Saturday, January 29, 2022 (7:30 pm)
Marty Erickson, tuba
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
Scott L. Hines (b. 1958): Starfire
(Commission, World Premiere)
Commissioned by Dr. Kevin Sütterlin and April Ann Brock as a gift to the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra.
Mary D. Watkins (b. 1939): Soul of Remembrance
(From “Five Movements in Color”)
Arild Plau (1920-2005): Concerto for Tuba and Strings
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Symphony No.5 in D Minor, op.47
IV. Allegro non troppo
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(Program notes by Erik Leveille, FVSO Violin I.)
Scott L. Hines: Starfire (2021)
At age fifteen, Dr. Hines began a career in radio broadcasting as a DJ on several stations in Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana. After 15 years of broadcasting, he returned to school to earn his BM, MM, and eventually, his DMA in composition. Scott L. Hines received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from The University of Memphis in 2008. He was a student of John Baur, Kamran Ince, and James Richens. He has received commissions from Ballet Memphis and the Chicago Chamber Orchestra among others. He received his bachelor and master’s degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale where he studied with Frank Stemper, Kathleen Ginther and Eric Mandat. Dr. Hines is on faculty in the theory department and teaches composition and sound design at The University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music. The fanfare “Starfire” was commissioned by Dr. Kevin Sütterlin and April Ann Brock as a gift to the Fox Valley Symphony in 2020. Dr. Hines comments, “I'm honored to receive the commission from the symphony. Dr. Suetterlin requested a fanfare for this performance, and I wanted to write something exuberant. I hope I was successful. After several false starts, the opening trumpet fanfare came to mind, and the Starfire was off and running.”
Arild Plau: Concerto for Tuba and Strings (1990)
Norwegian pianist, bassoonist, and composer Arild Plau was educated at the Oslo Conservatory of Music. He took a position as bassoonist with the Norwegian Opera Orchestra after WWII, during which time he was a POW held captive by German forces. The Concerto for Tuba and Strings was written in 1990 but did not receive its premiere until 2001, after which time the work has been embraced by tubists as a vehicle for demonstrating the instrument’s lyrical and virtuosic capabilities. The Prolog-Allegro opens with dialogue: a repeated sighing, descending minor third figure in the strings, to which the tuba replies with discursive phrases of gradually increasing length. The Allegro proper is characterized by a moto perpetuo accompaniment in the strings and a lively theme in the tuba characterized by rhythmic groups of fives and threes. The more expressive second theme finds the soloist exchanging phrases with solo violin. The Canzone is an elegy that was written as a response to the loss of Plau’s wife to cancer. The soloist sings out a doleful melody over a pulsed two-note figure in the ensemble. A more impassioned theme follows, and the reprise of the lament takes an unusual turn as both the tuba and strings begin a new, lighter, more agile theme that fades into ghostly silence. The brief Finale opens with a lively rhythmic theme in the strings which is taken up by the tuba and contrasted by a theme featuring chromatically descending triplets. A cadenza and the brief coda give the soloist the opportunity to display a particularly nimble, light-footed dexterity before arriving home on the final chord.
Mary D. Watkins: Soul of Remembrance
Hailing from Denver, Colorado, composer Mary D. Watkins began piano lessons at the age of four, and then pursued a career in music as she transferred from Pueblo Community College to prestigious HBCU Howard University. She later moved to Los Angeles and worked for the Olivia Records Collective, a lesbian and feminist record label founded in 1973. She founded a jazz ensemble there and Olivia Records released her album “Something Moving” in 1978. She has gone on to compose within the genres of orchestral music, jazz, and music for film and theater. Her composition “Soul of Remembrance” is one movement of a suite composed in 1994, Five Movements in Color. Watkins described the movement in Arts Work Blog in 2016: “A melody floats over a march...I saw my own people in their long march to fully express themselves as fully human—it’s bittersweet and nostalgic, a song of sorrow and a song of hope.”
Dimitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor
“The whole audience leapt to their feet and erupted into wild applause—a demonstration of their outrage at all the hounding poor Mitya had been through. Everyone kept saying the same thing: ‘That was his answer, and it was a good one.’ [Shostakovich] came out white as a sheet, biting his lips. I think he was close to tears.”
The music of Dmitri Shostakovich, perhaps more than that of any other composer, is inextricably bound with the socio-political conditions of his time, and the work that has generated the most controversy and discussion about its extra-musical meaning is the Symphony No. 5, composed in a mere three months during the Stalinist terror of the 1930s. The young Shostakovich, already a piano virtuoso, burst upon the Soviet artistic scene at the mere age of nineteen with his brilliant and brash First Symphony. Success after success followed, including his witty and sparkling First Piano Concerto and satiric opera The Nose, based on a story by Gogol. In 1934, his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, an avant-garde masterpiece based on a tale of adultery, betrayal, murder, and imprisonment was hailed the greatest Russian opera since those of Tchaikovsky. In 1936, however, Shostakovich’s fate was altered in a moment when Josef Stalin decided to attend a performance. Bewildered by the music and offended by the frankly sexual tone of the opera (amazing how mass murderers can be such bluenoses), Stalin stormed out in a rage and saw to it that a denunciation, entitled “Muddle Instead of Music” was published in Pravda. The music wasn’t merely bad, it was a threat to the values of Soviet society, and the article ended, “This is a game that could end very badly.” Less than two weeks later, his ballet music for The Limpid Stream was similarly savaged. Shostakovich knew what this meant—friends, relatives and colleagues had been shot or disappeared for less. He began sleeping in the stairwell with a packed suitcase so that his family would not be disturbed when the state police came to arrest him. That arrest never came, as the official in charge of Shostakovich’s ‘interrogation’ himself became a victim of the purges.
Shostakovich had been working to complete his Fourth Symphony, a huge, tragic, complex work, but thought better of it and tabled it (this work would not receive its premiere until years after Stalin’s death). He could have taken the easy way to public rehabilitation by writing some bombastic patriotic cantata or ode to Stalin, but Shostakovich, a man both shy and nervous and yet possessed of fierce resolve, decided that he would compose a new symphony. He deliberately chose to eschew the avant-garde and instead employ more traditional harmonic language and structure. Working at an incredible pace, Shostakovich produced a marvel of directness and clarity that overwhelmed the audience at the premiere in 1937. It bears enough of the trappings of a narrative of adversity-to-triumph that satisfied the powers that be and yet it bears fierce witness to the horror, the absurdity, the despair, and grief of those crushed under the weight of a totalitarian state that pierces the heart and soul of listeners and performers to this day.
The first movement is a model of classical economy—every note is derived from the opening four measures, which features a jagged, alternately rising and falling figure in dotted rhythms that evokes both the baroque French Overture style as well as Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, followed by a linear descending figure and three repeated notes. This encompasses the long-breathed, oddly disjunct, “high wire act” melody over the violins as well as the dactylic pulse that underpins it, the increasingly frenetic and menacing march and its violent, shattering climax, and the icy, eerie solos for piccolo, violin and celesta that bring the movement to an uncertain conclusion. The giddily sardonic second movement is a waltz and trio that owes much to Mahler—the tone of the waltz veers from gruff good humor to the almost macabre, as the horns whoop and the fiddles chatter and glissando up and down the fingerboard. The trio opens with playful wit and grace, with solo turns for the violin as well as for flute and harp, and yet things turn increasingly crass and burlesque. Good manners are temporarily restored as the waltz returns in a more delicate guise, with the strings employing pizzicato, but the conclusion is utterly wild, with the oboe intoning the trio melody in a halting manner that sounds for all the world like a winding down music box, followed by final fortissimo outburst. The third movement, which Shostakovich completed in three days, is the emotional heart of the symphony. He eschews the brass but adds extra richness to the strings by dividing the violins into three parts and the violas and cellos into two each. A sorrowful chorale emerges in the strings, then encompasses the winds. Over shuddering, hushed tremolos, the oboe, followed by the clarinet and flutes, intones the loneliest, most bereft music in the entire work. One can well imagine Shostakovich alone, isolated, on those sleepless nights awaiting the worst. The chorale returns and builds to a peak of impassioned grief. The lonely theme becomes a wail of anguish in the cellos as they cry out in their uppermost register. Finally spent, the chorale returns and concludes on a note of calm and tentative hope. The fourth movement engenders the most controversy—did Shostakovich give Stalin what he wanted, with blazing, swaggering brass, thundering timpani, and an irresistible march that is Russian to its marrow? Or does the triumph carry an air of coercion and threat about it? And what of the long, expressive interlude that carries more than a hint of sorrow? Testimony, the ‘memoirs’ of Shostakovich ‘as related to and edited by’ Solomon Volkov has much to say about this finale, but the credibility of this work has been so much challenged since its original publication in 1979 that the last word here is given to Shostakovich’s friend and colleague Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered the Cello Concerto No. 1 and championed his friend’s symphonies from the podium:
“The applause went on for nearly an entire hour. People were in uproar and ran up and down through the streets of Leningrad until the small hours, embracing and congratulating each other on having been there. They had understood the message... of the Fifth Symphony: the message of sorrow, suffering, and isolation; stretched on the rack of the Inquisition, the victim still tries to smile in his pain. The shrill repetitions of the A at the end of the symphony are to me like a spear-point jabbing in the wounds of a person on the rack. The audience of the first performance could identify with that person. Anybody who thinks the finale is glorification is an idiot.”