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Concert Program Cover

Third Concert of the 66th Season

Behind the Music

Sunday, March 6th, 2005
Cordier Auditorium
Suzanne Gindin, Conductor

  The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra Benjamin Britten  
       
  "O del mio amato ben" Stephan Donaudy  
  "Vision Fugitive" from Hérodiade Jules Massenet  
  "This is my box" from Amahl and the Night Visitors Gian Carlo Menotti  
  James Hutchings, Baritone  
       
  Intermission  
       
  The Green Queen Rises Elyzabeth Meade  
  World Premiere Performance  
       
 

Program Notes by James R. C. Adams

 
  The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
Variations and Fugure on a Theme of Henry Purcell
Benjamin Britten
(1913-1976)
 
 

Twentieth century Britain has produced a number of impressive composers: Vaughan-Williams, Arnold, Bax, Bliss, Rubbra, Berkley, Walton, Delius, and Holst, to name a few. Probably the two most famous ones are Vaughan-Williams and the aptly named Benjamin Britten. Britten was a precocious lad who was writing music by the age of five. None of those early essays remain, although many of the themes found their way into more mature works.

In the early days, Britten composed mostly instrumental music, as a form, favoring variations as an approach. This is not surprising, since variations were a common early assignment for students. Those who continue to use the variation form too long into their careers often fail to develop the skills associated with symphonic form. Although Britten did show inventiveness in the sonata form, he never did turn into the symphonist that one finds in Vaughan-Williams or Bax. His interest turned to vocal music, and he became a champion of British opera, choosing his subjects from British history or folklore. Among his most celebrated works in this genre are Peter Grimes, Albert Herring, Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw, and Curlew River. He also wrote many choral works and songs.

Britten was anything but a musical snob. He had great affection for amateur players and children, and wrote a number of works that were challenging but not impossible for such groups to play. He also composed music for films, mostly documentaries. One very successful piece of film music is his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, which we hear today. The structure is that of theme and variations, a form characteristic of much of Britten's output. The theme, in this case, is not his own, but is borrowed from a piece called Abdelazer, or The Moor's Revenge, by the early English composer Henry Purcell.

Purcell was a composer of the Baroque period. He wrote Abdelazer in the last year of his life, 1695. Britten begins his piece (also known as The Instruments of the Orchestra) with the full orchestra stating the theme upon which the variations will be played. It is a stately theme, and could easily be mistaken for a piece from an earlier time.

After the full orchestral introduction and statement of the theme, the orchestral choirs, or sections, are introduced one by one, each playing a different variation. The point here is to exploit the special qualities of each group of instruments: the woodwinds, the brass, the strings, the percussion, and finally a restatement of the theme.

Next, each section is split into its constituent parts, with each instrument being shown off. Flutes and piccolos are very agile, so the first variation expresses that. The oboes show their plaintive abilities. Oboes frequently are used by composers to suggest melancholy or an oriental character. Clarinets run up and down the scale fluidly, followed by the bassoons.

Next, the strings have their moment. We have heard them before, but only as accompaniment. Now they begin to shine. Just as the woodwinds were shown starting with the highest pitched ones, so the strings begin with the violins, playing a mazurka. Next come the violas, then the cellos (in their upper register), and finally, the double basses, with a humorously gruff chopping sound.

The harp introduces the third orchestral choir, the brass instruments. So far, Brittan has organized the entry of the instruments according to their range, with the highest first. The highest of the brass instruments is the trumpet, but this variation begins with the horns, then the trumpets in a sort of triple-tongued fanfare. The dramatic trombones come next, followed by the pompous tuba.

The fourth section of the orchestra is the percussion. Percussion typically is non-tonal, so the theme is hard to follow. Here, the string accompaniment helps, and the timpani (or kettle drums) ARE tonal, so they help remind us of the theme.

The final portion of the piece is ingenious. It is a fugue. Purcell was a master of the fugue, and the fugue is one of the musical forms most associated with the Baroque era. Britten chose this form to remind us that he was paying homage to a Baroque composer. But this is Britten's theme, not Purcell's, at least at the beginning! A fugue is a polyphonic form, where a simple theme is played, and then a new subject is begun. But at that point, the original theme is played by a second instrument or group of instruments. There is a complexity of sounds now, with several strains of music being played simultaneously. The listeners are challenged to follow several tunes at once. The instruments enter in the same order as before. At the climax, the original theme asserts itself triumphantly with full orchestra again.


 
       
  "Vision Fugitive" from Hérodiade Jules Massenet
(1842-1912)
 
 

Throughout the 19th century, the French art world had been almost obsessed by the story of Salome, Herod, and John the Baptist. Gustave Moreau exhibited his paintings of Salome dancing before Herod, and St. John's head on a platter. Mallarmé had written a dramatic poem about the incident. Gustave Flaubert had published Hérodias. It was a perfect subject for Massenet

Massenet was the most popular operatic composer of his day ... in France. Critics, especially those outside France, disapproved of him. He was accused of pandering to popular taste, and the French popular taste was not to be admired. They liked romantic, or even sensuous themes (you know the French). Well, that was the critical appraisal. The public liked melody, so Masseney gave them that. He had a gift for melody that rivaled Puccini's. He is characterized as being safe, lacking in invention: in short, conventional (and, what's worse, successful). However, he was interested in Wagner, and promoted his music, only to be invidiously compared to Wagner.

Among the criticisms of Hérodiade was that it was not true to scripture. Other writers and composers were intrigued by the Salome story, and no version was true to scripture. Oscar Wilde wrote an erotic story that was turned into an opera by Richard Strauss. There are few facts known about Salome. It is not clear from scripture that the dancing daughter of Herodias was named "Salome." It is just assumed. Herodias had daughters, one of whom danced, and one of whom was named Salome. The whole story is pretty much based on speculation, so Massenet's version is as "authentic" as any other.

Massenet was very good at eroticism tempered by religion; or religion spiced up with eroticism -- whichever way you would have it. The aria we are about to hear represents Herod's almost delirious anticipation of his union with Salome. A Babylonian maiden offers Herod a goblet of wine that is promised to provide him with a vision of his obsession. He hopes that, upon drinking this brew, he will "... once more, contemplate her beauty! Divine voluptuousness ..." "To press you in my arms! To feel your heart as it beats with amorous ardour! Then, to die entwined in mutual intoxication ..." The French public loved it.


 
       
  "This is My Box" from Amahl and the Night Visitors Gian Carlo Menotti
(b. 1911)
 
 

Although menotti was born in Italy, and retains his Italian citizenship, he is regarded by many as an American composer. His mother brought him to this country when he was seventeen, and he enrolled in the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Before coming to the United States, he had entered the Milan Conservatory at the age of thirteen, and before that, had written two operas! Although he has written attractive orchestral music, he is best known as a composer of operas, and many of them have been written under commission for television and radio broadcasts.

His most successful work is Amahl and the Night Visitors, commissioned by NBC-TV in 1951 for a Christmas broadcast. Since then, it has been broadcast and performed on stage as a regular event on Christmas eve, rivaling Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker in such a role. That particular work brought him great fame. When he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, he expected his mother to accept the fact that he had, indeed, arrived. Unfortunately, she hadn't heard of Time, or at least, didn't think it was an important publication.

In 1958, Menotti founded the Spoleto Festival in Italy in an effort to bring his native country and his adopted one together. He called it the Festival of Two Worlds. In 1977, he founded a companion festival in Charleston, South Carolina. He directed it until 1977, when he became director of the Rome Opera.

He has received many honors, including the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in the arts, and in 1991, "Musician of the Year" by Musical America.

He has been condemned as too conservative, and praised as having written music accessible to the masses. He has explored a number of modern styles, though mostly as parody. His inclination istoward Puccini lyricism, but with occasional nods to Schönberg.

Amahl and the Night Visitors is a short opera (46 minutes) about a visit from the Magi to the hut of the crippled child Amahl and his mother. They are on their way to Bethlehem, and need a place to stay for the night. When the impoverished mother sees the riches before her, and is told that they are gifts for a different child, she becomes bitter. During the night, she steals some of the gold. When the Wise Men explain for whom the gifts are, she repents and returns the gold. Amahl, too, feels the need to contribute, but the only thing of value to him is his crutch. He gives that to the Magi, and is thus cured of his affliction. At the end of the opera, Amahl joins the Wise Men on their trip to Bethlehem.

The work we hear today is Kaspar's aria, "This is my box," in which one of the Magi shows Amahl all the treasures in the box he is carrying to Bethlehem.


 
       
  The Green Queen Rises Elyzabeth Meade
(b. 1957)
 
 

Elyzabeth Meade composes for dance/theatre, video, and concert stage, as well as her own performance works. She has studied at Harvard University, Berkeley College of Music, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Illinous, Boston University, Dartington College, England, and received her Ph.D. in Music Composition and Intermedia Music Technology at the University of Oregon.

She is a member of the Percussive Arts Society, and has written a number of works featuring percussion. Her 1999 work, Tapas, reflects an interest in Indian dance and music. It is scored for solo voice and the following percussion instruments: trinalges, suspended cymbals, sizzle cymbals, bongos, snare drums, bass drums, bull roars, tambourine, crotales, timpani, vibraphone, bells, tam-tams, tom-toms, floor toms, and cowbells.

"Tapas" here does not refer to a Spanish treat. It is a Sanskrit word from the Rig Veda, referring to the strengh and passion experienced through meditation and the centering of one's thoughts. Although there is a "soloist," the percussionists are instructed to use their voices throughout. This is in keeping with traditional Indian dance practice, where the tabla-player recites a rapid-fire "ticka-ticka-tum" sound as he plays. The tabla is a drum, the most popular Indiana percussion instrument, and there are usually two of them, tuned an octave apart. I mention this because, although I have not heard her music yet, the Sanskrit title of her work suggests and acquaintance with Indian music, and her array of percussion instruments reinforces that assumption.

In 1999, Meade won first place in the Percussive Arts Society International Composition Contest. In that year, she composed music for the Portugal World's Fair. In 2000, a concert at the University of Oregon featured the world premiere of Meade's Curios for Keyboard Mallet Percussion Sextet. She was, at that time, a Graduate Teaching Fellow.

The San José Mercury described Meade's other works as "wild and wonderful," and Dance Magazine called them "sensuous."

Here is what Ms. Meade writes about The Green Queen Rises:

The Green Queen Rises is scored for large orchestra. It is infused with various natural and human metaphors for the celebration of life, such as the greening of spring, the arrival of an ice-cream truck in a neighborhood, the sunrise, ringing of bells, and the floating of balloons in a clear sky. In general, the mood is exuberantly joyful.

The Form is a variation of both the "Theme and Variation" and "Rondo" forms. The initial section returns three more times, and each instance is articulated with different orchestration, tonal centers, tempos, and textural accompaniments. Motives forming the initial section are woven into succeeding themes and accompanimental textures, including the intervening music, which is not always delineated into self-contained sections. (Elyzabeth Meade, Eugene, Or., April, 2003)


 
       
 

Manchester Symphony Orchestra Personnel

 
  Violin I
Linda Kanzawa, Concertmaster
Benita Barber
Robert Meyer
Ilona Orban
Moo Il Rhee
Jessie Sark

Violin II
Joyce Dubach *
Martha Barker
Janice Eplett
Linda Kummernuss
Katherine Schreck +
Lisa Weaver

Viola
Naida MacDermid *
Dessie Arnold
Ted Chemney
Tyler Hull
Julie Sadler

Cello
Brook Bennett *
Tyler Houlihan +
Jason Ney
Sarah Reed +
Tim Spahr

Bass
Darrel Fiene *
Mark Huxhold
Brad Kuhns

Piccolo
Jena Eichenlaub +
Allison Hoover +

Flute
Kathy Urbani *
Jena Eichenlaub +
Allison Hoover +
Sara Kauffman +
Oboe
George Donner *
Dawn Barrier

Clarinet
Lila D. Hammer *
Jennifer Hann +
Mark W. Huntington

Bassoon
Erich Zummack *
Amy Eager +

Horn
Nancy A. Bremer *
Brittany Cook +
Cameron Hollenberg +
John Morse

Trumpet
Steven Hammer *

Trombone
Jon Hartman *
Larry Dockter
Scott Hippensteel

Tuba
William DeWitt

Timpani
Dave Robbins *

Percussion
Brian Gardiner
Greg Wolff

Harp
Sarah Fuller

Piano
Debora DeWitt

* Denotes principal
+ Denotes MC student
       
 
Elyzabeth MeadeElyzabeth Meade composes for dance/theatre, video and concert stage, and her own performance-works. She has studied at Harvard University, Berkeley College of Music, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Illinois, Boston University, Dartington College in England, and received her Ph.D. in Music Composition and Intermedia Music Technology at the University of Oregon.




James HutchingsJames Hutchings is a senior at Manchester College studying music with an emphasis in vocal performance. He is a member of the college's A Cappella Choir and Chamber Singers. James also serves as student conductor of the choral ensembles. He has studied voice with Anna Mooy-Braithewaite and Debra Lynn.

When he is not singing, he also enjoys playing the piano, reading, and watching movies. More than anything else, however, James loves to be home with his favorite people: his wive, Liz, and their two sones, Michael and Joshua.