Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Born November 22, 1913 in Lowestoft, England
Died December 4, 1976 in Aldeburgh, England
Benjamin Britten, a prolific British composer, conductor, and pianist, began his musical career at an early age. At only fourteen, he composed his Quatre Chansons françaises for soprano and orchestra, garnering him much acclaim. Britten’s potential for musical brilliance was later recognized as he eventually came to compose one of the most beloved works in all of symphonic literature, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
Britten was a gifted adolescent who enjoyed exploring the many facets of classical music. He eventually enrolled in the Royal College of Music where he received superb training and also developed into a first-rate pianist. His disappointment with the traditional methods of instruction, however, caused him to leave without completing his musical education. Britten decided to depart from England as a conscientious objector to the political turmoil resulting from World War II. After traveling between the United States and England for several years, he ultimately decided to return in order to focus on his music. Britten’s efforts finally came to fruition with the composition of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945. This work became a landmark in the history of English opera, propelling him to the forefront of British composers during his time.
In the same year as the premiere of Peter Grimes, the British Ministry of Education asked Britten to compose a piece that was to be featured in a film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra, designed to educate students about instruments that are common to a modern symphony orchestra. It was to feature a narration written by Eric Crozier, a British theatrical director and Opera librettist who later co-founded the Aldeburgh Festival with him. Britten had always wanted to extend his passion for music with young people. Consequently, he viewed this offer as an opportunity. He began to compose the piece during the following year, basing it on Rondeau from Henry Purcell’s 1965 tragedy Abdelazer, or The Moor’s Revenge. This is the reason that The Young Person’s Guide is often referred to by its alternate title, Variations and a Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell. The alternate title is used when no narration is included, since the score functions as an independent musical composition.
The Young Person’s Guide opens boldly with full orchestra playing the original Purcell theme. Britten provides each full section of the orchestra with an individual variation, followed by shorter variations for each specific instrument. He then reunites the fragmented orchestra, concluding with a grand and triumphant finale.
Benjamin Britten believed that music was the key to understanding and communication, an embodiment of the entire spectrum of human emotion. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra exemplifies Britten’s appreciation and love for every instrument in the orchestra. Perhaps the greatest virtue of the piece is that it provides younger audiences with an understanding of how symphonic music comes together. This, however, does not detract from the value it brings to older audiences as well. The Young Person’s Guide is an enduring musical work that has been enjoyed by all. Tonight’s performance features a new narration written by Dr. Laurie Shulman.
Britten scored The Young Person’s Guide for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B flat and A, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, Tuba, percussion (timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, snare drum, wood block, xylophone, castanets, tam-tam and whip), harp and strings.
-Saad Daniari, viola
Monday, May 16, 2011
An American in Paris
Born on September 26, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York
Died on July 11, 1937 in Hollywood, California
In 1951, one film stole the show with 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Musical Score, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The film was An American in Paris, a groundbreaking MGM musical film inspired by the orchestral composition of the same name written by George Gershwin more than two decades earlier. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and Oscar Levant, and scored entirely with Gershwin’s music, the film followed an American World War II veteran-turned-expatriate and his friend, a struggling concert pianist, around the streets of Paris as they embarked on various escapades and became entangled in different love triangles. The movie’s success echoed that of Gershwin’s original composition, which the composer had written in 1928: the piece quickly became a favorite in the classical repertoire. Today, as a classical trademark for Gershwin, An American in Paris comes second in popularity only to Rhapsody in Blue.
Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, An American in Paris is based on the sights, sounds, and moods of the French capital, which Gershwin had visited in early 1928. Deems Taylor, the 1920s composer and critic, stated Gershwin’s intention in his program notes for the premiere of the piece:
You are to imagine an American visiting Paris, swinging down the Champs-Elysées on a mild sunny morning in May or June. …Our American’s ears being open as well as his eyes, he notes with pleasure the sounds of the city. French taxicabs seem to amuse him particularly.
Gershwin was so amused by those “French taxicabs” that he brought back Parisian taxi horns for the December 13, 1928 premiere, which was played in Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Walter Damrosch. Gershwin had already enjoyed considerable success as a celebrated Broadway songwriter and composer of many hit Broadway shows. His concert works Rhapsody in Blue and his Piano Concerto in F had enhanced his reputation. An American in Paris was groundbreaking in that it combined jazz—the use of saxophone and unconventional instruments like the taxi horns to evoke the feeling of the bustling La Ville-Lumiére (“The City of Light”)—and “serious music”—those unconventional elements embedded into a traditional symphony orchestra—into one symphonic piece.
Reviews were mixed. While many critics acclaimed Gershwin for bringing the vitality and dynamism of jazz onto the serious classical-music stage, others were not so thrilled with the composer’s avant-garde style. Regardless, An American in Paris proved a great success with the public and helped cement Gershwin’s position as one of the greatest composers of the day. Tonight, the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra will take you on an animated jaunt through the streets of the French Capital. As Taylor noted, “It will be great to get home; but meanwhile, this is Paris!”
Instrumentation: An American in Paris is scored for 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B flat, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, triangle, wood block, cymbals, low and high tom-toms, xylophone, glockenspiel, celesta, 4 taxi horns, alto saxophone and soprano saxophone/alto saxophone, tenor saxophone/alto saxophone, baritone saxophone/alto saxophone, and strings.
Vivian Ludford, Cello
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Violin Concerto and Orchestra in D major Opus 61
Ludwig van Beethoven
Born December 17, 1770 in Bonn, Germany
Died March 26, 1827 in Vienna, Austria
Ludwig van Beethoven is justly heralded as perhaps the greatest composer of all time. His immensely acclaimed concerto for violin serves as a paradigm of his musical genius, and many violinists consider the concerto as the grandfather of all pieces composed for the violin. This immense 44-minute work features pastoral elegance, dignified drama, and a symphonic part that sets itself apart from the solo accompaniment with its own heroic themes.
The Heroic Period
Beethoven’s works are generally divided into three periods of composition. This Violin Concerto dates from his second period, widely referred to as his “heroic” period. Violence and war in Europe during this time deeply influenced Beethoven’s music. Specifically, the Napoleonic Wars caused a traumatic episode in his life. Because of the deafening blasts that ensued as Napoleon was bombing Vienna, Beethoven’s home since the early 1790s, he was overwrought with the fear of hearing loss, forcing him to stay at the basement of his brother’s home with pillows covering his ears. These emotional experiences of intensity and absolute fear helped characterize this period as one boasting gripping drama, noble melodies, and musical heroism that produced unparalleled music at the time: notably the “Eroica” Symphony, the Egmont Overture, and the Fifth Piano Concerto.
The heroic period also yielded a more sensitive, halcyon side of Beethoven, referred to by many as his “pastoral” side. This style of Beethoven’s expressed his desire for peace amongst the ravages of war-torn Europe and may also have been his musical response to violence. These works have calm melodies and themes that pay tribute to the beauties of unadulterated nature. Examples of such works include the “Pastoral” Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Beethoven completed the concerto in only five weeks in 1806, a very short amount of time for the completion of a full concerto. He was commissioned by Franz Clement to compose the work for an annual benefit concert for charity. Clement, one of Europe’s most talented violinists at the time, also premiered the work as the violin soloist in December 23, 1806 under the baton of Beethoven himself. It wasn’t until after Beethoven’s death, however, when the celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim performed the concerto with Felix Mendelssohn conducting in 1844, that the work gained recognition. Joachim, then only twelve years old, kept the concerto firmly in his repertoire and immortalized it as the iconic masterwork it remains to this day.
About the Concerto
What comes to mind with this concerto is the figure of Beethoven as a master storyteller, revealing every detail, every emotion of his story with patience, dignity, and respect, and with a touching intimacy that reaches out to the hearts of the audience. Maria Schleuning, the violin soloist for the concerto, provides personal insight to the work, describing it as “a masterpiece that requires intense concentration and study,” which although “demanding both musically and technically,” is “fulfilling, pure, and soaring.” She has studied it while in London under Yfrah Neaman, who was very knowledgeable with the work. There, Ms. Schleuning developed her basics and style for it and, while studying with other musicians, formed new ideas regarding its interpretations. Ms. Schleuning adds, “this concerto is at the top of my list of favorite works, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to play it with the GDYO.”
The first movement of the Beethoven concerto is marked Allegro ma non troppo, which indicates a moderately fast tempo. The opening of the work starts with five lone beats from the timpani, low and resonant, which mark the beginning of the orchestral tutti that follows. The tutti, which is a term denoting that the entire orchestra plays, is repeated in different keys throughout the movement. This work possesses an interesting pattern that shifts from a series of dramatic orchestral parts to the more peaceful melodies of the solo violin, which elegantly embellish the orchestral parts and present diverse shades to the melodies. These transitions from heroic to calm, orchestra to solo violin, bring refreshing perspectives to the work. There are several different cadenzas written for this movement, but Ms. Schleuning has chosen to play the cadenza written by Fritz Kreisler, which is the most famous cadenza because of its structural beauty.
The second movement is a serene movement that continues the pastoral quality with beautiful melodies, tranquil themes, and soft dynamics. The movement starts very softly with muted strings playing shades of sound, setting the tone for the solo violin that eventually enters with a bright solo line. The pure lyricism continues throughout the movement as the winds and strings play the melody while the solo violin elaborates it. Towards the finish of the movement, the orchestra plays a striking passage that breaks the stillness the solo violin had maintained; the soloist comes in on a trill, dramatically ending the movement with bold notes on the G-string.
The second movement elides into the third movement, meaning that there is no pause between the two movements; the solo violin bursts in with a jolly, robust melody in 6/8 time. This movement brings life and gaiety to the concerto, as if the soloist is humoring us with a jovial anecdote, and the orchestra delightfully joins in on it from time to time. The movement also boasts an energetic cadenza towards the end of the movement, again written by Fritz Kreisler, upon the preference of Ms. Schleuning, which features an exciting sequence of chords. Finally, after all of the manifold emotions portrayed throughout the monumental concerto, the solo violin builds to the ending with anticipation and gracefully concludes the concerto.
Beethoven’s violin concerto is a true treasure to the violin literature that comes to mind a gem in all of its multifaceted and flawless beauty. With all of the melodies, instruments, and harmonies in perfect equilibrium, the music is truly sublime in every sense. Instrumentation for the concerto includes flute, oboe, clarinet in A, bassoon, horns in D, trombone in D, Timpani in D-A, solo violin, violin, viola, cello, and bass.
Brendan Kim, First Violin
Monday, April 25, 2011
Explaining This Symphonic Poem For Wind Ensemble
By Bradley Kerr Green
Departures for Winds and Percussion is a symphonic poem – a piece of music in a single continuous section in which the content of a poem, a story or novel, a painting, a landscape or another non-musical source is illustrated or evoked. For me, poetry is a very efficient art form. As the reader uncovers the layers, a single word can bring to life a multitude of images and emotions. Departures is a “rite of passage” piece – a musical allegory of leaving the nest (the world that has been created for you) to start your own life (the world as you make it).
The piece consists of five sections – mirroring the stanzas below.
My Home, The Nest –
The Best Of All Possible Worlds**
Contemplative And Introspective –
Above Me, A Bird In Flight
Effortless And Free –
Singing Like Whales Cry
Engulfed In Fear
Brutish And Paralyzing –
Now, On The Dawn Of My Great Departure
I Take Flight –
Crying Like Whales Sing
And With Free Will –
With poetry, reading is believing. If one believes that everything written and implied was done so on purpose, then the reader becomes engaged in finding little clues to big meanings. This is why I appreciate poetry – it’s efficient and without boundaries. To give an example:
My Home, The Nest –
The Best Of All Possible Worlds**
Contemplative And Introspective –
The first layer of details: The bird-like scenario of the nest being the home and the act of perching. Of all the places to be, it is the best. “The Best Of All Possible Worlds” is italicized. “Nest” and “Best” rhyme. It’s in first person/bird. That person/bird is engaged in deep thinking and soul searching.
Now investigate a little further. Take a look at the second line. **German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz coined the phrase, “The best of all possible worlds.” It summarizes the idea that of all the possible worlds God could have made, this one is the best. Thus, even as glorious and good as it is, our world is predetermined – no free will. Voltaire – a French philosopher during the Age of Enlightenment – wrote a novella satirizing Leibniz and his “best of all possible worlds” philosophy; the novella is entitled Candide.
This is important because “The Nest” is a symbol of our pre-determined lives – the lives we were born into – where our choices have been made for us. Just as Leibniz thought the world was predetermined by his almighty maker, so is the world you were born into by your maker – “The Best Of All Possible Worlds.” This is what the protagonist of the poem is being “Contemplative And Introspective” about as it perches – the time of it’s “Great Departure” (which is also italicized) draws near.
In order to truly convince the reader of this purposeful detail, I orchestrated the beginning of Departures to sound similar to Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide – a musical quote to reference a written philosophy. Celebratory in sound, the introduction fades away to reveal the true feelings of the protagonist of the poem. The written poem and composed music are now merged in meaning – the symphonic poem. The rest I leave to the reader/listener to see and to hear.
Monday, March 28, 2011
By Ellen Ritscher Sackett
This is a Jaap van Zweden week at the Dallas Symphony, and the orchestra has been in heavy-duty rehearsal mode, preparing Mahler’s Sixth Symphony since Monday afternoon. The piece is of epic proportions, 71 minutes in four movements. It is the one-and-only piece on this week’s program. The first of three concerts is tonight.
I am the second harpist. I’m what’s called an “extra” – not a contract player who is on salary, but a freelancer who is hired to play with the symphony as needed. I’ve been playing harp with the orchestra since 1988. My name has never been on the program, but when you look up at the harps from the audience, I’m the one sitting on the outside.
There are quite a few extras for this Mahler Symphony. While it’s visually impressive from the audience’s perspective, it’s pretty crowded from ours. Imagine well over 100 people sitting side by side for several hours a day, six days a week. We try to be considerate of each other. No heavy perfumes, hairsprays or colognes. No garlic at lunch. A pack of gum or breath mints handy.
The primary order of business for the musicians just before our first rehearsal is to jockey for space. We each need just enough to do our jobs well. String players, for example, have to have room to move their bows, and obviously, the larger instruments, like the harp and percussion, take up a fair amount of space. Once we’ve staked out our territory, then the next order of business is to make sure we each have an unobstructed view of the conductor.
Rehearsals always start on time. I have to be there plenty early to tune my harp. The other musicians also roll in ahead of time to warm up and practice the tricky spots. We have to be prepared because once Jaap takes the podium, our attention is on him and his every demand.
And demanding he is. If I had one and only one word to describe a rehearsal with Jaap, it would be “intense.” He immediately gets down to business, and every eyeball is focused upon him for the duration. Jaap’s goal is to push us into achieving his musical goals, beyond our comfort zones at times while stretching our technical abilities to the max.
We are, after all, the conductor’s instrument. The conductor is boss, and it’s our job to follow his instructions. We do our best to serve him and his intentions. This is true for all orchestras, not just the DSO. It helps when the orchestra respects its conductor, and certainly the DSO thinks highly of Maestro van Zweden.
As the second harpist, I don’t play as much as, say, the violinists who are busy almost all of the time, but that doesn’t mean I can relax. In between my “licks” I have many empty measures to count. I keep a watchful eye for changes in tempo. Sometimes the maestro conducts in two; sometimes, he switches to four, and sometimes there are meter changes.
Since there are a lot of stops and starts in a rehearsal, I listen to the conductor’s comments, even if it’s directed to the violas or the flutes or the French horns. That way, I can anticipate where he will begin next. He doesn’t give us a lot of extra time to find that next starting spot. Sure enough, the other day I leaned over to say something to my colleague, and that slight distraction caused us both to miss an entrance. My bad.
We got the glare. That’s the maestro’s very effective way of letting us know that HE knew we’d dropped the ball. The longer his stare, the worse the sin. Avoiding the glare is a high priority. Jaap doesn’t have to yell or jump up and down on the podium to get his point across.
Most of the time, however, Jaap is very polite. He shakes his head and says, “This isn’t working,” or “I’m sorry to have to tell you. You are rushing. Just a bit.”
“Do it this way,” he says. “It’s so very important.” And my favorite: “That was close to pretty good.” He explains what he wants through a combination of words and by singing how he wants the music to sound. Then he asks, “Can we do it once more?”
We do it once more. At least. He has us repeat the section until we get it right, however long that takes. He talks a lot about the dynamics – the louds and softs and everything in between. He fixes intonation. He works on articulation. He listens carefully and doesn’t miss a thing. Every correction is made with the music’s intent in mind. The orchestra rarely rides the wave of emotion for long before Jaap interrupts us to make a correction. That’s what rehearsing is all about. Making good music is all in the details.
By the time we get to the performance, the finer points will have all been addressed. It’ll be time to play. When the Maestro gives the downbeat tonight, we’ll be ready.
In addition to playing the harp, Ellen Ritscher Sackett is a features writer at the Denton Record-Chronicle. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
It is once again time for auditions at GDYO. And we are in need of percussionists! 14 spots will need to be filled for the 2011-2012 season and if you are going to be a high school senior or younger and play percussion – than you need to audition.
We recently interviewed three current members who are percussionists. Here is what they had to say about performing with GDYO:
Austin Allen – Senior – Member of GDYO for the past five seasons
“GDYO is a high quality orchestra which many of us do not get to experience in our schools. It is an orchestra that is constantly pushing its limits and Mr. G always tries to find a piece that is both challenging and enjoyable for the percussion. We have awesome instruments we get to play. I auditioned because I want to be an orchestral percussionist. I realized this in 7th grade which is the year I auditioned and entered into the Philharmonic. At the time, it was a great inspiration because the other percussionists were all in high school so i guess I looked up to them a little.”
“Its great experience and I am really glad I got to do it for as long as i did. I really got to experience a wide selection of rep before even entering college. If you are truly serious about this, then it’s a good way to make connections cause there are a few other musicians as well that you will meet later on down the road.”
Adam Holmes – Junior – Member of the GDYO for one season
“ I like being in GDYO because it gives me a year-round opportunity to play with a full orchestra. In school, full orchestra is only done towards the end of the school year, while the rest of the year is only marching band and wind symphony. People who play in any of GDYO's ensembles are there because they want to be, not because they need to get credits. It's relieving being able to play with people who are musicians for the sake of making music.”
“At GDYO, Percussionists get to have sectionals with extremely respected professors and performers, such as Mr. Doug Howard from the Dallas Symphony. Oh, and we get to leave early/come late every now and then, which comes in handy whenever the schoolwork piles up. One of my private teachers first informed me about the GDYO at the beginning of my sophomore year, so it was too late to audition. I kept it in mind, and grew to love orchestral music more and more throughout that year, leading to my decision that I wanted to play in an orchestra as much as possible. Not to mention it's brilliant to have on a college resume.”
“I'm always excited to go to rehearsal, and playing at the Meyerson makes every second of rehearsal worth the time. I've become acquainted with people who have a scary amount of potential. Austin getting accepted into NEC, Brett being the first chair trombonist in the state (I don't think that was the first time), Cesar trying for the Columbia-Juilliard and NEC-Harvard exchanges, and the cellist, Amy Chayo developing a treatment for cancer at the age of 16. I feel confident that GDYO will let me look at somebody's name on the front page or on TV and say ‘Hey, we were in orchestra together!’”
Andrew Morreira – Senior – has been a member of GDYO for two seasons
“I like working with percussionists from other schools, and the level of musicians in the Wind Symphony. Playing with the Dallas Wind symphony was great and learning from the different directors is a good opportunity. Having a solo on the gembe was cool. I wanted to experience the music environment outside of high school, which is pretty intense. I am able to play timpani, mallets and snare in GDYO; at the school I go to we usually have to play the same instrument.”
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”
Born on September 8th, 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia
Died on May 1st, 1904 in Prague
One of Dvořák’s most beloved works, the “New World” Symphony captures the essence of the composer’s travels to America. He set sail for America on September 10th, 1892, with his wife and two children, Antonín and Otilie, leaving the remaining four children behind with their grandmother. Dvořák had been invited by Jeanette Thurber, the President of New York’s National Conservatory, to write a choral work for the ‘Fourth Centennial Celebration of the discovery of America by Columbus.’ Dvořák wrote his cantata, Te Deum, for this occasion. On October 9th of that same year, the New York Czech Circle held a banquet in the composer’s honor. A concert of Dvořák’s music took place on October 21st featuring the new Te Deum. The following month, he conducted his Requiem in Boston. All of these events preceded the “New World” Symphony.
Dvořák composed the symphony between December 1892 and May 1893. He added the famous subtitle, ‘From the New World,’ just before he sent the score to the conductor, Anton Seidl. The composer used the words ‘Impressions and Greetings from the New World’ to explain the subtitle. The premiere took place at Carnegie Hall on December 16th, 1893, with the composer in attendance. Within a year, additional performances took place in Boston, Brooklyn, London, and Czechoslovakia.
Dvořák’s exposure to America left a stamp on his works that can be heard, especially in this symphony, in his melodic lines and themes, although his rhythms remained Czech. The piece contains allusions to famous American tunes woven throughout, including ‘Three Blind Mice,’ ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,’ and ‘The Little Alabama Coon,’ as well as hints of ‘Yankee Doodle.’ Even more influential is the character of the African-American spirituals and Native American tunes throughout his work. The composer wrote:
It is this spirit which I have tried to reproduce in my new symphony. I have not actually used any of the melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, harmony, counterpoint and orchestral color.
In order to become more familiar with the spirituals, Dvořák invited Harry T. Burleigh, an African-American student at Mrs. Thurber’s National Conservatory in New York, to sing to him. The famous English horn solo in the second movement (familiar as “Going Home”) is heavily influenced by the spirituals. Dvořák was originally going to give that melody to the flutes or clarinets, but felt that the English horn shared the greatest resemblance to Burleigh’s voice.
The cello section begins the first movement with a solemn melody. An adventurous theme then takes over and recurs throughout the rest of the movement. This could represent Dvořák’s departure from his home land and the start of his travels in the New World.
The celebrated second movement opens with sonorous chords played by the French horns, leading up to the poignant English horn solo. The middle section of the piece contains a meandering melody that continues into a lighter, more playful tune. As the movement comes to a close, a string quartet plays the “Going Home” theme, creating an intimate atmosphere. Dvořák was homesick while in America and the second movement truly exemplifies his nostalgia.
Dvořák’s third movement, the scherzo, is a prime example of his use of Czech rhythms. The opening starts abruptly with percussion playing a strong role. The movement then transitions into the middle trio section. Dvořák then returns to the urgent and chaotic theme that was played in the beginning of the movement. A brusque ending creates a dramatic effect to a frantic movement.
Intensity opens the fourth movement as the strings play in unison, leading up to the trumpet’s grand entrance as they play a majestic and victorious melody. The following theme is adventurous and triumphant. Echoes of previous themes can be heard throughout the movement, along with suggestions of well-known American tunes. This movement ends Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony leaving the audience with an invigorating experience and a love for music. His masterpiece remains close to the hearts of people everywhere.
Dvořák scored the symphony for 2 flutes, one doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, and strings.
Marlea Simpson (viola)
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra No. 1 in F minor. Op. 73; Mvt. I
Carl Maria von Weber
Born 18 November 1786 in Eutin, Germany
Died in 5 June 1826 in London, England
Throughout history, many composers have written pieces for specific players whose music making amazed and inspired them. As a result, we have wonderful music. Carl Maria von Weber as an excellent example of this practice. In addition, he has written what is considered today as fundamental clarinet repertoire.
Weber is famous for his chamber music pieces which were composed to accommodate several kinds of ensembles: Clarinet Quintet Op. 34, Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano op. 63, and the Piano Quartet op. 18. However, Weber has a larger reputation as a prominent opera composer. Some of his more famous works include Der Freischütz, Oberon, and Euryanthe. Less well known, but just as important to clarinettists, were his contributions to clarinet literature (being of comparable importance to Mozart and Brahms). Weber dedicated his Clarinet Concertino for Orchestra Op. 26 and both his Clarinet Concertos for his respected peer and clarinetist, Heinrich Baermann.
Weber first met Baermann in 1811 in Darmstadt. At the time, Baermann was a renowned clarinetist who had acquired fame after touring throughout Europe, including performances at England, France, Italy, and Russia. In Baermann's playing, Weber found a mixture of the French vivacity and German fullness with darker tone. Baermann's personal charisma, as well as his mature virtuosity on the clarinet, led to a close friendship between the men. For an upcoming concert in Munich, patronized by the Royal Minister Maximilian Josef von Montgelasm, at Baermann's request, Weber composed the Concertino in E-flat Op. 26. The concert sold out the entire hall , and was a big success with the audience. The Concertino in E-flat initiated a trio of solo pieces for clarinet and orchestra.
Weber composed the piece on this evening's program after the development of the ten-key clarinet, which allowed for more flexibility and smoothness of playing. He composed his two solo pieces with a Classical format, but incorporated a hint of Romantic drama. Weber's fine balance between the dramatic high points and subtle, technical passages makes his concerto an excellent example of his dual-musical personality. His reputation for the use of earlier Romantic style sets him apart from his more Classical contemporaries, and for this reason, Weber can be seen as a transitional composer who undergoes a change in style over the course of his lifetime.
Weber wrote the first movement of the concerto, including the entire orchestral part, in one day. Because he often wrote pieces rapidly and furiously, sometimes they lacked complexity and places where the soloist could truly exhibit technical skills or emotion. Carl Baermann, Heinrich Baermann's son and successor to the position of principal clarinettist at the Munich Orchestra, felt that the first movement of the concerto needed something more exciting to move from a playful, nimble section to the solemn, grave one. To accommodate this problem, Carl inserted a cadenza, or brilliant flourish for the soloist. The cadenza represents the younger Baermann's musical ideas. His incorporation of the candenza reflects the mixture of various influences in this concerto.
Instrumentation:two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, solo clarinet, and strings.
Andrew Lee, clarinet
Monday, February 28, 2011
Old American Songs
Born November 14th, 1900 in Brooklyn, New York
Died December 2nd, 1990 in Tarrytown, New York
Aaron Copland is a favorite among 20th century American composers. His best known works include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, and Rodeo, and his Fanfare for the Common Man. Copland’s pieces often contain melodies of a simple, charming nature that characterizes the American style of composition in the mid-twentieth century. His style represents the core of American values, and could be described as celebratory of America’s past, present, and future.
Copland celebrates America’s diversity through his two sets of Old American Songs, and goes where few composers ventured before by tapping into the American heartland. By the time Copland wrote Old American Songs, he had already achieved great fame as a composer. He originally wrote them in 1950 and 1952 for voice and piano, and then arranged them for baritone and orchestra. Peter Pears (tenor) and Benjamin Britten (piano) played the premiere performance of Old American Songs on June 17th, 1950 at the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, United Kingdom. The first set of Old American Songs was very well received after it was premiered, and was soon performed by many famous tenors and baritones of the time. It was so greatly enjoyed by audiences and performers all around that Copland decided to write another set in 1952. Tonight, the Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas will be singing the baritone solo in unison.
Copland arranged these 10 songs, drawing from completely different sources. In the first set of Old American Songs, “The Boatman’s Dance” is a minstrel show tune written by Daniel Decatur Emmett. The orchestral accompaniment -- particularly the violins -- mimics a minstrel banjo. “The Dodger” is a satirical political song from the 1884 presidential election, in which Grover Cleveland won over James G. Blaine. “Long Time Ago” is a sentimental ballad and an anonymous blackface tune. George Pope adapted the lyrics in 1837 and Charles Edward Horn set the words to music. “Simple Gifts” is the Shaker melody that Copland also used in his best-known ballet, Appalachian Spring. He arranged the Old American Songs version of the tune in a style closer to the original from the ballet. This enchantingly beautiful song has a straightforward melodic line that is passed from chorus to woodwinds and is accompanied by simple, hymn-like harmonies. The last song of the first set, “I Bought Me a Cat”, is a playful children’s nonsense song, and requires the singers to venture outside traditional vowels. Both the chorus and orchestra imitate the sounds of barnyard animals, resembling the well-known children’s song, “Old MacDonald”.
The second set of Old American Songs, like the first set, came from completely diverse sources. “Little Horses”, a children’s lullaby originating in the South, is based on a version of Lomax’s Folk Song U.S.A. “Zion’s Walls” is a revivalist song which Copland later used in his opera, The Tender Land, with lyrics credited to John G. McCurry. “The Golden Willow Tree” is a version of the familiar Anglo-American ballad called “The Golden Vanity” which Copland first heard on a recording for banjo and voice. “At the River” is a tender and beautiful 1865 hymn tune written by Reverend Robert Lowry. “Ching-a-Ring Chaw” is a minstrel song from the Harris Collection at Brown University. It finishes the Old American Songs with a catchy melody that repeats in an optimistic, jig-like fashion.
Copland’s Old American Songs is scored for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, trombone, harp, and strings.
Written by Jonathan Gentry, oboe
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)
Born February 15, 1947 in Worcester, Massachusetts
Currently residing in California
Of the many art forms that have formed over history, opera remains a timeless display of international culture, as well as a flexible vessel for musical expression. As part of his first opera, Nixon in China (1987), John Adams graced the culture of American classical music with his enduring foxtrot, The Chairman Dances. One of Nixon in China’s most frequently performed excerpts, The Chairman Dances catapulted Adams’s career and placed him on the map as one of America’s most prominent modernist composers. Interestingly, this twelve-minute foxtrot was premiered one year before the opera. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Lukas Foss, first performed The Chairman Dances on January 31, 1986.
As a child, Adams was influenced greatly by orchestras that visited his town in New Hampshire. He marveled intensely at the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Robert Shaw Chorale, and any other music group that performed near him. Through this early exposure to music, Adams was deeply inspired. Now, as a famous composer, Adams reflects that “orchestra players probably groaned at the thought of playing at Concord, New Hampshire, but who would have known that in the audience was a ten year old boy ready to have a life-changing experience?” Adams holds this notion dear to him whenever he conducts his works in front of audiences. His concerts are therefore personal and sentimental to his own early inspiration.
Education and Rock’n’Roll
Adams attended Harvard University, where he became exposed to the new wave of rock’n’roll. At Harvard, Adams became a Beatles fan and branched out to jazz, particularly enjoying the tunes of Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. Coming of age during the Golden Age of Rock, Adams immersed himself in the new bands of the 1960s; however, he still kept the works of Beethoven and Sibelius close to him, developing his distinctive minimalist fusion style that has become such an American staple today.
About the piece
The Chairman Dances is a foxtrot for orchestra - a musical composition cast in the form of a swift ballroom dance in 4/4 time. Here, Adams’s modernist style rears its head - the foxtrot was originally danced to ragtime music and later to rock and roll works. Even today, big bands perform lively music to accompany this dance. Adams certainly kept these roots in mind with this piece.
Nixon in China dramatized President Richard Nixon’s February 1972 trip to Beijing, China. Each of the opera’s three acts represents one day of the visit. Act III takes place in the Great Hall of the People, in which a lavish banquet is held. During this banquet, however, interesting events take place. A woman known as The White-Boned Demon crashes the party and starts adorning the hall with paper lanterns. She then changes costumes and dons a cheongsam, a skin-tight traditional Chinese dress for women, and motions for the orchestra in the Hall to start playing a foxtrot as she extemporaneously dances to its rhythm. Inspired by the White-Boned Demon, Chairman Mao quickly joins her in the revel and dances, hence the name The Chairman Dances. The tune and rhythm of the minimalist foxtrot clearly portrays the youthful gaiety and optimism the couple merrily displays. Instrumentation for this piece comprises 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bass clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 B♭ trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, crotales, sandpaper blocks, high and medium wood blocks, crash cymbal, high-hat, suspended cymbal, suspended sizzle cymbal, claves, bell tree, triangle, tambourine, castanets, snare drum, pedal bass drum, timpani, piano, harp, and strings.
Brendan Kim, Violin I
Saturday, February 19, 2011
This is an interview with Andrew Lee, winner of the 2011 GDYO concerto competition. Andrew will be performing with the GDYO on March 6 at the Meyerson. For more information on the concert go to www.gdyo.org
How long have you played clarinet? I have played for exactly 5 years now (as of March 6, 2011)
How long have you been in GDYO? This year would be my fourth year in the program and second in the GDYO.
What other instruments do you play? I used to play some piano.
What is your favorite piece? I don't really have a favorite piece, but I'd have to say that Festive Overture would be one of the top ones.
What made you pick the Weber to play for the concerto competition? I felt like the Weber Concerto let me show both the dramatic and subtle capabilities of the clarinet, with dynamics ranging from the softest fading sections to climax points. Plus, I thought that the recurring melody sounded great.
Can you tell me anything interesting about your school? Jasper High School. Well, I guess there's nothing really too abnormal about it. Different people with different goals, so basically it's just a diverse center of learning.
Can you tell me anything interesting about your band? My band has had some of the more “legendary” players from the PISD area. For instance, Derek Hawkes went through Jasper, James Kendricks, Andres Olivero, etc. Also, one of our band directors composes our marching show each year, Mr. David Herring (A.K.A “The Famous Composer”)
What is like to study with your current clarinet teacher? I feel relaxed and active when I take lessons from Mr. Yi. His attitude about teaching always seems to be positive and overall, its enjoyable and enriching.
Do you have a favorite composer? Not any in particular. I think I just like any great work of music :)
What would you like to do for a profession? Do you plan to pursue a career in music? This question comes up from my friends as well. To be honest, I think it's too early for me to say, but as of now, I'm thinking either minoring in music or possibly double majoring with an undecided other profession.
Anyone you wish to thank? Yes. My father and mother for supporting me with a very nice instrument. I feel very grateful for the opportunity of playing on such a wonderful horn as well as my parents' support and encouragement when I have to compete. Also, thank you Mr. Yi for also being supportive as well as nice, understanding, and eager to help me improve. Thank you to Mrs. Iwasaki for being such a wonderful accompanist this year, and making playing with piano such an easier job. And finally, thank you to the GDYO itself for letting me have such an opportunity to be able to play in the Meyerson as a soloist as well as promoting the concert with tickets for my friends. This will be an unforgettable experience for me.
Do you have any funny Mr. G stories? Unfortunately, because I sit so far back, I can rarely ever hear his stories, but whenever he has one of those “Mr. G moments”, it always adds on to the experience of being in the GDYO.
What is your favorite thing about being in GDYO? My favorite thing(s) about GDYO would have to be the chance to play virtuoso pieces as well as pieces from different eras and composers. To be able to perform new music with a group as mature in music playing as the GDYO is quite a great opportunity. Also, I get to see some of my friends who go to other schools.
Can you tell me what it's like to win the GDYO concerto competition? Are you excited to be performing in the Meyerson as a soloist? I feel very lucky and honored to win the GDYO Competition. I have the mixed feelings including obvious joy, but a bit of surprise because the finalists this year all sounded amazing. As for the performance, I am very excited, but at the same time, very nervous. However, the experience would be more valuable than a perfect performance, so either way I'm looking forward to this.
Monday, January 17, 2011
By David Lesser, principal horn Dallas Wind Symphony
A key element to being a good musician is knowing how to play in a section. This article will focus on a horn section but is applicable to non-hornists as well.
Section playing skills are often lacking in the young musician. In my experience as a professional horn player and teacher, these skills are generally not taught in high school and only to a minimal degree in college. The vast majority of players hone these skills through experience and “on-the-job” training. I do believe, however, that it is not only possible but imperative that this topic be addressed with young players. Below you will find some insights I have acquired over the years.
Playing principal horn is very different than playing in the section. (“in the section” refers to any non-principal position.) As a principal player, you ARE the leader of the section. In the professional world, this includes not only artistic leadership but some managerial responsibilities as well (i.e. rostering, approving time off requests for section members, constructing audition lists, etc). As an artistic leader, you are responsible for musical leadership that entail: Exaggerating the dynamics so as to inspire your section to do the same, captivating everyone around you with exquisitely played solos, and most importantly, providing an atmosphere of confidence and calm-assertive leadership. Many players find principal horn to be the most stressful horn position but also the most gratifying. This is a very exposed job often open to harsh criticism either by oneself or by the conductor. Some conductors who expect perfection 100% of the time can have a significant ill affect on a principal player’s mental state, often undermining one’s confidence. If you are playing principal horn, it is important to always believe in yourself and to have a healthy amount of narcissism necessary to get you through the job.
As a second horn player, you are the “chameleon” of the section. This is not a fitting role for a player with even the slightest ego. A second hornist’s number one job is to complement the principal player. How do you do this? The answer is twofold: matching articulation, pitch, dynamics, and tone quality are a few concrete ways to be a good second horn player. The less tangible part of this answer is that a talented second horn player has a sort of E.S.P. for the principal player. This second player can predict what the principal player is going to do dynamically, rhythmically, articulation-wise, musically, etc. This comes with years of experience and dedication to the job. A good principal/second horn duo is analogous to that of a mutualistic symbiotic relationship in which both parties benefit from each other.
Second hornists need to have 100% command of the entire register of the horn. While it is more common for a second horn part to be a “low horn part” (by that I mean either low or mid range) it is not uncommon to be confronted by works that encompass the entire range of the horn. Mahler and R. Strauss immediately come to mind as composers whose second horn parts cover three or more octaves. Additionally, second horn players are often the workhorses of the section. They usually play the most pieces per concert season so it is imperative they play efficiently and smartly so as to avoid injury.
Colloquially speaking, a third horn player needs to have a bit of an ego and an affinity for being in the “hot seat” but not to the same degree as the principal player. Third horn parts are typically high horn parts, often doubling the principal player on melodic phrases. These parts are the second most soloistic (next to principal horn). In fact, composers such as Brahms, Berlioz, Saint-Saens, and Dvorak, tend to write more conspicuously for third horn than for principal horn. Third hornists need to have an impeccable high register and be able to match the principal horn even in the extreme high register. In an orchestra or band where this is no associate principal player, the third horn will often be next in line to cover principal horn when the principal player is absent.
Finally we make our way down to the end of the section. In a nutshell, the job of the fourth horn is to serve as the bass voice of the section. In divisi section playing, fourth horns often play the root of the chord. Therefore, they must have exceptional intonation. Playing the root pitch in tune and in tone allows the second, third, and principal players to play their pitches with correct just intonation. Furthermore, fourth players must have a broad dynamic range in the extreme low register. They need to be able to play with the same bravura as a bass trombone in its meat-and-potatoes register and with the finesse and sophistication of a woodwind player in the mid/upper register (see Beethoven Symphony No. 9, 3rd mvmt, 4th horn).
Like second horn players, fourth hornists need to have full command of the horn’s range. Although it is slightly less often that a fourth player’s part extends into the extreme high register, composers such as Mahler, R. Strauss, and John Williams (to name just few) write for soaring horn lines in which all four horns play in unison.
Playing in a section and doing it well can be a very rewarding experience, both musically and interpersonally. If we learn to play with intuitive passion and reverence for our respective roles, we will be noticed; not just for our playing abilities but for the soul we breathe into the music and into our section.