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“Escape to Hope”

May 13, 2023 @ 7:30 pm 9:30 pm MDT

“Escape to Hope” with a concert celebrating the power and resilience of the human spirit.


Saturday, May 13, 2023
7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Pre-Concert Lecture at 6:30


Lincoln Center Main Stage
417 W. Magnolia St.
Fort Collins, CO 80521


$25-67 adult, $10 student/child
$25 Livestream
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SC5 Escape to Hope

American composer Michael Abels is best known as the composer for hit movies “Get Out,” “Us,” and “Nope.” He wrote Global Warming in 1990 to describe the warming of international relations after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes was inspired by poetry and conjures images of clouds, festivals, and enchanting sirens.

“Escape to Hope” ends with Ukrainian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, written during World War II as troops stormed the beach at Normandy. The symphony celebrates the “grandeur of the human spirit” and the things worth fighting for.

On this concert:

Global Warming, by Michael Abels
Duration: 8 min

Nocturnes, by Claude Debussy
Duration: 24 min

Intermission: 20 min

Symphony No. 5, by Sergei Prokofiev
Duration: 42 min

Spotify Playlist:

Free week-of-concert events:

Composer talk
Composer Talks with Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Composer Talk:

Join CSU professor Dr. K. Dawn Grapes on the Wednesday prior to most Signature concerts for an entertaining and informative lecture about the upcoming featured composers. Light refreshments. Sponsored by the Friends of the Symphony.

Wednesday, May 10
12:00 – 1:00 PM, at the Old Town Library

Open Rehearsal:

Learn firsthand what it takes for an orchestra to bring live music to the stage. Houselights remain on during this comfortable preview of each upcoming Signature concert. The rehearsal closes to the public at 8:30 p.m. intermission.

Thursday, May 11
7:00 – 8:30 PM, at the Lincoln Center

Maestro’s Musings:

Prior to each Signature concert, join Maestro Wes Kenney for a pre-concert talk about the music you will hear.

Saturday, May 13
6:30 – 7:00 PM, at the Lincoln Center
Included with ticket purchase

Program Notes:

Michael Abels, Global Warming (1990)

Duration: 8 min

Global Warming is an orchestral work that uses the term to describe the warming of international relations that was happening around the world in 1990. The Berlin Wall had just come down, the Cold War was declared over. “I wanted to write a piece that explored the similarities I heard between music of various cultures,” Abels said.

Michael Abels
Michael Abels

“It begins with a desert scene, a depiction of a futuristic vast desert, with desert locusts buzzing in the background. But soon the piece turns quite uplifting. There are elements of Irish music, African music, Persian rhythms, drones, blended to display their commonalities in a way that is often quite joyous.” But rather than end happily, the piece suddenly returns to its original, stark, desert scene, leaving it to the listener to decide which version of global warming they prefer. At the time of its premiere, the term “global warming” was not the politically charged term it is today. The piece was not written as a political statement, but its political message has inevitably deepened as climate change has evolved from theory into reality.

Michael Abels is best-known for his scores for the Oscar-winning film GET OUT, and for Jordan Peele’s US, for which Abels won the World Soundtrack Award, the Jerry Goldsmith Award, a Critics Choice nomination, an Image Award nomination, and multiple critics’ awards. The hip-hop influenced score for US was short-listed for the Oscar, and was even named “Score of the Decade” by online publication The Wrap.

Notes by the composer.

Michael Abels, Global Warming (1990)

Notes by Dr. K Dawn Grapes:

American composer Michael Abels (b. 1962) is a musical storyteller. Most widely known for his film scores, such as Get Out and Us, he also composes works for chamber and large ensembles, piano, and voice. A glance at the titles in his catalogue reveals his embrace of social justice themes and portrayals of the human condition.Abels’s most recent project is an opera titled Omar, created with Rhiannon Giddens. The libretto is based on the true story of an enslaved West African scholar transported to the United States in 1807. The primary source documents for the narrative, now held in the Library of Congress, make up the only surviving first-hand account of U.S. slavery preserved in an Arabic language. Since its 2022 premiere by the Spoleto Festival, the opera has sparked interest in opera companies across the United States, bringing renewed attention to the composer.

Abels’s orchestral poem Global Warming was commissioned in 1991 by the Phoenix Youth Symphony. The composer’s website states that the title refers to the thaw of international relations taking place in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union disbanded and the Berlin Wall was torn down. Since that time, the piece has taken on new meaning related to climate change. The composer writes:

The opening section of the piece is a vision of the traditional idea of global warming—a vast desert, the relentless heat punctuated by the buzzing of cicadas, and an anguished, frenetic solo violin (with help from a solo cello). This scene gives way to several episodes reminiscent of folk music of various cultures, most noticeably Irish and Middle Eastern. At the climax of the piece, a Middle Eastern melody is transformed, through gradual changes in rhythm and ornamentation, back into the Irish refrain, and many counter-melodies join in to present a noisy—yet harmonious—world village. This joyous moment is broken by a sudden return to the stark vision of the opening, leaving the listener to decide which image may more accurately reflect our future.

Claude Debussy, Nocturnes, L. 98 (1893-99)

Duration: 24 min

Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Perhaps more than any other composer, Claude Debussy’s music is associated with timbral color. Portrayals of light and shadow pervade as listeners are transported to worlds of ethereal splendor. In achieving this aim, the composer had a penchant for combining traditional orchestral instruments in new ways, in an effort to create aural depictions of moments in time. Is it any wonder, then, that Debussy (1862–1918) became associated with the contemporaneous French impressionist painting movement, even though he did not consider himself an impressionist?

Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea by James McNeill Whistler
Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea
by James McNeill Whistler

Nocturnes provides an illuminating example of Debussy’s ability to conjure contrasting musical images, in this case of “Nuages”(Clouds), “Fêtes”(Festivals), and “Sirènes”(Sirens). The composition was first conceived in 1893 as a work for solo violin and orchestra, titled Trois Scènes au crepuscule (Three scenes at dusk) and inspired by the symbolist poetry of Henri de Régnier. Over time, however, Debussy re-envisioned the movements for full orchestra into something quite different than his original drafts portray. The title Nocturnes was added, supposedly borrowed from a painting style coined by James McNeill Whistler, an American painter who spent his time in Paris rubbing shoulders with elite French artists. Whistler’s visual nocturnes rely on diffused light and color to express waning twilight. Thus, the new title connects directly back to Régnierbut’s dusky scenes.

Debussy described the work thus:

It is not meant to designate the usual form of the Nocturne, but rather all the various impressions and special effects of light that the word suggests. “Nuages” renders the immutable aspect of the sky and the slow, motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with white. “Fêtes” gives us the vibrating, dancing rhythm of the atmosphere with sudden flashes of light … “Sirènes” depicts the sea and its countless rhythms and presently, amongst the waves silvered by the moonlight, is heard the mysterious song of the Sirens as they laugh and pass on.       (trans. Léon Vallas)

The first two movements of Nocturnes were premiered by the Orchestre Lamourex in 1900, almost eight years after Debussy first began developing the suite. The third movement was not heard for another year, but when finally performed, featured a wordless, female chorus that sonically depicts enchanted sirens in their mystical world. In spite of—or perhaps because of—the composition’s long, winding creation trajectory, the musical work captures much of the essence of the Paris artistic scene of the time, with its unspoken hints of symbolist poetry and implied impressionistic auditory brushstrokes.

Notes by Dr. William E. Runyan

Claude Debussy composed the three movements of his Nocturnes for orchestra between 1897-99. The early reception of this work was not wholly enthusiastic by any means, and they continued to receive mixed reviews for most of the next decade. It took quite a while before they gained their position as a respected part of the standard orchestral repertoire.  He had composed earlier works for orchestra as a developing composer; of them his Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (published in 1895) is most widely familiar to concert audiences today.

Claude Debussy Square image
Claude Debussy

“Nocturnes,” Debussy’s choice of words as the title of the three-movement suite, largely reflects his new outlook. What he clearly did not wish to convey is any connection with traditional Germanic concepts of sonata, symphony, or the like. He sought a new, flexible title that was basically neutral in that regard. So, he used the term that goes back in musical history to compositions that originally evoked the night, but later came to refer to groups of movements intended to be played outdoors by an ensemble as a kind of serenade. Later, the Irish pianist John Field innovated the term for his brief piano studies in one mood, as did others, notably Chopin after him. The point is that generally a single mood is the sole focus for a nocturne. Debussy admirably explored three quite different ones in his three for orchestra. But perhaps the single most influential factor in his choice is associated with the great American painter, James McNeil Whistler, who lived, studied, and worked in Paris in the nineteenth century. Whistler appropriated the musical term for a series of paintings (interesting enough, originally called “moonlights”) that evoke maritime scenes at night, using washes of delicate colors.  Debussy definitively acknowledged the inspiration for his composition in Whistler’s paintings.

Debussy’s three movements are entitled Nuages, Fêtes, and Sirènes. He left us specific comments about them, so we understand rather well what he had in mind in each. Nuages (clouds) depicts the serene immutable floating of clouds in the sky, a delicate study in the infinite varieties of grays and white.  The exploration of such relationships was fundamental to the work of Whistler: for example, the real title of “Whistler’s Mother” of is “Arrangement in Grey and Black,” and that the title of another significant work of his was “Symphony in White, No. 1.”

Monet Impression sunrise
“Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet

The second movement, Fêtes (festivals), depicts just that, but not one that should evoke a specific place and time, rather the idea of a universal one, with dancing rhythms and splashes of comet-like light.  A sonorous procession (listen for the muted trumpets) interrupts in the middle, but the splashy, vivacious mood of the beginning returns.

 The last movement, Sirènes, is a seascape, replete with a wordless women’s chorus that depicts the Sirens, the alluring bird-women, who seduce unwary sailors to death and destruction. Debussy frequently treated the human voice as a unique addition to the palette of orchestral colors, and this is yet again more evidence of the supreme imagination by which French composers exploited and enlarged the resources of the orchestra. The undulating rhythms of the sea, familiar to us in Debussy’s great La Mer, combine here with the shimmering sound of the Sirens’ song to complete the trilogy.

Sergei Prokofiev, Symphony No. 5, Op. 100 (1944)

Duration: 40-45 min

Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

To say that Sergei Prokofiev’s life changed in the fourteen years between the completion of his fourth and fifth symphonies would be a gross understatement. In 1930, when his Symphony No. 4, op. 47 premiered in its first version, Prokofiev (1891–1953) was in his second decade of traveling, performing, and conducting abroad, following a comfortable childhood in Ukraine and a solid Moscow education. Highly prolific, he had already created dozens of works for stage and for chamber and orchestral ensembles, and his music found acceptance far beyond Moscow. The composer had relocated after the 1917 revolution, but seemed unable to leave his homeland behind, returning on several occasions. At the same time, the Soviet government worked very hard to lure their favored musician back, commissioning and premiering his works with greater support than he received in Europe and the United States. Scholar Dorothea Redepenning points out that even though Prokofiev was skeptical about the political situation in the USSR, he hoped the communist state would provide greater opportunities for musicians. Thus, in 1936, the conflicted musician finally gave into his heart and journeyed home. He turned in his passport for “safekeeping,” after which he never again was allowed to venture beyond the USSR’s borders. And while Prokofiev at first found success in early projects after his return, his timing was unfortunate, for it coincided with the advent of Stalin’s reign of terror. Artists of all sorts were subjected to extreme oversight, sent away to work camps, executed, or simply disappeared. In this context, Prokofiev carefully considered what to compose and how to present it, but no Soviet artist of the time could completely avoid critical censure.

Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev

Ironically, it was during the World War II years that top Soviet composers found a bit of relief. The government arranged for their relocation to places outside of Moscow to counteract the stresses of city bombings and wartime shortages. In 1944, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and Kabalevsky all spent the summer at a retreat in Ivanovo, about 150 miles outside of Moscow. Prokofiev used his time wisely, and in the course of a month produced the initial draft of his Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, op. 100. The film and stage scores and songs he had written in the pre-war years were created to fit within the Socialist Realism ideals of “heroic, bright, and beautiful.” Absolute music, without programmatic guidelines, was a much trickier venture. While it was more difficult to prove a composer’s intent, it was also much easier for the government to condemn a piece on any perceived tendency toward formalism, the term used to describe music emanating from the West. In its wartime setting, however, Prokofiev’s symphony was declared a grand success. In fact, in an oft-told story, while conducting the work’s January 1945 Moscow premiere, the composer had to pause before his first downbeat, as he was interrupted by military fire that signaled a celebration of the advance of the Red Army across the Vistula River into German territory—an indicator of movement toward victory for the Allies that provided a meaningful, if unexpected, new connection for the symphony. As for his inspiration, Prokofiev later explained that he saw the four-movement symphony as “glorifying the human spirit. I wanted to sing of a mankind free and happy—his strength, his generosity, and the purity of his soul. I cannot say that I chose this theme. It was innate in me and had to be expressed.” Whether that free, happy man was a soldier returning from the WWII battlefield, an artist navigating dictatorial expectations, or Prokofiev himself, the composer never gave any further clue. For the Soviet composer, discretion was always the better part of valor.

Unfortunately for Prokofiev, the evening served as a sort of apex of his musical journey. Not long after the performance, he fell and injured his head, restricting subsequent activities. Although he continued to compose, it was the last time the composer would conduct an orchestral premiere of his own music. More chillingly, the patriotic fervor of 1945 did not last. After the war, governmental control returned with an iron fist. In 1948, Prokofiev’s music was severely condemned by the Soviet Composer’s Union and a number of his compositions were specifically banned, making him a persona non grata in the Moscow concert hall. In a final stroke of unkind fate, the long-suffering composer died on the same day in 1953 as Stalin. Unlike his colleagues with whom he had spent the summer of 1944 in retreat, he would never experience the loosening of artistic restrictions that followed the dictator’s death.

Notes by Dr. William E. Runyan

Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich are the two composers who stood above the rest of those who labored during the years of the Soviet Union.  Unlike Shostakovich, however, Prokofiev enjoyed part of his career living and composing in the West, voluntarily returning to the USSR in 1936. Like his compatriot, he must be counted as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. Unlike Shostakovich, however, Prokofiev’s direct influence on composers outside of the Soviet sphere was minimal.  He was a virtuoso pianist, but one who also composed from the beginning, graduating from the St. Petersburg Conservatory shortly before World War I. His musical style was based in the Russian romantic tradition. He established early on a personal idiom that was characterized by pungent dissonance, soaring lyrical melodies, a facile manipulation of motoric rhythms, and kaleidoscopic harmonic changes. Part and parcel of his musical personality was an acerbic appreciation of satire, parody, and even the grotesque.

Although he traveled widely early on, he returned to the Soviet Union from time to time for extensive concertizing. His works were performed frequently there, and he always kept his Soviet passport.  He was never politically naive (although some colleagues thought so) regarding the life of artists under that political system, and it must be surmised that his eventual move to the USSR was made with open eyes.   His musical language had been gradually moving to a simpler, more accessible style—a necessary condition for artists who wished to serve a collectivist state and appeal to the masses.  So, when he and his family arrived in Russia in 1936, he adapted readily to political requirements by composing works that addressed the necessary content of socialist realism. Primarily this meant patriotic subjects, in a traditional musical style, that served political ends.

Notwithstanding the place of both Shostakovich and Prokofiev in Russian musical art, it must be said Shostakovich’s fifteen symphonies loom much higher than Prokofiev’s seven. Today, everyone realizes that even those of Shostakovich vary in significance and integrity as he, like all artists in that milieu, strove to maintain their authentic musical voice on the one hand and simply to stay alive on the other. Consequently, some are trashy examples of socialist realism that praised Stalin and his regime while many others are masterpieces of musical art. Prokofiev’s case is a bit different.

More than most composers, Prokofiev was a rather chameleon-like being who was more than willing to radically alter his style to suit the audience, the times, and the place. And since he traveled broadly and frequently before his final return to the Soviet Union in 1936, the audiences, times, and places would include the major cities of the USA and the capitals of Europe. Of his seven symphonies, only the first (written before his immigration to the USA in 1918) and the fifth stand apart for their coherence, integrity, and lasting importance. Certainly, a few of the others occasionally are performed, but they pale in significance to these two. The first symphony, The Classical, was finished in 1917 and is a landmark in the turn from post-romantic heft and complexity to classical simplicity. It even predates by two years Stravinsky’s evergreen piece in that new clear and accessible style, Pulcinella.  The second symphony (1925) was a total contrast, and an almost brutalist study in the European avant-garde extremities of the time—a brittle and dissonant work, indeed.  The third (1928) was derived from the material in his opera, The Fiery Angel. The fourth (1930) was based on his ballet The Prodigal Son, and commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony. It was not a success. The sixth was composed as the repressive artistic crackdown from the Soviet authorities began after the war in 1946—it almost destroyed Shostakovich. The seventh was finished in 1952—a year before his death. As such, by then the fire-and-vinegar was sucked out of the composer and the results show in those two rather melancholy, conformist works. That leaves the powerful, significant fifth.

During the war, Stalin’s government was understandably focused on winning the existential struggle against the Nazis.  Consequently, the watchful eye of the Soviet cultural bureaucracy nodded somewhat and Prokofiev responded with a series of works that reflected his artistic tenets, and not the usual paeans to workers, comrades, and communism. Of course, in this country our musical establishment went gaga over the compositions of our heroic Russian allies who were helping us fight the war. So, we heard Shostakovich’s symphonies, and works of Prokofiev such as Peter and the Wolf, Lieutenant Kijé, The Classical Symphony, and Romeo and Juliet in profusion.

The fifth symphony was finished in the summer of 1944. Prokofiev famously wrote that it was “a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, and his pure and noble spirit.” There is a well-known story that during the first performance with the composer conducting, celebratory artillery salutes could be heard—marking the Red Army’s invasion of Germany.

The first movement is cast in a complex sonata form, making it difficult to follow easily. Nevertheless, the principal melodies are clear, and clearly in a tonal key—there are three in the first group. The second group is fairly easy to spot, led by the flute and oboe. Two more ideas follow, somewhat more active, and have their own distinct rhythmic characters. The complex development opens with the same theme in the low strings that opens the symphony. It features all of the various themes from the opening as it works its way through, woven together in turgid, kaleidoscopic fashion.  But, from time to time they leap out of the texture, or at least are sensed. A rich, harmonized version of the opening theme in the brass announces the recapitulation, and the conclusion is nailed with stentorian explosions from the large percussion section—but ends quietly.

The second movement fulfills the traditional role of a scherzo, and is a perfect vehicle for the composer’s famed predilection for driving, motoric textures.  Against an incessant rhythmic background, several themes unfold, often in the woodwinds, and in the typical Prokofiev style: ostensibly diatonic, but zipping through implied key changes almost by the measure. Like almost all scherzo/dance movements there is a contrasting section in the middle. Here, the tempo slows, the rhythm motor drops out, and a rather lyrical theme is gently introduced by the woodwinds. But the motor begins again, now much more subdued, as various soloists receive opportunities. Staccato trumpets and trombones then introduce a rather lurching, grotesque march that begins slowly—and gradually accelerating like an old steam locomotive—leads us back a reprise of the opening section. Frenetic Prokofiev at his best.

The following adagio is exemplary of the composer’s innate skill at creating beauty and lyricism in the midst of a chromatic, often dissonant context. Whether in sinuous wind solos or soaring string lines, his melodic gift is omnipresent. The initial introspective, plodding mood is maintained for some time, until a funereal march ensues and grows to a booming, grotesque climax. Smashing percussion and the ominous harp and piano add to the gloom. But that subsides and the gentle lyricism of the beginning returns led by the luminous combination of flute and cello. The relentless plodding finally takes us to a soft, atmospheric conclusion.

As in the opening movement, Prokofiev opens the concluding movement with a slow introduction featuring flutes and bassoons. This leads quickly to a few measures of a quiet cello choir. But chattering violas quickly interrupt and set the rhythm and the pace for the vivacious gallop to the end. The movement is a rondo, so you’ll hear this first section three times, with two contrasting interludes. And, as always in the midst of rather dense textures, Prokofiev’s melodies are nevertheless clearly heard. So it is in this main section.  The first interlude clears away much of the driving rhythms, and the relaxed mood is led by the flute with a new tune, soon taken up by all.

Then the main section returns—with the characteristic motoric rhythmic drive—but suitably varied. The second diversion, which follows, is an interesting one: a rather simple, almost chorale-like idea first heard softly and somewhat slowly in the low strings. As before, the idea is traded around by all. But the galloping main idea must return to drive this imposing work to an impressive conclusion, building little by little into a frenzy. Layer upon layer of breakneck rhythms stack up. Then, in an unexpected fillip just before the end, the strings veer off into a kind of crazy rhythmic tangle in a totally remote key—with nasty low blats from the trumpets. Almost immediately, the composer, in his characteristic penchant for the cynical or unexpected gesture, summarily ends it all with a solitary bang in the “right” key. And with it, in this symphonic tour de force, Prokofiev, in a larger sense, ends the core of a remarkable career.

Never really playing his political cards, Prokofiev managed to survive the incredibly difficult times during the late 1940s by adroit artistic gamesmanship with the harshly repressive Stalinist state. He never joined the Communist Party and made few public statements. He struggled to survive, maintain his artistic integrity and continued composing in an authentically personal style. But, alas, the difficulties of the extreme, repressive measures beginning in 1948 ultimately got the best of him. In poor health, he composed little thereafter. His death on March 5, 1953 ironically garnered little recognition—Joseph Stalin’s demise on the same date preempted the stage.

Notes by Dr. William E. Runyan

Escape to Hope is dedicated in memory of Craig Shuler.

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