Phoenix
The Orchestra Reborn

The Streets - Program Notes

The Streets, November 21st, 7:30pm - Oberon

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Arguably one of the most legendary composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach was the most important member of the famous musical family.  Throughout his life he made incredible contributions to the entire spectrum of the Baroque repertoire.  Many of Bach’s orchestral compositions are presumed lost; however, one preserved collection contained the Brandenburg Concertos.  Bach dedicated his Brandenburg Concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, and dated them March 24, 1721; although, they were written over a considerable period before this date.  The Brandenburg Concertos abandon the typical “concerto grosso” style of the Baroque period, and instead feature an incredibly diverse group of solo instruments.  Each Brandenburg Concerto is one of a kind, written for a unique and unprecedented grouping of instruments that Bach never repeats throughout the collection.  

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 is one of the trio concertos, featuring three solo instruments (two recorders and a violin) with a chamber orchestra.  In our performance of this work, we will feature two flutes in place of the recorders, a common occurrence in modern-day performances.  It is the only one of the Brandenburg Concertos in which Bach employs the exact same force of instruments in all three movements.  Throughout the entire work one car hear the solo violin and flutes or the soloists and the orchestra having conversations with one another.  

In choosing one violin and two recorders (flutes) as the solo forces, Bach creates a pure and joyful sound world.  The first and third movements primarily feature the solo violin, while the second movement highlights the two flutes, with the solo violin providing an accompaniment.  Throughout the entire work Bach showcases the virtuosity of the violin with a series of difficult solo passages.  Bach’s use of counterpoint in this work is masterful, and all the while he maintains an effortless grace.  

Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint

Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953)

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price was the first black American woman to win widespread recognition as a symphonic composer.  Her writing was particularly prominent in the 1930s.  She began her early training with her mother and then pursued her education here in Boston at the New England Conservatory (1903-1906), where she received an Artist Diploma in organ.  After her schooling, she returned to the south to teach at institutions such as the Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia Academy and Shorter College.  In 1927, presumably to escape increasing racial oppression in the South, she moved to Chicago with her family.  She remained there for the rest of her life, and flourished as both a composer and educator.  

Written for string quartet, Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint has five movements entitled: Calvary; Clementine’ Drink to me only with thine eyes; Shortnin’ bread; and Swing low, sweet chariot.  This work is often forgotten in the repertoire, and until recently existed only in manuscript.  Negro Folksongs is an example of one of Price’s idiomatic works, which harnesses African-American spirituals as a basis for her composition.  Tonight you will here a performance of the first four movements of the work.   

Techno-parade

Guillaume Connesson (B. 1970)

French composer Guillame Connesson is the only living composer featured on tonight’s program.  He is currently professor of orchestration at the Conservatoire National de Région d’Aubervilliers.  He has quite an extensive output of compositions including works for orchestra, voice, chamber ensembles, choir, solo instruments and film.  Many titans of composition extensively influence Connesson’s composition style, including: Couperin, Wagner, Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Dutilleux, Reich and Adams.  

Connesson wrote Techno-parade for flute, clarinet, and piano in 2002.  Here is what the composer wrote about his work:

“Composed for flute, clarinet and piano, my Techno-parade is made up of one movement with a continuous beat from beginning to end. Two incisive motifs swirl and clink together giving the piece a festive, but also disturbing character. The wails of the clarinet and the obsessive patterns of the piano try to replicate the raw energy of techno music. In the middle of the piece, the pianist and his page-turner chase after the piano rhythms with a brush and sheets of paper (placed on the strings inside the piano), accompanied by the distorted sounds of the flute (rather like the tone of a side drum) and the glissandi of the clarinet. After this percussive “pause”, the three instruments are pulled into a rhythmic trance and the piece ends in a frenzied tempo. Composed for the tenth anniversary of the Festival de lʼEmpéri, I dedicate my Techno-parade to its three creators Eric Le Sage, Paul Meyer and Emmanuel Pahud.”

Night Music on the Streets of Madrid

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)

Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini was born into a musical family; his father and all of his siblings made their careers in the arts.  He was an incredibly prolific composer, particularly of chamber music.  Boccherini probably received his early music education from his father Leopoldo Boccherini, a double bass player in the Capella Palatina; he went on to study formally in both Lucca and Rome.  Travels with both his father and his friend, violinist Fillipo Manfredi, led to music engagements in cities such as Vienna, Paris, and ultimately Madrid.  On November 8, 1770 Boccherini entered the service of Don Luis of Aranjuez, the brother of King Charles III of Spain.  Boccherini flourished during this period of patronage, and was forever influenced and inspired by the sounds of Spain.  

Throughout his life Boccherini wrote almost 100 string quartets, mostly in the style established by his contemporary, Haydn.  However, Boccherini’s quartets often prominently featured the cello—probably due to the fact that it was his main instrument—at a time when the cello was typically relegated to an accompaniment role.  Eventually Boccherini began to champion a new configuration: the string quintet for two violins, viola and two cellos.  He wrote over 100 string quintets during his career, including Night Music on the Streets of Madrid.  

This quintet was composed around 1780, during his employment under Don Luis.  The quartet was quite famous in Spain during Boccherini’s lifetime; in fact it was not published until after the composer’s death because he said, “The piece is absolutely useless, even ridiculous, outside Spain because the audience cannot hope to understand its significance, nor the performers to play it as it should be played.”  The quintet embodies the nightlife of the Madrid streets, with an air of nostalgia, in seven movements.  The first, Le campane de l’Ave Maria, depicts the city’s main church bell calling for the faithful to pray to the Virgin Mary.  In movement two, Il tamburo dei Soldati, one can hear a soldier’s drum.  The third movement, Minuetto dei Ciechi, translates to the Minuet of the Blind Beggars.  In this movement, Boccherini instructs the cellists to strum their instruments like guitars.  The fourth movement turns back to the sacred in sort of a recitative fashion.  Its title, Il Rosario, translates to The Rosary.  The title of movement five, Passe Calle, is slightly misleading.  While it is translated as The Passacaglia of the Street Singers, it is not a true passacaglia.  Instead it imitates the singing of the lower-class, known as Los Manolos.  In Spanish, “passacalle” means, to pass along the street.  Like the second movement, the sixth depicts Il tamburo, or the drum; although this time it is not a specific drum.  Finally the last movement, Ritirata, characterizes the retreat of the military night watch in Madrid.  This nightly protocol announces the curfew for the city, and thus the closing of the streets for the night.  

Shepherd’s Hey, Colonial Song, Molly on the Shore

Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)

Percy Grainger was an accomplished composer, pianist, and arranger born in Australia.  A champion of the folksong, Grainger is best known for his settings of British folk music.  He spent the first thirteen years of his life in Melbourne, Australia before attending school at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt and then moving to London in 1901, where he remained until 1914.  During this time, he collected and arranged English folksongs.  Some of his most popular works during this period were Molly on the Shore (1907) and Shepherd’s Hey (1908-13), both of which you will hear tonight.  

When World War I began, he moved to the United States, where he worked quite successfully as both a pianist and composer.  He served in the US Army from 1917-1919 as an oboist, soprano saxophonist, and later instructor of the army band. In 1918 he became an American citizen.  After his mother’s suicide in 1922, Grainger refocused his career on education.  During World War II, Grainger re-launched his career as a solo pianist; he gave his final concert tour in 1948.  He continued to lecture and perform in schools until about 1960, when illness plagued the final year of his life.   He gave his final concert on April 29, 1960 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.  

The three works that you will hear tonight are some of Grainger’s most well known.  Many of his works have been arranged by others and by the composer himself for various groupings of instruments.  Tonight’s performances will feature three different groups of instruments: Shepherd’s Hey for 2 flutes, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, cello, and double bass; Colonial Song for violin, cello, and piano; Molly on the Shore for chamber orchestra.  Shepherd’s Hey is based on an English Morris Dance tune collected by Cecil J. Sharp.  The Morris Dance was danced by teams of men decked out with bells to the music of the fiddle or the ‘pipe and tabor’ (drum and fife).  Grainger’s setting is incredibly energetic and shows his command of counterpoint.  

Grainger’s, Colonial Song was originally written for solo piano in 1911 as gift for his mother, Rose.  He said, “it was an attempt to write a melody as typical of the Australian countryside as Stephen Foster’s exquisite songs are typical of rural America.”  Unlike the other two works on tonight’s program, as well as a majority of Grainger’s other compositions, Colonial Song is not based on any folk songs, but rather it is an original composition.  The version that you will hear tonight was arranged by Grainger himself.  While it was not well liked in Australia, it gained increasing popularity when Grainger brought it with him to America.  

Molly on the Shore was originally composed for strings.  It is based on two contrasting Irish reels, “Temple Hill” and “Molly on the Shore”.  In 1920 Grainger arranged it for wind band and orchestra.  It showcases his brilliant writing for wind instruments and is truly an animated ride from start to finish.