AUDIO FLASHBACK: Alvin Singleton’s After Choice

This week’s Audio Flashback is After Choice by Brooklyn-born composer Alvin Singleton. In his concert notes, Bard music professor Kyle Gann says, “After Choice is Singleton’s tribute to a fellow important African American composer, Leroy Jenkins. Jenkins was a consummate improvising violinist in the free jazz world. Singleton has appropriated “licks” from Jenkins’ nimble playing style and juxtaposed them among the strings with pizzicato against bowed lines, in quite tricky rhythmic assemblages of unison septuplets and quintuplets. No more than two lines are heard at once, often doubled in octaves, and the recurring pitch sets aptly convey the contours of Jenkins’ frenetic fiddling. When a second violin solo cadenza appears just before the end (against the first violins), it’s as though Jenkins’s spirit makes a momentary appearance.”

TŌN performed this work with conductor James Bagwell on September 12, 2020 as part of the “Out of the Silence” festival, presented with the Bard Music Festival and the Fisher Center at Bard. You can read Kyle Gann’s full concert notes by clicking here.

TŌN IN: Carmen & Vivaldi

On March 20, TŌN’s resident conductor, Zachary Schwartzman, led the orchestra in a streaming concert from the Fisher Center at Bard that featured an arrangement of orchestral music from Bizet‘s classic opera Carmen by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin (who said of the concert, “They are splendid! A fine orchestra: vivid, fluid, flexible strings, and an excellent percussion section.”), and a concerto for strings by Vivaldi. Also on the program are a work by Frank Martin and a memoriam for composer Benjamin Britten by Arvo Pärt. Scroll down below the video for basic program info and timings, or click here to read the full concert program.

1:06 Introductory remarks by TŌN horn player Ser Konvalin
5:51 Antonio Vivaldi Concerto for Strings in G minor, RV 156
Read concert notes by Steve V. Sinclair by clicking here
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13:16 Frank Martin Petite symphonie concertante
Renée Anne Louprette harpischord
Frank Corliss piano
Taylor Ann Fleshman TŌN ’22 harp
Read concert notes by TŌN harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman by clicking here
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37:08 Introductory remarks by TŌN percussionist Charles Gillette
41:27 Arvo Pärt Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Read concert notes by TŌN violinist Sabrina Parry by clicking here
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49:00 Rodion Shchedrin Carmen Suite (after Bizet’s opera)
Read concert notes by TŌN percussionist Luis Herrera Albertazzi by clicking here.

AUDIO FLASHBACK: Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta

This week’s Audio Flashback is Béla Bartók‘s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, which we performed on September 26, 2020 with conductor Leon Botstein as part of the “Out of the Silence” festival, presented with the Bard Music Festival (BMF) and the Fisher Center at Bard. In his concert notes, BMF Artistic Codirector Christopher H. Gibbs says the work “integrates Bartók’s profound knowledge of Western musical tradition, immediately evident in the fugue that opens the piece, with his pathbreaking research of folk music, not limited to the region of his native Hungary but extending farther afield to North Africa.” You can read the full concert notes by clicking here.

Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite (after Bizet’s opera)

Notes by TŌN percussionist Luis Herrera Albertazzi

The Composer
Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin is a Russian composer and pianist. Born into a musical family, he was introduced to music from a very early age by his father, who was a composer and music theory teacher. Shchedrin attended the Moscow Choral School and the Moscow Conservatory as a composition and piano major. His early compositions are mostly tonal. Often, little excerpts of Russian folk music can be heard in his writings, a common musical choice of composers of his time, with Shostakovich being the best example of it. His later compositions explore the world of serialism and some aleatoric techniques. As a pianist, Shchedrin premiered the first three of his six piano concertos, including a recording with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. After the fall of the Soviet regime, Shchedrin took advantage of the new opportunities for international travel and musical collaboration, and now divides his time between Munich and Moscow.

The Ballet
Arranged for strings, timpani, and four percussionists, Shchedrin’s Carmen Ballet for strings & percussion (after Bizet’s opera) is his best-known work. He was approached by Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso and was asked to write the music for a Carmen ballet. Shchedrin was hesitant about the idea, especially because according to him, Alonso was ignoring the fact that the story of Carmen had become inseparable from Bizet’s opera. In addition to this, Dimitri Shostakovich had already turned down the opportunity to write this ballet before the project was accepted by Shchedrin. Like the other four ballets composed by Shchedrin, Carmen was designed with his wife, Bolshoi prima ballerina Maya Pilsetskaya, in mind.

The Music
Shchedrin’s Carmen combines musical excerpts from three of Bizet’s works (Carmen, Incidental music for L’Arlésienne, and the opera La Jolie Fille de Perth) to form his suite of 13 separate numbers. Shchedrin described the work as “not simply a slavish obeisance to the genius of Bizet, but rather an attempt at a creative meeting of two minds.” The ballet was banned right after its first performance and called an insult to Bizet’s masterpiece, and for the sexualization of Carmen’s character. Percussionists, like myself, are quite familiar with Bizet’s Carmen, because there are a couple of excerpts for auxiliary instruments (tambourine, triangle) that we are regularly asked to perform in orchestral auditions.

Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten

Notes by TŌN violinist Sabrina Parry

The Composer
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is particularly well known today for his creation of the musical technique named “tintinnabuli.” Pärt began his piano studies at the age of three and went on to attend the Rakvere Music School and Tallinn Music School as a teenager. After a brief two years of mandatory military service for the Soviet Army he finished his schooling, with many compositions from this time still being acknowledged today.

Tintinnabuli
In his 20s, Pärt worked as a sound engineer and found himself experimenting with many of the compositional techniques and styles that were in vogue at the time, but not lingering amongst them. In 1976, after many years of turmoil and self-discovery, as well as an obsession with early music such as Gregorian chant and Renaissance music, he birthed the musical technique “tintinnabuli.” From the Latin tintinnabulum, a bell, when used, this technique brings together both melody and triad to create a united ensemble. This distinct method has been used by Pärt in his compositions for nearly 40 years, with one of his earliest examples being the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, which you will hear today.

In Memory of Benjamin Britten
Pärt learned of Benjamin Britten’s passing while listening to the radio one day in 1976. While the two had no personal connection, Pärt said, “Why should the date of Benjamin Britten’s death [December 4, 1976] touch such a chord in me? Evidently it was only in that moment that I matured enough to realize the magnitude of such a loss. Inexplicable feelings of duty, or even more than that, arose in me—I had just discovered Britten for myself. Not a very long time before his death, I recalled my impression of his music’s rare purity.”

The Music
Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra and bell, premiered in 1977 and was written using tintinnabuli, as well as canon. In this six-minute work, Pärt used the A-minor scale in a descending pattern that is repeated, beginning with the violins, after three tolls of the bell. Each subsequent entrance of this scale is an octave lower and half the tempo of the preceding line, creating five layers out of one simple scale. The culminating sound created by these techniques in the string orchestra juxtaposed with the bell create a lush and hypnotic melody, very pleasing to the ear and emanating a churchly atmosphere.

Frank Martin’s Petite symphonie concertante

Notes by TŌN harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman

The Composer
Born in 1890, Frank Martin was one of the leading Swiss composers of his time. He not only composed his music, but also performed many of his own works while on tour as a pianist and harpsichordist. His compositional style resembles that of Johann Sebastian Bach with a twist of early-20th-century French composers. He wrote many sacred vocal works, which may be due to the fact that his father was a priest, but he also composed on secular subjects. Though Martin’s output on vocal works is prominent, he was very prolific in instrumental compositions that are now staples in the international concert repertoire. His Petite symphonie concertante is by far his most widely respected work.

The Origin of the Work
The Petite symphonie concertante was composed in 1945 from a request made by Paul Sacher. Sacher did not micromanage how the piece was to be composed, but his one specific request was that plucked basso continuo instruments were to be employed along with standard string instruments. From here, Martin decided to use instruments that are still common today, which included harp, piano, and harpsichord. These three instruments are the soloists of the work while the remaining strings are split into two equally important groups.

The Music
Martin composed a second version of this piece that did not include solo instruments and was for full symphony orchestra. He believed that this work would not be performed often due to its uncommon orchestration; however, Martin’s belief turned out to be erroneous. The original version that you will be hearing today is the more frequently performed of the two versions. I find that its unusual combination of instruments makes this piece all the more intriguing. In addition to the exquisite pacing and shape, the atmosphere Martin sets in each section draws you into his world for the full 21 minutes. The opening resembles a concerto with the three solo instruments accompanying each other while the remaining strings are supporting them. In the next section, the music moves in a slow, improvisatory style, then turns into a spirited march ending the piece. While I enjoy the entire work, my favorite moment is around the 14-minute mark, after a slow chordal introduction in the harpsichord. Listen closely and you will hear why.

Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in G minor, RV 156

Notes by Steve V. Sinclair

The Composer
In the early 1700s, when most Italian composers were known for their operas, Vivaldi held a unique position, achieving fame as a creator of orchestral works. Despite his severe asthma, he went on several taxing journeys starting in 1718 which helped to cement his reputation as one of the preeminent musicians of baroque Europe. He was a prolific writer, having composed around 500 concertos in addition to a number of pieces for the church and the theater. His most famous concerto, The Four Seasons, forms part of the collection The Contest of Harmony and Invention, which is one of seven such collections published during his lifetime. He also composed concertos for cello, viola d’amore, flute, oboe, bassoon, and groups of solo instruments.

The Music
The fiery Concerto for Strings in G minor, RV 156, is a full concerto with no featured soloists. The outer Allegro movements are tumultuous and fiery, with a strutting syncopation and rushing melodies. The double bass plays a walking line in the central Adagio movement, with the upper strings sustaining tones. It makes for a fitting opening to this evening’s concert.

TŌN IN: Sunset Serenade on Bassoon

As part of The Orchestra Now’s “Sunset Serenade” series, TŌN bassoonist Philip McNaughton performed the first two movements of Susan Kander’s The Lunch Counter for a physically distanced audience at Old Dutch Church in Kingston, NY on September 11, 2020. Watch the full concert by clicking here.

THE ORCHESTRA NOW LIVESTREAMS TWO FREE SYMPHONIC CONCERTS THIS SPRING, FEATURING WORKS BY TANIA LEÓN, BERNSTEIN, STRAVINSKY, MENDELSSOHN, AND A BELATED BEETHOVEN CELEBRATION APRIL 10 AND MAY 1, 2021

Guest Soloists are Violinists Adele Anthony and Zongheng Zhang, Pianists Blair McMillen and Shai Wosner, and Cellist Peter Wiley

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, March 16, 2021 Music director Leon Botstein leads The Orchestra Now in two spring concerts livestreamed FREE from the Fisher Center at Bard on April 10 and May 1, an exciting return to performing symphonic works with a larger orchestra on stage. The April 10 program features Tania León’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated work Ácana, alongside music by Bernstein, Stravinsky, and Mendelssohn. The May 1 performance is the first concert of a belated two-part tribute to Beethoven’s 250th birthday. The second part will be performed by the Bard Conservatory Orchestra on May 8.

On April 10, Leon Botstein conducts TŌN in Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony and Bernstein’s Serenade featuring violinist Zongheng Zhang, a winner of the 2020 Bard Conservatory Concerto Competition. Also on the program is Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments with pianist Blair McMillen, hailed by The New York Times as “prodigiously accomplished and exciting,” and the 2008 work Ácana by Cuban-born composer, conductor, and educator Tania León. León’s honors include an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and commissions from the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, among many others.

On May 1, Leon Botstein will lead the Orchestra in the first of two concerts dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven. After the pandemic shutdown, many celebrations planned for the 250th anniversary of his birth were cancelled. The first program in the Belated Beethoven Birthday Celebration series presents the composer’s beloved 5th and 7th Symphonies, as well as his Triple Concerto for violin, cello, and piano featuring Australian-American violinist Adele Anthony, first-prize winner of the prestigious Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in 1996; cellist Peter Wiley, a member of the Beaux Arts Trio from 1987 to 1998; and internationally acclaimed pianist Shai Wosner. The commemoration continues on May 8 at 8PM with Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory and Symphonies No. 3 and 4, performed by the Bard Conservatory Orchestra.

Mendelssohn & Bernstein
Saturday, April 10, 2021 at 8PM ET
The Orchestra Now
Leon Botstein, conductor
Zongheng Zhang, violin (Bard class of 2021)
Blair McMillen, piano
Tania León: Ácana
Bernstein: Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium)
Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 “Scottish”

Access: Free concert, with a suggested donation of $25-50. RSVP here to receive a direct link to the livestream on the day of the concert. This concert will be available for delayed streaming on TŌN’s digital portal STAY TŌNED, starting on April 15.

Belated Beethoven Birthday Celebration (Part I*)
Saturday, May 1, 2021 at 8PM ET
The Orchestra Now
Leon Botstein, conductor
Adele Anthony, violin
Peter Wiley, cello
Shai Wosner, piano
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56
Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

Access: Free concert, with a suggested donation of $25-50. RSVP here to receive a direct link to the livestream on the day of the concert. This concert will be available for delayed streaming on TŌN’s digital portal STAY TŌNED, starting on May 6.

This concert is dedicated to the memory of Stuart Stritzler-Levine, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Emeritus Dean of Bard College, who passed away on May 1, 2020. Stritzler-Levine joined the Bard faculty in 1964 and devoted 56 years of continuous service to the College.

*Part 2 of the Beethoven celebration will be presented on May 8 at 8PM and performed by the Bard Conservatory Orchestra.

STAY TŌNED
Since March 2020, TŌN has presented more than 100 audio and video streams on STAY TŌNED, its new portal regrouping of all digital initiatives. Audio content is offered every Tuesday and videos every Thursday. The events feature weekly new and archived audio and video recordings that comprise 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. Much of the content is also available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Bard College Covid-19 Measures 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.

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 Yale School of Music, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Royal Academy of Music, and the Eastman School 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 it performs multiple concerts each season and takes part in the annual Bard Music Festival. It also performs 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.

For upcoming activities and more detailed information about the musicians, visit theorchestranow.org.

Leon Botstein
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.

 

Press Contacts
Pascal Nadon
Pascal Nadon Communications
Phone: 646.234.7088
Email: pascal@pascalnadon.com

Mark Primoff
Associate Vice President of Communications
Bard College
Phone: 845.758.7412
Email: primoff@bard.edu

 

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AUDIO FLASHBACK: William Grant Still’s Serenade

This week’s Audio Flashback is William Grant Still‘s Serenade. Still, often called the “Dean of African-American composers,” wrote this piece in 1957 on a commission by the Great Falls High School in Great Falls, Montana. The piece reflects his interest in American folk idioms, with conventional melodies and harmonies that nonetheless express a fresh and individual compositional voice. The Orchestra Now performed the work outdoors (hence the crickets you will hear in the background!) with conductor James Bagwell last September as part of the Out of the Silence festival, presented with the Bard Music Festival and the Fisher Center at Bard.