CANDIDE OVERTURE BERNSTEIN
In his brilliant music for the 1956 show Candide, Bernstein managed to capture perfectly the lightness of tone that is an essential element of successful satire. In this way he was somehow able to make an enduring popular classic from a work whose subject matter was, as he put it in a contemporaneous article in The New York Times, “Puritanical snobbery, phony moralism, inquisitorial attacks on the individual, brave-new-world optimism, essential superiority….the charges made by Voltaire against his own society.” Unfortunately, the libretto by Lillian Hellman was more heavy-handed, and the show has undergone an endless stream of revisions ever since.
The overture is an up-tempo romp through some of the show’s greatest tunes, including two great spoofs: a love-duet Oh Happy We between principal characters Candide and Cunegonde, and the latter’s hilarious coloratura aria Glitter and be Gay.
SYMPHONY NO. 2 HANSON
Howard Hanson was a figure of the utmost significance in the course of American music in the twentieth century. He led the Eastman School of Music for over forty years, over the course of which he conducted innumerable performances of works by an astonishing range of fellow composers. He also recorded a wide swath of contemporary music commercially for the iconic Mercury label. He was a prolific composer, producing seven symphonies, the opera Merry Mount, and many works for band, chamber ensemble and piano.
The Second Symphony is now probably the best loved and most frequently performed of his oeuvre. The work unfolds over three movements (Adagio – Allegro moderato, Andante con tenerezza, Allegro con brio), with much thematic material being shared between them. Particularly notable is the first movement’s second theme, which has become known as the “Interlochen Theme” - a romantic, evocative melody that is still used today to close all concerts at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. The music shares an obvious kinship with that of Sibelius, both in mood and in the freely evolving nature of its compositional procedures. Whether this is due to shared Scandinavian heritage is obviously a matter of conjecture, but in any case it seems likely that Sibelius would have approved of Hanson’s credo that “…..music is not primarily a matter of the intellect, but rather a manifestation of the emotions.”
APPALACHIAN SPRING COPLAND
Following the success of his cowboy themed ballets Billy the Kid and Rodeo, Copland found inspiration in a quite different facet of American life for his collaboration with the great choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. A poignant depiction of a young couple starting their new lives in Pennsylvania pioneer country, the work seems imbued with the quiet optimism, neighborliness and religious searching of its scenario.
The composer’s own description of the ballet’s eight sections is as follows:
1. VERY SLOWLY. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
2. FAST. Sudden burst of unison strings in A major arpeggios stars the action.
A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
3. MODERATE. Duo for the Bride and her Intended--scene of tenderness and passion.
4. QUITE FAST. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feelings--suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
5. STILL FASTER. Solo dance of the Bride--presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
6. VERY SLOWLY (as at first). Transition scenes reminiscent of the introduction.
7. CALM AND FLOWING. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her farmer-husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme . . . sung by a solo clarinet . . .
8. MODERATE. CODA. The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. At the end the
couple are left “quiet and strong in their new house.” Muted strings intone a
hushed, prayerlike passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music.
The music’s disparate sections are linked together musically through a common thematic idea – an ascending second inversion triad – the shape of which is outlined at the start of the quoted Elder Brackett song Simple Gifts.
~Notes by Robin Fountain
Fantasia for Drumline and Orchestra SCHANKER
Fantasia for Drumline and Orchestra is a five-movement work, incorporating various vernacular styles into a traditional framework. The piece ties into the theme of this concert, Young by Design, in that it depicts the emotional cacophony of youth.
The first movement begins with a spiccato string intro, which dialogs with the orchestral percussion to foreshadow the sound of the drumline. The brass has a second triplet-laden theme, which is followed by the strings returning, punctuated by bouncy winds. Eventually, there is a Disney-like shimmer that introduces what is truly the main theme. The drumline enters thunderously, and a subsequent statement of the main thematic material follows. The atmosphere then becomes mysterious, then mischievous, then funky, eventually leading back to a recapitulation of the main theme, ending with an exuberant finish.
The second movement begins very innocently, with the main thematic material introduced by a solo flute and oboe, resting on an ostinato in the bassoons. It’s followed by a sweet second theme accompanied by the piano and harp. After a lush, dream-like section featuring the strings, the main theme returns, larger and more deliberate. This progression of themes repeats itself, with expanded orchestration, culminating in a majestic statement of the original theme.
Mendelssohn, with a touch of Irish is the description for the musicians at the beginning of the third movement. It is inspired by the clarinet theme in the second movement of his “Scottish” symphony. I have chosen to play up the Celtic quality of the music using an Irish drum called a bodhran. The drumline returns, sometimes in dialog with the bodhran. The movement is quick, brief, and fun, with two contrasting themes that eventually are heard simultaneously.
The fourth movement is a waltz that I originally wrote for solo piano, in memory of my friend and mentor Bernie Sahlins, founder of The Second City, Chicago’s legendary world of laughter. Bernie loved a good waltz, particularly when it had a childlike quality, and this waltz seemed perfect as the basis for the penultimate movement of this piece. The piano and harp play a prominent role, and the miniature waltz theme eventually becomes a grand waltz, and then subsides.
The fifth movement connects to the fourth through a piano glissando, leading first to an introduction that echoes the Celtic quality of the third movement, but quickly morphs into a bluesy theme, accompanied by a Tower of Power horn section. There is an extended section in the middle of the movement that introduces the second drumline, which is followed by an improvisational extravaganza involving all the drummers, including the orchestral percussionists. The whole orchestra returns with a raucous, syncopated theme, which gives way to a brief descending blues riff that floats through many instruments. Finally, the timpani joins in the fun, bringing us back to the first movement theme and into a rousing coda, with orchestra and drumlines playing together in funky mayhem.
I have always enjoyed bringing music out of a symphony orchestra that would not usually be heard from one, and to marry the parade drums with the orchestra has been a wonderful challenge. Fantasia speaks to youthful exuberance, innocence, mischievousness, the theme of blossoming, and ultimately, to the triumph of young people in the world of tomorrow.
~Note by Larry Schanker