Oregon Symphony

 

Concert Information

The Planets

Saturday, February 6, 2016, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 7, 2016, 2 p.m.
Monday, February 8, 2016, 8 p.m.


Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Natasha Paremski, piano
Women of Portland State University Choirs

IGOR STRAVINSKY

PAUL SCHOENFIELD

Four Parables for Piano and Orchestra
  • Rambling Till The Butcher Cuts Us Down
  • Senility's Ride
  • Elegy
  • Dog Heaven


Intermission


GUSTAV HOLST
The Planets
  • Mars, the Bringer of War
  • Venus, the Bringer of Peace
  • Mercury, the Winged Messenger
  • Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
  • Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
  • Uranus, the Magician
  • Neptune, the Mystic


THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by music director Carlos Kalmar, and Robert McBride, host for the stations of All Classical Portland. You can also enjoy the Concert Conversation in the comfort of your own home. Visit the web site allclassical.org to watch the video on demand.

IGOR STRAVINSKY
Fireworks, Op. 4

Vital Stats

Composer: Born June 17, 1882, Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), Russia; died April 6, 1971, New York City.

Work composed: 1908, rev. 1909.

World premiere: Alexander Ziloti led the first performance in St. Petersburg on February 6, 1909; this may have been a private concert at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Ziloti also conducted the first public performance on January 9, 1910, also in St. Petersburg.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: October 7, 1975; Lawrence Smith, conductor.

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, triangle, celeste, 2 harps, and strings.

Estimated duration: 4 minutes

Two things about Igor Stravinsky’s Fireworks are undisputed. First, Fireworks embodies Stravinsky’s early Russian style: bold, innovative orchestration, sparkling timbres, propulsive rhythms, and a dynamic, irrepressibly youthful energy. Second, this four-minute piece, along with Stravinsky’s Op. 3 Scherzo fantastique, caught the ear of Ballets Russes impresario Serge Diaghilev when he first heard them performed at a private concert in St. Petersburg in 1909. A year later, Diaghilev got a friend to review Fireworks’ first public performance in a leading arts journal. The enthusiastic article praised the music’s “richness of substance,” and noted, “without going beyond witty hints at the reproduction in sound of a sensational explosion of skyrockets, it captures truly startlingly in its musical essence that peculiar psychic elation aroused by the spectacle of fiery entertainments.”

Less clear are the circumstances surrounding Fireworksgenesis. Historians dispute the chronology of Fireworks; some claim Stravinsky wrote it in the spring of 1908, while others suggest it was composed later that year. In his 1936 autobiography, Stravinsky recalled telling his composition teacher, friend, and mentor, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, about his latest endeavor, which Stravinsky called an “orchestral fantasy”: “He [Rimsky-Korsakov] seemed interested and told me to send it to him as soon as it was ready. I finished it in six weeks and sent it off to the country place where he was spending the summer. A few days later a telegram informed me of his death and shortly afterwards my registered package was returned to me: ‘Not delivered on account of death of addressee.’”

Stravinsky may or may not have begun Fireworks with the intention of gifting it to Rimsky’s daughter Nadezhda and her fiancé Maximilian Steinberg as a wedding present. However, Rimsky’s death, just three days after Nadezhda’s wedding, probably inspired Stravinsky to dedicate Fireworks to the young bride and groom. The couple did not appreciate the gift, however; stories abound of personal animosities between Stravinsky and Rimsky’s widow, as well as suggestions that Stravinsky was jealous of Steinberg’s role in the Rimsky family, a position Stravinsky himself is said to have coveted.


PAUL SCHOENFIELD
Four Parables for Piano and Orchestra

Vital Stats

Composer: Born January 24, 1947, Detroit, MI.

Work composed: 1983.

World premiere: Schoenfield gave the premiere of Four Parables with the Toledo Symphony in 1983.

First Oregon Symphony performance.

Instrumentation: Solo piano, 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, synthesizer, and strings.

Estimated duration: 25 minutes

Detroit native Paul Schoenfield’s bio describes him as “a wanderer by nature”—he has lived in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, Minnesota, Arizona, and an Israeli kibbutz, among other places—and the music he writes reflects
his peripatetic lifestyle. Pianist and teacher Joel Sachs observes, “He is among those alltoo-rare composers whose work combines exuberance and seriousness, familiarity and originality, lightness and depth. His work is inspired by the whole range of musical experience, popular styles both American and foreign, vernacular and folk traditions, and the ‘normal’ historical traditions of cultivated music making, often treated with sly twists.”

“A friend once suggested to me that I take some life experiences and set them to music,” writes Schoenfield about his 1983 Four Parables for Piano and Orchestra. “Each of the four movements musically treats an actual life encounter.” “Rambling till the Butcher Cuts Us Down” is “a response to a debate surrounding the release of an aged quadriplegic murderer from prison.” “Senility’s Ride” was inspired by an aging Vermonter gradually losing his memories. “In his sounder moments,” Schoenfield writes, “he would reflect on his present condition and his youth. Nostalgically, he would speak of his past vigor, his love of dancing, his life in South America, and how now this had all been taken away. During one of my last conversations with him, he mused somewhat philosophically, ‘Life is tantamount to a burlesque show.’”

“Elegy” memorializes a young friend who, writes Schoenfield, “being convinced by religious fanatics that seeing a physician was unnecessary, died needlessly during young adulthood.” “Dog Heaven” emerged from a chance meeting with two children whose mother punished them by getting rid of their beloved pet. Schoenfield recalls, “To assuage their pain, I made up this fanciful story about a jazz club in ‘Dog Heaven,’ a place where the streets are lined with bones and there is a fire hydrant on every corner.”


GUSTAV HOLST
The Planets, Op. 32 189k [200]

Vital Stats

Composer: Born September 21, 1874, Cheltenham, England; died May 25, 1934, London.

Work composed: 1914–16.

World premiere: Adrian Boult conducted a private performance of The Planets with the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra on September 29, 1918. Albert Coates led the London Symphony Orchestra in the first public performance of all seven movements at Queen’s Hall in London on November 15, 1920.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: September 21, 2003; Carlos Kalmar, conductor.

Instrumentation: Female chorus, 4 flutes (2 doubling piccolo; one doubling bass flute), 3 oboes (one doubling bass oboe), English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tenor tuba (euphonium), tuba, 2 sets of timpani, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, orchestra bells, snare drum, triangle, xylophone, celeste, organ, 2 harps, and strings.

Estimated duration: 48 minutes

Gregarious. Reticent. Perceptive and naïve. Practical and visionary. Musically and intellectually adventurous. Unconcerned with commercial success or failure. Perhaps the best descriptor for composer Gustav Holst is “mercurial,” the sign under which he was born. Holst embodied many contradictory qualities, and it was his good fortune to find a vehicle—music— through which he could explore them all.

Like Leopold Mozart, Holst’s father Adolph prioritized a musical education for his children. Young Gustav studied piano, violin, and trombone, and quickly developed an interest in composition. Holst absorbed musical ideas from works he heard or played, but he had little formal training as a composer, which explains in part why Holst’s style defies easy description. He wrote a variety of works, but was known, both in his own lifetime as now, for just one: The Planets.

“As a rule I only study things that suggest music to me,” wrote Gustav Holst to a friend in 1913, just before beginning “Mars, Bringer of War,” the first movement of The Planets. “… Recently the character of each planet suggested lots to me, and I have been studying astrology fairly closely ….” Holst regretted that astrology was so belittled by those who debunked it as unscientific. For Holst, astrology offered keen insights into humanity, ideas he likely picked up from Alan Leo’s influential book, What Is a Horoscope and How is it Cast? (1902). Leo, considered the father of modern astrology, advocated a psychological interpretation of star signs, rather than using them as predictors of specific events. Leo also incorporated the relationship of the planets within the zodiac.

“These pieces were suggested by the astrological significance of the planets,” said Holst of his finished work. “There is no program music in them, neither have they any connection with the deities of classical mythology bearing the same names. If any guide to the music is required, the subtitle to each piece will be found sufficient, especially if it is used in a broad sense. For instance, Jupiter brings jollity in the normal sense, and also

the more ceremonial kind of rejoicing associated with religious or national festivities. Saturn brings not only physical decay, but also a vision of fulfillment.” Some years after the premiere, Holst described the individual movements as “mood pictures,” organized in careful juxtaposition with contrasting emotional qualities. Holst also intended the music to embody the subtitles he gave to each planet. Thus, “Mars, Bringer of War” does not depict a specific battle; it serves instead as a metaphor for the emotional state we experience during wartime.

“Mars, Bringer of War” opens with col legno strings (players bounce the wood of their bows on the strings, creating a percussive effect). The ominous nature of the marching strings is reinforced by the unusual meter—groups of five, rather than the conventional march tempo of four or two. Brasses represent military might in this music of formidable, almost unstoppable power. The gentle calm of “Venus, Bringer of Peace,” serves as the perfect foil to “Mars’” bellicosity, while “Mercury’s” playfulness suggests the quicksilver nature of “the wingéd messenger.” Jupiter’s “jollity” encompasses a wide expanse of qualities: noble, magisterial, benevolent. Its several themes embody joy, excitement, and heroism. “Jupiter is perhaps the most “English” of the movements—in the nationalistic sense personified by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Its central theme sounds like a folk melody, and its quiet dignity anchors the more lighthearted melodies that surround it. “Saturn”, which Holst claimed as his favorite section of The Planets, brings old age in a series of slow, plodding tones and rhythms. Reviewers and biographers have interpreted this music as a tragic harbinger of death, but Holst suggests, through the music, that with “Saturn” also comes reflection in the form of remembering (the music shares subtle connections with the closing notes of “Mars”). Chimes echo through a static soundscape, marking the inexorable approach of Time. How you interpret “Saturn” depends in large part on how you feel about growing old.

The title “Uranus, the Magician” has led many to compare this movement with Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. But Holst, with his interest in mystical and occult realms, may have intended more than a comic interlude. One can find both good-natured parody and hints of terrifying power in this music. The closing movement, “Neptune, the Mystic,” moves beyond magic into otherworldly realms. Holst emphasizes the ethereal nature of this music with glockenspiel, celeste, shimmering winds, gossamer strings, and a wordless chorus of female voices.

Music critics were divided about The Planets, but audiences, then as now, responded with overwhelming enthusiasm. Reviewer Ernest Newman praised Holst for possessing “one of the subtlest and most original minds of our time,” and Holst’s friend and colleague, Ralph Vaughan Williams, observed, “Holst’s music reaches into the unknown, but it never loses touch with humanity.”


© 2016 Elizabeth Schwartz

Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz

Elizabeth Schwartz is a free-lance writer and musician based in Portland. In addition to annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony, The Britt Festival and other ensembles, she has contributed to NPR’s “Performance Today,” (now heard on American Public Media). Schwartz also writes about performing arts and culture for Oregon Jewish Life Magazine and other publications. www.classicalmusicprogramnotes.com

Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons

Stravinsky – Fireworks
Igor Stravinsky–Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Sony Classical 42432

Schoenfield – Four Parables for Piano and Orchestra
**No currently available recording

Holst – The Planets
Sir Adrian Boult–London Philharmonic Orchestra
6-Warner Classics 40471 OR
Charles Dutoit–Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Decca 417553

These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.

 

 

 


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