June 3, 2016 • Eurotrip
Concert program notes by Natalie Piontek
Ode to the Red Flag
Lu Qiming b. 1930
Ode to the Red Flag brought Lu Qiming international acclaim when it was performed by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008 under the baton of Zubin Mehta.
It was composed and initially performed in 1965 in Shanghai under the baton of esteemed Chinese conductor Chen Chuanxi. The nationalistic overture is a tribute to the Republic of China.
It opens with a sprightly fanfare in the trumpets, bolstered by strong chords in the low brass and trombones. The fanfare is reminiscent of the Chinese national anthem, in that both open with a major key arpeggio. The trumpets then repeat the fanfare, this time in a different key, and the French horns offer their own iteration of the theme, followed by a soaring melody in the strings. Virtuosic flourishes in the flutes, which are heard throughout the movement, make Ode a particularly thrilling and celebratory piece.
Symphony in D minor
César Franck (1822–1890)
César Franck is a 19th-century Belgian composer known for his career as an organist and composer. He composed in a post-Romantic style that was largely influenced by the music of Beethoven, Debussy, and Richard Strauss.
The Symphony in D minor, composed in 1888, is Franck’s only symphony, written two years before his death.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Franck’s Symphony in D Minor is reminiscent of the large-scale Germanic compositions of Brahms and Wagner. It has all the drama of Wagner’s operas, and opens with a foreboding three-note motif in the low strings. This motif takes various forms and appears many times throughout the duration of the symphony. The violins then enter in a low register, enriching the soundscape, and each of the woodwinds takes on a distinct character, making the music seem programmatic in nature.
An American in Paris Suite
George Gershwin (1898–1937)
George Gershwin single-handedly ushered the 1920s era of jazz into concert halls.
He entered the world of music by working as a song plugger—someone who performs and advertises the works of music publishing companies—for Jerome H. Remick & Co., located in the famous Tin Pan Alley.
He played the piano constantly, becoming a highly skilled pianist as well as a talented vocal accompanist. He soon began composing and improvising his own songs along with his brother, lyricist, Ira Gershwin. It wasn’t long before he brought his talents to Broadway, composing scores for three Broadway shows. He broke into the esteemed venue of the concert hall with his Rhapsody in Blue, Piano Concerto in F, and An American in Paris.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Of An American in Paris, Gershwin said that his goal was “to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”
It is composed for the instrumentation of a typical orchestra, plus a few unusual additions: celesta, saxophone, and automobile horns (the automobile horns and celesta are, however, removed from John Whitney’s arrangement that we’re performing tonight).
Gershwin wrote the work following the enormous success of his Rhapsody in Blue, from which he made an astonishing quarter of a million dollars between 1924 and 1934. When Gershwin took his trip to Paris, he was already a recognized celebrity, and he met with such famous composers as Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, and Darius Milhaud.
The An American in Paris Suite opens with a jaunty theme presented by the violins, brightened by expressive chirpings in the flutes. This upbeat character is largely created by Gershwin’s use of grace notes, extra embellishing notes that come right before the downbeat. They imbue the work with a jazzy mood.
The work concludes with a restating of the main theme, with the orchestra crescendoing brilliantly to the finish.
Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884)
Bedřich Smetana was a nationalistic Czech composer who was also revered for his work as a conductor and critic.
Much of his music is richly pastoral in nature, as Smetana sought to capture the beauty of the Czech countryside in his compositions. His set of symphonic poems, Ma Vlast, “My Homeland,” is perhaps the best representation of this compositional style.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Ma Vlast is divided into six movements, each of which characterizes a different aspect of the Czech countryside. Die Moldau, the movement being performed today, refers to the Vltava River, which vividly flows past peasant celebrations, through tumbling rapids, and eventually past the royal palace in Prague.
The movement opens with E minor scales in the flute section. In this passage, the flutes seamlessly exchange the motif every other measure, creating the effect of only one instrument playing. The violins then come in to sing the main theme, a sweeping, dancing melody, underneath which the rest of the strings play a rippling accompaniment.
On the Beautiful Blue Danube
Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825–1899)
Johann Strauss Jr. was born in Vienna, Austria, where he received his musical training under the tutelage of violinist Franz Armon, and learned music theory and composition from Joachim Hoffman and Joseph Dresler.
Strauss’s father did not intend for the young Strauss Jr. to take up a musical career, but he pursued it nonetheless. His music was often disregarded for being too frivolous, yet many great composers still recognized Strauss Jr.’s genius in compositional technique. He composed more than 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other dances, in addition to a few operettas and a ballet.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
On the Beautiful Blue Danube is one of Strauss’s most famous waltzes; some may recognize it from Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which it was featured prominently. It has been used countless times in cartoons, parodies, and television.
The work opens with tremolos in the violins, and the horns intoning excerpts of the main theme alongside accompaniment by the flutes. It is classified as a typical Viennese waltz, meaning that there is always a slight hesitation before the third beat of each bar. In the percussion, there is frequent use of the cymbals and the snare drum, which keep the orchestra perfectly in time.
Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962)
Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid, “Love’s Sorrow,” is one in a set of three Viennese dances called Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen.
Kreisler, one of the most acclaimed and virtuosic violinists of his time, often performed these short pieces as encores. The other two pieces from these Viennese dances are Liebesfreud, “Love’s Joy,” and Schön Rosmarin, “Lovely Rosemary.”
Written in the key of A minor, Liebesleid is the most subdued of the three short pieces. The piece is based on intervals of a fourth between the dominant chord (the fifth note in the minor key scale) and the tonic (the note A). This interval is then repeated a number of times until the piece modulates into the happier key of C major, and finally to a peaceful close back in A major.
Vittorio Monti (1868–1922)
Vittorio Monti is a lesser-known Italian composer, violinist, and conductor from the late-19th and early-20th century, whose primary claim to fame is his rhapsodic concert piece Czárdás.
The work has a lilting, gypsy-like quality, and was originally composed for violin, mandolin, and piano. Since that time it has been arranged for a myriad of different ensembles: violin and piano; piano and orchestra; saxophones, percussion, and piano; and many more. The work is divided into seven different sections, by turn mournful and exuberant, content and agitated, relaxed and virtuosic.