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home, march 28th, 7:30pm - oberon

Last Round - Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)

Born December 5, 1960, Osvaldo Golijov grew up in an Eastern European Jewish household in La Plata, Argentina.  His mother was a piano teacher and his father was a doctor.  He was raised surrounded by classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla.  He began his musical studies with piano at the local conservatory in Argentina.  In 1983 he moved to Israel to study at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy; there he immersed himself in the colliding musical tradition of the city.  In 1986 he moved to the United States to pursue his Ph.D. the University of Pennsylvania where he studied with George Crumb.  In 1990 he studied with Oliver Knussen as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center.  Currently, Golijov serves as faculty in the music department at College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, MA.  

Golijov’s output includes music for orchestra, chamber ensemble, opera, chorus and film.  He has received numerous commissions from prestigious groups in both the United States and Europe.  In his music you can hear the amazing tapestry of cultures and sounds that he has experienced during his life.  

Phoenix is no stranger to Golijov’s Last Round; in fact its first movement was featured on our first ever concert, here at Oberon in March 2015.  About his piece Golijov writes, “I composed Last Round in 1996, prompted by Geoff Nuttall and Barry Shiffman.  They heard a sketch of the second movement, which I had written in 1991 upon hearing the news of Piazzolla’s stroke, and encouraged me to finish it and write another movement to complement it.  The title is borrowed from a short story on boxing by Julio Cortázar, the metaphor for an imaginary chance for Piazzolla’s spirit to fight one more time (he used to get into fistfights throughout his life).  The piece is conceived as an idealized bandoneon.  The first movement represents the act of a violent compression of the instrument and the second and final, a seemingly endless opening sigh (it is actually a fantasy over the refrain of the song ‘My Beloved Buenos Aires’, composed by the legendary Carlos Gardel in the 1930’s).  But Last Round is also a sublimated tango dance.  Two quartets confront each other, separated by the focal bass, with violins and violas standing up as in the traditional tango orchestras.  The bows fly in the air as inverted legs in crisscrossed choreography, always attracting and repelling each other, always in danger of clashing, always avoiding it with the immutability that can only be acquired by transforming hot passion into pure pattern.”

Bladed Stance - Marcos Balter (b. 1974)

Born in 1974, Marcos Balter was raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he studied at the Conservatório Musical Heitor Villa-Lobos.  In 1996 he immigrated to the United States to study at Texas Christian University.  Balter continued his studies with Augusta Read Thomas at Northwestern University.  In 2005 he was awarded the Leonard Bernstein Fellowship at the Tanglewood music Center right here in Lenox, MA.  Balter is currently an Associate Professor of Music Composition at Montclair State University.

Balter wrote Bladed Stance in 2013 as a commission for the contemporary music ensemble yMusic.  Phoenix fans may already be familiar with yMusic’s unusual instrumentation: Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, Violin, Viola, and Cello.  We featured another of yMusic’s commissions during our second season: Judd Greenstein’s Clearing, Dawn, Dance

Daniel Stephen Johnson’s words on Bladed Stance in Chamber Music Magazine cannot be matched.  He writes, “Balter specifies the use of artificial reverb in the score, then uses the disembodied, artificially balanced sound that results to create a series of uncanny sonic illusions by writing in ranges where the instrumental timbres become nearly indistinguishable.  For Balter, writing a piece to suit an ensemble and its audience is common sense.  Part minimalist meditation, part spectralist experiment; written for classical virtuosos, premiered in a bar—and succeeding on each of those levels without stopping to compromise—Bladed Stance is a musical vindication of that philosophy.”

Octet for Wind Instruments - Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Russian-born composer, pianist and conductor, Igor Stravinsky is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th Century.   Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882 in a suburb of St. Petersburg to Ukrainian parents.  He began piano lessons at a young age; however, his parents expected him to study law so he enrolled in the University of St. Petersburg in 1901.  Throughout his schooling years his mind was constantly preoccupied with music, and in 1902 he spent a transformative summer in Heidelberg with the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who urged him to forgo studies at the Conservatory and rather seek out private lessons.  Stravinsky’s compositional output is known for its stylistic diversity.  For years he was commissioned to write ballets by Sergei Diaghilev for the Ballet Russes.  This period was followed by works that a distinctly “Russian”, then a stint with neoclassicism and finally a move to serialism.  

Stravinsky spent extensive time in both Switzerland and France.  In 1934 he became a French citizen and started to develop key relationships with academics and musicians in the United States.  In 1939 he moved to the United States after agreeing to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University.  The timing proved quite convenient with the outbreak of World War II.  Stravinsky had a rich history with the city of Boston.  He married his second wife, Vera de Bosset, just down the road from us in Bedford, MA in 1940, and was close friends with Serge Koussevitzky, legendary composer and Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

Tonight you will hear Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments.  Written in 1923, this work marks Stravinsky’s commitment to his newly adopted neoclassical style that would dominate his work for the following 30 years.  As an ambassador for his new style, the Octet was originally met with confusion and disappointment at its premier in Paris in October 1923.  Akin to its neoclassical nature, the first movement of the octet is a sonata form movement with a slow introduction, the second movement is a theme and variations and the third is constructed with a classic rondo scheme.  Stravinky’s innovations come from his use of the octatonic scale, eclectic instrumentation and fluid harmonies that seamlessly flow from one tonal center to the next. 

Elegy - Sahba Aminikia (b. 1981)

Born in 1981 in Tehran, Iran, Sahba Aminikia studied music composition in Russia at the St. Petersburg State Conservatory under Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko, a student of Dimitri Shostakovich. In his homeland, Aminikia studied under renowned Iranian pianists Nikan Milani, Safa Shahidi and Gagik Babayan. He was perhaps most influenced by work with his first teacher and renowned composer, Dr. Mehran Rouhani, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and former student of Sir Michael Tippett.  Aminikia came to the United States in 2006 as a refugee in pursuit to study music.  He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music with honors from San Francisco Conservatory of Music under Dan Becker, David Garner and David Conte. He also studied with Conrad Susa, Richard Danielpour, John Corigliano, Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams.  It has been said that he is an “artist who draws upon his own heritage while creating a relevant voice in our increasingly complex and plural world.”  

Aminikia says, “Born in post-revolutionary wartime Iran, I and many of my generation experienced a tumultuous childhood in the Iran of the early 1980s. This generation watched a new-born democracy evolve from mass-executions, war, and violence into a society where internet, Facebook, and Twitter altered the political and social infrastructure of the past permanently. I was born and raised in Tehran, where the traditions of the past and the most progressive influences of the region are constantly in a state of struggle. Living in such a state of conflict, I needed to define my own identity, dismissing a wide variety of the choices that were already made for me and the children of my age.  In the Iran of 1980s, music was completely banned from media and live events and was only allowed in the format of revolutionary chants and Quran recitations. Later on, in late 1980s, Persian traditional music and western classical music were added to this list. Women have always been banned from singing in public, starting with the Islamic revolution and with the downfall of the Shah in 1979.  From the very early days that I started living outside of Iran, I realized that being brought up in such circumstances could further alienate me from starting a new life in my new country, and that even talking about such harsh experiences could add to people’s fear of the middle east, Islam and unknown cultures.  I think of music as a medium for me to communicate and share my experiences with audiences of different backgrounds. I think identifying hope and beauty in the most horrific human experiences and including people of different backgrounds in a process of sympathy to that which our fellow humans have endured could further develop a peculiar sensitivity in human beings which enables us to look at our fellow humans’ grief and joy and consider them our own.”

Tonight we will feature his Elegy for Viola and Cello, which was written in 2008 for 60 Afghan Children who were killed in a US Airstrike in 2008.  

Selections from 44 Duos for Two Violins - Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, and pianist, Béla Bartók was born on March 25, 1881 in present day Romania.  Today, Bartók is recognized mainly as a composer; however he earned his living mainly from teaching and playing the piano and was a relentless collector and analyst of folk music.  Though his father was Hungarian, his paternal grandmother was Serbian and his mother was German, creating quite a diverse family.  He is regarded, along with his compatriot Liszt, as Hungary’s greatest composer.  Bartók showed an affinity for music early on in life, and his mother was his first formal piano teacher.  He continued his studies from 1899-1903 at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest.

Before the outbreak of World War I Bartók spent the majority of his career collecting, cataloging, and arranging Hungarian folk music.  This is immediately evident when examining his output of music including his works for orchestra, chamber ensemble and solo piano.  While the events of World War I prevented him from travelling to collect his samples, he resumed his work with folk melodies after the war had ended.  Like several of the composers featured on tonight’s program the outbreak of World War II severely disrupted his life in Europe.  Bartók strongly opposed Hungary’s sympathy with Germany and the Nazi Party.  After his anti-fascist views caused his a great deal of trouble in Hungary, he was reluctantly forced to immigrate to the United States in 1940.  Bartók’s health was poor for most of his time in the United States, leading to little compositional output.  However, in 1944 his close friend Serge Koussevitzky, then Music Director of the Boston Symphony, commissioned what would become one of Bartók’s most famous works, his Concerto for Orchestra.  Not only was in the premiere a huge success, but it also rejuvenated a creative period that produced some of Bartók’s most memorable works, including the Sonata for Solo Violin, written for Yehudi Menuhin, and the Concerto for Viola, before his death in 1945.  

Tonight you will hear excerpts from Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins.  Written in 1931, Bartók never intended for these pieces to be performed, rather they were to be used as exercises for young violinists.  The 44 Duos were commissioned by Erich Doflein, a German violinist and pedagogue.  For Bartók, they became an outlet for experimentation with folk music.  In them one can hear music from Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Arabic, Slovak, and Hungarian cultures.  

Songs of a Wayfarer - Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) arr. Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Austrian composer and painter, Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna on September 13, 1874 to a lower middle-class Jewish family.  He was largely self-taught, and took only counterpoint lessons with composer Alexander Zemlinsky.  He was the leader of the Second Viennese School of composers, which included his pupils Berg and Webern.  Their music was initially characterized by late-Romantic expanded tonality, and later transformed into atonality and eventually Schoenberg’s serial twelve-tone technique.  In 1898 Schoenberg converted to Christianity in the Lutheran church.  Scholars claim this decision was partly to strengthen his attachment to Western European cultural traditions, and partly as a means of self-defense in a time of resurgent anti-Semitism.  Throughout his life he moved around Europe quite a bit, spending a number of years in Berlin.  In 1933 he left Berlin for France due to the increase in anti-Semitism as Hitler rose to power.  There he reclaimed his Judaism in a Parisian synagogue.  One year later in 1934, he immigrated to the United States. 

Schoenberg made his was to his eventual home in Los Angeles by was of Boston where he taught and lectured for about a year.  In 1936 he was named a professor at UCLA.  While in LA he formed a lasting friendship with George Gershwin, the legendary American composer of Rhapsody in Blue.  Schoenberg taught at both UCLA and USC until he died in 1951, influencing countless students from Dave Brubeck to John Cage, and leaving a significant and lasting mark on the ethos of American classical music.  

Originally composed by Gustav Mahler between 1883-84, Lieder eines fahreden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) was written as a love letter to soprano Johann Richter.  Mahler wrote the texts himself and took inspiration from the German poetry of Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magical Horn).  The work was fully orchestrated in 1886.  In a letter to Fritz Lohr on January 1, 2885 Mahler wrote that he had composed a cycle of songs dedicated to Johanna.  He said, “The songs are planned as though a traveling journey man who has suffered some sort of fate sets out into the world and wanders musingly and alone.”  Throughout his life Mahler frequently felt alone and like an outsider in whatever community he found himself.  His complex cultural background inspired one of his most famous quotes, “I am three times homeless, a Bohemian in Austria, and Austrian among Germans, and a Jew throughout the world.  

Schoenberg arranged Mahler’s work in 1919 for medium voice and chamber orchestra as an economical reduction of the fully orchestrated score for the Society for Private Musical Performances (Verein für musikalische Privitaufführungen).  Schoenberg founded the Society in Fall 1918 with the intention of making performances of newly composed music accessible to genuinely interested members of the musical public.  In the first two years of the society he did not allow any of his own compositions to be performed, rather he programmed music (and his arrangements of music) by composers such as Bartók, Stravinsky, Mahler, Strauss, Webern, and Ravel, among others.

Lieder eines fahreden Gesellen is written in four movements.  The first song captures the conflicting emotions of a scorned lover on his former beloved’s wedding day.  The rapidly fluctuating musical character captures the mood swings so typical of Mahler.  The second song reflects the forlorn Hero briskly walking through a meadow.  The movement’s main theme is well known from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.  In the end of the movement nature is unable to move the protagonist to joy.  The third song is a complete expression of pain and despair, and the final movement takes the form of a “walking song” in the manner of the similar melancholy songs in Schubert’s Winterreise.  In this last movement we hear one of Mahler’s first funeral marches, a trope that would start to penetrate his entire output.  In the end the words speak of consolation in nature; however, the music concludes on a question mark leaving room for the audience to construct the remainder of the narrative.  

Tonight we are so lucky to be joined by mezzo-soprano Britt Brown.

- Christina Dioguardi