Masterworks 1: American Made
Scott Seaton | Conductor
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Single Tickets range from $18 to $55 with discounts available for students and seniors.
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Explore the sounds of two iconic American composers, Bernstein and Copland, who formed the music of the 20th century, gathering influence from jazz and the old west. The genre-defying Project Trio joins us for Scatter by Adam Schoenberg (not Arnold!) and other lighter and fun favorites. The Wall Street Journal hailed the Trio for their “wide appeal, subversive humor and first-rate playing.”
Gramophone Magazine singled out the group as “an ensemble willing and able to touch on the gamut of musical bases ranging from Baroque to nu-Metal and taking in pretty much every stylism in between,” while The Wall Street Journal hailed the Trio for their “wide appeal, subversive humor and first-rate playing.” The New York Times has called beatboxing flutist Greg Pattillo “the best in the world at what he does.”
The Trio was forged out of a collective desire to draw new and diverse audiences by performing high energy, top quality music. Using social media to broaden their reach beyond the concert stage and classroom, the Trio has its own YouTube channel, which has over 85 million views and 100,000 subscribers, making PROJECT Trio one of the most watched instrumental ensembles on the internet.
Combining the virtuosity of world-class artists with the energy of rock stars, PROJECT Trio is breaking down traditional ideas of chamber music. The genre-defying Trio is acclaimed by the press as “packed with musicianship, joy and surprise” and “exciting a new generation of listeners about the joys of classical and jazz music.”
Leonard Bernstein’s music from On the Town gave a much-needed lift to American spirit during an epoch of tremendous uncertainties of life in the 1940’s. Again today, we are uplifted by Lenny’s gift and find respite from the uncertainties of our times - an enduring gift from him as we celebrate his centennial birthday this year. On the Town came about by chance when Bernstein and lyricist Adolph Green found themselves together in an Ear, Nose and Throat clinic as patients and decided that Bernstein’s Fancy Free (a ballet about three sailors on leave in New York City) could become a musical. After a tepid try-out in Boston, along with subsequent revisions, the musical opened on Broadway in 1944 and launched his brilliant career as a Broadway composer. MGM made the musical into a movie starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, though the film dropped or re-arranged much of Bernstein’s music, obviously much to his displeasure.
Bernstein capitalized on the successes by selecting excerpts from Act I and arranging them for orchestra under the title Three Dance Episodes from On the Town. He conducted the premiere in 1946 with the San Francisco Symphony at the Civic Auditorium. Here we have the best and most memorable of his work - jazzy dances and boogie-woogie contrast with tender ballads, supported by masterful orchestration and a surging spirit that defined American style. The Great Lover portrays a shy sailor dreaming of himself as a great lover pursuing a woman that he has seen only on a subway poster. Listen for the sense of obsession in the trombone figures; echoes of Stravinsky, come to mind. The unique instrumentation and jazz idioms so characteristic of Bernstein’s style are delightful. A darker aspect of romance comes alive with the bluesy shades of Lonely Town, a lamentation about love and anonymity in the big city. This scene was among the most successful from the musical, and its omission from the film irritated Bernstein. Imagine a young girl, being wooed and then left by a sailor on leave as you hear these beautiful lyrical melodies, swollen with melancholy and floating atop unsettled anxious energy. Times Square: 1944, the signature hit from On the Town, prominently features the clarinet, alto saxophone and trumpet in a captivating series of variations on its famous theme “New York, New York.” Bernstein described it as a “panoramic sequence in which all the sailors congregate in Times Square for their night of fun.” The jazzy orchestra includes: flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), three clarinets (one doubling E-flat clarinet and one doubling bass clarinet), alto saxophone, two horns, three trumpets, three trombones, timpani, suspended cymbal, snare drum, bass drum, triangle, trap set, wood block, xylophone, slide whistle, piano, and strings.
Aaron Copland composed Appalachian Spring between 1943–1944 as a commissioned ballet for Martha Graham, who first performed it in 1944. Copland expanded the original instrumentation from 13 players to full orchestra when he made a concert version in 1945 titled the Suite from Appalachian Spring, the piece we are hearing today. The Suite won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and catapulted Copland’s music to an international audience with the help of the phonograph and radio technologies of the era. It was an artist’s dream, come true. Copland considered the modern music of the 1930’s era to be inaccessible to the average listener. He strove for a simpler, more direct musical style. Early in his development, he left his dissonance behind and created a musical language that portrayed America as “the country that Whitman had envisaged.” Copland understood that “an entirely new public for music had grown up around the radio and phonograph. It made no sense to ignore them and to continue writing as if they did not exist. I felt that it was worth the effort to see if I couldn’t say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms.” Note the harmonic technique wherein all seven notes of a scale (in this case A major) are freely and exclusively combined. The sound is unconstrained, somewhat modal and generally consonant. The rhythms are often irregular and include unexpected silences. The modest orchestra includes: 2 flutes (piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, snare drum, orchestra bells, triangle, xylophone, claves, wood block, bass drum, suspended cymbals, tabor, harp, piano, and strings.
Martha Graham commissioned the score to accompany a ballet to be based on the childhood memories of her grandmother who had spent her life on a Pennsylvania farm. Copland's working title was "Ballet for Martha," and curiously, he composed the music without any particular notions of Appalachia or springtime in mind. In fact, he lived in Hollywood at the time. Graham actually chose the title, inspired by Hart Crane's poem The Bridge; Copland only discovered the name just prior to the premiere. The Suite is divided into eight sections. A fast burst from unison strings in major arpeggios starts the action with a feeling of profound elation that is followed by a scene of tenderness and passion describing the emotions of courtship. The third section evokes a country revival with fiddlers and square dancing, and the next pumps up the tempo even more in a joyous dance. A slow transition leads us to the famous Shaker melody, “Simple Gifts,” taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title "The Gift to Be Simple." A gentle chorale sends us on our way; one cannot help but to be moved by the profound beauty.
Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances were originally composed for four-hands on the piano, 21 pieces in all, ten were published in 1869 and another 11 in 1880. The collection attracted enormous attention and soon was being arranged for different combinations of instruments. These spicy tunes were quite lucrative and carried the Brahms brand around the world - popular with performers and audiences alike. Although the traditional Czardas themes were borrowed, Brahms’ treatments stylistically modified the tunes in ways that were popularized by the gypsy bands in the local café scene where he learned the repertoire. As a young working musician, Brahms would accompany theater groups at the local outlets and occasionally accompany touring musicians. Luckily for him, he met one of Hungary’s most renowned violinists, Eduard Reményi, from whom he learned the authentic gypsy style. Brahms came to love this music with its hot licks, fickle mood shifts, irresistible rhythms and wild fiddling, and he would often jam on these Roma themes at musical salons and gatherings of his friends. Hungarian Dance No. 5 is, by far, the most popular of the collection with its unforgettable swaggering melody and evocative minor key. Its orchestral adaptation is a staple even in today’s concert halls with its unmistakable gypsy heart pumping every measure. Brahms certainly would be pleased with the version by Project Trio on stage today. Enjoy that inherent wildness with a unique modern twist of a jazzy, rockin’ fusion.
Adam Schoenberg wrote “SCATTER” for PROJECT Trio in 2015 as a commissioned work by four orchestras, with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra being first in line performing the West Coast premiere led by Alexandre Bloch at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA. Schoenberg was attracted to the trio by the unique sound and attitude of Peter Seymour playing double bass, flutist Greg Pattillo, and cellist Eric Stephenson. Their attitude and style mesh very well with his creative sensibilities. Seymour says that “Adam’s music blurs the line between classical and the sounds of today” and that “he captures our style and performing energy, and the other-worldly use of electronics creates new textures.” The piece makes a good companion to Copland and Bernstein, given that both composers were inspirational to Schoenberg. We can hear his connection in the optimistic spirit, the complex rhythms of American life, and the beautifully sculpted and skillfully orchestrated sound. He says that he likes the “control and meticulous craft of Ravel” and that “I want my music to reflect hope and beauty in the world, but it also needs to challenge both the audience and the orchestra.”
“SCATTER” is structured as a single movement electroacoustic triple concerto that is divided into three distinct sections. In addition to using the classical music idiom and a traditional orchestra [2 flutes (piccolo), 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion, piano, and strings], Schoenberg fuses pop, funk and jazzy riffs with electronic sounds made by a computer played by a percussionist in the orchestra. The electronic passages act as “pillars” that identify each section. Though the score doesn’t employ improvisation, Schoenberg composed it by initially improvising on piano. He describes an intuitive process as one in which “material emerges that has to be selected and developed. I record hours of improvisation. It’s about tapping into a deep emotional space that makes you feel something powerful and moving. That’s when I know I’ve found something meaningful.” As fair warning, watch out for the end of the second section where the orchestra builds in an agitated manner, culminating in what Schoenberg calls “a bang.” “You feel the audience,” he says, “that’s the power of music.”
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