A Thanksgiving Treat: Ashokan Farewell

We would like to wish all of our patrons a very happy Thanksgiving! Please enjoy this short video of TŌN violinists Misty Drake and Nicole Oswald performing their own arrangement of Jay Ungar‘s Ashokan Farewell for a physically distanced audience at Peaceful Windhorse Farm in Clermont, NY on October 24, 2020.

The Orchestra Now has much to be grateful for as we enter the season of thanks. Our musicians have safely completed another semester and have embraced any opportunity to make music together. But most of all, we are thankful for our audiences of music lovers like you, who joined us for virtual concerts and live outdoor performances across the Hudson Valley over the past several months. Thank you for showing your enthusiasm for our efforts. We are delighted to make music happen in any capacity we can and will continue to share our digital offerings with you through the coming months.  We look forward to welcoming you to a concert when it is safe again to do so!

From all of us at The Orchestra Now, thank you!

AUDIO FLASHBACK: Penderecki’s Double Concerto

Our second Audio Flashback today is the 2012 Double Concerto of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who was born 87 years ago yesterday and passed away this past March. We performed the work in December 2017 with conductor JoAnn Falletta and two of her colleagues from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra: violist Dennis Kim and cellist Roman Mekinulov. You can read the concert notes by clicking here.

AUDIO FLASHBACK: Stravinsky’s Divertimento, The Fairy’s Kiss Suite

Our first Audio Flashback this Tuesday is the suite from Stravinsky‘s ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, which we performed last November at the Fisher Center at Bard with conductor Leon Botstein. The ballet, which is an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Ice Maiden and was Stravinsky’s homage to Tchaikovsky, premiered at the Paris Opera 92 years ago this Friday. You can read the concert notes, written by TŌN cellist Sarah Schoeffler, by clicking here.

VIDEO FLASHBACK: Sunset Serenade at Old Dutch Church

This Throwback Thursday, revisit our Sunset Serenade concert from late September, when woodwind musicians from The Orchestra Now performed short pieces outside of Old Dutch Church in Kingston, NY for a physically distanced audience. Enjoy music by Claude Debussy, Georg Philipp Telemann, and others, performed on flute, oboe, and clarinet.

View the video by clicking here.
View the concert information by clicking here.

AUDIO FLASHBACK: R. Strauss’ Four Songs, Op. 27

Our second Audio Flashback this Tuesday is the Op. 27 of Richard Strauss, Four Songs. Strauss originally wrote these songs for his wife, the soprano Pauline de Ahna, and gave them to her as a gift on their wedding day. We performed the work with soprano Paulina Swierczek and conductor Leon Botstein at the Fisher Center at Bard in September 2019. Read the concert notes, written by TŌN violinist Gaia Mariani Ramsdell, by clicking here.

AUDIO FLASHBACK: Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1

Today’s first Audio Flashback is our 2018 performance of Carl Maria von Weber‘s Clarinet Concerto No. 1 with soloist Elias Rodriguez TŌN ’18, winner of the orchestra’s 2017 Concerto Competition. Rodriguez calls this piece “a passionate journey with a protagonist who is at first sorrowful and suffering; then the epitome of innocence and beauty; and finally the joker, playful and exciting.” The work’s composer was born in Eutin, Oldenburg, Germany 234 years ago this Wednesday. We performed the concerto with conductor Leon Botstein at the Fisher Center at Bard on February 17, 2018. You can read Rodriguez’s concert notes by clicking here.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresa

Notes by TŌN cellist Pecos Singer

The Composer
Franz Joseph Haydn is perhaps best known for the influence he exerted on his younger and even more famous contemporaries, Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart dedicated a beautiful set of string quartets to Haydn out of deference to the master. And although Beethoven brashly claimed to have learned nothing from Haydn, even a cursory investigation reveals many similarities between their works. Most characteristic in Haydn’s music is his use of wit, humor, suspense, and surprise. These attributes made his music tremendously popular across Europe during his lifetime and continue to delight audiences today.

The Music
Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies, yet they are rarely performed by modern orchestras. His most famous symphonies were written later in his career during his time in London (1791–95), such as the Surprise, Drumroll, and the Clock (performed by The Orchestra Now last season at The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresa, was written in the middle of Haydn’s career while he served as Kapellmeister at the Hungarian Esterházy family estate. The piece was long believed to have been written and performed for the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa upon her visit in 1773, until an earlier manuscript was found dated 1769. The nickname survived however, and like many of the nicknames for Haydn’s works it presumably led to increased sales for the publisher, so it remains in use. Regardless, the trumpets in the first movement certainly evoke a regal quality.

The Maria Theresa symphony hails from Haydn’s so-called Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) period. The term originates somewhat anachronistically from the literary movement that emerged years later, but nonetheless appropriately describes the stormy quality just beneath the surface of the music. This can be heard best in the development of the first movement, certain episodes in the fourth movement, and the Trio section of the Minuet. In this regard, the symphony serves as a preview of Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, La passione, which I highly recommend for further listening.

A Note from the Cello Section
I derive no greater joy than from playing Haydn string quartets, and as this symphony is essentially a quartet with augmented forces colored by one basson, two horns, two trumpets, and two oboes, it is an equal if not greater pleasure to perform. As an aside, the best analogy for Haydn’s four movement, symphonic structure that I have heard comes from Jeoff Nuttal of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. He aptly describes the movements as follows: a story (I. Allegro), a song (II. Adagio), a dance (III. Minuet), and a party (IV. Allegro). I hope you agree and enjoy, especially the party in the last movement.

Ulysses Kay’s Scherzi musicali

Notes by TŌN horn player Ser Konvalin

The Composer
Ulysses Simpson Kay Jr. was an African-American composer born in 1917 in Tucson, Arizona. He was born into a musical family—his mother and sister played piano, and his uncle was the famous jazz bandleader Joe “King” Oliver. Kay began playing piano and violin at a young age, then learned saxophone and played in his high school’s marching and jazz bands. He studied music at the University of Arizona, where he first learned theory and composition. It was there that William Grant Still heard Kay’s music and encouraged him to keep composing. Kay then studied with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers at the Eastman School of Music, and in 1942 studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale University. He also studied at Columbia University. He studied in Rome from 1949–53 with a Fulbright Scholarship, the “Prix de Rome,” and a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship. He was named Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, where he taught theory and composition for twenty years. Kay wrote five operas, twenty large orchestral works, thirty choral compositions, a ballet, fifteen chamber pieces, and many other works for film, television, solo instruments, and voice.

The Music
Kay’s chamber orchestra work Scherzi musicali was written in 1968 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Chamber Music Society of Detroit. Kay’s compositional style is sometimes labeled as neoclassical, much like the works of Paul Hindemith, and his later works are sometimes labeled as atonal, crisp, and dissonant. Scherzi musicali employs the use of twelve-tone composition, ensuring that all twelve notes of the chromatic scale are circulated in melodic lines. The first movement begins by passing around dissonant long tones through the orchestra, followed by swirling melodic lines that are echoed in different instruments. The beauty of the chamber orchestra setting allows for each instrument to be heard clearly even while layering on top of one another. Often the orchestra functions as two groups: the wind quintet and the string section. The inquisitive second movement, Interlude I, offers an exposed look at the wind instruments, excluding strings entirely. The last movement builds in intensity with increasing volume, more dissonant chords, and strings furiously increasing tempo and rhythm, until a last unison tone releases like a pressure valve.

Paul Hindemith’s Concert Music for Piano, Brass, and Harps

Notes by TŌN tuba player Jarrod Briley

The Composer
Of the many fantastic composers throughout classical music history, I can think of few who wrote as expressively and effectively for brass instruments as Paul Hindemith. A German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, and conductor, Hindemith wrote extensively for every musical medium. Besides the 19 orchestral works and 14 concertante, he wrote a number of chamber works, solo pieces, vocal settings, operas, and even a few ballets. He is well known for his unique musical voice, which is tonal in the sense that it is usually written within certain formal keys and has harmonic motion like tonal music, yet he uses all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, breaking the “tonic” tradition. Although complex and sometimes confusing, it provides the audience with an exciting auditory experience that always pays off in grand form.

The Music
The Konzertmusik for Piano, Brass, and Harps, Op. 49 is one of the “hidden gems” of Hindemith’s repertoire. It was written in 1930, just before his Konzertmusik for String Orchestra and Brass, Op. 50, and precedes most of his popular orchestral works, such as the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber or his Symphony in B-flat. The Op. 49 is a four-movement work that focuses primarily on the piano soloist and ten-part brass ensemble with the two harps playing a crucial supporting role. The work begins with a solemn solo in the tuba part accompanied by a horn choir, and is soon followed by the piano soloist with gentle ornaments surrounding the original theme. This first movement is lugubrious and heavy, reminiscent of a funeral procession interspersed by happy memories of the deceased, but never losing its dark and chaotic character. It closes with a reprise of the opening solo before quickly departing this idea for an invigorating and excited pianist opening the second movement. After a substantial development in the piano and raucous interjections from the brass, a gentler middle section has the brass instruments quietly accompanying rapid lines in the solo piano. Soon after, we enter a fugue-like revisit to our original theme with the brass sections handing off the melody between each other. The third movement is only piano and the two harps, returning to a calmer mood, yet sustaining the harmonic intensity. After a lengthy reprieve from the chaos of the previous movement, the pianists and harpists slowly fade into the distance. At the beginning of the third movement, the brass introduces the new rhythmic motif stately by itself, and is then followed by the entrance of the piano and harps again. Towards the middle, the harps overlay these running lines with a beautiful melody that, combined with the chaotic-ness of the piano, gives memory to a hazy dream of a shepherd in fields. As the end approaches, the piano is again joined by the harps in a gentle theme accompanied by the solo tuba. The pianist plays one final winding line to descend towards the final chord played by the brass section, closing on a beautiful C-major chord.

Edgard Varèse’s Hyperprism

Notes by TŌN horn player Steven Harmon

A New Sound World
While the European musical establishment was being revolutionized by The Ballet Russe in Paris and the Second Viennese School in Vienna, Varèse was poised to start his own revolution upon his arrival in America. In an interview with the New York Telegraph, he revealed his vision: “Our musical alphabet must be enriched. We also need new instruments very badly. I have always felt the need for new mediums of expression in my work. I refuse to submit myself only to sounds that have already been heard.”

Hyperprism is one of a handful of Varèse’s most influential works, all written in a period between 1921 and 1925, all of which contributed to a notoriety comparable to that of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In just a handful of scores, most of them lasting only a few minutes, Varèse elevated rhythm to a new prominence, granted percussion instruments a role of unforeseen importance (and complexity), and developed a new sound world, dependent not on melody and harmony, but on timbre, texture, and dynamics.

The Reception
The original reception of Hyperprism was mixed. Writer Eric Salzman notes, “Hyperprism brought the audience to blows and Varèse to a new kind of fame. The music was violently attacked, but it also had its defenders.” One notable positive critique came from composer Charles Martin Loeffler: “It would be the negation of all the centuries of musical progress if I were to call this music. Nevertheless, this piece roused in me a sort of subconscious racial memory, something elemental that happened before the beginning of recorded time. It affected me as only music of the past has affected me.” Some of the more abusive criticism labeled the work as “shrieks from a zoo, the din of passing trains, the hammering of a drunken woodpecker, a thunderbolt striking a tinplate factory.”

The Music
While to a casual listener, Varèse’s music may come off more abrasive than agreeable, it has stuck around for nearly a century because of its innovative and evocative use of timbre, rhythm, and instrumentation. Hyperprism calls for nine wind players and seven to ten percussionists playing 20 instruments. Rather than relying on a key, the purpose of each note is derived primarily from its shape, length and timing. Robert P. Morgan Notes describes it well: “There are many passages in Varèse’s music in which the pitches appear to have lost their sense of linear direction, to have relinquished their tendency to form connections defined by stepwise motion. The pitches, one might say, don’t want to go anywhere.”

Hyperprism begins with an expansion around a single note, C-sharp. Repeated, varied, ornamented, the C-sharp gets passed around the ensemble. For a first time listener, focusing on the pitches at the center of each section and observing their manipulation may give some fiber to latch onto throughout the work. Varèse recalled, “With my physical ears I heard a sound that kept recurring in my dreams as a boy: a high whistling C-sharp. It came to me as I worked in my Westside apartment, where I could hear all the river sounds—the lonely foghorns, the shrill peremptory whistles—the whole wonderful river symphony which moved me more than anything ever had before.”