Ascension Bradley Johnson – B. 1996
WTAMU Composer’s Initiative Winner
Bradley Johnson is an undergraduate student at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX., currently studying Music Composition and Music Technology. Mr. Johnson plans to pursue a Masters of Music in fil/video game scoring. Being chosen as the WTAMU Composer’s initiative winner is the first major award he has received in composition to date. Mr. Johnson also works on the recording and mixing team for recitals and concerts held at WTAMU.
Inspiration for Ascension: Mr. Johnson has always been obsessed with the thought of flight – whether that thought is looking out of a window of a plane or in some weird, lucid dream. When Mr. Johnson listens to Ascension he pictures soaring through the clouds and experiencing the different breathtaking sceneries that this world has to offer.
West Side Story Suite for Solo Violin Leonard Bernstein – 1918-1990
Arr. William David Brohn
West Side Story was Leonard Bernstein’s attempt to demonstrate that it was possible to write a serious musical. The attempt succeeded beyond all expectations. With lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins as director and choreographer, it opened on Broadway on September 26, 1957 and ran for over 1000 performances. The movie was just as spectacular a success, as was the recording.
But its birth was not easy. The show was originally conceived six years earlier as a conflict between Jews and Catholics during the Easter-Passover celebrations and at one point was to be called East Side Story. The plot was finally switched to ethnic gangs on the Upper West Side, but no backers could be found; it became notorious for having been turned down by nearly everybody because no one thought that such a tragic story was suitable material for a musical.
Casting was another problem. Robbins, a perfectionist, wanted a cast of 38 who could both dance and sing – a nearly impossible demand in those days, but now the rule rather than the exception. Being first and foremost a dance choreographer, he finally settled on dancers who could sing—as opposed to singers who could dance. When Bernstein, unencumbered by staging, re-recorded West Side Story in 1988, he used opera singers for the main roles: Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, Tatiana Troyanos and Marilyn Horne. It became another bestseller.
With the approval of Bernstein shortly before his death, orchestrator and arranger William Brohn (1933-2017) made this fantasy arrangement of West Side Story for noted violinist Joshua Bell. The violin pyrotechnics are full of surprises, with snippets of themes from the musical emerging and juxtaposing unexpectedly. While the suite does not try to tell the story, it retains the energy and spirit of the original.
Symphony No. 3 Aaron Copland – 1900-1990
In the late 1930s and early 40s, Aaron Copland attracted the public to his music with a series of works, mainly ballets, in a simple style that incorporated or imitated traditional folk tunes. But he did not give up his ambition to write in the more classical genres, the sonata, concerto or symphony. The opportunity came in 1943 through a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation to write a symphony for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Copland began work on his Symphony No. 3 in August 1944 and finished it in September 1946, barely in time for the premiere three weeks later. It is his longest orchestral work and employs a large orchestra, including extra woodwinds (four flutes), four trumpets, piano and two harps.
Copland provided detailed program notes for the work, stating at the outset that it contained no folk or popular material. Later in his life, he expanded his stylistic repertory into serialism and free atonality, but the Symphony No. 3 bears the unmistakable signature of his ballets – however much he wanted to distance himself from the unmistakable “Copland” sound. The lively second movement and the gentle third movement often sound like a sequel to Appalachian Spring. Present throughout the Symphony are his characteristic open fifths and fourths that have come to be associated with “American” music in film scores and commercials.
In his memoirs, Copland wrote, using program notes he prepared for the premiere: “It was composed in the general form of an arch in which the central portion, that is the second movement scherzo, is the most animated and the final movement is an extended coda, presenting a broadened version of the opening material. Both the first and third theme of the first movement are referred to again in later movements. The second movement stays close to the normal symphonic procedure of a usual scherzo, while the third is the freest of all in formal structure, its various sections intended to emerge in a continuous flow, somewhat in the manner of a closely-knit set of variations. Some of the writing in the third movement is for very high strings and piccolo, with no brass except single horn and trumpet. The fourth is closest to a customary sonata-allegro form, although the recapitulation is replaced by an extended coda, presenting many ideas from the work, including the opening theme.”
Copland borrows from himself in the last movement, which follows the third without interruption. He used his Fanfare for the Common Man, composed in 1942 for Eugene Goossens, then conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra, to form the basis of the movement. But rather than opening as a fanfare, it is introduced pianissimo by the flutes and clarinets, then suddenly blasted fortissimo by the brass and percussion. Its affirmative tone reflects the euphoric spirit of the country at the time; Copland called it, an end-of-war piece.
Program notes by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn