AUDIO FLASHBACK: Duke Ellington’s Solitude

This Tuesday’s Audio Flashback is Solitude by the brilliant Duke Ellington, who was born 122 years ago this week. Ellington was recognized as the greatest jazz musician in America, giving voice to the Black experience in his works. He was an indefatigable innovator who was always open to new forms of expression, eventually crossing boundaries of genre and writing longer compositions for symphony orchestra. We performed Morton Gould’s arrangement of this piece with conductor Leon Botstein on September 26, 2020 as part of the “Out of the Silence” festival, presented with the Bard Music Festival and the Fisher Center at Bard.

TŌN IN: Sunset Serenade on Flute

As part of The Orchestra Now’s “Sunset Serenade” series, TŌN flutist Brendan Dooley performed Georg Philipp Telemann’s Fantasia No. 3 for a physically distanced audience at Old Dutch Church in Kingston, NY on September 24, 2020. Watch the full concert by clicking here.

AUDIO FLASHBACK: Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings

This week’s Audio Flashback is Antonín Dvořák‘s Serenade for Strings, which TŌN performed outdoors with conductor Leon Botstein on September 12, 2020 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 on the piece, BMF Artistic Codirector Christopher H. Gibbs says that the work was composed in just 12 days in 1875, after Dvořák had won a grant from the Austrian government. “The carefree mood of the piece shows that the composer was freed ‘from anxiety in his creative work’ (the stipulated goal of the prize); he was also newly married and had recently become a father.” You can read Gibbs’ full notes on the Serenade by clicking here.

AUDIO FLASHBACK: Adolphus Hailstork’s Sonata da Chiesa

This week’s Audio Flashback is Sonata da Chiesa by Rochester, New York-born composer Adolphus Hailstork, who celebrates his 80th birthday this week. In his concert notes, Bard music professor Kyle Gann says, “The 17th-century term ‘sonata da chiesa’ denoted instrumental chamber music suitable for religious meditation; Hailstork has expanded on the concept to give us an orchestral analogue to a choral Mass. The piece’s seven sections, played without pause, have titles taken from liturgical music: Exultate, O Magnum Mysterium, Adoro, Jubilate, Agnus Dei, Dona Nobis Pacem, Exultate (reprise).”

TŌN performed this work outdoors with conductor Zachary Schwartzman 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.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, Scottish

Notes by TŌN flutist Rebecca Tutunick

The Grand Tour
As was expected of a cultured, wealthy man in the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn, at age 20, embarked on a Grand Tour, departing his family home in Berlin for what would be a three-year expedition across various countries. With his family friend Karl Klingemann, Mendelssohn started his Grand Tour with a three-week walking tour of Scotland, beginning in Edinburgh. In a letter to his family, Mendelssohn noted, “We went, in the deep twilight, to the Palace of Holyrood, where Queen Mary lived and loved. There’s a little room to be seen there, with a winding staircase leading up to it. This the murderers ascended, and finding Rizzio, drew him out. Three chambers away is a small corner where they killed him. Everything around is broken and moldering, and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today in the old chapel the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.” Enclosed within the envelope was a scrap of paper with what would become his symphony’s opening theme.

A 13 Year Journey
Over the next 13 years, Mendelssohn set aside and returned to his work on the Scottish Symphony several times, until eventually completing the symphony while in Berlin, in 1842. Though it was his fifth, and final symphony, it was his third to become published, so it became widely known as Symphony No. 3. It was first performed in Leipzig in 1842 under Mendelssohn’s own baton, and then brought to London to an audience that included Queen Victoria, to whom the symphony became dedicated.

The Music
The symphony is played in four interconnected movements. It begins with a rather somber, yet grand, opening theme, followed by a slightly more agitated idea in the violins. The two ideas conversate and evolve, in a beautiful, overlapping texture. The movement develops to bring plenty of drama and tension, as well as captivating melodies and thematic progression. The influence of Scotland is very clearly heard in the burbling, lighthearted second movement. Mendelssohn illustrates his deft use of featherlight magic, and inspires ideas of folk dance. The Adagio follows, interlacing a sweet, charming melody with a darker counterpart, evoking the conflict between love and fate. This movement has been described as a lament for Mary Queen of Scots. The fourth movement starts fiercely, immediately suggesting impending battle. The heroism and chaos of combat is conveyed, until a new, majestic theme prevails in the coda.

Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments

Notes by TŌN bass trombonist Jack E. Noble

Sounds Struck and Blown
The first performance of Stravinsky’s Concerto pour Piano avec L’Orchestre d’Harmonie occurred in Paris in May 1924, only one month after the completion of the score, with the composer as soloist and Serge Koussevitsky conducting. Stravinsky described his “Harmonic Orchestra” as separate from the Symphonic Orchestra, consisting solely of winds and percussion (although this piece includes double basses). His choice to exclude the strings caused Parisian critics to ask “Where are the bows?” So why did Stravinsky choose this format for his concerto? In an interview following the opening concerts he expressed that “Strings and piano, a sound scraped and a sound struck, do not sound well together; piano and wind, sounds struck and blown, do.” This is a noteworthy deviation from the norm which Stravinsky uses to highlight certain characteristics of sound. In particular, the percussive articulation of the piano stands out against the sustain of the winds.

Unexpected Moments
Although the piece is considered Neo-Classical, Stravinsky does not play by antiquated rules. Beyond the fast—slow—fast organization of the movements, almost nothing in the music could be confused with Mozart or Haydn. This stems mainly from Stravinsky’s (now infamous) harmonic language. His characteristic use of dissonance appears immediately in the first few bars with a brass chorale and continues throughout the concerto; every bar seems to bear his mark. Beyond his innovative harmonies, Stravinsky is also known for employing unexpected rhythms. For example, Stravinsky often articulates solo piano passages with ragtime syncopations in the right hand. An easily identifiable instance of this comes in the beginning of the piece, after the introduction when the piano plays alone for the first time. The passage begins as an approachable counterpoint, almost spoon-feeding the idea of Neo-Classicism we were told to expect. However, the Classical motive is quickly shattered by these aggressive syncopations which remind the listener this is the music of a 20th century master. As is the case with most of Stravinsky’s music, he controls the audience by way of unexpected moments.

Beauty in a Crunchy Landscape
The second movement is solemn, and exemplifies how Stravinsky can create beauty while maintaining his dissonant, often “crunchy” harmonic landscape. After two cadenzas, the finale begins with an energetic fugue. The piano states the theme first, complete with more jazzy accents, and from there the energy of the fugue is ceaseless. However, a recapitulation of the brass chorale brings the motion to a halt. The energy attempts to return, but is only a brief flourish before the concerto concludes.

Deliberate Orchestration
The most important thing to remember as an audience is that this concerto is principally an example of Stravinsky’s composition. Influences abound, including those of Classical era music, but the harmonies and jarring rhythms are the composer’s trademark. Instead of hanging on to the term Neo-Classicism, focus instead on the deliberate orchestration and instrumentation. Know that this work was composed specifically for the solo piano to interact with the winds. Allow yourself to be surprised while understanding everything was done with great purpose.

Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium)

Notes by TŌN timpanist Keith Hammer III

The Background
Completed during the summer of 1954, Bernstein wrote this piece alongside his musical Candide. Similar to Candide, West Side Story, and The Age of Anxiety, Serenade relates directly to literature. This work (as stated in the subtitle) is based on Plato’s dialogue The Symposium. Plato’s work is a musical reflection of the impassioned, yet rancorous, speeches on the subject of love made by philosophers such as Aristophanes, Agathon, Phaedrus, and Socrates. Bernstein describes his thoughts on each movement and the philosophers’ speeches they represent.

I. Phaedrus; Pausanias
“Phaedrus opens the symposium with a lyrical oration in praise of Eros, the god of love. (Fugato, begun by the solo violin.) Pausanias continues by describing the duality of the lover as compared with the beloved. This is expressed in a classical sonata-allegro, based on the material of the opening fugato.”
Composed in sonata form, the second theme utilizes disjunct grace-note figures and dissonant intervals in an otherwise elegant solo violin part.

II. Aristophanes
“Aristophanes does not play the role of clown in this dialogue, but instead that of the bedtime-storyteller, invoking the fairy-tale mythology of love. The atmosphere is one of quiet charm.”
Much of the material derives from the grace-note theme of the first movement. The middle section incorporates a melody for the lower strings played in close canon.

III. Eryximachus
“The physician speaks of bodily harmony as a scientific model for the workings of love-patterns. This is an extremely short fugato-scherzo, born of a blend of mystery and humor.”
This section contains music that corresponds thematically to the canon of the previous movement.

IV. Agathon
“Perhaps the most moving speech of the dialogue, Agathon’s panegyric embraces all aspects of love’s powers, charms and functions. This movement is a simple three-part song.”

V. Socrates; Alcibiades
“Socrates describes his visit to the seer Diotima, quoting her speech on the demonology of love. Love as a daemon is Socrates’ image for the profundity of love; and his seniority adds to the feeling of didactic soberness in an otherwise pleasant and convivial after-dinner discussion. This is a slow introduction of greater weight than any of the preceding movements, and serves as a highly developed reprise of the middle section of the Agathon movement, thus suggesting a hidden sonata-form. The famous interruption by Alcibiades and his band of drunken revelers ushers in the Allegro, which is an extended rondo ranging in spirit from agitation through jig-like dance music to joyful celebration. If there is a hint of jazz in the celebration, I hope it will not be taken as anachronistic Greek party-music, but rather the natural expression of a contemporary American composer imbued with the spirit of that timeless dinner party.”
Speaking through the voice of Diotima, Socrates proposes the notion that the most virtuous form of love is the love for wisdom (philosophy).

Tania León’s Ácana

Notes by TŌN bassoonist Cheryl Fries

The Composer
Cuban-born composer and conductor Tania León has had a diverse career as a musician, conductor, champion for cultural diversity, and advisor for arts and educational organizations. After arriving in the United States as a Cuban refugee in 1967, León not only made New York City her home, but left a lasting legacy on the cultural scene of the vibrant city. Beginning in 1969, León became the Artistic Director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem, and would go on to create the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert series, serve as Latin American music advisor to the American Composers Orchestra, and serve as New Music Advisor at the New York Philharmonic from 1993–97. A dedicated advocate for diversity, León founded and served as Artistic Director of Composers Now, an organization designed to empower composers and amplify the diversity of their work and voices.

The Music
León found inspiration for her chamber orchestra piece Ácana in Cuban Laureate Poet Nicolás Guillén’s poem dedicated to the Cuban tree. Sprawling to a height of 90 feet and 3 feet wide, the ácana tree is revered for its strength and wide-spreading roots. Guillén’s poem serves as an ode to the tree that is essential to Cuban life and society. The ácana’s role is described in this poem as being the pitchfork that helps to build homes, a staff to lead people safely home, and finally the table that will hold their coffins. This message of unity with the nature of our homelands couldn’t resonate more today, in a time where our ecosystems are continually being threatened by global warming. León undoubtedly found inspiration in this universal message, and her love for her native Cuba can be heard throughout the piece in the vibrant dance rhythms found in the percussion and the upper woodwinds. León successfully creates a multi-dimensional atmosphere using varying textures and motives. This is my first time playing Tania León’s Ácana and I’m excited to transport you to the rainforests of Cuba and immerse you in the bustling life of León’s birthplace, Havana, with this exhilarating piece.

Nicolás Guillén

Allá dentro, en el monte,
donde la luz acaba,
allá en el monte adentro,
Ay, ácana con ácana,
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana.
El horcón de mi casa.
Allá dentro, en el monte,
bastón de mis caminos,
allá en el monte adentro . . .
Ay, ácana con ácana
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana.
Allá dentro, en el monte,
donde la luz acaba,
tabla de mi sarcófago,
allá en el monte adentro . . .
Ay, ácana con ácana,
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana . . .
Con ácana.
Inside there, on the mountain,
where the light ends,
there in the mountains,
Ay, acana with acana,
with acana;
ay, acana with acana.
The pitchfork of my house.
Inside there, on the mountain,
staff of my ways,
there in the mountains . . .
Ay, acana with acana
with acana;
ay, acana with acana.
Inside there, on the mountain,
where the light ends,
table of my sarcophagus,
there in the mountains . . .
Ay, acana with acana,
with acana;
ay, acana with acana . . .
With acana.

TŌN IN: Sunset Serenade on French Horn

As part of The Orchestra Now’s “Sunset Serenade” series, TŌN horn player Ser Konvalin performed the world premiere of Nikea Randolph’s Seeking Every Resolution for a physically distanced audience at Opus 40 Sculpture Park in Saugerties, NY on September 23, 2020. Watch the full concert by clicking here.

TŌN IN: Sunset Serenade on Oboe

As part of The Orchestra Now’s “Sunset Serenade” series, TŌN oboist Jasper Igusa performed Mary Chandler’s Summer’s Lease for a physically distanced audience at Old Dutch Church in Kingston, NY on September 11, 2020. Watch the full concert by clicking here.