapshot of the violin itself.       

THE WORLD – Russian Tsar Peter the Great died in 1725, as did composer Alessandro Scarlatti. It was also a year international accords, including the Treaty of Vienna between Austria and Spain and the Treaty of Hanover between Great Britain, France and Prussia.

THE CONNECTION – Utah Symphony has programmed The Four Seasons, whole and in part, many times over the years. The most recent Masterworks performance was in 2006 with Corey Cerovsek.

 

Whittney Thomas

Tuesday, 05 November 2013 11:11 Published in Viola

Viola

First prize winner in the 2006 Pasadena Showcase Instrumental Competition, and second placesenior laureate of the 2007 Sphinx Competition, violist, Whittney Thomas just completed a two-year fellowship in Japan playing with the Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra.

Her past summers have included participating in the Schleswig Holstein Orchestral Academy asthe principal viola, where she toured Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain and Turkey; as well as the Sarasota Music Festival, Music Academy of the West, Aspen Music Festival, the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, and many more.

As an avid chamber musician, Whittney collaborated closely with Midori Goto for three years,playing and performing extensively throughout the United States. She has also performed with several wellknown artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Arnold Steinhardt, Isabelle van Keulen, ChoLiang
Lin, and Kathleen Winkler. Ms. Thomas has performed in masterclasses given by Richard O’Neill, Kim Kashkashian, Andrés Díaz, the Takacs Quartet, members of the Cleveland Quartet and the American String Quartet.

Born in San Diego, California, Whittney began her studies on the violin at age 8 and discovered her love for the viola nine years later. In 2009, she earned her Bachelor’s of Music degree at the University of Southern California under the guidance of Donald McInnes and studied with Martha Strongin Katz at the New England Conservatory. Ms. Thomas plays on a 2003 Zanetto model by Mario Miralles made on loan to her through the Maestro Foundation. When she is not practicing, she enjoys cooking and baking and would like to extend her interests to many of the Salt Lake pastimes like hiking and skiing.