American Composers Orchestra

about the concert

Sunday, SEPTEMBER 27, 1998 at 3pm

Paul Lustig Dunkel, conductor & flute
Mark Mandarano, assistant conductor
Michael Boriskin, piano

RANDALL WOOLF: White Heat (NY Premiere)
GEORGE PERLE: Piano Concerto No. 1 (NY Premiere)
MELINDA WAGNER: Flute Concerto (NY Premiere)
GEORGE CRUMB: Echoes of Time and the River

Pre-Concert talk with the composers at 1:45pm
FOR TICKETS CALL CarnegieCharge: 212-247-7800


Notes on the Program

by DAVID WRIGHT


Randall Woolf. photo credit:Robin HollandWhite Heat
RANDALL WOOLF

Born August 23, 1959, in Detroit
Now living in Brooklyn

Randall Woolf studied composition at Harvard and also with David Del Tredici and Joseph Maneri. After coming into his own as a composer about ten years ago, he has been active both in the symphony orchestra scene (with performances by the major orchestras of Seattle, Kansas City, and Savannah) and in that of new-music groups and performing spaces, including the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Meridian Arts Ensemble, Music at the Anthology, Bang on a Can/SPIT Orchestra, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, California EAR Unit, and the Netherlands Wind Ensemble. Recent commissions include a work for tap dancer, piano and electronics for Anthony de Mare, and a ballet of Where the Wild Things Are in collaboration with author-illustrator Maurice Sendak and with Septime Webre. Mr. Woolf arranges music for John Cale, and also for Kronos Quartet, David Lang, and New Music Consort. He formed the rock band CAMP with singer Kitty Brazelton, and performs with it on keyboard bass. In May 1998, a CD of his music titled Rock Steady came out on the CRI/Emergency Music label, which has also issued his Your Name Backwards (performed by twisted tutu) Dancétudes (with Kathleen Supové) and My Insect Bride (Common Sense Ensemble).

Mr. Woolf has supplied the following comments about his orchestral piece White Heat:

In 1989, I spent one of the most enjoyable summers of my life. I was a fellow at Tanglewood, working with Oliver Knussen and Lukas Foss, and meeting other young musicians and composers, many of whom have remained my friends to this day. I had been studying orchestration with David Del Tredici for several years, but I had yet to hear any of my efforts performed anywhere but inside my head. Between an orchestral reading session and the performance of my first large ensemble work, Chaotic Regime, I was now surrounded by the reality of all these musical elements that I had only really known through study. To my astonishment, at the end of the summer I was commissioned to write a new orchestral work, my first, for the 1990 Festival of Contemporary Music. Whenever I tried to imagine what I might compose, I kept thinking of the blur and rush of my experience at Tanglewood, and of a performance of what became my favorite piece of orchestral music: Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The result was White Heat.

When I began to compose White Heat, I suddenly became aware of the stubborn antiquity of the orchestra and its resistance to the world that surrounds it, to the fast pace and sharp edges of contemporary experience. The first few seconds of any orchestral piece to me suggest immediately "music from another time and place, music from somewhere else." And yet I can't help, when writing for this grand old instrument, being just as clearly from my own time and place.

The piece became a confrontation of these tendencies, a constant mismatch of abrupt and racing modernity with soft sepia-toned nostalgia. As the piece progresses, refusing to settle down, alternately ingratiating and combative, the overall effect becomes a synthesis of these opposites: a restless burning meditation on old things, casting each new memory aside with the same intensity that drives the search for the next recollection. In the end, it all adds up to nothing more than a fading image of repose, and a residue of feeling always not quite in the right place. One is left with the sensation that none of these transient states can ever really take hold, and that the only thing certain to remain is the constant need for change and stimulation.


Piano Concerto No. 1George Perle. photo credit: Johanna Sturm
GEORGE PERLE

Born May 6, 1915, in Bayonne, New Jersey
Now living in New York

In 1986, composer George Perle capped a long and productive career by winning both the Pulitzer Prize (for his Fourth Wind Quintet) and a MacArthur Fellowship. The New Jersey native, raised in the midwest, received his early music education in Chicago. After service in World War II he moved to New York, where he earned his Ph.D. degree at New York University. He is Professor Emeritus of the City University of New York and has also held teaching positions and guest professorships at other major universities throughout the U.S.A. In 1989 he held the post of visiting Ernest Bloch Professor of Music at the University of California at Berkeley, and his ensuing lectures resulted in his most recent book, The Listening Composer. Active as guest composer and lecturer here and abroad, Mr. Perle has been three-time composer-in-residence at the Tanglewood Music Center, where his music has been frequently performed. Perle's compositions are recorded on Nonesuch, CRI, New World Records, and other labels. The Nonesuch recording of Serenade No. 3 was nominated for a Grammy award in 1986 and choreographed for American Ballet Theater under the title Enough Said. Mr. Perle is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Perle is one of the world's leading authorities on the music of Alban Berg, and while his own compositions are informed by his deep knowledge of the Viennese master, they have an intellectual force and New World vitality all their own. In particular, he has returned often to the piano, an instrument not much cultivated by Berg but central to many American styles of music.

George Perle's recent compositions include two piano concertos (respectively commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and the Koussevitzky Foundation), Sinfonietta I (commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra), Sinfonietta II (commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony), Dance Fantasy (commissioned by the Houston Symphony Orchestra), and other works commissioned for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, for Carnegie Hall, and for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, David Zinman.

Mr. Zinman has now conducted three world premieres of Perle works; it was the second of these, the Piano Concerto No. 1, whose slow movement inspired the conductor to commission the third piece, Adagio for Orchestra, for Baltimore. The Piano Concerto No. 1, says a note on the score, was "commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony in honor of Herbert Blomstedt [the orchestra's longtime music director], through the generosity of Mrs. Paul L. Wattis." The short score was completed on May 20, 1990, and the work was fully orchestrated the following fall. The premiere took place on January 24, 1991, in Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, David Zinman conducting, with Richard Goode as piano soloist. (Mr. Goode has written about, and made notable recordings of, several Perle works for piano.) The concerto is scored for a very large orchestra, including four of every standard woodwind and brass instrument, and three percussion players. Mr. Perle's idea in doing so was not necessarily to produce gigantic fortissimos, but to provide himself a broad palette of orchestral color to work with.

Following a precedent set by Brahms, Mr. Perle has added a scherzo to the customary three-movement, fast-slow-fast scheme of the concerto, creating a work in four movements that proposes its most challenging ideas in the first movement, then relaxes into more diverting matters. That initial movement, in fact, is nearly as long as the other three put together. It begins tersely enough, with ascending and descending gestures in the orchestra that will figure prominently in the rest of the work, answered by rapid staccato octaves in the piano. It gradually becomes evident, however, that Mr. Perle intends to take his time unfolding the implications of this dialogue, and he does so with great delicacy, despite the orchestra's large size. Eventually the music reaches a pause, enabling a new idea to emerge, once again in octaves for the piano, cushioned by the mellow sound of a rocking figure for four clarinets and muted strings. The development and recapitulation of these themes proceeds in the classical way, but with constant variation and revelation, to the movement's pianissimo close.

Rather than proceed directly to his expressive slow movement, the composer offers a few minutes of comic relief in the "extra" Scherzo. As Beethoven often did in his scherzos, Mr. Perle deftly parodies ideas from the first movement, in this case the ascending and descending figures. Although the music rarely rises higher than piano in its dynamics, it is nevertheless brilliant and acerbic.

Thus the way is prepared for the Adagio, a movement as profound in its feeling as the Scherzo was light-hearted. The pianist, playing alone for the first 25 bars, immediately sets the mood of impassioned meditation. The orchestra, appearing first as a woodwind quintet, takes up and amplifies the piano's phrases. This chamber-music style of orchestral writing is characteristic of the movement; quartets of the same instrument (flute or bassoon or clarinet) create an organ-like sound, unusual for orchestral music, of full wind chords in a single tone color.

By bar 5 of the Allegro finale, Mr. Perle has already indicated three different tempos; will this music ever find its feet? Then it does, in a chatter of staccato triplet sixteenths for the piano, incorporating both the up-and-down idea and the rocking figure from the first movement. The idea of dialogue between soloist and orchestra returns also, but now at blinding speed, as the pianist and wind players merrily duck, bob, and pelt each other with triplets. The marimba and xylophone are the referees, asserting themselves at the end, but leaving the last word to the piano, sempre forte.


Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion
MELINDA WAGNER

Melinda WagnerBorn February 25, 1957, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Now living in Mount Vernon, New York

Melinda Wagner's poetic and sensually scored compositions have earned her three ASCAP Young Composer awards, fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and numerous other grants and awards. Her teachers included Richard Wernick, George Crumb, Shulamit Ran, and Jay Reise. She has been composer-in- residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Whether or not her marriage to percussionist James Saporito (a member of the American Composers Orchestra) is responsible for her exceptional skill in scoring for percussion instruments, she does achieve an orchestral sound that is all her own--as one might expect from a composer who has written that her music is "not really about anything that could happen in the world, but about the exploration and potential of ideas concerning sound."

Ms. Wagner has described the composition process as "writing a kind of love letter to performers. They will be interpreting something that is incredibly personal to me, so it feels like a love affair. As for the audience, I can't guess who they are in advance. In fact, to try to second- guess them, to figure out what they're going to like and write that, would be an insult to them. I just hope they can plug into the communication that's happening between the performers and me."

It was after the performance of Ms. Wagner's Falling Angels by the American Composers Orchestra in October 1995 that conductor and flutist Paul Lustig Dunkel suggested that she compose a concerto for him. The work was commissioned by the Westchester (N.Y.) Philharmonic, which gave the premiere with Mr. Dunkel as soloist on May 31, 1998. In addition to the ACO, the Illinois Chamber Symphony and the Oakland-East Bay (Calif.) Symphony have scheduled the work, meaning it was guaranteed performances by four different orchestras even before its premiere took place.

The composer said she was particularly impressed by the "power and rich tone of Paul Dunkel's playing, the breadth and warmth of the lower register, where some flutists just sound weak and breathy." In particular, she says, she designed the concerto's slow second movement to take advantage of this aspect of Mr. Dunkel's playing.

Ms. Wagner says she conceives of the flute as a brilliant, volatile, soulful, and humorous instrument, not the hard-working hero typical of piano and violin concertos. In this work's opening bars (marked "Playful"), the Bartókian ensemble of strings, percussion, and celesta (and also piano and harp) complements the flute's fantastic monologue with a blaze of high overtones, creating a sparkling sonority that is typical of the whole concerto. (The percussion writing keeps three players very busy for most of the piece.) A simple step-motive, G to F, launches the movement and recurs throughout, and a broad, angular theme booms in the bass. The music settles down several times to a jabbering note D in the strings, only to dart off again. A bird-like solo cadenza introduces a dreamy episode for the flute in long notes, cushioned by strings, a foretaste of the sound world of the second movement. A quick recapitulation climaxes with the angular theme.

Ms. Wagner characterizes the melodic shape of the first movement as "up all the time" and that of the second as "down all the time." The slow movement (marked "Sad, simple, warm") is a lush, exotic nocturne for the flute in long notes, undulating against a background of shifting colors: solo violin, percussion, harp, piano, string harmonics. (The composer says she used the working title "Veils" while composing this music.) The step-motive, B flat to A flat, is heard in the harp's ostinato figure. The strings pronounce the epilogue, sliding through a progression of chords to end on a clear C major triad, flecked with dissonant notes in flute and percussion, a lovely effect.

The light-hearted finale has no initial expression marking in the score, and needs none, as it whirls away like a tarantella, then pauses for thought, then gallops ahead again. (During one raucous tutti passage, however, Ms. Wagner does write "Help!" over the flute part.) The brilliance of high percussion keeps the music fizzing. Again, a brief, fanciful solo cadenza introduces the closing passage, which begins with a fanfare from the first movement, then works itself into a merry rush; at the end, the triumphant flute is answered by one last burst of timpani.


Echoes of Time and the River, Four Processionals for Orchestra (Echoes II)George Crumb. photo credit: Sabine Matthes
GEORGE CRUMB

Born February 26, 1932, in Charleston, West Virginia
Now living in Media, Pennsylvania

The son of professional musicians--his father was a clarinetist and band arranger, his mother principal cellist of the Charleston Symphony--George Crumb grew up steeped in music, from Mozart to Sousa to gospel hymns. Eventually he earned a doctoral degree in music at the University of Michigan, where his principal teacher in composition was Ross Lee Finney. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College, and traveled to Asia, Australia and Europe on tours sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and other organizations. He has earned grants and awards from the Fromm, Guggenheim, Koussevitzky and Rockefeller Foundations, as well as the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for music and the 1971 International Rostrum of Composers (UNESCO) Award. In 1995, Mr. Crumb became the 36th recipient of the MacDowell Medal, an award named for the American composer, which is given annually to a composer, writer or visual artist in recognition of outstanding contributions to the nation's culture.

George Crumb has said, "I believe that music surpasses even language in its power to mirror the innermost recesses of the human soul." Mr. Crumb has been compared to Charles Ives as a distinctly American musical visionary, capable of the most delicate sonic vibrations and the most "barbaric yawp" (to quote Walt Whitman) of orchestral noise. Even his notation is a work of art, meticulously charted and lettered, often bending the musical staff in a swirl of angles, circles and other geometrical shapes to convey his expressive intentions.

Echoes of Time and the River, also known as Echoes II, composed in 1967, is an outgrowth of a 1965 work, Eleven Echoes of Autumn for violin, alto flute, clarinet and piano. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Irwin Hoffman, gave the work's premiere on May 26, 1967, in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. The following year, Echoes of Time and the River was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music. Reviewing the premiere, Donal Henahan wrote in Musical Quarterly (January 1968) that this work was "the most technically fascinating and, in the writer's experience, the most practically effective piece to emerge from the new school....The score impressed one as an extraordinary piece of fantasy. A veritable thesaurus of orchestral novelties, Echoes differs from much other new music in that its ideas leap off the page and make themselves perceptible as sonorities...Each movement sustained interest by ear alone, too, the delicate sonorities clinging in the memory for days afterward."

Echoes of Time and the River achieved a sort of notoriety at its premiere for the spectacle of orchestral musicians moving around the stage in carefully worked-out choreography as they played. This may have seemed terribly innovative to some observers, but of course there was nothing new about it; when one looks back at the history of musical performance, from Greek drama to the medieval church to Mozart's serenades to the big-band era, what strikes one as odd about the modern symphony orchestra is that all the musicians are expected to sit still for the whole concert! In Echoes, Mr. Crumb has brought the familiar idea of a musical "processional" into creative tension with the rigidity of nineteenth- and twentieth-century concert etiquette--epitomized, at this performance, by the famous and hallowed proscenium arch of Carnegie Hall.

In a booklet on George Crumb issued by his publisher, C.F. Peters, in 1986, the annotated list of works includes this description (presumably written by the booklet's editor, Don Gillespie) of Echoes of Time and the River:

Crumb's preoccupation with time dates from his earlier "Autumn" Echoes, but in Echoes of Time and the River this central unifying theme includes a treatment of psychological and philosophical time as well. The spatial projection of the time continuum takes the form of various "processionals"; the four movements of the suite may be realized with the players actually marching about the stage in steps of various length synchronized with the music they are performing. Many of the string and wind players are given extra antique cymbals and glockenspiel plates, and the bell sounds resonating throughout the orchestra also create a dimension of vast sonic space.

The first movement is called Frozen Time and features a collage of mysterious and muted textures in overlapping 7/8 metric patterns. After a time, three percussionists make their way ritualistically across the stage intoning the motto of the state of West Virginia: "Montani semper liberi?" (Mountaineers are always free?); the ironic question mark has been added by the composer. The music swells to an intense ffff in the middle section with glissandos in all the string parts. As if in answer, the mandolinist exits playing and whispering the same motto darkly as he disappears off stage. The second movement, Remembrance of Time, begins with the most distant and delicate sounds imaginable (piano, percussion, harp) echoed by a phrase from Garcia Lorca ("the broken arches where time suffers"). fragments of joyful music erupt from various wind and brass players on stage and off, and the commotion eventually gives way to a kind of Ivesian reminiscence, evoked by serene string harmonics: "Were You There When They Crucified the Lord?"

The most free and fantastic movement is the portentous Collapse of Time. Like the celebrated amphibians of Aristophanes, the string players croak out the nonsense syllables "Krek-tu-dai! Krek-tu-dai!" while the xylophone taps out the name of the composer in Morse code. As the movement proceeds and the underlying pulse falls away, the music heads off into a wide range of special effects--bizarre, quasi-improvised fragments passed around among the various soloists (notated in circular patterns in the score!). The descent into the solitude of the finale, Last Echoes of Time, comes at first as a relief and relaxation from all the foregoing; once the listener is convinced of the retrospective nature of these last pages, he can begin to explore more securely the implications in these echoes of all that has gone before.

  Copyright c 1998 by David Wright


The American Composers Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director, Dennis Russell Davies, is the nation’s only orchestra dedicated exclusively to performing symphonic works by American composers. Through its concert series at Carnegie Hall, recordings, radio broadcasts, educational programs, new music reading sessions, and commissions, the ACO identifies today’s brightest emerging composers, champions this country’s prominent established composers as well as those lesser-known, and increases regional and national awareness of the infinite varieties—stylistic, geographic and ethnic—of American orchestral music. Since its founding in 1977, the Orchestra has programmed 400 works by 343 American composers, including 108 world premieres and 87 commissions, generating more new American symphonic works than any other orchestra. Recordings by ACO are available on ARGO, CRI, Point, MusicMasters, and New World Records.

Major support of the American Composers Orchestra is from Alliance Capital Management L.P., AT&T Foundation, Mr. Thomas Buckner, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Mr. Francis Goelet, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, JP Morgan & Co., and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. This concert is also made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional funding comes from Meet the Composer, Inc., with support from ASCAP, the Mary Flagler Cry Charitable Trust, JP Morgan & Co, and the Virgil Thompson Foundation.

Tickets for ACO’s Sunday, November 2, 1997 concert at Carnegie Hall are $40, $35, $20, $13 and $9 and are available through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800. The concert begins at 3 pm. A pre-concert talk with composers Frederic Rzewski, Robert DiDomenica, Ingram Marshall and ACO’s Artistic Advisor, Robert Beaser is free to ticket holders and begins 1:45 pm.

FOR TICKETS CALL CarnegieCharge: 212-247-7800

 

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