Concert Notes


Hot Winter CONCERT
January 27, 2008, 3 pm

First Congregational Church in Oakland

OYO Concert Program
Overture to The Magic Flute WA Mozart
Festive and Commemorative Music
Johannes Brahms Fantasia on Theme by Thomas Tallis R Vaughan Williams
Old Wine in New Bottles
Gordon Jacob
Dance of the Tumblers from Snow Maiden
N. Rimsky-Korsakov
Danzón No. 2
Arturo Márquez

Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2008

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture to Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), K.620

Sometime during the spring of 1791, Mozart was commissioned to write a new kind of opera, a “magic opera” titled The Magic Flute. He was dubious about the project, but needed the money too badly to refuse. “If we make a fiasco,” he said, “I cannot help it, for I never wrote a magic opera in my life.”
To facilitate the composition, Mozart was provided a little summer house outside the theater, as well as plenty of oysters and wine. He wrote the Overture on September 28, 1791. Two days later, the entire opera was introduced at a suburban theater near Vienna.
The Magic Flute was not an immediate success, “owing to the inferiority and diction of the piece,” according to one critic. But before long, it was a sensation. Twenty-four performances were given in October. By November of 1792, the 100th performance was announced.
The Overture begins with three solemn chords, an allusion to the initiation ceremony in the order of Freemasons, to which Mozart and the theater impresario belonged. “Into the Overture,” wrote Alfred Einstein, “Mozart compressed the struggle and victory of mankind, using the symbolic means of polyphony: working out, laborious working out in the development section; struggle and triumph.”

Johannes Brahms: Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Opus 109

In May of 1889 Brahms received a telegram from Carl Petersen, the mayor of Hamburg: “I am happy to be able to inform you that the Honorary Freedom of Hamburg has been conferred upon you.” Only twelve others had received the honor, including Otto von Bismarck. It was like being named an honorary citizen, or receiving the “keys to the city.”
Brahms responded to this honor by composing three motets for eight-part double chorus, collectively titled Fest- und Gedenksprüche, variously translated as “Festive and Commemorative Pieces,” or “Festival and Commemoration Mottoes, or Sayings.” Brahms selected texts from the Bible that reflected his patriotism. After the Franco-Prussian War, Germany was unified, and Wilhelm I was crowned emperor.
Brahms conducted the Cecilia Society in the first performance on September 14, 1889, during the Hamburg Exhibition of Trade and Industry. Brahms dedicated the work to Petersen. “To me, as a layman, a great honor has been paid,” Petersen wrote to the composer. “Fortunately, one need not be an expert in order to derive joy from music, and just as I enjoyed this beautiful work at the Exhibition, so I hope often to feel happiness and peace of mind on hearing it in future. Your work and your name will long outlive mine; so it is pleasant to think that through the medium of your dedication my name will be handed down to posterity.”

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

While editing the English Hymnal in 1906, Vaughan Williams included a tune by the Tudor composer Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585). It was one of eight melodies originally composed for the Metrical Psalter of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. The third of these was a setting of “Why fumeth in sight: the Gentile spite in fury raging stout?”
Vaughan Williams incorporated the Tallis tune into a piece for double string orchestra with solo quartet called Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. It was first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral on September 6, 1910. Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius concluded the program. Herbert Howells, later a pupil of Vaughan Williams, was there, and recalled: “Two thousand people were in Gloucester Cathedral that night, primarily to hear Gerontius. But there at the rostrum towered the unfamiliar magnificent figure. He and a strange new work for strings were between them and their devotion to Elgar.” The reviews were mixed.
Fuller Maitland of The Times wrote: “The work is wonderful because it seems to lift one into some unknown region of musical thought and feeling. Throughout its course one is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new....The voices of the old church musicians...are around one, and yet there is more besides, for their music in enriched with all that modern art has done since.”
More recently, biographer James Day wrote: “This great work makes an immediate appeal, largely because of the nobility of Tallis’ own theme; yet the more closely one listens to it, the more one becomes captivated by the ingenuity and inevitability of the manner in which Vaughan Williams develops it, and the variety and subtlety of the scoring. Here is something as old as the soil of England itself, yet for ever fresh and original.”

Gordon Jacob: Old Wine in New Bottles

“I dislike an ‘academic’ outlook,” Jacob once said, “but my style is deeply rooted in the traditions in which I was trained and which, by inclination, I followed.” Born in London, Jacob attended the Royal College of Music, where he would later teach for some forty years until 1966. His pupils included Malcolm Arnold and Imogen Holst. In 1943 he was awarded a fellowship by the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In 1968 he was named Commander of the British Empire. His works include symphonies, concertos, ballets and chamber music.
Old Wine in New Bottles, scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and trumpet, was completed on August 19, 1958. The first performance was given by members of the BBC Northern Orchestra, conducted by Stanford Robinson, at the St. Bees Festival on April 4, 1959. Characteristically, the four movements borrow from folk song. Jacob had set the middle two, “The Three Ravens” and “Begone Dull Care!,” for four-part chorus in the mid-1930s.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: “Dance of the Tumblers” from Act III of The Snow Maiden

Music was not Rimsky-Korsakov’s first choice. He wanted to be a sailor. After graduation from the Naval Academy, he went on a three-year cruise. By then Mily Balakirev had convinced him to become a musician. He was included in the so-called “Mighty Five” of Russian nationalistic composers. He taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and the Free School of Music. His pupils included Glazunov, Liadov, Arensky, Ippolitov-Ivanov and even Stravinsky.
A master orchestrator, Rimsky-Korsakov produced a string of great symphonic works: Capriccio espagnol, Russian Easter Overture, Scheherazade and others. Then he turned to opera, “an essentially false artistic genre, but alluring in its spaciousness and its endless variety of forms.”
His third opera, The Snow Maiden, was a turning point, “not only my best opera, but, on the whole, perhaps the best of all contemporary operas.” First performed on February 10, 1882 in St. Petersburg, the opera concerns the daughter of Spring and Winter (The Snow Maiden), who longs for human love. When she finds it, the warmth of her emotion causes her to melt. In the third act, the rollicking “Dance of the Tumblers” accompanies a feast before the Tsar.

Arturo Márquez: Danzón No. 2

Márquez began studying music at the age of sixteen, later entering the Mexican Conservatory of Music and the Institute of Fine Arts of Mexico. He also studied privately in Paris and at the California Institute of the Arts with Morton Subotnick and Mel Powell. His works include Danza silvestre (Wild Dance), an homage to Mexican composer Silverstre Revueltas; Octeto malandro (Misbehaving Octet), commissioned by Philadelphia's Relâche Ensemble; Paisajes Sobre el Signo de Cosmos, an homage to painter José Maria Velasco; and En Clave for piano, among others.
Danzón No. 2 was commissioned and premiered in 1994 by the Filarmonica de la UNAM in Mexico City, Ronald Zolman conducting. Márquez provided the following program note: “The danzon is a Cuban dance that became very popular in Mexico during the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the state of Veracruz and Mexico City. Because it was developed in a very special way in our country, many of us Mexicans consider it our own national music. The structure in the classical danzon is Introduction—First Theme (first danzon)—Introduction—Second Theme (second danzon)—Introduction—Son (son montuno, cha-cha or mambo). Danzon No. 2, rather than dealing directly with the form and harmony of the classical danzon, pays tribute to the tradition and its people. I decided to start with a slow, sensuous theme instead of an introduction. After that, a rhythmical section continues the elaboration of these materials. The work is dedicated to my daughter Lily.”


November 11, 2007, 3 pm

Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland

Concert Program
Musica Mobilis for Brass choir James A. Beckel. Jr.
Concerto Grosso  Francesco Geminiani
Double Violin Concerto JS Bach
Symphony No. 1       Jean Sibelius

Musica Mobilis for Brass choir James A. Beckel. Jr.

James A. Beckel, Jr. graduated from the Indiana University School of Music and has been the Principal Trombonist with the Indianapolis Symphony since 1969. He is also on the music faculty at DePauw University and the University of Indianapolis. His works have been performed by many professional orchestras, including Minneapolis, St. Louis, Atlanta, Houston, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Buffalo, Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Rochester, Charlotte, Fort Wayne, Rhode Island, Springfield, Evansville, Tampa, Arkansas, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Terre Haute, South Bend, Omaha, Knoxville, Delaware, West Virginia, Chautauqua, and New Mexico.
Beckel has been an Individual Arts Fellow through the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, and recently was one of 50 composers chosen nationwide to be part of the Continental Harmony Project. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, The Glass Bead Game: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra” was premiered by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Kent Leslie horn soloist. The Glass Bead Game is now available for vaious ensembles, published by Hal Leonard Music. Mr. Beckel has also written works for brass choir and brass quintet. In 2004 the Indianapolis Symphony premiered and commissioned Fantasy after Schubert dedicated to their Music Director, Mario Venzago, in celebration of their 75th season.
Musica Mobilis was originally written for brass choir in 1996. It was commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art to pay tribute to the work of sculptor Alexander Calder, the world-famous visual artist who made sculpture move, especially with his large mobiles. A mobile has a set number of pieces that are in constant flux, creating new images as the juxtaposition of the pieces change.
The work opens loudly, painting the musical picture of a person’s first impression upon seeing one of Mr. Calder’s large mobiles. The immense stark power of the metal work is reflected in the opening chords in the brass. At the same time, musical harmonies and motives are being stated that becomes the basis for the entire composition. The main interest while listening to this work is to follow the evolution of the music as these basic motives change position, like a mobile. The work stays in one basic tonality representing the unchangeable pieces of the mobile. When examining one of Mr. Calder’s mobiles on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Mr. Beckel specifically looked at a work entitled “Five Pieces Suspended.” He decided to base this work primarily on five basic notes: A, F#, G, C, and D; as heard in the opening chords of the composition. As these notes rearrange themselves, the music takes on different moods, similar to the effects of the movement of a mobile. The only real deviation from this model is an occasional E natural used as a passing note in fast runs and a very intentional G# to cadence the work at the very end. A similar false cadence is also alluded to in measure 51, 52, and 53.
This four and a half minute work is constantly changing, from the ominous opening to the pensive and reflective middle section, then transforming into an exciting finale. “Musica Mobilis” is meant to reflect the magic of Alexander Calder’s moving sculptures.

Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2007

Francesco Geminiani (1680-1762): Concerto Grosso No. 5 in G minor

“He who in the present time wants to make a profit out of music betakes himself to England,” wrote the Hamburg theorist Johann Mattheson in 1713. Geminiani saw the wisdom of this advice, and traveled to London the very next year. As a former pupil of Arcangelo Corelli, Geminiani was certainly aware of the immense popularity of Corelli’s Op.6 Concerti Grossi in England. In 1726 Geminiani published a set of Concerti Grossi based on Corelli's Op.5 Violin Sonatas.
One of Geminiani’s innovations was to add a viola to Corelli's solo group of two violins and cello (“concertino”). He also removed violas from the larger instrumental group (“tutti”). In his preface to the score of his edition, Michelangelo Abbado writes, “I thought it would be better to add the viola part to the Tutti in order to avoid the lopsided effect the single viola might have produced if included in the concertino.” He also notes that the concerto follows the “church sonata” scheme, in which there are four movements arranged in a “slow-fast-slow-fast” pattern.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Double Concerto in D minor

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Double Concerto in D minor

In 1717 Bach assumed his new position as court conductor to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. “My gracious prince loved and understood music,” he later recalled. Much of Bach’s secular, instrumental music dates from his tenure at Cöthen, including a series of violin concertos.
The Double Concerto was written about 1720. “The attack of the first movement is uncompromising,” says Geoffrey Crankshaw, “and the contrapuntal exchanges of the orchestra are matched by those of the two soloists, using a variant of the main theme. The self-consistent logic of this movement is contrasted with the exalted calm of the second movement, whose serene canon, unfolded...by the soloists against a softly beating accompaniment, takes us beyond earthly experience. In the third movement, energy returns in an argument dominated by the soloists. Bach's use of double-stopping in both solo parts is a marvelous stroke of poetic intensity.”

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Opus 39

In April of 1898, Sibelius was in Berlin, carousing with his cronies and pretending to write his First Symphony. He wrote to his wife back in Helsinki: “I have now worked hard for three days. It has been wonderful. I'm working on the new thing, alla sinfonia.” But it wasn’t until his return to Finland that Sibelius really settled down to work on his “new thing.” Most of it was composed during the autumn of 1898.
The first performance of the new work took place in Helsinki on April 26, 1899, with Sibelius himself conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic. Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony had reached the city five years before and some critics noted its influence on the new Sibelius work. Sibelius was quick to concur: “There is much in that man that I recognize in myself.”
Years later, with seven symphonies under his belt, Sibelius wrote: “My symphonies are music conceived and worked out in terms of music and with no literary basis. I am not a literary musician; for me music begins where words cease. A scene can be expressed in painting, a drama in words; a symphony should be first and last music.”
Despite his faith in absolute music, the composer did admit the influence of nature on his music. “Whenever I return to Finland across the Baltic and see the islands of a hard archaic beauty,” he said, “I know why I am able to treat the orchestra as I do.”
Robert Bagar described the Sibelius First as a work of contrasts. “Herein is represented,” he wrote, “the unfettered, mercurial thinking of a young symphonist who is scarcely learned in the ways of practical economy. He has many things to say, many different and startling manners of saying them....The young composer pours great melodies into his work, melodies that sing with the exultant joy, melodies that rise and fall with tremendous intensity, and also melodies that are nostalgic and mellow and suffused with a tender pathos. There are grace and lightness in the music as it comes rushing to the creator's pen. There are also wild, barbaric shouts, outbursts of tremendous passion, raging unbridled utterances that hurl themselves forward like the roar of giant winds.”