Ruth Reinhardt Conducts Schubert’s Fifth Symphony
- November 2, 2019
- November 1, 2019
In 1920, an influential article hailed a group of young French composers as “Les Six,” placing them in the same revered class as the “Russian Five” from a previous generation, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov among them. Honegger was less of a trickster than his five Satie-influenced peers, which included Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc, and his sincerity came through in Pastorale d’été (Summer Pastoral) from that same breakout year. In the score, an epigraph by the influential French poet Arthur Rimbaud sets the mood for this short tone poem: “J’ai embrasse l’aube d’ete.” (“I have embraced the summer dawn.”) The opening passage and other long stretches maintain a static harmony built on the mixolydian mode, defined by its lowered seventh tone compared to a major scale. This prolonged vamp is undeniably bluesy, conveying the same languid calm that would mark the cool jazz of later decades.
Aaron Grad ©2019
Grazyna Bacewicz was one of the most influential Polish musicians in the twentieth century. Besides her work as a composer, drawing on studies in Paris with the legendary Nadia Boulanger, Bacewicz was a top-tier concert violinist who led the Polish Radio Orchestra for a time, and also a pianist known for interpreting her own works. She even wrote novels and short stories, and late in life she embraced teaching. Her most celebrated compositions, including the Concerto for String Orchestra from 1948, unite a performer’s sensitivity to instrumental tone production with a bright neoclassical language (or really neo-Baroque in this case, drawing more on Bach than Mozart). When the Concerto was first performed in 1950 at the General Assembly of the Polish Composers’ Union, a critic and fellow union member wrote, “It can be said in all honesty that the honor of Polish composers was saved this time by a woman, Grazyna Bacewicz. … We finally felt a ‘red-blooded piece’ of wholesome and delicious music written with a creative power that is truly virile.”
Aaron Grad ©2019
I originally composed Dark with Excessive Bright for contrabass soloist Maxime Bibeau and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. I was inspired by Maxime’s double bass, a massive instrument built in 1580 that was stored in an Italian monastery for hundreds of years. While composing I continuously listened to music from the Baroque and Renaissance eras, imagining this instrument as a historian, an object that collected the music of the passing centuries in the twists of its neck and the fibers of its wood, finally emerging into the light at age 400 and singing it all into the world. While loosely based in Baroque idioms, this piece slips between string techniques from several centuries, all while twisting a pattern of repeated chords beyond recognition. “Dark with excessive bright,” a phrase from Milton’s Paradise Lost, is a surreal and evocative description of God, written by a blind man. I love the impossibility of this phrase, and felt it was a strangely accurate way to describe the dark but heartrending sound of the double bass itself. Dark with Excessive Bright was commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Aurora Orchestra in London.
Missy Mazzoli ©2019
Schubert completed his Symphony No. 5 in B-flat in 1816, during the period when he was working as a teaching assistant at a school in Vienna, taking private composition lessons twice a week with Antonio Salieri, and writing mountains of music that had yet to be seen or heard by anyone outside his private circle. Aside from a private reading that fall, the symphony sat dormant until long after Schubert’s death, with a first performance in 1841 and a published score only appearing in 1885. Of all of Schubert’s symphonies, finished and unfinished, this is the only one that omits clarinets, trumpets and timpani from the orchestration, essentially turning back the clock to the symphonic customs of the 1780s. Schubert’s crisp musical material matches the economical scoring, with traces of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven infusing the work of a young man who was destined, at least in his afterlife, to join the pantheon of Viennese greats.
Aaron Grad ©2019
Join us Saturday, November 2nd as the orchestra and fellow audience members celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first SPCO concert with a reception in the Target Atrium immediately following the concert. Desserts and champagne will be provided.