Program Notes Archive

  • Alexey Shor, Verdiana
    Alexey Shor unquestionably does not fit the stereotype of contemporary composers. Holder of a Ph.D. in mathematics and a native of Kiev, Ukraine, he immigrated to Israel, and later to the United States. His compositions have enjoyed an international reception…
  • Bach, The Brandenburg Concertos
    Three hundred years ago, in August 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach was at a crossroads. For four years, he had been in the employ of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. A true music lover, the prince was quite supportive of…
  • Barber, Adagio for Strings
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes … Wistful. Nostalgic. Touching. Few pieces bring to mind as many emotion-filled adjectives as Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Yet the Adagio really needs no words to describe it at all, for the composition is a complete sonic experience all its own. Although the work created a lasting…
  • Barker, Suilean a’Chloinne (Children’s Eyes)
    In 2006, a familiar figure to the Fort Collins Symphony, conductor and violinist Leslie Stewart, approached Scottish-born composer Jennifer Margaret Barker (b. 1965) with a special commission. At the time, Stewart served as director of the Virginia-based Bay Valley Youth Orchestras. In this role, she requested a piece for her young string-playing musicians to perform…
  • Beethoven, Coriolan Overture
    Beethoven wrote a gaggle of overtures, some were admittedly potboilers (his heart really wasn’t into them, but his financial needs were), but most were what we expect of the man.  The four overtures associated with his opera, Fidelio, stand in the forefront of them, but the Coriolan Overture is a major work, as well.  It…
  • Beethoven, Symphony no. 2 in D Major
    The years 1801-02 marked the nadir of Beethoven’s emotional life, as he grappled with the reality of his increasing and permanent deafness.  His despair was total, and the prospect of suicide is clearly implied in the documentary evidence.  Tumultuous and bitter family feuding entered into this cruel time, but the famous “Heiligenstadt Testament” records his…
  • Beethoven, Symphony no. 3 “Eroica”
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes If just one adjective were offered to describe Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the word “more” might come to mind. As an orchestral work, the composition offered audiences of its time an enhanced experience as compared to anything they might have heard previously: more length, more depth, more variety, more…
  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 5
    Beethoven’s fifth symphony is the iconic work of classical music. It pervades the whole world of symbols and imagery of musical art as an evocation of a welter of ideas. In a sad way it is almost impossible to escape all…
  • Beethoven, Violin Concerto in D Major
    By 1806 Beethoven had surmounted a series of significant distractions that had seriously affected his creative life.  The difficulties that he had with writing his only opera, Fidelio, are well documented.  Other factors were the misery of his ardent, but unsuccessful, personal relationship with the young widow, Josephine von Brunsvik, and, of course, dealing with…
  • Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique
    Of all of the major composers of the nineteenth century, Hector Berlioz is perhaps the most personally interesting.  What a vivacious, unique individual he was, both in his life and in his music. He was single-minded of purpose and impassioned in his pursuit of the composition of music that reflected his literary interests, his interaction…
  • Bernstein, Serenade
    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 for Violin, Harp, Strings, and Percussion shows Bernstein’s intellectual approach to creating music.
  • Brahms, Liebeslieder Waltzes
    German composer Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) may have achieved great professional success, but, personally, he remained unlucky in love. Although involved in a number of romantic relationships throughout his lifetime, many were unrequited, and he remained unmarried, never settling down with someone he could call the love of his life. Brahms’s most intriguing relationship was with…
  • Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Haydn
    Good things often come in modest packages, and this work is unquestionably an example of that rule. We have often observed that Johannes Brahms was the major successor to the legacy of Beethoven, in a century filled with…
  • Britten, Four Sea Interludes
    Benjamin Britten is one of the last century’s most respected composers, and unquestionably the most influential and admired British composer from WW II, until his death in 1976. Fantastically gifted from an early age…
  • Chen Yi, Ge Xu (Antiphony)
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Date of Composition: 1994 Duration: 8 minutes Chen Yi is just one of a noted group of composers who grew up in China in the mid-20th century, known for successfully fusing traditional Chinese musical elements with Western compositional techniques. Chen was born into a musical family and learned…
  • Coleridge-Taylor, Novelletten nos. 2, 3, 4
    They say that good things come in small packages. A handwritten note, a sampler of Belgian chocolates, or a carefully selected piece of fine jewelry, each makes a lasting impression. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Novelletten for strings, a brilliantly crafted set of short movements for strings, tambourine, and triangle, fits into this category as well. Written in…
  • Copland, Appalachian Spring
    What is it about Copland’s music that evokes such feelings of nationalism and nostalgia? Some would point to the composer’s use of open intervals of fourths and fifths, which emblematize the wide-open spaces of the American West. Others note his incorporation of folk-tunes and hymns, sometimes only in fragments, which add a familiarity for listeners….
  • Copland, The Tender Land Suite
    America of the 1950s was a very different place than that of the 1940s. Gone were the New Deal politics of Franklin Roosevelt and the shared patriotism of the World War II years. Instead, the United States grappled with its new role as a world superpower grounded in a mighty military-industrial complex. The Soviet Union,…
  • Debussy, Children’s Corner
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Date of Composition: 1908/1910 Arranged for orchestra by André CapletDuration: 17 minutes 1905 marked a special time in the life of French composer Claude Debussy. In October of that year, he was blessed with a beautiful baby daughter. He and newly-divorced wife Emma Bardac bestowed upon her their…
  • Debussy, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Date of Composition: 1894 Duration: 10 minutes Debussy was a critical figure in the transition from 19th-century romanticism to modern music. He was the most prominent composer associated with the musical style termed impressionism, an extension of the visual arts movement so named after Claude Monet’s 1872 painting…
  • Duff, Irish Suite for Strings
    A quick look through a list of Arthur Duff’s composition titles reveals his musical philosophy: Irish stories are best told with Irish-sounding music. The composer’s career path was not quite as clear, taking him in many directions. Dublin-born, Duff (1899–1956) received all of his musical training in the city, first at the Christ Church Cathedral,…
  • Farrenc, Overture no. 2 in E-Flat
    Until recently Farrenc has been practically unknown to symphonic audiences—especially in this country–but in her time she was held in high regard in the first half of the nineteenth century in France.  Unlike so many women composers of the past, she suffered little obscurity during her lifetime.  She evinced immense talent early on as a…
  • Gaelic Storm, An Irish Party in Third Class
    When James Cameron’s Titanic opened in movie theaters in December 1997, it ranked as the most expensive movie ever made to date. Accolades were swift, and the feature film, which dramatizes the ill-fated voyage of the eponymous ocean liner, became the first to earn over one billion dollars. Much of the charm of composer James…
  • George Walker, Tangents
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes George Walker’s name is often associated with a string of firsts. Among other accomplishments, he was the first Black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, the first Black musician to earn a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music, the first Black instrumentalist to present a recital…
  • Hailstork, Church Street Serenade
    Aaron Copland and Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941) have several things in common: both were born and raised in New York—Copland in the city and Hailstork upstate, both showed musical talent from an early age, both studied at the Conservatoire Américan at Fontainebleau in France and with the great pedagogue Nadia Boulanger (though some forty years…
  • Herbert, Yesterthoughts and Punchinello
    Irish-born American composer Victor Herbert (1859–1924) was quite prolific. He wrote many piano pieces, songs, choral works, orchestral suites, concertos, and chamber compositions, but is best remembered for his stage works. His operettas, such as Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta, made him the most successful man on Broadway in the early decades of the…
  • Kovács, Sholem Aleichem Rov Feidman!
    This delightful work is nothing less than an inspired concert tribute to the amazing tradition of klezmer clarinet. Klezmer is the traditional music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. From its centuries-old antecedents…
  • Mahler, Adagietto from Symphony no. 5
    “This Adagietto was Gustav Mahler’s declaration of love to Alma! … both of them told me this!” ~ Wilhelm Mengelberg, conductor’s score What could be more romantic than a love note disguised as a musical manuscript? Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto, the fourth movement of his Fifth Symphony, served just that purpose when received by his future wife…
  • Mendelssohn, Italian Symphony
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes In 1830, the world was Felix Mendelssohn’s for the taking. Just barely into his twenties, the young German musician had already established an international reputation as a virtuoso pianist, budding conductor, and successful composer. The previous year, he had embarked on a world tour, exploring the Scottish Highlands…
  • Mendelssohn, Piano Concerto no. 1
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes It is sometimes easy to forget that Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) died at just 38-years-old, perhaps because his published works sound so mature. Yet many were written when the composer was at an age when most of us are still trying to figure out where our talents lie. Hailed…
  • Montgomery, Jessie, Banner
    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…
  • Morawetz, Memorial to Martin Luther King
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Oskar Morawetz was one of Canada’s most successful composers. Yet many audiences have not heard his music. Morawetz was born and raised in Czechoslovakia. Just as he reached an age when his professional musical aspirations were in sight, the Nazi regime invaded his homeland. He moved to Vienna…
  • Mozart, Horn Concerto no. 3
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Unless you are a horn player, the horn is not the instrument usually associated with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A master of the classical concerto, the prodigious composer wrote over two dozen featuring his primary instrument, the piano. Many were composed for his own performance. He also wrote a…
  • Mozart, Symphony No. 36 in C Major, “Linz”
    In the crystalline perfection of Mozart’s works, pride of place must be given to his operas, nonpareil dramatic works that unified drama and music like none before or since.  And secondarily, there are the piano concertos—a genre that Mozart more or less established in its mature guise. Then there are his symphonies. He wrote forty-one…
  • Perkinson, Grass: Poem for Piano, Strings, and Percussion
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work— I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at Gettysburg And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work. Two years, ten years, and…
  • Pilsner, A Light in the Ocean
    “A Light in the Ocean” is a pure reflection of the wonders of life across our planet. As I composed the music, I consistently envisioned the beauty and spectacle of stepping into nature and seeing the flourish of life around me.  And, this is no more exemplified than in the underwater expanse of the ocean….
  • Price, Suite of Dances
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes The music of Florence Price has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Price worked hard to overcome racism and misogyny in the Chicago music scene during the 1930s and 1940s and faded from public consciousness in the years following her death. Now, almost seventy years later, performers and…
  • Prokofiev, Lieutenant Kijé Suite
    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, returning to the USSR in 1936 voluntarily.  Like his compatriot, Prokofiev must be counted as…
  • Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin
    Ravel and Debussy are often paired in music lovers’ minds. They certainly were friends, admirers of their respective talents and musical works, and landmarks, not only of French musical culture, but the world, as well.  But there the comparisons end, for Ravel and his compositions constitute a unique body of work, not closely related to…
  • Reinecke, Flute Concerto in D Major
    Public memory is cruel, and there are legions who were household names during their lifetimes, only to gradually fade into obscurity. Who today remembers folks like the formerly prominent Americans Ida Tarbell, Edward Everett, and Father Coughlin, for example? And, similarly, the German composer, conductor, pedagogue, and pianist, Carl Reinecke? Influential in several musical fields,…
  • Schumann, Clara, Piano Concerto in A Minor
    According to Clara Wieck Schumann, “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?” She must have written these dark words in a moment of despair…
  • Schumann, Robert – Symphony no. 1 in B-flat, “Spring”
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Date of Composition: 1841 Duration: 35 minutes It is easy to forget that there was quite a bit of overlap in the lives of many canonic 19th-century musicians. Individuals filled multiple roles as composers, conductors, and performers. Many of those whose music is still played today knew each…
  • Schumann, Robert, Piano Concerto in A Minor
    This work was Robert Schumann’s first piano concerto, the best of the lot, and deservedly one of the most popular in the repertoire. He composed in almost all of the common genres and, notwithstanding his success in the larger forms…
  • Shchedrin, Carmen Suite
    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…
  • Sibelius, Romance in C
    In 1904, the same year that Mahler’s Fifth Symphony premiered and Coleridge-Taylor made his first tour of the United States, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) completed a little piece for string orchestra called the Romance in C. Like Mahler’s pivotal year between 1901 and 1902, 1904 most certainly marked a significant turning point in Sibelius’s…
  • Stravinsky, Symphonies of Wind Instruments
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Igor Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments displays several sides of the Russian-French-American composer’s compositional personality. Its clear form, unusual instrumentation,  and even its title lend towards Stravinsky’s so-called “neo-classical” period. Yet several Russian folk themes are disguised within, recalling earlier works written for Diaghalev’s Ballet Russe. In these…
  • Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes Few composers have possessed the ability to reflect emotions within their music as well as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Born in a small Russian village, Tchaikovsky began music lessons at an early age. His talent soon became apparent. His parents, however, hoped for a more stable profession for their…
  • Tower, Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman no. 1
    Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes American composer Joan Tower certainly fits into the category of “uncommon.” As a female composer coming of age in the mid-twentieth century, she had to overcome perceptions as to what a composer was and could be. Although Tower states she never personally felt discrimination, she notes the obstacles other composers…
  • Trimble, Suite for Strings
    Composers have three choices when creating folk-inspired music: to quote tunes as literally as possible, to adapt them to established forms, or to compose newly imagined music that evokes a particular culture. Suite for Strings by Joan Trimble (1915–2000) falls into this last category. Across three ambiguously titled movements, Trimble captures the rugged beauty, national…
  • Ungar, Ashokan Farewell
    The sun is sinking low in the sky above Ashokan,The pines and the willows know soon we will part.There’s a whisper in the wind of promises unspoken,And a love that will always remain in my heart. So begin the lyrics associated with Ashokan Farewell, a striking ballad by American composer Jay Ungar (b. 1946) that…
  • Walker, The Light of Three Mornings
    As if to remind us that Ireland and Scotland are not the only places with rolling, green hills and breathtaking views, Gwyneth Walker’s The Light of Three Mornings captures the beauty of the composer’s then residence, a Braintree, Vermont farm. Early in her career, Walker (b. 1947) followed the usual composer’s path of college teaching,…
  • Weber, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn Overture
    History is cruelly reductive, and it is the natural state of our collective memory that it often bears little resemblance to the balance of affairs that characterized the past. Whole lives, bodies of creative work, and popular acclaim of significant artists commonly disappear…