Saturday, March 12, 2022 (7:30 pm)
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875): Overture No. 1, op.23, E Minor
Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981): Soul Force
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912): Ballade in A Minor, op.33
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908): Scheherazade
I. The Sea and Sinbad's Ship
. Largo e maestoso – Allegro non troppo.
II. The Kalandar Prince
. Lento – Andantino – Allegro molto – Vivace scherzando – Moderato assai – Allegro molto ed animato.
III. The Young Prince and The Young Princess
. Andantino quasi allegretto – Pochissimo più mosso – Come prima – Pochissimo più animato.
IV. Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. Ship Breaks upon a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman
. Allegro molto – Vivo – Allegro non troppo maestoso.
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(Program notes by Erik Leveille, FVSO Violin I.)
Louise Farrenc: Overture No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 23
Composer, concert pianist, and entrepreneur Louise Farrenc’s music is belatedly receiving her due as a remarkable figure in the musical world of 19th century Paris. Born into an artistic family in 1804 (her father and brother were sculptors), Farrenc studied with such renowned pianists as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and then at the age of 15 was accepted as a student of Anton Reicha, professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory. Farrenc had a brilliant career as a touring artist and composer during the 1830s. She composed for her own instrument as well as for orchestra and chamber ensembles and often performed with her husband, flutist Aristide Farrenc. She was appointed as professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory in 1842, and after her husband retired as a performing artist, the couple founded Editions Farrenc, a music publishing house that was one of the most distinguished in Paris for several decades.
The Overture No. 1 dates from 1834 and was given its premiere the following year. The work opens in French Overture style, with a slow introduction characterized by a somber, almost severe, unison theme featuring dotted rhythms in the strings reinforced by powerful chords in the brass. Some sweet relief is offered by intertwining lines in the woodwinds, but the mood remains serious, and the introduction comes to a quiet conclusion. The violins launch into the Allegro proper with a slightly frenetic theme which develops into stormy outbursts. This is contrasted by a delightfully lyrical tune in the clarinet which Farrenc ingeniously accompanies with a version of the first theme, with the violins now chattering away in much more cheerful G major. Two brusque chords in the “wrong” key announce the development, which first features the second theme and gradually includes the first. An uncertain pause leads to the recapitulation, in which the second theme is taken by the flute instead of the clarinet. The coda turns to bright E major, bringing the work to an energetic and optimistic close.
Jessie Montgomery: Soul Force (2015)
Jessie Montgomery is rapidly becoming one of the most acclaimed composers of our time. Trained as a violinist, she holds degrees from the Juilliard School and New York University; ASCAP’s Leonard Bernstein Award and the Sphinx Organization’s Medal of Excellence are but two of her achievements, and Montgomery was just named in May of 2021 as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composer in Residence through July 2024. Soul Force was premiered in New York City by The Dream Unfinished Orchestra on July 17, 2015, the one-year anniversary of the killing of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD. According to the composer, the title of the work is drawn from Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, in which he stated that “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Soul Force opens with an outburst of percussion, including the sinister rattling of chains, and violent pizzicatos in the strings. The voice of a lone bassoon emerges, and gradually the orchestra joins it in a chorale. The interjections of the percussion slowly become less ominous and a fierce, bluesy song of triumph emerges.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Ballade in A Minor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is best known for his triptych of cantatas based on “The Song of Hiawatha” which was extremely well received on both sides of the Atlantic. The Ballade in A minor was written less than a year before the first Hiawatha work, and the warm reception it received at its premiere brought new attention to the 23-year-old composer. Born in London in 1875 to a father from Sierra Leone and a white British mother, the young Coleridge-Taylor studied violin and was accepted at the age of 15 into the Royal College of Music. He soon switched to composition and while he bore the brunt of the racist attitudes of his time, Coleridge-Taylor did have the good fortune to have a stalwart champion in his composition professor, Charles Villiers Stanford, who both encouraged and challenged his pupil. Coleridge-Taylor’s talent also attracted the attention of August Jaeger, publisher at Novello and close friend of Edward Elgar. Jaeger wrote an enthusiastic letter to his friend full of praise for the young composer, and when organist and director of the Three Choirs Festival Herbert Brewer asked Elgar to write a short work for the 1898 festival, he declined and instead wrote to Brewer, "I am sorry I am too busy to do so. I wish, wish, wish you would ask Coleridge-Taylor to do it. He still wants recognition, and he is far and away the cleverest fellow going amongst the young men." Brewer approached Coleridge-Taylor and the Ballade in A minor for orchestra was premiered at the Three Choirs Festival on September 12th.
The Ballade shows both the young composer’s precocious confidence as well as the influence of his idols, Brahms and (particularly in this work) Dvorak. The work opens with brilliant trilling and features two themes in 6/8 meter, the first sprightly and mercurial, the second introduced by horns, winds, and the cellos. The frequent cross rhythms and folk-like melodies as well as the colorful orchestration evoke the Bohemian spirit of Dvorak’s music. A new theme introduced by muted strings is songful and warm, and it builds to glowing heights in the full orchestra. The first and second themes return, developed, and presented in new keys, and the brief, tumultuous coda ends on a blazing A minor chord.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35
A youthful yearning for the sea and an increasing fascination with the ‘exoticism’ of the Near East perhaps led Rimsky-Korsakov to compose his most renowned orchestral work, a tour-de-force of orchestral color, virtuosity, and lush melody and harmony. The young Rimsky grew up with an older brother who was a sailor, and he himself enrolled in the College of Naval Cadets at 17 while simultaneously continuing his musical studies. It was his encounter with Mussorgsky, Cui, Balakirev and ultimately Alexander Borodin—the other members of what would become known in the Russian music world as “The Mighty Handful” —that led him to a career as a composer, teacher of students such as Igor Stravinsky, and author of one of the greatest treatises on orchestration in Western music history. Rimsky-Korsakov encountered a book of Arab melodies transcribed by his friend Borodin and incorporated them in his Antar Symphony. In 1874, he and his family visited the town of Bakhchisaryon on the Black Sea, and the profusion of sounds, colors and atmosphere, from the musicians playing in every café, the muezzin’s call to prayer from the minaret, and the lively bustle of street markets made a considerable impression (he would return there seven years later and also visit Constantinople). When Borodin died in 1887, the grief-stricken Rimsky-Korsakov immersed himself in the completion of his friend and mentor’s orientalist opera, Prince Igor. Rimsky himself finally settled on the Arabian Nights as the inspiration for the symphonic suite he would complete in the summer of 1888.
While Rimsky-Korsakov would ultimately give descriptive titles to each of the four movements (The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, The Tale of the Kalendar Prince, The Young Prince and the Young Princess, The Festival at Baghdad), he did not intend a programmatic description of each tale. Rather, the overall structure of the suite is based on the antagonist and protagonist of the Arabian Nights: the murderous Sultan Shariar, who is convinced of the perfidy and faithlessness of all women to such a degree that he slays each of his wives on their wedding night, and the wise, resourceful Sultana Sharzad (or Scheherazade) who spares her life as well as those of her fellow wives by nightly regaling the sultan with stories so irresistible (talk about cliffhangers!) that he agrees to spare her life for 1,001 nights until he finally agrees to abandon his bloodthirsty practice. The sultan is depicted by a stern, baleful theme dominated by the low brass, whereas the sultana is voiced by solo violin and harp. The rhapsodic beauty of her theme is by turns beguiling, pleading, playful, bold, and passionate. Both themes are featured in each movement and intertwine with and even become a part of the other melodic material in the suite. Thus, after introducing both characters, the first movement is an interplay between Shariar’s and Scheherazade’s themes while undulating and swirling arpeggios represent the motion of the sea. A variation of Scheherazade’s theme leads into a pensive theme for solo bassoon which gains in energy and tempo as it is taken up by the oboe, then strings, and the entire ensemble. Brass fanfares interrupt, as do bravura recitatives for clarinet and bassoon over strummed pizzicatos. The heart of the movement is a fleet, delicate scherzo, and the coda of the movement gradually accelerates to a breathless close. A young couple are portrayed by a tender, lilting theme in the strings which is then transformed into a delightful dance accompanied by soft percussion. Scheherazade’s theme returns in an extensive cadenza and all is concluded with a soft pizzicato chord in the strings. The final movement perhaps captures Rimsky-Korsakov’s memories of the streets of Bakhchisaryon, with its persistent rhythms building to near frenzy; suddenly, the sea theme from the first movement returns; now the waters are a roiling maelstrom, and a powerful chord in the brass reinforced by the fateful stroke of the tam-tam [large gong-like percussion instrument] depicts the ship being dashed upon rocks. The chaos subsides, and Scheherazade’s theme re-emerges out of silence, this time accompanied by the sultan’s theme, dreamy and subdued as his wrath extinguished at last. The violin winds its way to its uppermost range as the final tranquil chords quietly hail the triumph of imagination and ingenuity over violence.