Ode to America
These notes appeared in the printed program for distribution on May 6, 2018 at the Sandler Center for Performing Arts for the performance of “Ode to America” conducted by Daniel W. Boothe. All programs notes for this performance were written by Jo Marie T. Larkin.
Fanfare for the Common Man
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
American composer Aaron Copland achieved a distinctive musical characterization of American themes in an expressive, musical style. To many people, Copland’s style defines Americanism in music, represented in his Fanfare for the Common Man. Eugene Goossens, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, asked American composers to write a “fanfare to begin each orchestra concert” as a “significant contribution to the war effort” in response to the U.S. entry into World War ll. In 1942, vice president Henry Wallace proclaimed “the dawning of the ‘Century of the Common Man.’” A total of 18 fanfares were written, but Copland’s is the only one to remain in the standard repertoire.
What To Listen For
Conveying a sense of expansiveness, it begins with huge accents in the percussion that dissipate through silence before the main melodic theme is played by the trumpets. The percussion repeats its grand statement to introduce a melodic variation between the trumpets and French horns. The percussion presents itself one final time, ushering in the low brass to offer a layered imitation of the fanfare theme. It concludes with a bright final chord and a rising wave of rumbling percussion.
The American Concerto
Kim & Kathryn Kluge
Kim Alan Kluge is a composer, pianist and conductor. Together with his wife Kathryn, they’ve embarked on a successful movie-scoring career in California. His compositional approach creates a fresh synthesis of Western and global influences, classical and popular styles, and instrumental and vocal colors. For twenty-eight years he was the Music Director and Conductor of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., where, in his final farewell concert, he premiered this concerto with pianist Thomas Pandolfi in 2016.
In describing what is American about this piece, Kathryn and Kim state, “It is the expansive feeling, the reference to freedom and the need to constantly renew it, the feeling of the American landscape.” Also important was to “compose a piece that will appeal to current and future audiences.”
What To Listen For
The concerto celebrates in musically-cinematic fashion the melting pot of American musical tradition ranging from Stephen Foster to Aaron Copland. Jazz-tinged echoes of Gershwin and Cole Porter also resound throughout in a nod to the American Songbook. The piano solo is written with extraordinarily broad and rhapsodic sweeps of virtuosity reminiscent of Rachmaninoff.
The first movement offers the main theme inside a dreamy and soaring stream of thought. Chords of the orchestra wash over the piano like waves on a beach. The ending offers an immensely grandiose theme, foreshadowing its return in the third movement.
A gentle and serene landscape is presented in the second movement coupled with hauntingly cinematic harmonies. The piano answers with a spacious and delicate song of sweet sentiment.
The third and final movement explores in finale-like fashion a grand theme of warmth and resolve. Sweeping piano flourishes underpin a simple and singable tune. A folk-dance playfully adds to the feeling of Americana. By the end, this “movie within a song” crescendos to an all-encompassing orchestral tapestry that is rich with romantic and impassioned sonority.
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
VII. Fugue (Cool)
V. Cha-Cha (Maria)
VI. Meeting Scene
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Leonard Bernstein was well-trained, having studied composition at Harvard University, piano at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and conducting at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, where he studied under Serge Koussevitzky, musical director of the Boston Symphony.
In 1949, Bernstein and his friends Jerome Robbins, the choreographer, and librettist, Arthur Laurents, worked on an idea of creating a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set amid the tensions of rival social groups in modern New York City. With its portrayal of the rival gangs between the street-wise white New York Jets and the Puerto Rican immigrants known as the Sharks, West Side Story brought the idea of social consciousness to the American musical. It remains an essential, influential chapter in the history of American Theater, a landmark which has found a place in the core of Americans’ common culture. European and American musical stage traditions were fused into an original art form that is neither opera or musical comedy. The play premiered in Washington, D.C. in 1957, running for over 1,000 performances before it was released in a motion picture version in 1961.
Bernstein revisited his score for West Side Story and extracted nine sections to assemble into what he called the Symphonic Dances. The suite includes the use of music to project the story line, the dramatic use of leitmotifs, jazz syncopations, challenging rhythms, and Latin American timbres treated with classical techniques such as a fugue. The dances revolve around a triton figure of C—F sharp—G, the well-known opening of the song, “Maria.” Bernstein wrote, “The three notes pervade the whole piece, inverted, done backwards. I didn’t do this on purpose.”
What To Listen For
The Suite opens with the Prologue (Allegro Moderato), the famous opening confrontation of growing rivalry and rising violence between the two teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.
Somewhere (Adagio): a dream sequence where the two gangs are joined in peaceful friendship.
Scherzo (Vivace e leggiero): in the same dream, the gangs break away from the city walls, suddenly finding themselves dancing in a playful world.
Mambo (Meno Presto): real life breaks in at the high school gymnasium where the competitive dance begins between the gangs.
Cha-Cha (Andantino con grazia): the two young lovers, Tony and Maria, see each other for the first time and dance together.
Meeting Scene (Meno mosso): music accompanies their first words spoken to one another.
Cool Fugue (Allegretto): an elaborate dance sequence in which Riff leads the Jets in harnessing their nervous, violence.
Rumble (Molto allegro): the hostility breaks out in the climatic gang battle; the two gang leaders, Riff and Bernardo, are killed.
Finale (Adagio): Maria’s “I Have a Love” laments the death of Tony and the two gang leaders. The suite concludes with a melancholy return of “Somewhere.”
1812 Overture, Op. 49
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
There are few works that can genuinely rival the popularity of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, music that tells the story of Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812. Premiered at a dedication of the new Cathedral in Moscow, the official title of the work is, “The Year 1812, A Festival Overture to Mark the Consecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.” Tchaikovsky’s tremendous gifts for melody, drama, and effective orchestration all come together in this work, and for years, his 1812 Overture has been performed during countless United States Independence Day celebrations. Originally intended for outdoor performances, this celebratory work included a large orchestra augmented by brass band, the 5,000 bells of Moscow’s steeples, and a total of sixteen live cannon shots notated precisely in the score.
What To Listen For
The overture represents the conflict militarily and musically of Russia and France, and the eventual Russian victory over the invaders. When French soldiers, with their cannons and artillery began marching towards Moscow, the Russian people, realizing that the Russian Army was only a fraction of this size, inexperienced, and poorly-equipped for battle, gathered in churches across the country to pray for safety and divine intervention. Tchaikovsky represents this in the overture’s dark, brooding, opening hymn of the Holy Cross (O Lord, Save Thy People), for cellos and violas. As wartime tensions and stresses increase, the piece moves through a mixture of pastoral and martial themes. The march of Napoleon’s army onto the scene is announced by a snare drum and the French horns. The Russian imperial army defends its territory in a fierce clash, but the invader prevails as fragments of the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” periodically rise above the clamor. The Russians retreat and prepare to rise against the French. The battle goes back and forth, but the French continue to advance, and “La Marseillaise” becomes more prominent and victorious. Yet a third time the Russian troops attack as the full orchestra is gradually collected up programmatically to depict the final battle, and this time the sleeping giant rises up in force with great sounds of victory to a celebration unprecedented in orchestra music: cannon guns are fired, church bells across the land peal as the Russian people stream out of their villages to the increasing strains of folk music and the Czarist national anthem, played by trombones, horns, and low strings. The Overture is filled with intricate textures, original orchestral effects, and brilliant melodic and rhythmic constructions. The “1812” is one of music’s most invigorating experiences, rousing spirits and spreading joy everywhere!