October 4 · New Beginnings
Concert program notes by Dr. Suzanne L. Moulton-Gertig
Peter Boyer (1970 –
New Beginnings is an appropriate title for both the first work on this evening’s program and the DPO’s new season with our conductor, Dr. Lawrence Golan.
With regard to New Beginnings, the work: while its composition in 2000 coincided fittingly with the Millennium, it was actually composed on commission by the Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan. To observe the opening of the hospital’s new 200 million dollar facility, the Kalamazoo Symphony played the première of this work by composer Peter Boyer. Boyer has won numerous national competitions and has received many commissions and performances of his works. Committed to higher education as well as to composition, Boyer was appointed in 1996 to the faculty at Claremont Graduate University when he was 26. At age 29, he was named the inaugural appointee of the Helen M. Smith Chair in Music, and became a Full Professor there at 39. In addition, Boyer was appointed as the 2012–13 Composer-in-Residence for the Pasadena Symphony, which commissioned his Symphony No. 1.
The composer writes of his New Beginnings:
New Beginnings is in one movement, which falls into four clearly delineated sections. The first section, in a fast tempo, is dominated by a fanfare which begins immediately in the trumpets and horns. This fanfare leads to a percussion flourish, and a swell of sound in which the entire orchestra gradually enters. A relentlessly repeated rhythmic figure begins in the strings (here divided into twelve parts instead of the customary five), and continues for some time, while the brass punch out figures derived from the fanfare, and the flutes and clarinets add a busy filigree. “Pyramids” of sound, built up from bottom to top, appear in the brass, and the energy of the first section begins to subside, ushering in the second section. This is in a slow tempo (exactly half that of the first), and is dominated by a melody which is first played by a solo oboe. This simple, “folk-like” tune is the most important melody in the work. After the oboe, it is played by a solo trumpet, followed by the strings and horns in canon, while the fanfare motive is tossed around above it by the piccolos. A short duet for English horn and flute follows. The flute plays the beginning of the melody, then introduces a rhythmic idea which accelerates into the third section, which is in a moderate tempo. The horns introduce a new melody here, while the rest of the orchestra provides a busy accompaniment. The energy of this third section gradually dissipates, until all that remains is the flute and a few violins. This leads to the fourth and largest section of the piece, which is characterized by mixed meters. Two prominent mixed meters used here are 7/8 (always 3+2+2), introduced by shaker, triangle and congas; and later, 10/8 (always 3+3+2+2), introduced by flutes. In this section, both the opening fanfare motive and the previous horn melody recur, in new rhythmic guises. Percussion features prominently in this section. There is a gradual buildup of energy, which leads to a return of the formerly “folk-like” tune, now played in grand fashion by the trumpets and strings, with a number of busy accompanying figures in the rest of the orchestra. This leads to the return of the complete opening fanfare, now in a new, brighter key, following which the percussion punctuate the orchestra’s final flourish.
Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra
Christopher Brubeck (1952 –
The third son of noted jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, Christopher Brubeck was born on March 19, 1952 in Los Angeles. He is a performing musician and composer of both jazz and classical music.
In 2003, Brubeck played the concerto performed this evening with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. A year later, he composed a second concerto entitled The Prague Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra. The first concerto for bass trombone and orchestra has received multiple performances at the International Trombone Festival and with the Boston Pops, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. To date, he has composed three concerti for this instrument.
The origin of the concerto is a little unusual. The composer explains:
Having spent many years of my adolescence playing in youth orchestras, counting endless measures, playing trombone for only a few passages, and then frustratingly having to count more measures of rest yet again, I resorted to frequent musical daydreams. In fact, I used to have musical nightmares about not being able to contain myself any longer, and would visualize myself jumping up from the back of the orchestra to unleash improvisations much to the conductor’s horror. So imagine how my wheels began turning when in 1991 I was approached by the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Youth Orchestra (in my home State of Connecticut) to compose a work utilizing their high school aged students. Being a veteran of that scene, and a strong advocate for the arts in our schools, I couldn’t resist the chance to compose for these forces. My goal was to write a challenging work that would keep all sections of the orchestra on their toes, expose them to odd time signatures, polytonality, and above all, remind them that music was supposed to be joyous, energetic, beautiful, adventurous, powerful, and even humorous!
The composer describes the work’s three movements:
“Paradise Utopia” (mov. 1) is sizzling with American expansionist energy. I imagine a Donald Trump-like figure maniacally rebuilding the New York skyline. A jazz element was inescapable and, realizing my old nightmare/dream, quite a bit of the trombone solo is meant to be improvised.
The second movement, “Sorrow Floats,” is a reflective Adagio; I must admit I was inspired to name the movement after a chapter title from one of my favorite novels by John Irving [The Hotel New Hampshire].
The name of the third movement, “James Brown in The Twilight Zone,” might benefit from a note of explanation. The title refers to dual compositional elements used throughout; two bars from the “turn around” of the Godfather of Soul’s “I Feel Good,” and an ascending chromatic passage (originating in the piano and pizzicato strings) which is reminiscent of the music used in Rod Serling’s innovative TV anthology. In addition to these very American cultural influences, the First Gulf War was being waged and Middle Eastern threads started to weave through the music.
Photo courtesy ChrisBrubeck.com
Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op.95 “From the New World”
Antonin Dvořák (1841 – 1904)
In 1885, Jeanette M. Thurber, the spouse of an affluent wholesale grocer in New York City, abandoned her attempts to compete with the Metropolitan Opera by producing operatic performances in English to start a new project: to establish a National Conservatory of Music.
Her vision was a non-profit conservatory that would be open to all without regard to race or ability to pay. Set up on the general plan of the Paris Conservatoire, it received its charter by Congress. It was not smooth sailing for the school, however. Its first director, a Belgian baritone quitted the school in 1891 to return to Europe. Upon advice, Thurber approached Dvořák about becoming its head. At the time she offered the composer an attractive two-year contract with a salary of $15,000 per year, along with four months off during that period. Initially, Dvořák refused, having a contract already with the Prague Conservatory. Not to be gainsaid, Thurber continued her offers and even sent him a contract. Finally the authorities at the Prague Conservatory granted Dvořák a leave of absence to make the move possible and the composer, with his wife, two of his six progeny and his friend and secretary, Joseph Kovarik, travelled aboard the steamship Scale to New York in September of 1892.
While serving as director, Dvořák was, of course, actively composing. Meanwhile, Jeanette Thurber (along with Dvořák’s students) became virtual evangelists for American music. As a result, the composer was introduced to Negro Spirituals, to the writings of Longfellow, and particularly to the writer’s Song of Hiawatha in the hope that Dvořák would use the poem as text for an opera. In addition, Thurber went to the extent of offering a prize for the best opera by an American-born composer with Dvořák selected to be the judge.
All during his first winter in New York, Dvořák enjoyed the distractions of the city. An avid fan of both trains and ships, the composer spent many hours watching trains at the station and going down to the docks to “inspect” steamships prior to sailing. Of course, he made a number of musical sketches in his notebooks when not subject to those diversions. Come spring, the composer took his four-month leave to visit a Czech settlement in Spillville, Iowa, and cabled for his remaining four children to join the family there. With all the family present, including a sister, a maid, and the secretary, the Dvořáks embraced the community. During this time, Dvořák rendered significant attention to a band of Iroquois (Kickapoo) Indians in the area by studying their dance and song and, interestingly, became interested in American birdsong, as well. At this juncture, Dvořák had largely composed the music that would become the New World Symphony, orchestrating it while in Spillville. Returning to New York, it had its première at Carnegie Hall on December 15, 1893.
The symphony was wildly successful and the performance was repeated in Vienna. All was well; then the controversy erupted about the origins of the melodies used in the work. Some claimed the work was based on American Indian melodies; others insisted the melodies were Czech. Dvořák did not help the confusion by statements he made prior to the first performance:
I am satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called the Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. When first I came here I was impressed with this idea, and it has developed into a settled conviction. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are American. They are the folksongs of America, and your composers must turn to them. All the great musicians have borrowed from the songs of the common people.
Do note that the composer did not say that he used these melodies. In fact, he later wrote a colleague and said, “…omit that nonsense about my having made use of ‘Indian’ and ‘American’ themes — that is a lie, I tried to write only in the spirit of those national American melodies.”
As to the music itself, the work opens with an Adagio introduction, giving way to a rhythmically lively Allegro molto. The Largo second movement features a memorable melody that took on a life of its own as a popular song, “Goin’ Home.” The Scherzo third movement, marked Molto vivace, contains “disputed” melodies, heard either as Czech, or as an American Indian dance replete with chant and singing. The Allegro con fuoco Finale presents not only its own theme, but brings back some others from the previous movements.