Program Notes for May 12 & 14, 2013
Dan LOCKLAIR: Hail the Coming Day
A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Dan Locklair holds a Master of Sacred Music degree from the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Dr. Locklair is currently Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He lives in Winston-Salem with his wife, Paula Welshimer Locklair, Vice President of Old Salem Museums and Gardens.
Commissioned by the City of Winston-Salem for the city’s Centennial Celebration, Hail the Coming Day receives its world premiere performances on these Winston-Salem Symphony concerts. The five-minute fanfare is a one-movement work consisting of five short sections or musical snapshots. The orchestration calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
1913 was the year that the North Carolina towns of Winston and Salem incorporated and became the “City of the Arts and Innovation,” beginning its long tradition of visionary industry and love of the arts.
“To say this commission is a tremendous honor is an understatement,” Locklair shares. “I’m a native son of North Carolina, and when the Centennial committee contacted me, it was a delightful surprise – so unexpected. I was born in Charlotte, and I’ve lived in Winston-Salem and served as Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University for 30 years now. So writing this piece was like composing a tribute to my adopted hometown.”
“Hail the Coming Day takes its title from an 1876 speech given by one of early Winston’s most influential leaders, Robert Gray, ‘I speak of Winston and Salem as one place….’ The fanfare opens and soon leads to the steely second section characterized by driving rhythms and crisp ostinato bass lines. [These] offer an aural snapshot of the mechanized energy inherent in the American Industrial Revolution for which, with its many tobacco, textile and other factories, the City of Winston was a leader… [The] serene and lyrical fourth snapshot celebrates the heritage of Salem’s Moravian [founders] and their commitment to peace and love of music… [Their] elegant simplicity symbolically and realistically brought a real and poetic lyricism to the union of the two cities…[The] remaining snapshots return to the exuberance and dialogue of celebration…[And in the closing section,] careful listeners might also imagine hearing Winston-Salem’s ‘hyphen’ (i.e. rests) – which [have brought] curious attention to, among others, the American postal system and, in recent years, trouble for Internet search engines.”
— Robert Gray, Mayor of Winston, NC, April 1861 – April 1862
Excerpted from Winston-Salem: A History by Frank V. Tursi
Program Notes compiled from publisher information:
©2012 Subito Music Corporation
HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”
An American composer of Armenian and Scottish descent, Alan Hovhaness (née Alan Vaness Chakmakjian) was born in Somerville, MA on March 8, 1911 and died in Seattle, WA on June 21, 2000. He must be counted among the most prolific composers in recent history, producing over 70 symphonies (67 of which are numbered), and a catalog of an astonishing 434 opus numbers. His music, all deeply spiritual in nature, includes choral works, chamber music, and orchestral music. Some of it has been used in films.
Hovanhess demonstrated interest in music and astronomy when he was very young, and showed signs of a deep spirituality and religiosity that remained with him throughout his life. His influences were a combination of elements, most notably his Armenian heritage and South Asian ragas. He studied at Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music (1929-32) and travelled to Finland shortly thereafter to meet Jean Sibelius, whose music he deeply admired. Discouraged by negative comments by composer Roger Sessions, Hovhaness destroyed many of his early works. His music was also taken to task by Leonard Bernstein. His Symphony no. 2 (Mysterious Mountain), his most popular work, was given its premiere by the Houston Symphony under the baton of Leopold Stokowski in October 1955. It is scored for 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 5 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, celesta, harp, and strings.
Hovhaness is a difficult composer to characterize, although his music is among the most easily accessible of 20th-century composers. His conservative bent made him a favorite of Howard Hanson, a composer of similar proclivities who invited Hovhaness to teach during the summer at the Eastman School of Music. Deliberately archaic in nature due to its shifting modality is reminiscent, at times, of the English master, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. This is especially true of his Symphony no. 2 (Mysterious Mountain) which has enjoyed considerable popularity since its 1955 premiere in Houston under Leopold Stokowski’s direction, and subsequent recording by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hovhaness’ evocative use of arpeggios in the celesta, that bell-like keyboard instrument best known from Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in The Nutcracker, may bring to mind Gustav Mahler of the final song of Das Lied von der Erde. Both works evoke a sense of timelessness.
As Hovhaness himself suggested, any search for the Mysterious Mountain, would be a foolish quest. The name, which he alleged to be representative of “the whole idea of mountains,” was added at the request of Stokowski. Even more interestingly, Stokowski was the one who insisted that Hovhaness give the work an opus number. That he chose Op. 132 may have been a glancing reference to Beethoven’s String Quartet in A Minor which bears the same opus number and which includes the deeply spiritual “Holy Hymn [Heiliger Dankgesang] in the Lydian Mode” as its slow movement. Interestingly, in later correspondences, the composer became rather annoyed at the work’s popularity because he did not consider it to be his best effort and had the effect of overshadowing his other music.
Hereafter follows the composer’s own program notes for the Mysterious Mountain:
Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of man’s attempt to know God. Mountains are symbolic meeting places between the mundane and spiritual world. To some, the Mysterious Mountain may be the phantom peak, unmeasured, thought to be higher than Everest, as seen from great distances by fliers in Tibet. To some, it may be the solitary mountain, the tower of strength over a countryside – Fujiyama, Ararat, Monadnock, Shasta, or Grand Teton.
The first and last movements are hymn-like and lyrical, making use of irregular metrical forms. The first subject of the second movement, a double fugue, is developed in a slow vocal style. The rapid second subject is played by the strings, with its own counter subject and with strict four-voice canonic episodes and triple counterpoint episodes.
In the last movement a chant in 7/4 time is played softly by muted horns and trombones. A giant wave in a 13-beat meter rises to a climax and recedes… a middle melody is sung by the oboes and clarinets in a quintuple beat. Muted violins return with the earlier chant, which is gradually given to the full orchestra.
Mason BATES: Liquid Interface
American composer Mason Bates was born on January 23, 1977 and was raised in Richmond, VA. After his initial studies in Richmond, he continued his studies in composition and in English literature in the Columbia-Juilliard Program in New York. His primary composition teacher there was John Corigliano, but he studied also with Samuel Adler and David Del Tredici. His music fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, and the harmonies of jazz and the rhythms of techno. He often performs in clubs as well as in symphonic venues on the electronica, which he describes as “a catch-all term for the various subgenres of techno music.” Frequently performed by orchestras large and small, his symphonic music has been the first to receive widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds, and it is championed by leading conductors such as Riccardo Muti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Leonard Slatkin. We may count our own Robert Moody among them. He has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships such as his residency with the Chicago Symphony, or through his classical/DJ project Mercury Soul. Carnegie Hall’s 2012-13 season opened with Riccardo Muti leading the Chicago Symphony in Alternative Energy, an ‘energy symphony’ that spans four movements and hundreds of years. The Winston-Salem Symphony performed Bates’s Rusty Air in Carolina, which was composed for Robert Moody upon his appointment as Music Director of the Winston-Salem Symphony and received its world premiere here on May 20, 2006.
His Liquid Interface for electronica and orchestra was composed in 2007 on commission from the National Symphony in Washington, DC, where it received its premiere on February 22 under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. It is scored for 3 flutes (all doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English Horn), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet & Eb clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns , 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, electronica, percussion, harp, piano, and strings.
The following program notes were provided by the composer:
Water has influenced countless musical endeavors – [Debussy’s] La Mer and [Wagner’s] Siegfried’s Rhine Journey quickly come to mind – but it was only after living on Berlin’s enormous Lake Wannsee did I become consumed with a new take on the idea. Over the course of barely two months, I watched this huge body of water transform from an ice sheet thick enough to support sausage venders, to a refreshing swimming destination heavy with humidity. If the play of the waves inspired Debussy, then what about water in its variety of forms?
Liquid Interface moves through all of them, inhabiting an increasingly hotter world in each progressive movement. “Glaciers Calving” opens with huge blocks of sound drifting slowly upwards through the orchestra, finally cracking off in the upper register. (Snippets of actual recordings of glaciers breaking into the Antarctic, supplied by the adventurous radio journalist Daniel Grossman, appear at the opening.) As the thaw continues, these sonic blocks melt into aqueous, blurry figuration. The beats of the electronics evolve from slow trip-hop into energetic drum ‘n bass, and at the movement’s climax the orchestra blazes in turbulent figuration. The ensuing “Scherzo Liquido” explores water on a micro-level: droplets splash from the speakers in the form of a variety of nimble electronica beats, with the orchestra swirling around them.
The temperature continues to rise as we move into “Crescent City,” which examines the destructive force as water grows from the small-scale to the enormous. This is illustrated in a theme and variations form in which the opening melody, at first quiet and lyrical, gradually accumulates a trail of echoing figuration behind it. In a nod to New Orleans, which knows the power of water all too well, the instruments trail the melody in a re-imagination of Dixieland swing. As the improvisatory sound of a dozen soloists begins to lose control, verging into big-band territory, the electronics – silent in this movement until now – enter in the form of a distant storm.
At the peak of the movement, with an enormous wake of figuration swirling behind the soaring melody, the orchestra is buried in an electronic hurricane of processed storm sounds. We are swept into the muffled depths of the ocean. This water-covered world, which relaxes into a kind of balmy, greenhouse paradise, is where we end the symphony in “On the Wannsee.” A simple, lazy tune bends in the strings above ambient sounds recorded at a dock on Lake Wannsee. Gentle beats echo quietly in the moist heat. At near pianissimo throughout, the melody floats lazily upwards through the humidity and – at the work’s end – finally evaporates.
MUSORGSKY (orch. Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition
Modest Petrovich Musorgsky (the spellings of his name varies greatly, as often is the case with transliterations from the Cyrillic alphabet) was born on March 9/21, 1839 in Karevo and died on March 16/28, 1881 in Saint Petersburg. A leading figure in Russian nationalism of the second half of the nineteenth century, many of his pieces, most notably his suite for piano, Pictures at an Exhibition, the tone poem, Night on Bald Mountain, and the epic opera, Boris Godunov, have caught the imagination of audiences throughout the world. Maurice Ravel’s 1922 arrangement and brilliant orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition received its first performance on May 3, 1923 in Paris under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky. Ravel’s orchestration calls for piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, alto saxophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, large percussion section (including rattle, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, whip, triangle, xylophone, Glockenspiel, bells, celesta, and gong), timpani, 2 harps, piano, and the normal strings.
Musorgsky composed Pictures at an Exhibition in 1874 as a memorial to his deceased friend, the painter and architect Victor Hartmann. The two men shared an interest in creating a distinctly “Russian” mode of artistic creation. A posthumous exhibition of Hartmann’s work was arranged by Vladimir Stasov, and this proved to be the catalyst for both the format and content of Musorgsky’s suite of musical miniatures for piano solo. The popular orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition by Maurice Ravel was made in 1922 under a commission from the conductor Serge Koussevitzky. Ravel was not the only individual to orchestrate this work, but his transcription has proved to be the most enduring and popular.
A bold solo trumpet announces the beginning of the “Promenade,” a theme that serves as a cipher for the visitor to the gallery. This theme, altered each time according to the mood created by each painting, recurs throughout the work as a unifying device (Ravel chose to omit one of these). The “Promenade” theme bears Russian folk-like characteristics – most notably an irregular meter reflective of the rhythm of the Russian language. The first picture, entitled “Gnomus,” is a grotesque nutcracker in the shape of a gnome. A brief “Promenade” leads to the second picture, “Il Vecchio Castello.” Here the saxophone sings a melancholy aubade, depicting a troubadour singing outside the wall of a medieval castle.
A shorter “Promenade” leads us to the Parisian garden of “Tuileries,” where we encounter the universal phenomenon of children who quarrel and tease each other during their play. The next picture, “Bydlo,” presents a striking change of mood, as we can hear the passing of a rough Polish ox-cart. A heavy ostinato figure accompanies the solo tuba. The “Promenade” returns to ease the transition to the “The Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells.” Here the woodwinds dominate in a comical scherzo. “Two Polish Jews, One Rich, One Poor” (Samuel Goldenberg and “Schmuyle”) is a caricature of ghetto life, with the unison strings representing the wealthy and pompous Goldenberg. The whinings of Schmuyle may be heard in the muted trumpet. Musicologist and Musorgsky expert Richard Taruskin, in recent writings on the subject, has suggested that a darker anti-Semitic subtext underlies this movement. The title of the piece puts “Schmuyle” in quotation marks, implying that the two characters are, in fact, one and the same individual. The unfortunate moral of the story is that no matter how financially prosperous an assimilated Jew may become, his “true” nature cannot remain hidden.
The bustle of “The Marketplace, Limoges” interrupts with the most sudden shift of mood in the entire piece. But as the busy market approaches its climax, our attention is jerked by the rough lower brass to the next picture, “Catacombs: Sepulchrum Romanum.” These coarse harmonies provide an apt symbolization of this deathly scene. The “Promenade” that follows without break is marked “Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua” (“With the Dead in the Language of the Dead”). This is a critical dramatic moment in the piece, as Musorgsky surely reflects in an intensely personal sense on the death of his artist friend. No relief is offered in the terrifying portraiture of “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yaga).” Legend has it that the witch Baba-Yaga dwells in a hut mounted on chicken’s feet, where she uses mortar and pestle to grind the bones of humans. The nightmare of this witches’ Sabbath is broken by the ecclesiastical sounds of the “The Great Gate of Kiev.” Visitors to the Ukrainian capital city will seek this monument in vain, however, as it existed only in the imagination of Hartmann and Musorgsky. But music and visual imagery take us along on the grand processional, accompanied by chanting priests, and noble bells and cymbals. The climax of the procession comes in the final transformation of the now-familiar “Promenade” theme—here offered as a kind of apotheosis of Hartmann’s career.
Program Notes by David B. Levy, ©2005-2012.