Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The GDYO opened the 2010-2011 Season on October 24th. The performance at the Meyerson is a unique treat for these young musicians. For many it was their first time on this stage. And they loved it.
These concerts take work and effort from all involved. Each musician must prepare their part. The conductor studies his scores and works the rehearsals. The staff must prepare the logistics including schedules, tickets, music and much more. Parents must support their children by driving them to rehearsals, double checking schedules and giving whatever their child needs to help make this happen for them.
All this starts eight weeks before we step foot in the Meyerson. And every minute of it is worth it. Because getting to hear these musicians on this stage and seeing their faces is what it truly is about.
Sometimes we get wrapped up in all the things that must be done to make it happen. We forget what we are doing this for. Then everybody sits down on that stage and plays the first note and then we remember.
The GDYO did a fantastic job on Sunday night. They had a tough program put before them. They did well with the challenge. Another great concert to another great season.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
The final piece on the October 24th concert will be La Valse by Ravel. This is the program note written by Saad Daniari, violist in the GDYO.
Born March 7, 1875 in Ciboure, France
Died December 28, 1937 in Paris, France
La Valse, one of Maurice Ravel’s most intricate and elaborate compositions, is a musical work whose interpretation has undergone endless discussion. As early as 1906, Ravel had aspired to create a piece of music in order to celebrate the waltz. He planned to title this piece Wien (Vienna) and molded it as a tribute to a prominent Viennese composer. In one of his letters, Ravel said:
It’s not subtle what I’m undertaking at present: a grand waltz, a kind of homage to the memory of the great Strauss, not Richard, the other one, Johann. You know of my profound empathy with these admirable rhythms, and that I rate the joie de vivre expressed by the dance more deeply than Franckist Puritanism.
A precursor to the eventual work was Valses nobles et sentimentales, which utilized many of the motifs and musical ornamentations heard in La Valse. Ravel began to combine elements of both Valses nobles as well as sketches of Wien in order to produce a symphonic work that, to his dismay, would baffle and perplex a majority of the musical community. It would be titled La Valse: a French perspective of the Viennese waltz.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Ravel’s work is that it exists in several versions. The piece originated as a piano solo; however, it was arranged for two pianos and a symphony orchestra as well. The symphonic version was developed under commission by Sergei Diaghilev, an influential patron of the arts. When Ravel presented the piece to Diaghilev, the Russian impresario was taken aback by the immense creative liberties that Ravel had incorporated into his score. In response to hearing the composition, he said “…this is not a ballet; this is a portrait of a ballet, a painting of a ballet.” Ravel was deeply offended by Diaghilev’s criticism of La Valse and refused to work with him in any future endeavors. The altercation that occurred regarding the work ultimately marked the end of their friendship. While Ravel secured an orchestral performance of his piece in 1920, it didn’t premier as a ballet for another nine years.
Laced with atmospheric details and ethereal undertones, Ravel’s continually debated composition can best be described as un poème chorégraphique (a choreographic poem) – an orchestral work designed for a ballet, yet also standing as a self-sufficient piece of music, as it offers many of the artistic characteristics evident in a tone poem. La Valse opens with a nearly silent mist of sound generated through the rumbling of the double basses, eventually joined by the cellos and the harps. In a very gradual progression, various instruments enter, culminating into the eruption of a waltz melody. As the piece continues, it evolves into a more macabre dance. The division of each string section into three separate parts truly exemplifies the intricacy of the work.
In his analysis of La Valse, the composer George Benjamin stated:
Whether or not it was intended as a metaphor for the predicament of European civilization in the aftermath of the Great War, its one-movement design plots the birth, decay and destruction of a musical genre: the waltz.
La Valse is one of the most challenging pieces of music ever composed for a symphony orchestra. Maurice Ravel combined cultural influences from France and Vienna in order to create an extraordinary and unconventional composition. For any orchestra, to perform the work is an extremely virtuosic feat.
Ravel scored La Valse for three flutes and piccolo, three oboes and english horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, snare drum, castanets, tam-tam, antique cymbals, celesta, two harps, and strings.
-Saad Daniari, viola
The third piece performed on the October 24th concert is Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. This is the program note written by Robert Gonzalez, violinist in the GDYO.
Symphony No. 8 in B minor (“Unfinished”) October - November 1822
Franz Peter Schubert
Born, January 31, 1797 Vienna – November 19, 1828.
Franz Schubert is one of the most brilliant composers of the early romantic era. His contributions include many compositions of chamber music. The most widely known include The Trout Quintet and Death of a Maiden. Schubert wrote many songs and elevated the genre from folk tradition to an accepted classic form. In all, he wrote nine symphonies. But of all his musical accomplishments, Schubert remains first and foremost a great symphonic composer. He wrote nine symphonies total. Ironically, his best known and perhaps most beloved is his Eighth Symphony, the symphony which “Mr. Schubert never finished.”
As a child, Schubert played in his family quartet. All his family members played string instruments, but Schubert first learned the piano. Young Franz was later introduced to the violin by his father Franz Theodor who was a school master and also enjoyed playing the cello. After several years of study, Schubert showed great musical talent but was still pressured to be a school teacher like his father. In 1808 Schubert won first place in an open competition as a choirboy, and his talent was recognized by Anton Salieri, famous composer of the time and court composer to the emperor. Eventually, Schubert’s parents relented and allowed him to seriously study music.
In 1810 Schubert began to work on his earliest songs and essays in cantata form. He began writing his first symphony in 1811 at the age of fourteen. This work in D major was finished by 1813. Over the next twelve years, Schubert wrote nine symphonies, which many times were compared to those of Haydn and Mozart. It was not until his Eighth Symphony that Schubert began distinguishing his own unique style of symphonic composition. He incorporated key complexities and unforgettable melodies, but his Eighth Symphony remained unfinished. No one knows exactly why he left it incomplete, but it still stands as one of the most beloved symphonies of all time. Schubert wrote the Eighth Symphony in a period of great artistic struggle. His operas were very poorly received by the public. These were years when he wrote a much higher percentage of unfinished works than at any other time in his career. He finished the first two movements of the Eighth and almost completed a sketch for a third movement, a Scherzo. He actually orchestrated the first nine measures of the third, and then set the work aside.
One theory explaining why the eighth symphony was left unfinished is that Schubert recognized many similarities between his score and Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony. He feared he would be accused of plagiarism. Another is that he simply felt he could not create subsequent movements that were as good as the first two. Still, other people feel he may have had so many ideas in his head that he put it aside in favor of exploring other ideas.
At that time Schubert’s fame did not come from his instrumental work but rather from his lieder or art song. Considered one of western music’s greatest composers of song, Schubert took lieder to a deeper level than any composer before him. Most of his melodies are memorable and many unforgettable. Schubert’s richness in keys is another unique quality in his work. His Lieder are bolder than his early instrumental work. He took liberties in key changes with songs that he never did in his instrumental work. It was not until the Eighth Symphony that his monothematic structures come to full maturity in orchestral work.
A year after abandoning the Eighth, Schubert gave the manuscript to his longtime friend Josef Huttenbrenner, who did nothing with the work for three decades except create a piano duet arrangement out of portions of it. In 1865, long after Schubert’s death, the “Unfinished Symphony” premiered in Vienna.
Conducted by Johann Herbeck, the first performance of the Eighth Symphony showed how different and unique this work was as compared to Schubert’s earlier symphonies. The first movement begins with a very low and somber theme from the double basses and cellos, followed by a whispering accompaniment played by the violins. Then, the clarinet and oboe take over and play the melody in unison creating a unique sound that had never been written before. The second theme begins with cellos playing a charming melody, possibly the symphony’s most familiar theme, which then gets passed onto the violins. The piece suddenly goes to a dark place as soon as the violin melody is completed. The mood shifts rapidly and often from extreme bliss to darkness and back again. The hectic and nervous changes perhaps reflect the mental state of the composer during the difficult period when he conceived this work.
As compared to the abruptly changing first movement, the second provides a momentary break starting with the violins playing an enchanting melody. The primary theme is reintroduced with little variation. A shocking flute and oboe duet first draws us in with its beauty only to betray us with chaos. It invites us and then abandons us. Had Schubert finished this work, perhaps the teasing aspects of the second movement would have been resolved in the fully developed third and fourth movements. But even without a satisfying musical conclusion to this symphony, we remain enchanted with its singular melodic focus that keeps our full attention from beginning to end. In fact, that attention takes us into the parking lot and stays with us on our ride home from the concert hall. Though Schubert left us wanting more from this masterwork, what more can we want than the melody that Mr. Schubert DID finish.
The Symphony No. 8 in B minor is written for strings, flute, oboe, bassoon, cornet, trumpet, trombones and timpani.
- Robert Gonzalez, violin
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Another piece performed on the upcoming October 24th performance is Suite from Hary Janos. This is the program note written by Austin Allen, percussionist in the GDYO.
Suite from Háry János
Born December 16, 1882 in Kecskemét, Hungary
Died March 6, 1967 in Budapest, Hungary
Zoltán Kodály, one of Hungary’s most esteemed composers and educators, studied viola, violin, cello, and piano as a young child. He was in both the Nagyszombat choir and orchestra and, at the age of 15, entered the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. Graduating with a teaching diploma in 1905, he began a lifelong project of collecting, categorizing, and analyzing Hungarian folk tunes. Today, Kodály is recognized as one of the first people to delve into the field of ethnomusicology. In 1907, now 23, Kodály, along with his friend and colleague Béla Bartók, was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest.
Kodály composed Psalmus Hungaricus, an oratorio written in celebration of the unification of the cities of Buda and Pest after World War I. This composition marked an enormous breakthrough for Kodály in terms of international recognition. His growing reputation was solidified with the composition of his opera Háry János only a few years later.
In addition to his awe-inspiring compositions, Kodály is equally known for his work in music education. This field is where his love for folk songs was very useful, for Kodály believed that folk songs were more accessible to young people than most forms of music. Upon retirement, Kodály began to travel the world, conducting many of his own works. He never ceased loving music and received many awards throughout his life for both his inspirational compositions and his efforts in the field of music education.
Kodály's opera Háry János was first performed on October 16, 1926 in Budapest. It is a comedic Hungarian folk opera based on the comic epic The Veteran by Janos Garay.
In the Opera’s preface, Kodály explained:
Háry is a peasant, a veteran soldier, who day after day sits in the tavern, spinning yarns about his heroic exploits and being a real peasant, the stories produced by his fantastic imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naïveté, of comic humour and pathos… .That his stories are not true is irrelevant, for they are the fruit of a lively imagination, seeking to create, for himself and for others, a beautiful dream world.
From this four act opera, Kodály extracted the orchestral highlights of the Háry János Suite. Although the premiere date for the suite is usually cited as December 1927 in New York City, the first actual performance of the Suite took place in Barcelona a few months earlier. This was suppressed primarily, because of the inadequacy of the Spanish performance. The suite consists of six parts. Movements 1, 3 and 5 are largely atmospheric, while Nos. 2, 4 and 6 are based mainly on scenes from the opera.
Prelude: the Fairy Tale Begins
The suite starts with an orchestral imitation of a sneeze. This comes from the old Hungarian belief that a story told after a sneeze is always true. Following the sneeze, the basses and celli emit slow, almost somber tones, finally emerging into a sad melodic theme. This movement provides almost a dreamlike setting for the following movements.
Viennese Musical Clock
The Viennese Musical Clock begins with Háry János at the Austrian Emperor’s court, where he hears the clocks strike at midday. Snare drum and chimes start this movement in imitation of the Emperor’s clock. A light, chipper, yet almost regal melody follows, that, much like the first movement, meanders throughout the orchestra. Needless to say, plenty of percussion is used in this movement!
Song starts with a solo viola, joined presently by the cimbalom. [See sidebar] The music has a light and airy feel and much of the music from this movement is supplied primarily from the Hungarian folk song “This Side the Tisza, Beyond the Danube.”
The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon
The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon is both humorous and satirical. It is a parody on France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise, an example of the European march, and tells the story of how Háry János singlehandedly defeats Napoleon and his men. Brass is extremely prevalent in this movement so be sure to listen for the fanfares as well as the glissandi written for both trombone and tuba.
Intermezzo is a Verbunkos, an 18th-century Hungarian military recruiting dance. The movement’s primary theme is from a piano method written by Istvan Gati in 1802. The cimbalom adds to and complements this movement creating a folksy and atmospheric aura.
Entrance of the Emperor and His Court
Entrance of the Emperor and His Court depicts the Imperial court as seen through the eyes of a peasant. Starting off the movement, the woodwinds mimic the high-pitched banter of the courtiers. Kodaly implements the entire orchestra at once in this movement creating a contrast to the minimal instrumentation commonly heard in the previous movements and we will once again hear the Marseillaise parody from the fourth movement.
The Háry János Suite is scored for 3 flutes (each doubling on piccolo), 2 clarinets (one doubling on alto saxophone), 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 cornets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, Timpani, a large complement of percussion, cimbalom, and strings.
-Austin Allen, percussion
The cimbalom, (sim-buh-luh m) is a stringed instrument similar to the hammer dulcimer. The instrument has a trapezoidal body with four legs and 125 strings, with 3 to 5 strings per note. The instrument is struck with two small spoon-shaped wooden hammers. These hammers are generally wrapped in either soft or hard leather.
Although the use of the cimbalom dates back to the 16th century in Hungary, the modern cimbalom was invented in 1870 by Jozsef Schunda. Many instruments of a more portable nature can be found throughout history in Romania, Greece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. These instruments were carried around and played primarily by wandering Gypsies although, in 1890, the instrument was proclaimed the national instrument of Hungary. The instrument appears in Franz Liszt's Ungarischer Stummarsch, Stravinsky's Le Renard, and Ragtime, and the piece you will be hearing performed tonight by Zoltán Kodály, the Suite from Háry János
-Austin Allen, percussion
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra will present it's Season Opener on October 24th. One of the pieces performed will be Giuseppe Verdi's La Forza del Destino. This is the program note written by Adam Holmes, percussionist in the GDYO.
Overture to La Forza del Destino
Born October 9, 1813 in Roncole, Italy
Died January 27, 1901 in Milan
After having already established himself as a renowned composer and writing his twenty-third opera, Un ballo in maschera (finished in early 1858), Verdi informed friends that he had ceased to be a composer. It would prove to be his longest compositional hiatus to date, lasting over two years; however, Verdi soon had a creative breakthrough. In 1860, he was offered a commission from the Imperial Theatre at St. Petersburg. The following year, Verdi wrote an opera based on the Spanish romantic melodrama Don Alvaro, o La Fuerza del sino.
The opera La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) first premiered in 1862 opening with a short prelude, lasting approximately three minutes. After only moderate success, he decided to revise the prelude into a longer eight minute overture in 1869, which is the version that the GDYO performs this evening
The piece opens with a solemn three-note unison from the brass and low woodwinds. This is often called the “fate motif,” which foreshadows the tragic events to take place in the opera. A driving string theme quickly follows the fate motif, which is shortly joined by the winds and timpani. It later leads into a more lyrical melody taken from a prayer that is sung in the second act of the opera. Finally concluding with a powerful melody from the winds, La Forza del Destino’s overture sets the mood for one of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpieces.
Scored for Flute, Piccolo, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 4 French Horns, 2 Trumpets, 2 Trombones, Bass Trombone, Timpani, Percussion, Harp, and Strings
Adam Holmes, Percussion
Monday, October 4, 2010
I consider myself to be extremely lucky to be making my living doing what I love the most - playing in a symphony orchestra. Not only do I get to play the fabulous orchestral literature as a violist, I also am able to play the extensive piano literature because I am also a pianist.