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“Escape to New Realms” – Signature Concert 2
November 5 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm MDT
“Escape to New Realms” with a concert exploring fantastic lands and heroic acts of bravery and endurance.
Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s dramatic tone poem Isle of the Dead was inspired by Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin’s painting of the same name.
Living American composer Stacy Garrop’s impassioned Battle for the Ballot commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote in the United States.
The evening concludes with the power and magic of Igor Stravinsky’s dramatic Firebird Suite.
What’s interesting about this concert:
– The “Infernal Dance” in the Firebird Suite is one of the fastest, loudest, and most exciting pieces of classical music ever written. (you may hear an audience member scream when we play the first note!). It depicts the minions of Koschei the Immortal, bewitched by the firebird, dancing until they die of exhaustion.
– Stacy Garrop’s The Battle for the Ballot celebrates the 100th anniversary of Women’s suffrage. To introduce the piece, Garrop says, “The Battle for the Ballot features the voices of seven Suffragists…I excerpted lines from their speeches and writings, then interwove these lines together to form a single narrative that follows their reasoning for fighting so hard for the right to vote.”
– In Isle of the Dead, Rachmaninoff quotes the Gregorian Chant Dies Irae, or “Day of Wrath.” You may recognize this music from the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” The Dies Irae melody is used by composers to represent death, witches, the devil, and other terrifying figures. Read more about the Dies Irae on Wikipedia.
On this concert:
Samuel Barber – Overture to the School for Scandal
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Isle of the Dead
Stacy Garrop – The Battle for the Ballot
Narrated by Donna Mejia
Igor Stravinsky – The Firebird Suite (1919 version)
Interview with Composer Stacy Garrop on The Battle for the Ballot
Virtual performance of The Battle for the Ballot (2020)
Listen to the full interview with composer Stacy Garrop on the FCS Open Notes Podcast:
Join us for:
Join CSU professor Dr. K. Dawn Grapes and composer Stacy Garrop on Wednesday for an entertaining and informative lecture about the upcoming featured composers. Light refreshments. Sponsored by the Friends of the Symphony.
Wednesday, November 2
12 noon, at the Old Town Library
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, November 3
7:00 PM, at the Lincoln Center
Prior to each Signature concert, join Maestro Wes Kenney for his musings on what you are about to hear.
Saturday, November 5
6:30 PM, at the Lincoln Center
Included with ticket purchase
Dr. Kenneth and Paisley Pettine
Warner Family Charitable Fund –
Edward M. Warner and Jacalyn D. Erickson
Annabel Reader and the Colorado Shoe School
Center Stage Sponsor:
Dr. David and Alison Dennis
Dr. Ed Siegel
Dr. Peter Springberg and Janet Kowall
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Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
Samuel Barber, Overture to the “School for Scandal,” op. 5
Date of Composition: 1931
Duration: 8.5 minutes
Overture to “The School for Scandal” by Samuel Barber (1910–1981) was inspired by British playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s eighteenth-century comedy of manners. The original play is full of typical stage clichés of the time, with episodes of disguise, mistaken identity, and a plot propelled forward by a gossipy, scheming protagonist. Barber’s music evokes these storylines, but the piece was not intended to serve as incidental music for any particular performance of the theatrical work. Instead, it is a true concert overture—a stand-alone musical work inspired by the spirit of the play. An early entry into his compositional catalogue, the young American composer conceived the overture one summer while in Italy on break from his studies at the Curtis Institute, where he majored in piano, voice, and composition. School for Scandal Overture’s 1933 premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra marked the first public airing of any of Barber’s orchestral works, well before his famous Adagio for Strings thrust him into an international spotlight in 1938.
Serge Rachmaninoff, Isle of the Dead, op. 29
Date of Composition: 1909
Duration: 21 minutes
The compositions of Serge Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) exhibit a sort of unmatched romanticism, stretching the ideals of unfettered emotionalism into the twentieth century, during a time when other composers had moved on to new modernistic techniques. A virtuosic pianist, the depression-prone Russian balanced his performing and conducting career with a tenacity for composition. In 1907, during a working trip to Paris, a friend showed Rachmaninoff a black and white reproduction of one of the five versions of Arnold Böcklein’s Die Toteninsel. This painting depicts a rower transporting a coffin to a stark, rocky island covered with cypress trees, overseen only by a mysterious figure in white. The image became etched so deeply in Rachmaninoff’s psyche that, two years later, he used it as inspiration for his symphonic poem Ostrov myortvikh (Isle of the Dead). The composition may be the composer’s most programmatic. The opening notes in the bass voices create a sense of eerie uncertainty within an uneven meter of five. String swells depict the boat moving through dark waters toward an unknown terrain. After a number of fragmentary hints, a primary theme eventually emerges in the horns, based upon the first four notes of the Dies Irae, the chant for the dead that the composer no doubt first heard while attending orthodox services with his maternal grandmother. This motive returns again and again, developed and embedded within longer lines. A second theme, representing life, appears in the work’s central section, aiming for prominence, but ultimately succumbing to the certainty of death.
Isle of the Dead premiered in Moscow in 1909, conducted by the composer. The program also included Rachmaninoff’s second symphony and Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain. Later that same year, the tone poem received its U.S. premiere by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, on a concert in which Frederick Stock also conducted Rachmaninoff performing his own second piano concerto. The pairing of the two pieces was repeated multiple times in the next few months in Boston, Cincinnati, New York, and other cities as the Russian toured the United States. Rachmaninoff continued programming Isle of the Dead in concerts he conducted, and he recorded the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1929. When the composer finally had an opportunity to view Böcklein’s painting in person in Germany, he expressed his preference for the black-and-white version that had so inspired him, claiming that, had he seen the image first in color, he may never have composed the piece.
Stacy Garrop, The Battle for the Ballot
Date of Composition: 2020
Duration: 16 minutes
We propose to fight our battle for the ballot – all peaceably, but nevertheless persistently through to complete triumph, when all United States citizens shall be recognized as equals before the law.Susan B. Anthony
Stacy Garrop (b. 1969) is a self-described storyteller. A casual glance through the Chicago-based composer’s list of works confirms the programmatic nature of her musical output. Titles such as Legends of Olympus, Postcards from Wyoming, and The Solitude of Stars feed listeners’ curiosity, preparing them for a musical tale about to unfold.
Garrop’s The Battle for the Ballot for narrator and orchestra was written to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of ratification of the 19th amendment, through which women in the United States were first guaranteed the right to vote. The August 2020 premiere of the composition, commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, was notable, as pandemic restrictions kept members of the orchestra at home. Not to be discouraged, the group’s instrumentalists remotely recorded their own parts, which were then assembled electronically for the first performance. Somehow, it seems fitting that this forward-looking ensemble made such an effort to overcome the trials of that time, in order to produce a virtual performance celebrating the efforts of those who so much earlier could not participate directly in the governance of their nation. The textual narration for Battle for the Ballot celebrates the words of some of the most dedicated early twentieth-century suffragettes, including Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Carrie W. Clifford, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Adella Hunt Logan, and Mary Church Terrell. These women’s struggles to obtain the right to vote were long-suffering and arduous. Suffragettes who lived to see their efforts rewarded had true cause for rejoicing when the states finally sanctioned the ability for half of the population to participate in shared governance. And yet, the victory was only one step towards true equality. As the composer’s original notes point out, many women of color still faced roadblocks not addressed until passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a piece of legislation still being tested today. Thus, it is critical that we look back upon the tenacity of this remarkable group of early twentieth-century women as we strive for a more equitable future. In the words of Mary Church Terrell: “What a reproach it is to a government which owes its very existence to the loved freedom in the human heart that it should deprive any of its citizens of their sacred and cherished rights.”
Igor Stravinsky, The Firebird Suite
Date of Composition: 1909–1910
Duration: 21 minutes
In the same year that Rachmaninoff composed his programmatic Isle of the Dead, his younger Russian contemporary, an as yet unknown composer by the name of Igor Stravinsky, was afforded the opportunity of a lifetime. A year earlier, the impresario Sergei Diaghilev heard some of Stravinsky’s early orchestral compositions in St. Petersburg and approached the young man, asking him to orchestrate several piano pieces for an upcoming Ballets Russes program in Paris. Stravinsky must have done well, for in 1909, Diaghilev turned to the young composer when he found himself in need of a replacement composer for a new ballet. Stravinsky set to work immediately, crafting a magnificent score for L’oiseau de feu (The Firebird).
Choreographer Mikael Fokine’s libretto tells the story of Prince Ivan, who pursues a beautiful Firebird. When he captures her, she offers him a magic feather in exchange for her freedom. The prince continues on, in a quest to rescue thirteen princesses held against their wills by the evil Katschei. Unfortunately, he himself is ensnared by the sorcerer. Just as Ivan is about to be turned to stone, he remembers the feather, summoning the Firebird. She arrives in the nick of time, and casts a sleeping spell upon the sorcerer. She then points the prince toward an egg containing Katchei’s soul. Ivan destroys the egg and all the sorcerer’s victims are forever released. The prince, of course, marries the most beautiful princess of the thirteen.
Upon its premiere at Paris’s Théatre National de l’Opéra, The Firebird was an immediate success, requiring extra performances and an extension of the season. Stravinsky found himself thrust into an international spotlight, assuring his subsequent artistic success. He went on to partner with Diaghilev on some of the most iconic ballets of the early twentieth century, including Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). The composer later fashioned three orchestral suites from the Firebird ballet’s music, one each in 1911, 1919, and 1945. The later versions use a smaller, more standard orchestration than the original ballet, but the music still tells the story brilliantly. The 1919 edition’s five movements include an introduction and set of variations on the Firebird’s dance, a dance for the princesses, the “Infernal Dance” of Katchei, a lullaby titled “Berceuse,” and one of the most radiant, shimmering finales ever conceived.
Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
Dr. William E. Runyan
Samuel Barber, Overture to the School for Scandal, op. 5
If any composer may truly be considered our national composer, Samuel Barber should surely be in the running. Notwithstanding the adulation of Aaron Copland’s populist music from the 1930s and 40s, most of the latter composer’s compositions in other musical styles are not well received by the American public–too dissonant and modern! On the other hand, no major American composer of the twentieth century was a more ardent and eloquent champion of a lyrical, accessible, yet modern idiom than Samuel Barber. His musical style is founded in the romantic traditions of the nineteenth century, whose harmonic language and formal structures were his point of departure. Unlike so many of his peers, he was not powerfully swayed by the modernism emanating from Europe after World War I, but pursued his own path.
Consistently lyrical throughout his career, it is telling that his songs constitute about two-thirds of his compositions in number. His vocal works include two major operas, Vanessa (1956), and Antony and Cleopatra (1966), the latter composed for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. He composed at least one work for almost every musical genre, and unlike most composers, he was a recognized and published composer from his student days. Though his choral music and solo vocal music are concert mainstays, it is an instrumental work that is his best-known composition–the Adagio for Strings (1936), championed by Toscanini when Barber was only twenty-eight years old. The vocally inspired lyricism of that work is emblematic of all that Barber wrote, even in the most vigorous of his works.
Barber achieved recognition early. Composed when he was twenty-one and still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, his overture to The School for Scandal was an instant success, was forthwith published, and remains in the standard repertoire. Composed in 1931 for a stage production of the famous eighteenth-century comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, it was given its première by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1933. The play itself is a brilliant, bitingly satirical essay of intrigue, greed, and wit that has almost no peers in the English theatre. Still holding a central place in the theatrical canon, its scintillating, rapid pace of clever dialogue and general buoyancy practically leaves the audience breathless. And all of that is brilliantly captured by Barber in this sizzling concert overture.
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Isle of the Dead, op. 29
Those who create art, whether in the performing arts or in the visual arts, inevitably find their personal “niche” in matters of style. And it is of little consequence whether or not their artistic orientation is a conscious personal choice, or one seemingly imposed by their audiences and by professional critics. Simply put, there are artists whose voice naturally is to work within tradition and commonly-understood artistic language; they strive to develop that tradition to new levels of meaning through their own talent and personal vision. Others make a total commitment to artistic truth arrived at through new voices, new styles, new languages. Every museum and gallery of art, and every concert hall is testimony to this essential dichotomy. And it must be admitted, that there is an innate prejudice among many intellectuals—especially those who subconsciously view the arts as they do technology—that the new is necessary the good. The latest styles are more sophisticated; hence more relevant, and old styles should be left with the dead artists that created them. This popular view was dominant among the cognoscenti during most of the twentieth century, but is beginning to moderate, as a more liberal acceptance of diverse artistic styles now is more common than previously—in all the arts.
Like J. S. Bach, who upon his death was looked upon as a more or less old fuddy-duddy (now we know better, of course), Rachmaninoff has borne his share of criticism for having composed in a hopelessly old-fashioned style, long after its relevance. His compositions are the last major representatives of vivid Russian Romanticism—long after that style was presumed dead and buried. Yet, like Bach, his musical genius, his talent, and his strong belief in the validity of his art all led him to create a legacy that took “old-fashioned-style” to a natural and valid high point of achievement. While a child of the nineteenth century, he died almost at the midpoint of the twentieth, secure in his success, and secure in the world’s enduring appreciation of his “dated” style.
In 1907 Rachmaninoff, while performing in Paris, saw a black and white reproduction of a painting by the Swiss symbolist artist, Arnold Böcklin, which profoundly gripped his imagination. Entitled Die Toteninsel (The Isle of the Dead), it depicted a boat rowed by an oarsman over dark waters carrying a coffin and a solitary mourner draped in white. The boat is approaching a gloomy island with huge rocky outcrops, symbolic cypress trees, and the impression of crypts hollowed into the looming cliffs. It was a wildly popular painting (the artist painted five versions of it), and reproductions hung everywhere—in modest middle-class homes and in the offices of luminaries. Even Hitler bought one of the five original paintings. An island cemetery, of course, is one of the common tropes of Romanticism—from San Michele in Venice, where Stravinsky and Diaghilev are buried, to the graves of J. J. Rousseau and Princess Diana. Two years later, in 1909, while living in Dresden, Rachmaninoff composed his symphonic poem inspired by the painting, and conducted the première in Moscow shortly thereafter.
The symphonic poem, or “tone poem” is an important genre that more or less originated with Liszt. It became the quintessential orchestral means of “telling a story” with a symphony orchestra. More or less the antithesis of a symphony—as in Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms—the symphonic poem takes as its subject matter, not just an abstract musical theme, but something in the real world and develops a depiction of it, and perhaps a narrative. It is the darling of those who prefer music to be “about” something, and went on to become an important part of romantic musical style in the orchestra. Some choice subjects of Liszt’s symphony poems included: battle scenes, a Shakespeare play, a philosophical idea, poems, a Victor Hugo story, and so forth. Richard Strauss went on to write memorable ones that were very specific in their narrative threads: this happened, and then this, and so on.
Other symphonic poems are much more abstract and concerned with impressions of moods and general situations, for example. And Isle of the Dead is just that—it’s all about death and its symbols, inspired by just one image. To a degree that is similar to Debussy’s La Mer, a wide-ranging impression of the sea.
Isle of the Dead begins softly and ambiguously in the harp and low strings, in five-eight time, seeming to depict the irregular movement of Charon’s oars in the lapping water. Throughout, one hears intimations of one of the composer’s favorite musical motifs, beloved by so many composers—the Dies iræ, the “day of wrath” from the medieval mass for the dead. The relentless undulations gradually lead to a powerful climax, but gently subside into a sepulchral iteration of the chant motive in the brass. The middle section begins lighter and more tranquil—in a more optimistic key. Rachmaninoff, himself, refers to its “life” motive. The hopeful optimism builds to two passionate climaxes, but the ardent, futile attempt for hope is demolished by loud hammer strokes in the whole orchestra. A soft, imaginative passage follows, led by a solo clarinet, in which the chant is heard overlapping in three different note values—a creative allusion to an ancient canonic technique. Brief solos by violin and, oboe and clarinets introduce a transition to the crepuscular gloom of the beginning. Now, the Dies iræ motive is even more in evidence, with its last reference in the strings and low woodwinds. After which the work concludes in a soft resignation to life’s finality. Rachmaninoff’s life and work is perhaps the eloquent example of an artist who found profound opportunities in established perspectives. In the words of the conductor, Leon Botstein, in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal: “Rachmaninoff retained the notion that music serves as a reminder of sheer joy, beauty and happiness in dark times.” Precisely.
Igor Stravinsky, Firebird Suite
It would be difficult, indeed, to posit a composer whose artistic achievement and influence on the direction of music during the twentieth century exceeded that of Igor Stravinsky. Moving through a series of explorations of different styles of composition, his works consistently exhibited a remarkable seriousness of purpose, solid musical integrity, and benchmark imagination. What is more, his genius made its mark early—there are almost no compositions that we can label “journeyman” or “youthful apprentice works.” Born into a musical, middleclass family, he studied law and music theory and composition (on the side) simultaneously. By his mid-twenties he had begun to concentrate on music, rather than law, and had composed only a few works that were heard publicly. But, that led to his historic encounter with Sergei Diaghilev.
The cutting edge of the ballet world for most of the early twentieth century was clearly the Ballets Russes of Diaghilev in Paris and Monte Carlo. Under the artistic leadership of Diaghilev, this company was responsible for the creation of artistic works whose influence continues unabated today. Diaghilev was peerless in his ability to select and recruit the crème de la crème of the European artistic community in his productions. Just a of few of the veritable who’s who of artists include dancers, Pavlova, Nijinsky, Fokine, and Balanchine; the choreographer, Petipa; conductors, Pierre Monteux and Ernest Ansermet, designers, Picasso, Bakst, Braque, Coco Chanel, Matisse, Miró, Dalí—well, you get the idea. Which makes it all the more remarkable that, for the first season of ballet (he had started out a few years earlier with art exhibitions and opera) Diaghilev chose the relatively unknown Igor Stravinsky. In 1909 Diaghilev had attended a concert in St. Petersburg, where two of the young composer’s few works were performed. Thoroughly impressed, Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to provide music for the 1910 ballet season in Paris.
The young Stravinsky had been a protégé of the famous Rimsky-Korsakov, master teacher, composer of operas, and one of the most adroit orchestrators in musical history. The latter is key to understanding much of the musical style of Stravinsky’s three ballets, for Rimsky-Korsakov’s sparkling evocation of Russian picturesque images through challenging and imaginative scoring for the orchestra leads directly from the older composer to his student. The dazzling orchestral color of both master and student was quintessentially Russian and perfect for the exotic Russian story that Diaghilev had in mind for his inaugural season.
The story, assembled by the designer, Alexandre Benois and the choreographer, Michel Fokine, was an amalgam of several different Russian folktales and themes, but the most prominent elements were the mythical Firebird and the evil magician Kashchei. The myth of the Firebird, whose feathers flow with iridescent luminosity, varies considerably in details in the various cultures in which the story occurs. It has magical powers; sometimes it serves good, other times not. The magician Kashchei, on the other hand, is irredeemably evil, can only be killed by possessing his soul, which improbably, is hidden inside a needle in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a rabbit in an iron chest buried under a green oak tree on an island. Whew! All of these exotic elements are woven into a more or less new story for the ballet, and Stravinsky was more than prepared to provide the impressively evocative music. The première was in Paris in June of 1910 and was an instant success. The music, the choreography, the dancing, the sets, and the costumes were uniformly praised, and our hero, Igor, was on his way. Few great composers have started out with such acclaim. It did not take long for Stravinsky to extract from the score to the ballet a suite for concert performance. Later, others emerged, and they have gone on to become evergreen concert favorites.
Our story is archetypical; a beautiful princess is kidnapped by an evil villain, and is rescued by a brave prince with help of the magical Firebird. The ballet opens in Kashchei the Immortal’s magical realm; Prince Ivan enters and soon spots the luminous Firebird. He observes thirteen captured princesses, who are dancing a round dance, and, of course, immediately falls in love with one of them. The evil Kashchei rebuffs the Prince’s request for his chosen one’s release, and a fracas ensues, with Kashchei’s grotesque minions in the attack on the Prince. The Firebird intervenes, casts a spell over Kashchei’s followers, and they are compelled to dance frenetically. They ultimately collapse into sleep to a lullaby, but soon Kashchei awakens and another dance ensues. The Firebird tells the Prince how to slay Kashchei by destroying the giant egg in which his soul resides. He does so; the whole evil kingdom, Kashchei, and his magic all disappear. The sun breaks forth, and a general celebratory apotheosis triumphs.
Stravinsky, in 1911, 1919, and 1945, extracted three somewhat different suites, respectively, from the score of the whole ballet. That of 1919 is most commonly performed, and is tonight. There are five major excerpts, beginning with the eerie low strings that depict Kashchei’s evil, magical realm. The Firebird soon appears, after a flashy paroxysm in the strings. Virtuoso figurations in the woodwinds and harp glissandi paint the dancing Firebird and his glowing feathers, ending the first section. A solo flute leads to the round dance of the Princesses, with elegant solos in the woodwinds and strings. It’s all appropriately composed of simple melodies and harmonies, far from the chromatic complexities of Kashchei and his magic. The third section is the famous “Infernal Dance,” wherein snarling brass, with angular, jagged motifs, punctuate the whole orchestra’s pounding, insistent rhythms—which constantly confuse with their metric displacements. It all accelerates to a total, dramatic collapse. The ensorcelled evil ones then sleep to the lullaby of the “Berceuse,” opening with the famous languid bassoon solo. A lush, romantic texture gradually ends with sinking string tremolos that lead to the inevitable Finale. The solo horn dramatically intones an evocation of the arrival of the sun and the triumph of good over evil. The whole orchestra takes up its tune, accompanied by slow, rising scales, and finally pounding brass chords lead to the grand peroration. The ending is immortal, of course, and the world now was put on notice of the spectacular début and genius of the young Russian. As Debussy is reputed to have wryly remarked, “Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.”