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Signature Concert 1: Fury, Contemplation & Hope
October 2, 2021 @ 7:30 pm – October 10, 2021 @ 2:00 pm
This concert is also available for Live-stream on October 2nd or Webcast replay on October 10th.
Your Fort Collins Symphony returns to the Lincoln Center’s Main Stage after a year of virtual performances. The opening night of our 2021-2022 Season will guide you through a range of emotions that include passion, contemplation, and hope. We present Rodion Shchedrin’s fiery Carmen Suite, Leonard Bernstein’s thoughtful Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, and Jessie Montgomery’s expectant Banner, a re-imagining of the Star-Spangled Banner for the 21st Century.
- Banner – Jessie Montgomery
- Serenade after Plato’s Symposium – Leonard Bernstein,
- Featuring Guest Violinist Linda Wang
- Carmen Suite – Rodion Shchedrin
Violinist Linda Wang
Linda Wang is among the premier violinists of her generation. She is consistently praised for her artistry, warm, singing tone, and charismatic performances. At the age of nine years, she made her debut with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic. Since then, she has performed concerti with over seventy-five national and international orchestras in collaboration with such eminent conductors as Sir Georg Solti and the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival Orchestra, Jorge Mester and the Pasadena Symphony, and JoAnn Falletta and the Virginia Symphony. As an avid recitalist and chamber musician he has performed to critical acclaim at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage and the Berlin Schauspielhaus. Radio broadcasts include NPR’s “Performance Today, WQXR (New York City), WFMT (Chicago), KMozart (LA), MDR (Germany). She has recorded seven solo albums.
A devoted pedagogue, Ms. Wang is String Chair and Professor of Violin at University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music. In addition, she is the recipient of DU’s Teacher-Scholar of the Year Award. She maintains a worldwide presence as a performer and educator, and is a faculty artist at international music festivals, adjudicator, and master class clinician.
Wang currently performs on a 1767 J.B. Guadagnini.
Learn more about Linda Wang on her website: LindaWang.com.
Ann Yanagi and Scott Johnston in honor of Leslie and Wes Kenney
Dr. Peter Springberg & Jan Kowall
Joseph and Jan Carroll
Dr. David and Alison Dennis
Dr. Ed Siegel
Dr. Peter Springberg and Janet Kowall
Week-of Concert Events:
Wednesday, September 29 at noon
Join CSU professor Dr. Dawn Grapes (author of the program notes below) on the Wednesday prior to most Signature concerts for an entertaining and informative lecture about the upcoming featured composers. Sponsored by the Friends of the Symphony.
Thursday, September 30 at 7:00 p.m.
at the Lincoln Center
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. Sponsored by Bank of Colorado.
Saturday, October 2 at 6:30 p.m.
at the Lincoln Center
included with ticket purchase
Prior to each Signature concert, join Maestro Wes Kenney for his musings on what you are about to hear.
Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
Jessie Montgomery, Banner
Date of Composition: 2014
Duration: 8 minutes
Jessie Montgomery’s Banner was composed in 2014, fulfilling a commission from the philanthropic Joyce Foundation and the Sphinx Organization, a group known for supporting diversity in the arts. The piece commemorates the 200th anniversary of The Star Spangled Banner. Of course, while Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to our national anthem in 1814, the music dates back some 75 years earlier. It was originally composed by John Stafford Smith to accompany “The Anacreontic Song,” the official anthem of a gentleman’s society that met weekly at London’s Crown and Anchor Tavern for concerts, drinking, and general frivolity. After Key penned his poem, the verses were published shortly thereafter and set to the tune we know so well today. The song was used occasionally for official state events in ensuing years, but it was not until 1931, after much contentious debate, that the Star-Spangled Banner beat out other beloved works for adoption by Congress as the official United States national anthem.
American violinist and composer Montgomery (b. 1981) was raised in the cultural melting pot that is Manhattan. She says she envisioned the commission from the perspective of “What does an anthem for the 21st century sound like in today’s multi-cultural environment?” Her conclusion: “In 2014, a tribute to the U.S. National Anthem means acknowledging the contradictions, leaps and bounds, and milestones that allow us to celebrate and maintain the tradition of our ideals.” Those contradictions have been a focus of public debate in recent years, as athletes and others have used performances of the anthem to bring attention to issues viewed differently, or not at all, by other segments of the population. Therefore, it seems only appropriate that the ensuing Banner is not your typical reworking of the Star Spangled Banner, but a diffused reflection of the many musical traditions of America’s peoples. In fact, if not listening closely, you might not recognize the composition’s primary source material at all. Phrases of the melody are heard primarily in very small fragments, interwoven with other patriotic and traditional songs from both the U.S. and abroad to create a meaningful musical experience. Since its inception, this newly imagined Banner has made a strong impression on musicians and audiences alike, quickly finding its way into the orchestral repertoire, with multiple performances across the country in recent years.
Leonard Bernstein, Serenade after Plato’s Symposium
Date of Composition: 1954
Duration: 30 minutes
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to attend dinner with a carefully selected group of historical figures? What would the conversations be? How would guests respond to one another? After reading Plato’s Symposium, Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) was inspired to musically depict just that scenario. Serenade after Plato’s Symposium shows Bernstein’s intellectual approach to creating music. This is demonstrated not only in terms of the subject matter—Plato envisions the commentary of seven disparate Greek philosophers, each with their own perspective on the manifestations of human love—but also in the construction of the composition itself. Bernstein wrote, “The music, like the dialogue is a series of related statements in praise of love, and generally follows the Platonic form through the succession of speakers at the banquet.” Each of five movements presents the viewpoint of one or two of the philosophers, and each successive movement builds upon what came before in a distinct musical style. Though Bernstein claimed the composition was not programmatic, he not only mostly follows the order of speakers originally penned by the 4th century B.C. scholar (only Eryximachus and Aristophanes are reversed), but he also wrote a detailed description of each movement’s story “for the benefit of those interested in literary allusion.”
Bernstein was one of the most acclaimed American musicians of the 20th century. Equally talented as a pianist, composer, conductor, author, and educator, he advocated for the arts throughout his life. During summers at Tanglewood in the 1940s, the young musician served as an assistant to Serge Koussevitsky, long-time artistic director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The renowned conductor became one of Bernstein’s most important mentors. It was in memory of Koussevitsky and his first wife Natalie that Bernstein composed his Serenade, fulfilling a commission from the Koussevitsky Foundation at the same time. Although called a serenade, the Plato-inspired chamber work functions more like a violin concerto. Bernstein wrote the composition to be played by well-known violinist Isaac Stern, another young musician taking the mid-20th century musical world by storm. Stern premiered Serenade in Venice with his friend, the composer, at the podium.
Rodion Shchedrin, Carmen Suite
Date of Composition: 1967
Duration: 46 minutes
Russian pianist-composer Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932) is young enough to have avoided the worst of Stalin’s “Reign of Terror” years, but still spent most of his career maneuvering Soviet expectations and restrictions. To his credit, he was one of the most successful and prolific of the Soviet-era composers, specializing in ballets and operas for the Russian stage. Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite was written in 1967 for his wife Maya Plisetskaya, one of the premier prima ballerinas of the 20th century. She had always dreamed of dancing the role of Carmen, the fiery cigarette factory worker first introduced musically in Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera. Plisetskaya’s home company, the Bolshoi Ballet, was accommodating. After Shchedrin told his wife he was too busy to write a new score just then, Plisetskaya turned to Dmitri Shostakovich with the request. The noted composer, however, did not wish to attempt something that would surely be compared to Bizet. Alberto Alonso of the Cuban National Ballet, who choreographed the piece, tried to use music from Bizet’s opera, but the vocal arrangements did not fit what he needed. Shchedrin then relented, accompanying Plisetskaya to a rehearsal, and arranged his own suite based upon Bizet’s original themes, not just those from Carmen, but also from L’Arlésienne and La Jolie Fille de Perth.
Orchestrating the work for strings and percussion and rearranging the original story’s order, the composer created a ballet feature that not only celebrates the old music, but also infuses his own personal style, resulting in a fresher, more modern retelling of a classic. Shchedrin later stated, “Bizet’s music is genius … I just correct[ed] his genius to work in ballet class.” The 17-section piece is a multi-cultural triumph: a Soviet composer, inspired by the story of a Spanish gypsy heroine, re-envisions music first set by a French composer, to be choreographed by a Cuban ballet master, for a Russian ballerina. After the premiere, the ballet was temporarily banned in Moscow on grounds that it was too sexual (Shchedrin later noted that “the Communists were always afraid of sex”) and that it debased Bizet’s music. It was Shostakovich who came to the rescue. In a public interview addressing the Ministry of Culture, he praised the work and Shchedrin’s handling of Bizet’s material. Reinstated once again, the ballet became a Moscow favorite and set its composer on the path to artistic success. Yet most of Shchedrin’s music received little recognition outside of his home country until later in his career, after the fall of the Soviet Union. One important exception—Leonard Bernstein championed a commission for a Shchedrin concerto for orchestra to celebrate the New York Philharmonic’s 125th season in 1968. In 1992, the Russian composer moved to Munich, a city he still considers a second home. Today, at 88 years old, Shchedrin is still composing. In fact, he has produced a dozen new works in the last decade, including compositions for voice, piano, orchestra, and even a new opera. His most recent premiere was a piece for narrator and orchestra titled The Adventures of an Ape, performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in November 2020. Looking back, Shchedrin reflects, “I am happy to have spent my life in music.”
Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
William E. Runyan
Jessie Montgomery, Banner
Montgomery is a native New Yorker, a graduate of the Juilliard School in violin performance, and holds a master’s degree from New York University in music composition. Her publications focus on various combinations of strings, and enjoy wide performance popularity with noted ensembles throughout the country. She is a devoted supporter of educational activities and youth musical ensembles. Her musical style is, if anything eclectic, and is a reflection of the enormous variety of musical art in her native New York City. Mahler once somewhat fatuously remarked something to the effect that a symphony should contain “everything.” Well, Montgomery dips into a remarkable universe of musical traditions, and reinterprets them in her own voice—just not all in one piece, of course.
Montgomery was commissioned in 2009 by the Providence String Quartet and Community Music Works for a composition to celebrate the election of President Barack Obama. In that work, Anthem, she more or less wove together elements of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The latter, of course, is often referred to as the Black National Anthem. In 2014, the composer was commissioned by the Sphinx Organization for a work to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the “The Star Spangled Banner.” According to Montgomery, Banner, takes the previous composition as a point of departure for a rhapsody that incorporates such disparate elements as the national anthem, the Black National Anthem, as well as the national anthems of Puerto Rico and Mexico, and other patriotic and folk songs. Montgomery is a self-confessed fan of marching bands and drum corps. She imitates their sectional musical form as well as incorporating the entertaining and dazzling virtuosity of their “drum lines” into Banner as a forceful rhythmic element at the end. An important symbolic element is the musical contrast and exchange between the solo string quartet and the rest of the orchestra—a Baroque touch, indeed. Montgomery asserts that it represents societal change driven by individuals interacting with the consensus. The various motifs and melodic snippets come together in the finale in kaleidoscopic layers of teeming elements.
Banner employs a challenging and often enigmatic musical language and posits the warts in our nation’s history. It comes close to the “grievance art” that is predominant among today’s young progressive artists. It certainly will not please all. While it may seem an odd, even disrespectful tribute to our beloved national anthem, all art is by its nature personal and subjective. Withal, Montgomery creates a work that incorporates the remarkable diversity of our country, and within the context of an homage acknowledges “the contradictions, leaps and bounds and milestones that allow us to celebrate and maintain the tradition of our ideals.”
Leonard Bernstein, Serenade after Plato’s Symposium
The world rarely enjoys the genius of someone who excels supremely in so many artistic endeavors as that of Leonard Bernstein. Pianist, conductor, television personality, teacher, mentor, social gadfly, and composer of both popular musical theatre and “serious works,” Bernstein wore all hats with enthusiasm. And he enjoyed stunning success in most. He had a passion about everything that he essayed, whether conducting the Mahler that he loved so well, or helping audiences peel apart the mysteries of music in his many teaching roles.
The foundation of his far-ranging intellect was a superb education and a deep intellectual curiosity. Only a cursory review of his oeuvre reveals the degree to which he was influenced as a composer by the world’s best literary works. Indeed, to write a violin concerto—which is how he characterized it for most of its gestation—that reputedly stems from one of Plato’s most important dialogues says much about the composer.
The Serenade after Plato’s Symposium was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and dedicated to Bernstein’s early champions, Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky. Completed on August 7, 1954, it was given its première only about a month later by Isaac Stern in Venice. It is known that Bernstein had been reading Plato about that time, and seems to have crafted some salient changes into what probably was originally intended to be a more or less conventional violin concerto. But, obviously, the “concerto” turned out to be a rather different creature altogether.
During the twentieth century there was widespread interest in Classical models, with artists like Stravinsky, Picasso, Balanchine, and a host of others leading the way. Serenade is Bernstein’s reaction to Plato’s dialogue, a series of speeches at a symposium (a drinking party) in praise of love that explore and reflect over the variety of meanings that the concept could take some two and half millennia ago. Which, of course, may differ significantly from our understanding today. It’s pretty clear that Bernstein had written much of the score before he transformed the details of Plato’s work onto his own, but no matter. As the work grew into five movements, it was clear that the title, “concerto,” was no longer really applicable, so it became a “serenade.” The latter was a popular multi-movement entertainment in the eighteenth century, often performed outdoors, of a light, flexible nature.
The opening measures establish the basic melodic material of the entire work. However, it is constantly varied and transformed in myriad guises throughout. The initial lyricism admirably set the tone of the piece and is absolutely typical of Bernstein’s personal style in the 1950s. Equally important is his mastery and dedication to the array of technical complexities of form and development that carry the whole. While the composer is beloved for his triumphs in musical theatre, movie scores, and other light entertainment, he strove all his life for equal achievement as a serious composer. With mixed results, it must be said. Notwithstanding his efforts in large, serious symphonic compositions, Serenade may endure as perhaps one his most successful, disciplined, and well-crafted works.
Bernstein was a voluble, articulate, and insightful speaker on any musical idea. His own detailed remarks on Serenade are more than helpful:
“There is no literal program for this Serenade, despite the fact that it resulted from a re-reading of Plato’s charming dialogue, ‘The Symposium.’ The music, like the dialogue, is a series of related statements in praise of love, and generally follows the Platonic form through the succession of speakers at the banquet. The ‘relatedness’ of the movements does not depend on common thematic material, but rather on a system whereby each movement evolves out of elements in the preceding one. For the benefit of those interested in literary allusion, I might suggest the following points as guideposts:
- Phaedrus: Pausanius (Lento; Allegro). Phaedrus opens the symposium with a lyrical oration in praise of Eros, the god of love. (Fugato, begun by the solo violin). Pausanias continues by describing the duality of lover and beloved. This is expressed in a classical sonata-allegro, based on the material of the opening fugato.
- Aristophanes (Allegretto). Aristophanes does not play the role of clown in this dialogue, but instead that of the bedtime story-teller, invoking the fairytale mythology of love.
- Eryximachus (Presto). The physician speaks of bodily harmony as a scientific model for the workings of love-patterns. This is an extremely short fugato scherzo, born of a blend of mystery and humor.
- Agathon (Adagio). Perhaps the most moving speech of the dialogue, Agathon’s panegyric embraces all aspects of love’s powers, charms and functions. This movement is a simple three-part song.
- Socrates: Alcibiades (Molto tenuto; Allegro molto vivace). Socrates describes his visit to the seer Diotima, quoting her speech on the demonology of love. This is a slow introduction of greater weight than any of the preceding movements; and serves as a highly developed reprise of the middle section of the Agathon movement, thus suggesting a hidden sonata-form. The famous interruption of Alcibiades and his band of drunken revelers ushers in the Allegro, which is an extended Rondo ranging in spirit from agitation through jig-like dance music to joyful celebration. If there is a hint of jazz in the celebration, I hope it will not be taken as anachronistic Greek party-music, but rather the natural expression of a contemporary American composer imbued with the spirit of that timeless dinner party.”
Rodion Shchedrin, Carmen Suite
Rodion Shchedrin is a distinguished contemporary Russian composer whose active career since his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory in 1955 has led him to compose a large number of pieces in a varied field of genres. Operas, ballets, symphonies, chamber works, piano works, concertos, and vocal music—all have been his bailiwick. Sometimes it seems as though the Russian portion of American symphonic repertoire has come to be dominated almost exclusively by Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and a few others to a lesser degree (let’s consider Stravinsky as special case). So, it’s a treat to hear an example of the music of one who is clearly among the most respected composers of contemporary Russia.
Shchedrin is highly acclaimed in both the East and the West, the recipient of many honors and recognitions, and active as a concert pianist. It is evident that the style of his music in his early career undoubtedly was shaped by official Soviet prescriptions in art. It is equally clear that his later career reflects the artistic freedom that he and his fellow musicians have enjoyed in the last several decades. His style has varied during his life as a composer, but it is all marked by an essential artistic integrity and broad appeal. His intellectual curiosity has led him from the use of folk song material to the employment of the avant-garde serial, collage, and aleatoric techniques so beloved of progressive composers of the 1960s and 70s. Later, even jazz and pop music surfaced in his style.
This varied and experimental approach to musical style comes boldly to the fore in Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite, easily his most well-known work. The composer’s wife, Maya Plisetskaya, was one of the most acclaimed ballerinas in the world. In 1964, she conceived the idea for a ballet based upon Bizet’s immortal opera. She approached Russia’s preeminent composer, Dimitri Shostakovich, to compose the score. Basically, he wouldn’t touch it, fearing the backlash from essaying such a project. He undoubtedly feared that anything that he did would suffer in comparison with the perfection of the original—not an unreasonable analysis. Failing to persuade Shostakovich, she then turned to Aram Khachaturian, a composer of successful ballet scores. He, too, demurred and pointed her instead in the direction of her own husband, a respected composer. He accepted the challenge, but the project did not proceed so easily.
A visit to Moscow by the Cuban national ballet in 1966 inspired Plisetskaya to enlist the aid of its choreographer, Alberto Alonso. He assented, wrote the libretto and conceived the choreography. Shchedrin attended the initial rehearsals, but soon saw the difficulty. The match between a new look at the libretto’s story line, and the decidedly provocative choreography would undoubtedly suffer a fatal disconnect with Bizet’s beloved, so familiar music—especially its exquisite, masterful orchestration. Simply stitching together unaltered excerpts from the opera wouldn’t mesh with the novel vision of Alonso. What to do? Shchedrin’s imaginative solution was to recast the familiar music into a new guise. The composer held the greatest respect for Bizet’s score, so he eschewed completely the usual solution of assembling a pastiche or simply arranging the music. Rather, he hit upon the idea of more or less retouching, elaborating, recomposing, adding novel effects, and using his own ideas—including harmonic and melodic elements—in a completely new take. To aid in the transformation, and to avoid gratuitous comparisons with Bizet’s mastery of orchestra color, Shchedrin eliminated the woodwinds and brass completely from Bizet’s score, and added a large percussion section with just about every instrument in the catalogue.
However, trouble arose with the ballet’s première by the Bolshoi in 1967. The Soviet Minister of Culture immediately banned performances of it for a multiplicity of reasons, among them: insulting a classic, sexual overtones, musical plagiarism, modernistic elements, untrammeled eroticism, mutilation of the opera, and so on. There ensued a long and markedly bitter battle between the artists and the government censors. Finally, it is presumed that Shostakovich himself, strictly on the QT, put in a good word for the ballet, and the ballet survived. The brouhaha was not over, for soon the government scotched the idea of performing the ballet by the Bolshoi in Canada while on tour. But the next year, Premiere Kosygin saw the production, liked it, and it gained good graces. As with most innovative and challenging art, the ballet and Shchedrin’s score has met with varied critical reaction—in the East and the West. But, performances are not infrequent, and it remains an entertaining and provocation addition to the repertoire.
For his ballet, in addition to the Carmen tunes, Shchedrin added a few excerpts from Bizet’s incidental music to L’Arlésienne and his opera, La Jolie Fille de Perthe. There are thirteen dance numbers or sections in the suite, and almost all will be well familiar to audiences. Some critics have deemed Shchedrin’s take grotesque and vulgar. However, it’s clear that it is a work suffused with wit, imagination, and mastery of orchestral color. Nearly all of the thirteen dances brims with surprising and entertaining turns. A litany of every familiar tune is quite unnecessary, so sit back enjoy a marvelous succession of unexpected percussive touches, imaginative “re-composing,” and droll reinterpretation. In the last century the literary and visual arts have a distinguished history of achieving new insights through allusion, adaptation, and re-appropriation of time-honored masterpieces. Music would well benefit from more adroit essays such as Shchedrin’s efforts. Shchedrin famously referred to his bold work as more than an arrangement, rather “a creative meeting of the minds.” And, so it is.
Program Notes by William E. Runyan