Gershwin Concerto in F – October 19 & 20, 2018
Chris Rogerson | b. 1988
Chris Rogerson explains the inspiration for Among Mountains: “My childhood summers were spent in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. We traveled all over Oregon, to Black Butte Ranch, Bend, Crater Lake. We fished the Metolius River, hiked between alpine lakes, visited the Columbia River Gorge. Among Mountains is a short ode to the simplicity of that time and the majesty and beauty of the region.”
A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Yale School of Music and Princeton University, Rogerson was honored in 2012 with a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In the same year he co-founded Kettle Corn New Music, a new music presenting organization in New York City, and currently serves as its co-artistic director. He is currently on the music faculty of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He was Composer-in-Residence for the Amarillo Symphony for 2014-2017.
Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah
Leonard Bernstein | 1918-1990
In the early 1940s Leonard Bernstein had been on a meteoric rise as a conductor, pianist and composer of ballets and lighter fare. But he wanted also to make his mark as composer of music for the concert hall and had been thinking for a while about writing a symphony. He made some sketches in 1938, but did not start serious work on his first symphony until the spring of 1942. Then, in late summer, he heard that the new England Conservatory of Music was sponsoring a competition for a large orchestral work, and that his mentor, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, was the chief judge. Bernstein went to work, finishing the piano score in ten days. In order to finish the orchestration – always a time-consuming job – to meet the deadline of December 31, 1942, he recruited his sister Shirley and a number of friends to help in producing the finished copy. Because it was too late to mail the manuscript, he had to take the train to Boston to deliver it in person. Although it did not win the prize, it premiered in January 1944 in Pittsburgh with the composer conducting and mezzo-soprano Jenny Tourel as the soloist in the third movement.
Jeremiah deals with a crisis of faith. Some of the themes are taken from traditional Hebrew prayer cantillations and chants, as well as from the style of Ernest Bloch’s “Jewish cycle,” especially Schelomo, Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra. The opening movement, “Prophecy,” is a brooding moody presage of doom. The prophet predicts that Jerusalem and its Temple will be destroyed by the rising power of Babylon unless the people mend their ways and return to God. According to Bernstein, “…the intention is…not one of literalness, but of emotional quality. [It] aims only to parallel in feeling the intensity of the prophet’s pleas with his people.”
“Profanation,’ the second movement, is a scherzo in shifting meters, depicting the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. According to Bernstein, it was intended to give a general sense of the chaos brought on by the pagan corruption within the priesthood and the people. The opening, a duet between clarinet and piccolo three octaves apart, seems almost carefree, but the mood degenerates as the whole orchestra is brought in. The syncopation and jazzy rhythms notwithstanding, the music takes on an ominous tone.
In the third movement, “Lamentations,” the mezzo-soprano sings in Hebrew from the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), the cry of the prophet mourning his beloved Jerusalem ruined and pillaged in spite of his effort to save it. The work ends with the plea from chapter 5, verses 20-21: “Wherefore dost thou forget us forever? Forsake us for so long a time? Return thou us to Thee, O Lord…”
Bernstein dedicated Jeremiah to his father, Samuel Bernstein. As a mark of respect, he set the Hebrew text in the Ashkenazi pronunciation used in Eastern Europe and at the time by most Jews in America. By the time Bernstein and Jenny Tourel brought it to Israel in the late 1940s, he had switched the text to the Sephardic pronunciation used in modern Hebrew.
Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra
George Gershwin | 1898-1937
George Gershwin was the first American composer to make jazz acceptable to the American classical music audience. The groundbreaking performance of his Rhapsody in Blue at the Paul Whiteman concerts in 1924 made history. His Concerto in F, however, commissioned by Walter Damrosch for the New York Symphony and premiered in December 1925, was the first large-scale jazz composition in a traditionally classical form.
Gershwin, who by that time was already a famous composer of songs and musical comedies, had no experience in orchestration. In the Broadway tradition, this task was usually left to professional orchestrators; Ferde Grofé (of Grand Canyon Suite fame) had orchestrated Rhapsody in Blue. But for the Concerto in F, Gershwin decided to score it himself. He was a fast learner.
Although billed as a concerto for the concert hall, the Concerto in F adheres only to the most basic elements of the classical models in form: three movements, fast-slow-fast. Gershwin made no attempt to create jazzy versions of sonata, scherzo or ternary (ABA) form in the movements themselves, although the finale is a rondo.
Gershwin employed different jazz styles in each of the three movements. The First employs the quick pulsating rhythm of the Charleston. The unusual opening for timpani and trap set fixes the prevailing rhythm of the movement and announces in no uncertain terms: “This is jazz!” The main theme, introduced by the piano, becomes a motto for the concerto, recurring in the last movement. Instead of developing core thematic material, the tunesmith Gershwin rolls out a series of melodies in contrasting rhythms and moods, expanding each one in the manner of a jazz riff.
The second movement has, as Gershwin himself explained, “…a poetic nocturnal atmosphere which has come to be referred to as the American blues…” The movement begins with a long introductory passage for solo winds, based on a small rhythmic motive that sets the bluesy atmosphere and contains little hints of the two important themes to come. Both themes are delayed in order to produce a sense of expectation and tension that drive the movement, reflecting the melancholy sense of longing that characterizes the blues in general.
The Finale, the only movement with a classical structure, is a rondo but also a toccata consisting of rapidly repeated notes. From a pop music perspective, the movement is a quickstep. The first episode brings back in variation the motto from the first movement. The next episode the melody is original to this movement, and in the third episode, Gershwin brings back the main theme from the second movement as a quickstep. A rapid coda recalls the rondo theme with a timpani flourish and a jazz trill for the horns.
Maurice Ravel | 1875-1937
At the outbreak of World War I, Ravel attempted to join the military for what was presumably going to be a short war. Although he made several attempts to enlist in the air force as a pilot, he was rejected on health grounds. Finally, in March 1916, he became an ambulance driver, naming his vehicle Adélaïde after the ballet adaptation of his Valses nobles et sentimentales. Before the outbreak of the war, he had begun work on a symphonic poem that he tentatively called Vienna, but in light of the spreading hostilities he refrained from working on the project and did not return to it until 1919 at the urging of Sergey Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets russes, giving it the title La valse.
Ravel is said to have described La valse as “a fantastic and fatefully inescapable whirlpool.” On the score he added the stage direction “An Imperial Court, about 1855.” The date was chosen deliberately. This was a period when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in decline, withstanding nationalist movements in Germany, Hungary and the Balkans while trying to hold its own against the continual threat of the Ottoman Empire on its eastern frontier and France in the west. Austria, under the rule of Franz Joseph I, signed a treaty with Pope Pius IX, which terminated the liberal reforms adopted during the reign of Joseph II at the end of the eighteenth century. With it, the empire entered the most reactionary period in its history. At the time Ravel took up his pen to complete his work, the Empire had just suffered its final defeat in 1918.
In the Vienna of 1855, the Hapsburg court maintained a show of glittering joie de vivre. The city, dancing on a volcano, swayed to the waltzes and operettas of the Strauss family. Economically, this was the most brilliant and prosperous period of the monarchy. With the hindsight of 1919, however, Ravel had a clear picture of the Empire’s decadence.
La valse was premiered as an orchestral work in 1920 to great success. But Diaghilev was unhappy with it and never staged it. It was finally staged in Paris in 1928 in the style of an elegant festive ball set in the Paris of the Second Empire during the 1860s. Finally, in 1951, George Balanchine gave it the choreographic interpretation that expressed Ravel’s original intention of the “inescapable whirlpool.”
The atmosphere of the music is thoroughly Viennese, although Ravel composed it before he ever visited the city. The opening follows closely the scenic directive Ravel added to the score: “Clouds whirl about. Occasionally they part to allow a glimpse of waltzing couples. As the clouds lift, one can see a gigantic hall, filled by a crowd of moving dancers. The stage gradually brightens and the glow of the chandeliers breaks out fortissimo.” The dance becomes wilder and wilder, a rhythmic and dynamic tour de force; the dancers lose control and are swept in a terrific whirlwind. It is a frightening, deathly riot, cut off at the end as if by a bolt of lightning.
Program notes by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn
Translation of text from Lamentations
How doth the city sit solitary,
That was full of people!
How is she become as a widow?
She that was great among the nations.
And princess among the provinces.
How is she become tributary!
She weepeth sore in the night,
And her tears are on her cheeks;
She hath none to comfort her
Among all her lovers;
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
They are become her enemies.
Judah is gone into exile because of affliction.
And because of great servitude;
she dwelleth among the nations,
she findeth no rest.
all her pursuers overtook her
Within the narrow passes.
Jerusalem hath grievously sinned…
How doth the city sit solitary
They wander as blind men in the streets,
they are polluted with blood,
so that men cannot
touch their garments.
Depart, ye unclean! they cried unto them,
Depart, depart! touch us not…
Wherefore dost thou forget us forever,
and forsake us so long time?…
Turn thou us unto thee, o lord…