Masterworks 4 Program Notes
by Dr. Mark Eliot Jacobs
Leonard Bernstein: Fancy Free: Three Dance Variations. Approximate performance time seven minutes. Scored for two flutes (one piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, suspended cymbal, triangle, wood block, piano, and strings.
From the publisher’s notes for the ballet Fancy Free:
This vibrant, jazz-tinged score was Bernstein’s first collaboration with choreographer Jerome Robbins. Its patriotic high spirits affirm the energy and vitality of a great city – Bernstein’s beloved New York – during the anxious years of World War II. Bernstein describes the scenario: “Three sailors explode on the stage. They are on a 24-hour shore leave in the city and on the prowl for girls. The tale of how they first meet one, then a second girl, and how they fight over them, lose them, and in the end, take off after a third, is the story of the ballet.” Robbins sought to create a quintessentially American ballet; Bernstein obliged him with a score that was kinetic and tuneful, refracting popular dance music styles through a prism of angular melodies and syncopated rhythms. The resulting ballet was a huge success, drawing sold-out crowds to the Metropolitan Opera House.
Fancy Free was first performed on April 18, 1944, only five months after Bernstein’s brilliant conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic. The ballet served as the basis for the Bernstein/Robbins hit Broadway musical On the Town from the same year. Part of the score to Fancy Free was featured in the opening of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. The 1949 film of On the Town only retained three of the original Broadway On the Town songs, most notably New York, New York.
Movement 6 of the Suite from Fancy Free is the Three Dance Variations: Galop, Waltz, and Danzón. Each dance is performed by one of the three sailors to impress their dates. The first sailor dances the Galop, an energetic tour-de-force. The second sailor goes for the smoother sound of the waltz to which the ladies sigh and the other sailors hold their noses. The third sailor dances the Cuban Danzón which puts one in mind of what is to come in West Side Story (1957.)
Tracy Silverman: Love Song to the Sun. Approximate performance time thirty minutes. Scored for two flutes (one piccolo), two oboes, three clarinets (one bass clarinet), two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
West Coast Premiere. Tracy Silverman, electric violin soloist. Love Song to the Sun is a visual electric violin concerto by Tracy Silverman with video by Todd Winkler. It was commissioned by a consortium of symphony orchestras consisting of the Rogue Valley Symphony, the Anchorage Symphony, the Vanderbilt University Orchestra, and the Brown University Orchestra. The World premier was on Feb 25, 2017 at Atwood Concert Hall, Anchorage, AK with the Anchorage Symphony, Randall Fleischer conducting.
Love Song to the Sun tells the engaging story of a day in the life of a tiny bug. In the words of Albert Schweitzer, “When man learns to respect even the smallest being of creation, nobody has to teach him to love his fellow man.”
From Tracy Silverman’s biography at http://tracysilverman.com/:
Redefining the role of the violin in contemporary music, Tracy Silverman has contributed significantly to the development and repertoire for the electric 6-string violin and what he calls “21st century violin playing”. “String playing must reflect our popular musical culture or risk becoming old-fashioned and irrelevant,” says Silverman. The foremost concert electric violinist and the subject of new electric violin concertos commissioned specifically for him by John Adams, Terry Riley, Nico Muhly, Kenji Bunch, himself and upcoming by Daniel Bernard Roumain, Silverman was formerly first violinist with the groundbreaking Turtle Island String Quartet. Currently touring internationally as a soloist with orchestras, (LA Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Adelaide Festival Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival; conductors Esa-Pekka Salonen, Marin Alsop, Neeme Jarvi, Giancarlo Guerrero, Leon Botstein among many others,) with his solo performances and as a collaborator with other artists and ensembles. A busy composer, ‘15-16 includes performances of Silverman’s 2nd electric violin concerto, a return to Carnegie Hall to premier Nico Muhly’s “Seeing Is Believing” with the American Symphony, as well as the publication of his instructional method “Strum Bowing”. A long-standing advocate for music education, Silverman is an in-demand clinician and on faculty at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
Todd Winkler, the creator of the video for the concerto, is a composer and multimedia artist on the faculty at Brown University. His work explores ways in which human actions can affect sound and images produced by computers in multimedia dance/theatre productions, interactive video installations, and concert pieces for computers and instruments. He is the author of Composing Interactive Music (MIT Press, 1998).
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5. Approximate performance time forty-five minutes. Scored for three flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) composed his Fifth Symphony in May through August 1888, and conducted the premiere performance in Saint Petersburg on November 17 of that year.
The decade that transpired between the completions of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies saw a remarkable growth in the composer’s powers and renown with the completion of the opera Eugene Onegin, his violin concerto, the Serenade for Strings, the second piano concerto, the Manfred Symphony, and the Capriccio italien, to name only a few.
Like the Fourth Symphony that preceded it, the Fifth Symphony is a meditation on the nature of fate. While the Fourth Symphony was an essay on triumph over fate (in the manner of Beethoven’s Fifth), the Fifth was concerned with acquiescence to it. To represent fate, Tchaikovsky derived a motto theme from a phrase in Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar (1836) which originally carried the lyrics “turn not into sorrow.” The motto theme is heard throughout the symphony, most notably at the beginnings of the first and fourth movements. Before work began on the composition of the symphony, Tchaikovsky sketched a program of a kind in his notebook. In the sketch he characterized the fate motto as “complete resignation before Fate.” He described the first movement as “doubts … reproaches against xxx.” It is almost certain that the subject that he could not name even in his own personal notebook was his own homosexuality. Throughout the symphony one is aware of a protagonist experiencing a series of emotional states from joy to utter depression.
The symphony begins Andante in E minor with the fate motto played in unison by the two clarinets in their rich low chalumeau register, simply accompanied by the strings. The bassoon joins the clarinet in the ensuing main theme, Allegro. Soon the flutes and oboes join in, followed by the brass and timpani with much excitement. A contrasting theme comes next in D major in the strings. The development section travels through much harmonic territory, but without the classical motivic development associated with Beethoven. The themes are such sweeping melodies that we would hate to hear them being dissected.
The second movement begins with one of Tchaikovsky’s most recognizable melodies in the solo horn accompanied by clarinet, oboe, and the strings. The movement starts in an ambiguous D major/B minor tonality, characteristic of the Romantic era. The roiling and poignant textures of the movement are interrupted twice by the fate motto in the brass and timpani, like an unwelcome reminder intruding into a pleasant reverie. The movement concludes in D major.
The third movement begins as a lovely waltz in A major. A fast running contrasting theme in the relative F-sharp minor is the trio to the A major theme’s minuet. The A major theme reasserts itself with the fast running theme as accompaniment. Near the end the fate motto makes a brief appearance.
The finale begins with the fate motto in E major, wearing its bravest and most assuring face yet. The movement soon turns its attention to conquest. The music goes to war with the fears of the protagonist. The fate motto weaves its way through the movement, ending the symphony in a stirring march. Our protagonist has embraced fate and has accepted it, wherever it may lead.