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.
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.
This Throwback Thursday, revisit the second program from our recent series Out of the Silence, presented with the Bard Music Festival, the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and the Fisher Center at Bard. In this video, TŌN’s assistant conductor, Andrés Rivas, leads Jessie Montgomery’s Strum; associate conductor James Bagwell conducts Alvin Singleton’s After Choice; resident conductor Zachary Schwartzman leads Adolphus Hailstork’s Sonata da Chiesa; and music director Leon Botstein conducts the Serenade for Strings by Antonín Dvořák, who was the subject of the 1993 Bard Music Festival.