Mission: to seek and share inspiration

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Music Hall Grand Opening


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Program Notes


FRI OCT 6, 8 pm • SAT OCT 7, 8 pm

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor • KIT ARMSTRONG pianist

JOHN ADAMS (1947)

Short Ride in a Fast Machine

BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)

Concerto No. 1 in C Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15

• Allegro
• Adagio un poco mosso—
• Rondo: Allegro scherzando

INTERMISSION

JONATHAN BAILEY HOLLAND (1974)

Stories from Home(World Premiere)

Commisioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

SCRIABIN (1974)

Symphony No. 4, Op. 54, The Poem of Ecstasy

Commisioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra


Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Born: February 15, 1947, Worcester, Massachusetts

Work composed: 1986

Premiere: June 13, 1986, Mansfield, Massachusetts, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, English horn, 4 clarinets, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, bass drum with pedal, crotales, glockenspiel, sizzle cymbal, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, 2 tambour de basque, 3 wood blocks, xylophone, 2 synthesizers, strings

CSO notable performances: Two previous subscription weekends, plus LUMENOCITY 2014 | Premiere: February 1992, Ivan Fischer conducting | Most recent: March 2015 (also recorded) | The CSO also performed this work as part of its 2017 European Tour.

Duration: approx. 4 minutes

John Adams is one of today’s most acclaimed composers. Audiences have responded enthusiastically to his music, and he enjoys a success not seen by an American composer since the zenith of Aaron Copland’s career: a recent survey of major orchestras conducted by the League of American Orchestras found John Adams to be the most frequently performed living American composer; he received the University of Louisville’s distinguished Grawemeyer Award in 1995 for his Violin Concerto; in 1997, he was the focus of the New York Philharmonic’s Composer Week, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and named “Composer of the Year” by Musical America magazine; he has been made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture; in 1999, Nonesuch released The John Adams Earbox, a critically acclaimed ten-CD collection of his work; in 2003, he received the Pulitzer Prize for On the Transmigration of Souls, written for the New York Philharmonic in commemoration of the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and was also recognized by New York’s Lincoln Center with a two-month retrospective of his work titled “John Adams: An American Master,” the most extensive festival devoted to a living composer ever mounted at Lincoln Center; from 2003 to 2007, Adams held the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall; in 2004, he was awarded the Centennial Medal of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences “for contributions to society” and became the first-ever recipient of the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, which included residencies and teaching at Northwestern University; he was a 2009 recipient of the NEA Opera Award; he has been granted honorary doctorates from the Royal Academy of Music (London), Juilliard School and Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Northwestern universities, honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa, and the California Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

John Adams was born into a musical family in Worcester, Massachusetts; as a boy, he lived in Woodstock, Vermont, and in New Hampshire. From his father, he learned the clarinet and went on to become an accomplished performer on that instrument, playing with the New Hampshire Philharmonic and Sarah Caldwell’s Boston Opera Orchestra, and appearing as soloist in the first performances of Walter Piston’s Clarinet Concerto in Boston, New York and Washington. (Adams first met Piston as a neighbor of his family in Woodstock, and received encouragement, advice and understanding from the older composer, one of this country’s most respected artists.) Adams’ professional focus shifted from the clarinet to composition during his undergraduate study at Harvard, where his principal teacher was Leon Kirchner.

Rather than following the expected route for a budding composer, which led through Europe, Adams chose to stay in America. In 1972, he settled in California to join the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where his duties included directing the New Music Ensemble, leading the student orchestra, teaching composition, and administering a graduate program in analysis and history. In 1978, he became associated with the San Francisco Symphony and conductor Edo de Waart in an evaluation of that ensemble’s involvement with contemporary music. Two years later he helped to institute the Symphony’s “New and Unusual Music” series, which subsequently served as the model for the “Meet the Composer” program, sponsored by the Exxon Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, which placed composers-in-residence with several major American orchestras; Adams served as resident composer with the San Francisco Symphony from 1979 to 1985. He began his tenure as Creative Chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic with the premiere of City Noir on October 8, 2009. He also served as Composer-in-Residence with the Berlin Philharmonic during the 2016–17 season.

In his compositions through the early 1990s, Adams was closely allied with the style known as “Minimalism,” which uses repetitive melodic patterns, consonant harmonies, motoric rhythms and a deliberate striving for aural beauty. Unlike some other Minimalist music, however, which can be static and intentionally uneventful, the best of Adams’ early works (Grand Pianola Music, Shaker Loops, Harmonium, the brilliant Harmonielehre, and the acclaimed operas Nixon in China [1987] and The Death of Klinghoffer [1991]) are marked by a sense of determined forward motion and inexorable formal growth, and by frequent allusions to a wide range of 20th-century idioms, both popular and serious. His links with traditional music are further strengthened by consistent use of conventional instruments and predominantly consonant harmony, this latter technique producing what he calls “sustained resonance,” the quality possessed by the acoustical overtone series of common chords to reinforce and amplify each other to create an enveloping mass of sound. Adams’ recent compositions incorporate more aggressive harmonic idioms and more elaborate contrapuntal textures to create an idiom he distinguishes from that of his earlier music as “more dangerous, but also more fertile, more capable of expressive depth and emotional flexibility.” Among Adams’ commissions are On the Transmigration of Souls (New York Philharmonic, commemorating the tragedies of September 11th, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize and the 2005 Grammy Award as Best Contemporary Classical Composition Recording), My Father Knew Charles Ives (San Francisco Symphony) and The Dharma at Big Sur (composed for Los Angeles Philharmonic for the opening of Disney Hall in October 2003).

For the recording of this work by the San Francisco Symphony (Nonesuch), Michael Steinberg wrote:

Short Ride in a Fast Machine is a joyfully exuberant piece, brilliantly scored for a large orchestra including two synthesizers. Commissioned for the opening of the Great Woods Festival in Mansfield, Massachusetts, it was first played on that occasion, 13 June 1986, by the Pittsburgh Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. The steady marking of a beat is typical of Adams’ music. Short Ride begins with a marking of quarters (woodblock, soon joined by the four trumpets) and eighths (clarinets and synthesizers), but the woodblock is fortissimo and the other instruments play forte. Adams describes the woodblock’s persistence as “almost sadistic” and thinks of the rest of the orchestra as running the gauntlet through that rhythmic tunnel. About the title: “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?” It is, in any event, a wonderful opening music for a new American outdoor festival.

Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Concerto No. 1 in C Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15

Born: December 16, 1770, Bonn, Germany

DiedMarch 26, 1827, Vienna

Work composedLikely 1798

PremiereLittle is known of the history of the First Piano Concerto. It was probably first performed by Beethoven in the same year it was composed, likely 1798, in Prague.

Instrumentationsolo piano, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

CSO notable performances:17 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: February 1937, Eugene Goossens conducting; E. Robert Schmitz, pianist | Most recent: September 2014 special concert, Louis Langrée conducting, Lang Lang, pianist | Sergei Rachmaninoff performed the work with the CSO at Music Hall and on tour in Chicago in October and November of 1937 under Eugene Goossens; in January 1947 Leonard Bernstein played and conducted the piece at Music Hall.

Duration: approx. 36 minutes

Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and immediately began a spectacularly successful career as a pianist. Since he had arrived with an introduction from Count Waldstein and with an invitation to study composition with Haydn, he entered musical circles with no trouble. It did not take the Viennese long to realize that they had gained an exciting new virtuoso. However, in composition Beethoven was viewed only as Haydn’s student.

There were some 300 pianists in Vienna, all competing for prominence and all making a living teaching the more than 6,000 keyboard students in the city. The rivalry between these pianists was fierce. Beethoven spoke of his “desire to embarrass” his opponents, whom he referred to as his “sworn enemies.” He feared that some of his rivals would copy the “peculiarities of my style and palm them off with pride as their own.” On such pianists he would “revenge” himself.

The pianists competed like gladiators, and the most successful had large followings. In fact, virtuosos were considered more like freaks than like artists: child prodigies were exhibited publicly along with jugglers and tightrope walkers. Pianists engaged in what resembled duels more than recitals. Beethoven, who went quickly to the top of every competition, received support from a large number of aristocratic families. They lavished money and gifts on the young performer in their attempt to establish their own high social standing. So great was this attention that Beethoven was often embarrassed by excessive generosity.

By the mid-1790s Beethoven’s fame had spread beyond Vienna, and he was able to make concert tours to other countries. He played his First Piano Concerto in Prague in 1798. Also his reputation as a composer began to grow as he played his own compositions more and more. His earliest works written for his own use were solo sonatas and chamber pieces, but he was also beginning to write music for piano and orchestra.

His First Piano Concerto was not really his first such work. The Concerto No. 2 in B-flat preceded it by a couple of years, but the C Major was published first and hence numbered first. In addition, there is a Concerto in E-flat that Beethoven wrote at the age of 14, long before coming to Vienna. There is also a Rondo in B-flat for piano and orchestra, dating from about 1795.

A fierce competitor in the wars of the pianists, Beethoven tried to keep the so-called First Concerto for his own private use, not allowing its publication until 1801. By that time, he was beginning to turn away from a career as a soloist and more exclusively toward that of a composer. A pianist might want to safeguard his concertos, but a composer would be eager for as many performances as possible.

Beethoven’s model was Mozart, a pianist-composer who had written a long series of concertos for his own use. Mozart had become (sadly, only after his death) the pride of Vienna. Beethoven’s strongest competitor was a memory. From the Mozart piano concertos Beethoven took his ideas of balanced opposition between soloist and orchestra, clarity of form and keyboard virtuosity designed to show off the soloist. This First Concerto was the last in which Beethoven adhered closely to his models. In the subsequent Third Concerto he expanded the scope and emotional range. This process reached its culmination in the Concerto No. 5, Emperor.

KEYNOTE. The dramatic opposition at the heart of the First Concerto appears immediately, as the strings contrast a forceful motive with a rapid scale, both starkly separated by silences. A further source of contrast is the large number of different themes introduced during the orchestral exposition. When the piano finally enters, it becomes the catalyst for reconciling extremes. The scales become the source of pianistic virtuosity, as they fill in the silences. Particularly compelling is the transition to the recapitulation: piano and horns alternate repetitions of the opening motive, which is gradually reduced to barest essentials.

The second movement explores florid piano writing. Despite the extremely slow tempo, the piano moves in elegant fast figurations. This studied sophistication is soon dispelled, however, by the carefree innocence of the main rondo theme of the finale, introduced in the piano. The first subsidiary theme is equally engaging, particularly because of its off-beat accents. The second subsidiary theme is also attractive: it is in minor, and it is treated as a miniature rondo in itself, complete with its own secondary ideas. Toward the end, the music gradually slows down as it repeats the opening motive. A small cadenza over a sustained string chord brings the tempo down to adagio, for an oboe solo. We may not suspect it, but the piano has already made its final exit and the concerto is about to end. It does so just six measures later, after a sudden return to the allegro tempo. A thoroughly delightful ending to a thoroughly delightful movement!

Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Stories from Home World Premiere

BornFebruary 27, 1974, Flint, Michigan

Work composed2017

Premiere: World premiere performances this weekend by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Louis Langrée conducting

Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bamboo wind chimes, bass drum, crotales, gong, marimba, ride-cymbal, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, temple blocks, timbales, tom-tom, triangle, vibraphone, wood block, harp, strings

Duration: approx. 12 minutes

Jonathan Bailey Holland, born in Flint, Michigan in 1974, began studying composition while a student at the Interlochen Arts Academy, where he received a school-wide award for his first work. After graduating from Interlochen, Holland completed his undergraduate studies in composition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia with Ned Rorem. He earned his doctorate at Harvard, where his teachers included Bernard Rands and Mario Davidovsky; he has also studied with Andrew Imbrie, Yehudi Wyner, Robert Saxton and Robert Sirota. Holland previously taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and is now Chair of Composition, Theory and History at Boston Conservatory at Berklee; he is also a founding faculty member in the Low Residency MFA in Music Composition program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Holland has received commissions from the major orchestras of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati (in observation of the opening of the Freedom Center National Underground Railroad Museum), Cleveland, Dallas, Minnesota and Washington, D.C.; written the string quartet Forger Sanctuaries for the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival in celebration of the Cape Cod National Seashore as part of the 2016 Centennial Anniversary of the U.S. National Parks Service; and held residencies with the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, South Bend Symphony Orchestra, Ritz Chamber Players and Radius Ensemble of Boston. As an advocate for music education, Holland has visited schools, libraries, churches and civic groups during his residencies and written several educational works that have been performed on family and young people’s concerts across the country. His many awards and honors include those from the Indianapolis Symphony, Massachusetts Arts Council, American Music Center, American Academy of Arts and Letters, ASCAP, Presser Foundation, Boston Conservatory, Austin Peay State University, Harvard University and Roger Wagner Contemporary Choral Composition Competition.

Holland composed Stories from Home on a commission from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the Grand Re-Opening of Music Hall the weekend of October 6–7, 2017. The composer wrote of the background of the work:

The location where Cincinnati’s Music Hall currently sits has had a rich past, serving as the historic locale for everything from a hospital, orphanage, asylum and paupers’ grave to the home of the May Festival, which included a German Sängerfest in 1870 hosted by the city of Cincinnati, home to a large German population during the mid-to-late 19th century. There are many stories and legends of the spirits that remain in the Hall from these past uses of the site. Since the late 1800s, Music Hall has been the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops, May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Opera. The performers of the caliber to participate in any of these organizations have made music an essential part of their lives and spent years in this and other such halls, creating a home for their music-making and inviting others to experience their art there. The city has embraced the Hall and helped to maintain the venue, valuing the important service it provides for residents and visitors alike. It has been a home in many different guises for many different people, and the occasion of the premiere of Stories from Home celebrates the history of Music Hall and the lyricism, timbre (i.e., ability to create many colors) and sound of the orchestra that calls it home. Having worked with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on several occasions, I am honored both to share in the celebration and to offer a musical contribution to the occasion.

Stories from Home, marked to be played “sonorous and steady” throughout, is in three formal paragraphs. The first is slow and quiet, with a few strands of notes passed among various instruments so that the distinctive sonority of each can hover in the air and reawaken this space to its wonted purpose. The short central episode asks the woodwind and brass players to randomly “whisper various lines” in German and English indicated in their parts: This was my house/Das war mein Haus; This is where I lived/Hier war ich gelebt; Hear my voice/Hör meine Stimme; etc. The last section gathers together the orchestra’s forces to bring the work to a sonorous close.

—Dr. Richard Rodda

 

Poem of Ecstacy 

BornJanuary 6, 1872, Moscow

Died: April 27, 1915, Moscow

Work composed: 1905 and 1908

Premiere: December 10, 1908, New York City, conducted by Modest Altschuler

Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, chimes, keyboard, keyboard glockenspiel, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, 2 harps, celeste, organ, strings

CSO notable performances: Seven previous subscription weekends | Premiere: February 1924, Fritz Reiner conducting (Emery Auditorium) | Most recent: March 2014, Louis Langrée conducting

Durationapprox. 22 minutes

“The Muscovite seer”; “the Russian musical mystic”; “the clearest case of artistic egomania in the chronicles of music”: Alexander Scriabin was one of the most unusual of all composers. Living in the generation between Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, he showed an early talent for music and trod the accepted path of lessons, conservatory training and teaching. His visions, however, refused to be channeled into the conventional forms of artistic expression, and he developed a style and a philosophy that were unique.

Scriabin’s life was shaken by several significant changes around 1902, when he resigned from the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory to devote himself to composition and to rumination, and left his first wife to take up with another woman. From that time on, Scriabin bent his music ever more forcibly to expressing his dizzying world vision. He believed that mankind was approaching a final cataclysm from which a nobler race would emerge, with himself playing some exalted but ill-defined Messianic role in the new order. (He welcomed the beginning of World War I as the fulfillment of his prophecy.) As the transition through this apocalypse, Scriabin posited an enormous ritual that would purge humanity and make it fit for the millennium. He felt that he was divinely called to create this ritual, this “Mystery” as he called it, and he spent the last 12 years of his life concocting ideas for its realization. Scriabin’s mammoth “Mystery” was to be performed in a specially built temple in India (a country in which he never set foot), and was to include music, mime, fragrance, light, sculpture, costume, etc., etc., which were to represent the history of man from the dawn of time to the ultimate world convulsion. He even imagined a language of sighs and groans that would express feelings not translatable into mere words. He whipped all these fantasies together with a seething sexuality to create a vision of whirling emotional ferment quite unlike anything else in the history of music or any other art. In describing the Poem of Ecstasy to his friend Ivan Lipaev he said, “When you listen to it, look straight into the eye of the Sun!”

The first sketches for the Poem of Ecstasy, from 1905, were titled “Orgiastic Poem.” Scriabin wrote them in a blazing frenzy, which Maria Nemenova-Lunz later recalled. “He worked with unusual ferocity and surprised me by his perseverance,” she wrote. “Such hard qualities little matched his [dandyish] appearance. In speaking of the non-musical elements at the root of this composition, Alexander would get excited, his face changed, and he would repeat, ‘This will be unlike anything I have done so far. It will be as I feel and see now—a great joy, an enormous festival.’” The music for The Poem of Ecstasy grew from Scriabin’s literary poem of the same name, which he published in May 1906 and sent to his friends. (He once admitted that his greatest satisfaction came from regaling an assembly with these obscure verses.) When the musical work was completed, however, he discouraged printing the poetic text in the score. “Conductors who want to perform The Poem of Ecstasy,” he wrote, “can always be apprised that it has such a thing, but in general I would prefer for them to approach it as pure music.” This seems a curious pronouncement for a composer who was not only meticulous in giving his work a vivid philosophical setting, but also provided specific labels for each of its themes. He may have realized that the words were little more than a quizzical appendage to such a grandiloquent piece of music.

Modest Altschuler, Scriabin’s friend, confidant and the conductor of the premiere, remarked that The Poem of Ecstasy “sought to express something of the emotional side of [Scriabin’s] philosophy.” He described the three facets of this philosophy that emerge in the music: a) the composer’s soul in “an orgy of love;” b) “the realization of a fantastic dream;” and c) the composer’s apprehension of “the glory of his own art.” For his part, Scriabin said that various of the themes represent “human striving after the ideal,” “the awakening of the soul, gradually realizing itself (the Ego theme),” “the Will to rise up,” and “soaring flight of the spirit.” This is a challenging burden for simple musical tones to carry, and perhaps it is for this reason that Scriabin advised hearing the work as “pure music.” Approaching the piece as “pure music” also relieves the listener from receiving The Poem of Ecstasy as a philosophical tract rather than as simply a grandiose musical composition.

The style of The Poem of Ecstasy is opulently post-Romantic. Its harmony is rich and glowing, its orchestral complement colossal, its melody expressive and densely chromatic. Though it is still tonal, some of Scriabin’s new chordal combinations stretch traditional harmonic functions to great lengths. The seething emotional turmoil of the music was cultivated in the hothouse of Wagnerian Romanticism gone wild. Yet, this is music of sharp and individual character, of brilliant originality that is unique in the realm of the art. Though The Poem of Ecstasy is cast in the old sonata structure, it is better heard not as a formal exercise but rather as a musical distillation of the most intense physical and spiritual feelings—a sort of concert-hall catharsis. The grand, sweeping arches of rising tension, which grow from expectant tenderness to climactic release, parallel aspects of our lives. This music creates an ardent excitement and visceral stimulation that even the most jaded gainsayer would find hard to deny.

Of The Poem of Ecstasy, Charles O’Connell wrote:

Here is music of wondrous beauty, full of lovely themes, artfully entangled in sound and symbolism…. The simplicities and complexities of the work are still susceptible of various interpretations, and sometimes its validity is debatable; but there is no question of its inexplicable charm and mysterious loveliness.

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda