The SMSO spreads its wings for this collection of orchestral showstoppers. All of Peter Tchaikovsky's characteristic brilliance is on display in Capriccio Italien, his tribute to his favorite travel destination; and the SMSO's own Kathryne Salo brings Jacques Ibert's effervescent Flute Concerto to life. The second half of the program has a decidedly avian bent: You'll meet the playful Blue and Wild Birds (Oiseaux bleus et sauvages) from Canadian Jocelyn Morlock, and you'll hear why the ballet The Firebird rocketed Igor Stravinsky to international fame.
Peter Tchaikovsky was perhaps the first composer, and certainly the first major Russian composer, to pursue something that resembled a “modern” compositional career, at least initially. Unlike earlier composers such as Mozart or Beethoven, who received an apprentice-style education preparing them for the family business, Tchaikovsky studied music on the side, without special grooming for the musical profession. It was not until Tchaikovsky entered the fledgling St. Petersburg Conservatory at age 22 that music became his primary focus. And as with many composers after him, Tchaikovsky’s steadiest source of income post-graduation was as a professor, teaching music theory at the Moscow Conservatory.
It took a rather strange but lucrative and mutually supportive relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, widow of a wealthy railroad magnate, to allow Tchaikovsky to leave teaching and focus full-time on composition and conducting. By mutual agreement, the two never met, but they exchanged intimate, heartfelt letters, and Meck provided Tchaikovsky an allowance that ensured he could live comfortably, and travel. Italy was a favorite destination, and Tchaikovsky visited many times, particularly Florence and Rome. On one of his Roman visits, Tchaikovsky wrote to Meck: “I have already prepared in rough my Italian Fantasia on folk themes, which it seems to me, might be predicted to have a good future. It will be effective, thanks to its delightful tunes, some of which were chosen from collections, and some of which I heard myself on the streets." Opening with a military fanfare, and closing with a boisterous tarantella, Capriccio Italien (as the work is now generally known) has borne out Tchaikovsky’s optimism.
Founded in 1795, the Paris Conservatory has held a uniquely prominent place in the city’s, and indeed country’s, music educational landscape. For more than 200 years, virtually every major French composer has gone through its doors in one capacity or another. Jacques Ibert was no exception, entering in 1910 and returning in 1919 after a stint in the navy during World War I, winning the institution’s coveted Prix de Rome.
While Ibert himself would not have a standing position with the Conservatory as a professional, his Flute Concerto would be deeply connected to the school. It was written for Conservatory flute professor Marcel Moyse and premiered by the Orchestra of the Conservatory’s Concert Society, which included both professors and students, in 1934. The third movement would be used as a test piece for the flute students.
The Flute Concerto is cast in the traditional fast-slow-fast arrangement, with the pensive central movement separating the vivacious outer movements.
Jocelyn Morlock is a composer living in Vancouver, Canada, the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil Waututh First Nations. Her music is inspired by birds, insomnia, nature, fear, other people’s music and art, nocturnal wandering thoughts, lucid dreaming, death, and the liminal times and experiences before and after death. She was the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s first female Composer-in-Residence (2014-2019.) and won a JUNO Award in 2018.
Oiseaux bleus et sauvages (“Birds Blue and Wild”) was commisioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and premiered by the Vancouver Symphony in 2005. Morlock has this to say about the work: “Many composers have been inspired by birdsong - the most celebrated example of this being Olivier Messiaen, whose Oiseaux exotiques include bird-songs from India, China, and other distant locales. Unlike Messiaen, a composer who travelled the world in search of his birds, I did not have to look far for mine; they're in the eaves of our apartment, and may well be the loudest things which occur in nature! These vociferous creatures embody the exuberance and delight of summer, and it is that joyous energy which drives my piece, Oiseaux bleus et sauvages.”
Living in Paris in 1910, Igor Stravinsky entered into a lengthy collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to write the score for a new ballet, The Firebird, based on tropes from Russian folklore. It was an instant success and brought Stravinsky’s name to the attention of the music world. Through his operas, symphonies, ballets, and other works, he would eventually gain worldwide recognition as one of the most significant and innovative composers of the twentieth century.
Stravinsky subjected his ballet to multiple revisions and compilations. The 1919 suite is the most-often performed version, taking the shortest time and requiring a smaller orchestra. The suite is in six main parts: A somber introduction merges into the scintillating “Dance of the Firebird;” the graceful “Dance of the Princesses” is followed by the demonic, wild orgiastic music of the “Infernal Dance of Kastchei;” and a tender berceuse (lullaby) leads without pause to the Finale, which opens with a tender melody for solo horn against tremulous strings before an increasingly ecstatic fanfare brings the suite to a jubilant conclusion.