This Throwback Thursday, revisit our Sunset Serenade concert from September 23, when brass musicians from The Orchestra Now performed short pieces at Opus 40 sculpture park in Saugerties, NY for a physically distanced audience. Enjoy music by Bach, Shostakovich, Dukas, and several others.
Our second Audio Flashback today is the Second Symphony of Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi. Written in the midst of the Second World War, this work alternates between a defeated man’s longing for death, and the desire to live, even through strife. Leon Botstein conducted TŌN’s performance of this symphony in the spring of 2017 at the Fisher Center at Bard. Read the concert notes, written by former TŌN clarinetist Elias Rodriguez, by clicking here.
Just in time for Halloween, we offer Mussorgsky’s frantic and fantastical Night on Bald Mountain, which premiered on this day in 1886. Known for its use in movies like Fantasia and The Wizard of Oz, and more recently in Halloween commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, this musical poem represents a witches’ sabbath that boils and bubbles until the morning church bells scare away the spirits of darkness.
TŌN performed this piece in the fall of 2017 at the Fisher Center at Bard under the baton of Leon Botstein. You can read brief program notes, written by former TŌN violist Omar Shelly, by clicking here.
STAY TŌNED, The Orchestra’s New Digital Platform, Has Featured
More Than 60 Audio and Video Streams Since April 2020
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, October 23, 2020 — The Orchestra Now (TŌN) has announced the addition of two more symphonic concerts to be livestreamed for free as part of its fall season. On November 1, Music Director and Founder Leon Bostein will conduct a program pairing 20th century works by Schoenberg, Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, and R. Strauss with Handel’s Water Music; and on November 14, he will lead the Orchestra in the rarely heard Scherzi musicali by Black American composer Ulysses Kay. The concert will also feature Haydn’s Symphony No. 48 and works by Varèse and Hindemith. The livestreamed concerts are free and will be available for streaming after the performances.
The November concerts follow the Orchestra’s earlier fall livestreamed series Out of the Silence: A Celebration of Music, a four-concert virtual celebration of music showcasing Black composers presented with the Bard Music Festival in September; and the October 17 performance of string concertos by Polish, Czech, and Brazilian composers conducted by Zachary Schwartzman. All concerts will be made available on TŌN’s website. The additional November performances will be the final concerts livestreamed from the Fisher Center at Bard in TŌN’s fall season. The graduate students will finish with their academic courses for the remainder of the semester and then return in February 2021 to continue their academic and musical activities.
TŌN has presented more than 60 audio and video streams since April 2020. They are offered on STAY TŌNED, its new portal regrouping all digital initiatives. The events feature weekly new and archived audio and video recordings showcasing recitals, chamber music, and symphonic programs, including collaborations with the Bard Music Festival that are also available on the Fisher Center at Bard’s virtual stage, UPSTREAMING. Some of the performances, such as the Sunset Serenade series, were performed outdoors for physically distanced audiences. Much of the content is also available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Handel & Strauss
Sunday, November 1, 2020 at 2 PM
This concert pairs three works from the early 20th century—including R. Strauss’ elegiac Metamorphosen, written in the final months of WWII, and one of Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas’ earliest orchestral compositions, Cuauhnáhuac—with Handel’s Baroque Water Music Suite, composed for one of King George I’s royal water parties on the River Thames in 1717.
Leon Botstein, conductor
Handel: Water Music Suite No. 1
Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 1
Silvestre Revueltas: Cuauhnáhuac
Haydn’s Maria Theresa
Saturday, November 14, 2020 at 5:30 PM
Leon Botstein conducts three 20th-century works that all premiered in the U.S.—including the rarely heard Scherzi musicali by Black American composer Ulysses Kay, who taught at Lehman College in the Bronx for twenty years—along with Haydn‘s regal Maria Theresa Symphony, performed for the Holy Roman Empress in 1773.
Leon Botstein, conductor
Blair McMillen, piano
Hindemith: Concert Music for Piano, Brass, and Harps
Ulysses Kay: Scherzi musicali
Haydn: Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresa
Bard College Academic Year and Safety
To adapt to current circumstances, Bard College created detailed protocols for testing and screening, daily monitoring of symptoms, contact tracing, quarantine practices, and physical distancing in the classroom and across the Bard campus. This includes specific protocols for musicians campus-wide in both its undergraduate and graduate programs. TŌN has successfully pivoted its activities to comply and in addition to physically distanced rehearsals, the musicians have resumed their academic coursework. Since August, procedures required a separation of brass and wind instruments from the larger ensemble. Currently, restrictions on winds and brass have been eased, and limited numbers may be added to the Orchestra. This can be credited to Bard’s diligent testing and protocols.
The Orchestra Now
The Orchestra Now (TŌN) is a group of 72 vibrant young musicians from 14 different countries across the globe: Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, Hungary, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Peru, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.K., and the U.S. All share a mission to make orchestral music relevant to 21st-century audiences by sharing their unique personal insights in a welcoming environment. Hand-picked from the world’s leading conservatories—including The Juilliard School, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Royal Conservatory of Brussels, and the Curtis Institute of Music—the members of TŌN are enlightening curious minds by giving on-stage introductions and demonstrations, writing concert notes from the musicians’ perspective, and having one-on-one discussions with patrons during intermissions.
Conductor, educator, and music historian Leon Botstein, whom The New York Times said “draws rich, expressive playing from the orchestra,” founded TŌN in 2015 as a graduate program at Bard College, where he is also president. TŌN offers both a three-year master’s degree in Curatorial, Critical, and Performance Studies and a two-year advanced certificate in Orchestra Studies. The orchestra’s home base is the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center at Bard, where they perform multiple concerts each season and take part in the annual Bard Music Festival. They also perform regularly at the finest venues in New York, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others across NYC and beyond. HuffPost, who has called TŌN’s performances “dramatic and intense,” praises these concerts as “an opportunity to see talented musicians early in their careers.”
The Orchestra has performed with many distinguished guest conductors and soloists, including Hans Graf, Neeme Järvi, Vadim Repin, Fabio Luisi, Peter Serkin, Gerard Schwarz, Tan Dun, Zuill Bailey, and JoAnn Falletta. Recordings featuring The Orchestra Now include two albums of piano concertos with Piers Lane on Hyperion Records, and a Sorel Classics concert recording of pianist Anna Shelest performing works by Anton Rubinstein with TŌN and conductor Neeme Järvi. Buried Alive with baritone Michael Nagy, released on Bridge Records in August 2020, includes the first recording in almost 60 years—and only the second recording ever—of Othmar Schoeck’s song-cycle Lebendig begraben. Upcoming releases include an album of piano concertos with Orion Weiss on Bridge Records. Recordings of TŌN’s live concerts from the Fisher Center can be heard on Classical WMHT-FM and WWFM The Classical Network, and are featured regularly on Performance Today, broadcast nationwide. In 2019, the orchestra’s performance with Vadim Repin was live-streamed on The Violin Channel.
For upcoming activities and more detailed information about the musicians, visit theorchestranow.org.
Leon Botstein brings a renowned career as both a conductor and educator to his role as music director of The Orchestra Now. He has been music director of the American Symphony Orchestra since 1992, artistic co-director of Bard SummerScape and the Bard Music Festival since their creation, and president of Bard College since 1975. He was the music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra from 2003–11 and is now conductor laureate. In 2018, he assumed artistic directorship of Campus Grafenegg and Grafenegg Academy in Austria. Mr. Botstein is also a frequent guest conductor with orchestras around the globe, has made numerous recordings, and is a prolific author and music historian. He is editor of the prestigious The Musical Quarterly and has received many honors for his contributions to music. More info online at LeonBotstein.com.
Pascal Nadon Communications
Associate Vice President of Communications
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Today we’re offering two Audio Flashbacks of works that were inspired by the plays of Shakespeare. Austrian composer Egon Wellesz was born 135 years ago this Wednesday. His 1936 Prospero’s Incantations sets five important characters and moments from Shakespeare’s The Tempest into individual movements. Though it was written 84 years ago, we performed the U.S. premiere of the piece just one year ago with Austrian conductor Hans Graf at the Fisher Center at Bard. You can read the concert notes, written by TŌN violist Leonardo Vásquez Chacón, by clicking here.
Today we’re offering two Audio Flashbacks of works that were inspired by the plays of Shakespeare. Joseph Joachim—who was one of the leading violinists of his day, a favorite of Brahms—composed his Hamlet Overture at age 21, and it premiered 167 years ago this month. Listen for Hamlet’s inner turmoil, indecisive and mysterious, reflected in the music. We performed this piece two years ago under the baton of Leon Botstein at the Fisher Center at Bard. You can read the concert notes, written by former TŌN horn player Ethan Brozka, by clicking here.
Notes by TŌN percussionist Charles Gillette
An Unusual Pairing
Scored for strings, timpani, and two snare drums, M. Camargo Guarnieri’s Concerto for Strings and Percussion is an unusual pairing of two sections in the orchestra that rarely play together. The piece is less of a concerto in the traditional sense as it doesn’t feature any one particular instrument or performer. The strings and percussion play off one another in three movements played without pause following a fast–slow–fast format. The first movement is defined by its rhythmic energy as the strings and timpani trade driving passages, with the snare drums providing grooves to accompany the strings. Guarnieri frequently uses syncopation and mixed meter in this movement, giving the music a sense of unpredictability. The second movement showcases the strings in a lyrical and emotional memorial to the composer’s mother. The final movement returns to the same sense of energy from before. Guarnieri worked as a pianist for silent films growing up in São Paulo, and it’s easy to imagine this music scoring an old western. The percussion section is featured at the end as Guarneri instructs to improvise a cadenza between the snare drums and timpani for roughly one minute before the violin solo that begins the final section.
Pairing Rhythm with Lyricism
Guarneri was a new composer to me before this program and I’m struck by the way he pairs rhythm with lyricism in this piece. He dedicated his 1942 piece Abertura Concertante to Aaron Copland, and I can definitely hear Copland’s influence in Concerto for Strings and Percussion. I’m excited to be able to perform a piece that’s new to me and discover more of Guarneri’s music.
Notes by TŌN violist Sean Flynn
The Concerto for String Orchestra by Grażyna Bacewicz is considered to be the composer’s finest work. In what is known as the “neoclassical” style, Bacewicz utilizes forms and melodic elements from the Baroque and Classical eras in tandem with modern rhythms and harmonies. This combination allows the piece to be accessible to even a first-time listener while still holding many surprises and ear-catching moments. Despite other great composers like Prokofiev and Stravinsky writing in this style, the concerto stands out as a wholly original work, particularly with the composer’s Polish roots being made apparent in many of the folk-like elements heard throughout the piece. The work follows a standard three-movement concerto form (fast–slow–fast), with each instrument group being asked to display their specific virtuosic capabilities throughout. In addition to composing, Bacewicz was also an accomplished violinist, and her knowledge of string-playing allowed this piece to have great textural and technical variety. It is rare to find an orchestral piece where each instrumental group has a part written for them that feels both essential to the whole and is continuously engaging to play. As a violist, I am no stranger to less-than-engaging orchestral parts, but there certainly are none of the like to be found in this concerto. Bacewicz asks a lot of the players of this piece; a number of solos, complicated rhythmic passages, and melodic lines with difficult intonation make for an intense but endlessly exciting playing experience, but I am sure that this intensity and excitement will be felt by listeners as well.
Notes by TŌN violinist Esther Goldy Roestan
A Shy Boy with a Violin
Unlike other famous composers, Bohuslav Jan Martinů wasn’t born into a wealthy family, but rather a middle class family; his father was a shoemaker, and his family worked in a church. Martinů was a shy boy and had some health problems that kept him from vigorous activities, so his way of expressing himself was through the violin. He developed a strong reputation as the townspeople grew fond of his musical talent, and they helped fund his education at the Prague Conservatory. During his years at the Conservatory he was far more attracted to books, analyzing music, and composition in general. He initially composed Romantic-style music and gradually became more interested in modern classical music composition. In 1941 he moved to New York City, and that’s when his career really began. Many of his symphonies were performed by major orchestras in New York, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and elsewhere.
Music in a Hostile Time
Martinů’s Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani was written in Switzerland in 1938. The political climate in Europe was very hostile around this time, especially because Hitler was still in power, and this severely impacted Czechoslovakia, where Martinu had a lot of connections. This was the year of Kristallnacht, the Czech Crisis, and the Munich Agreement. Even though Switzerland was pretty neutral during this time, these major events affected all Europeans. In this concerto, Martinů clearly expressed how he felt during this difficult time, and we can hear anxiety, depression, and restlessness throughout the piece.
Notes by TŌN cellist Cameron Collins
Witold Lutosławski’s Overture for Strings was written in 1949 and premiered in November of the same year in Czechoslovakia by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. This lesser known work by Lutosławski was written between two of his more famous works for orchestra, his Symphony No. 1, completed in 1947, and his Concerto for Orchestra, written in 1950. It is a rather short work, lasting only five minutes, which may be part of the reason it is not frequently played. Lutosławski said himself, “The work is enormously impractical, because it requires quite a bit of work, but lasts only 5 minutes. For the most part, after listening to it, the audience is completely disoriented, despite the long final chord which crowns the work. Evidently people expect the work to be longer.” Although the Overture for Strings never reached popularity, it is quite an interesting piece. After his first symphony, Lutosławski was reportedly unhappy with his own approach to the way he used pitches to create his melodies and harmonies. This forced him to start searching for a new “sound language,” and the Overture for Strings was his first symphonic work in this process. Lutosławski wrote the work in a traditional sonata form, and heavily relied on familiar compositional influences. The way in which the composer uses four-note cells as stand-alone motives and then also incorporates those cells into longer melodies is very similar to Bartók’s compositional style. However, his use of chromatic and tetrachord scales to form a melody, as well as the technique of overlapping the introduction of a new musical idea as the previous idea is still happening, later to be known as his “Chain Technique,” is the start of Lutosławski finding his new musical language.