Notes (2004/03/10)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004 at 8:00pm “Fanfares and Fire”

Ned Rorem
Lions (A Dream)
Born October 23, 1923 in Richmond, IN
Now living in NYC

Lions is scored for 3 flutes (doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celeste, strings, and a combo consisting of alto sax, drum kit, piano, and double bass.

Words and music are inextricably linked for Ned Rorem. Time Magazine has called him “the world’s best composer of art songs,” yet his musical and literary ventures extend far beyond this specialized field. Rorem has composed three symphonies, four piano concertos and an array of other orchestral works, music for numerous combinations of chamber forces, six operas, choral works of every description, ballets and other music for the theater, and literally hundreds of songs and cycles. He is the author of fourteen books, including five volumes of diaries and collections of lectures and criticism.

Ned Rorem has been the recipient of the 1976 Pulitzer Prize in music, Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships, and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as several ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for his books and articles. Among his many commissions are those from the Ford Foundation (for Poems of Love and the Rain, 1962), the Lincoln Center Foundation (for Sun, 1965); the Koussevitzky Foundation (for Letters from Paris, 1966); the Atlanta Symphony (for the String Symphony, 1985); the Chicago Symphony (for Goodbye My Fancy, 1990); and from Carnegie Hall (for Spring Music, 1991).

About Lions, the composer writes:

Poetry and zoology have obsessed me since infancy. The first obsession has been satisfied in the writing of some 300 songs, the second in composing three so-called “tone poems” in honor of my favorite animals: eagles, lions, and whales. Now although it is not my belief that music means anything in a literary way (tell an untutored listener that La Mer represents three scenes of city life rather than three moods of the ocean, and he’ll believe you), I nevertheless don’t practice what I preach.

Lions, composed in Saratoga in 1963, is from a poem written 20 years ago following a dream. That poem is lost but the dream remains clearly still. It opens into a room of adolescence where I discovered music, the sound of my time before that of the past. (In such a room—ignorant of Bach, Chopin, even Tchaikovsky—I used to hear recorded screams of Milhaud and Varèse, tangos of Ravel and Stravinsky, Blues of Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday). Now that room grows vast as a cathedral, strangely cheerful, agreeably foreboding. I re-enter there, nervous, obsessed; the old Blues discs are turning again. Somewhere in the night a clock strikes three. Drawn toward the closet door, I open it, and behold! On the dark little floor a litter of lion cubs purrs, furry-gold and rolling. Watching them, I want to play. And do… But their parents must be near! Indeed, I turn to see the male’s head, great, the King framed by a sunburst halo, a desert, approaches, roars. Terror is joyous, the yellow light too much, I am wallowed, drowned in a fire, in the mane, a peaceful martyr. In the howling elation I die, and dying, am aware of purrs, of Blues receding, innocence dimmed, hearing the force of an obsession like motors under water miles away. Today I reconstruct the forgotten poem in orchestration.

David Schober
Split Horizon Concerto for Sextet and Orchestra (World Premiere, Commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation
Born March 30, 1974 in Denver, CO
Now living in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Split Horizon is scored for 2 flutes (doubling piccolo) 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings plus a solo sextet consisting of flute (doubling piccolo and alto), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), violin (doubling viola) cello, percussion, and piano.

David Schober is currently a doctoral candidate and recently completed a yearlong fellowship at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities in Ann Arbor. During his undergraduate studies at Oberlin Conservatory, he received a Theodore Presser Foundation grant to study at Yonsei University in South Korea. National recognition for his composition work has included two BMI Student Composer Awards, the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, the San Francisco State University Wayne Peterson Composition Prize, the Aaron Copland Awards, and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received commissions from the Minnesota Orchestra, the Naumburg Foundation, the BMI Foundation, and eighth blackbird.

About Split Horizon, the composer writes:

I have always been fascinated with borders, especially artificial ones. As a kid, I thought it was fabulous that one could go to Four Corners National Monument and place one’s limbs in each of four different states at once. Upon crossing the International Date Line flying home from Asia recently, it occurred to me that for a split second half of my body remained in Wednesday, while the other half had entered the Tuesday of twenty-four hours before. My tastes have grown up somewhat, but I still like to reflect upon borderlines and the coexistence of perceived opposites. Having lived for a while in Korea, I have come to enjoy inhabiting the border (or gulf) between Eastern and Western culture, language, religion, and cuisine. I consider myself the product of both rural and urban, conservative and progressive. I am interested in music that is at once dynamic and static, tonal and chromatic.

Split Horizon is a provocative image drawn from the poetry of Thomas Lux. It, too, describes a border of sorts—namely, the one between earth and sky. While the horizon is easy to see, it has no location; if one travels toward that place, the horizon only retreats further into the distance. The horizon is always visible but never reachable.

The fourteenth-century Yüan Dynasty painter Ni Tsan created grand depictions of the Chinese countryside. Upon close examination, one is jarred by his use of a split perspective, or, in essence, two parallel horizons – and yet the overall effect is one of harmony and unity.

Split Horizon arises from my reflection on these lovely paradoxes, these gently combative factions within my own experience, these ephemeral boundaries that we were so certain existed a moment before. The stage-horizon is split between sextet and orchestra; the four movements explore the warmth and cold, friction and flow between them.

The heart of Split Horizon is eighth blackbird, which fuses the intimacy and precision of chamber music with an orchestral palette of sound-colors. Drawing obliquely from the tradition of the Baroque concerto grosso, the sextet part is continuous through most of the piece, like a solo hyperinstrument to which the orchestra adds resonance and support with fantastic textures and effects.

Daron Hagen
Fire Music (New York Premiere)
Born November 4, 1961 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Now living in New York City

Scored for 3 flutes (3rd alternating piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd alternating bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (including xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, triangle, snare drum, roto-toms, tenor drum, bass drum, slap sticks, crash cymbals, chimes, and brake drum), harp, piano, and strings.

Daron Hagen has composed hundreds of compositions, including three symphonies, six concertos, 200 hundred songs, and five operas. Among the orchestras that have commissioned and performed his music are the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, and American Composers Orchestra. Institutional commissions include the ASCAP Foundation, Barlow Endowment, Curtis Institute, Juilliard Dance Division, Princeton University, and the Sundance Institute for Television and Film. Mr. Hagen has won the Kennedy Center Friedheim Prize, grants from Opera America, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Rockefeller Foundation, the ASCAP-Nissim Prize, and the Columbia University Bearns Prize. Trained at the Curtis Institute and Juilliard, Mr. Hagen is a Yamaha Artist and a member of the Corporation of Yaddo. He has taught composition at Bard College, the Curtis Institute, and Princeton. Hagen was founding director of the Perpetuum Mobile Concert Series, which premiered over forty composers’ works.

About the work, the composer writes:

I had just spent a year composing the opera Shining Brow about Frank Lloyd Wright, when the Long Beach Symphony commissioned Fire Music. My imagination was still filled with ideas from the opera and I drew ideas from the music associated with his character in the opera to compose this piece.

Those acquainted with Wright’s life know the terrible role fire played in it: his Xanadu in Spring Green, Taliesin, was twice devastated, and it claimed the lives of his lover Mamah Cheney and her children. The first gesture of the piece could be interpreted as an igniting spark and the rest of it the roaring of flames.

Perhaps we have come to Taliesin to meet the Great Man and Fire Music is his pitch to us for a new design—the incendiary ferocity of his rhetoric, the grandiosity of his language, the self-assurance bordering on hubris, of the man. I imagine Mr. Wright, hands on hips, daring us not to commission him.

At the core of Fire Music is a four note cell, heard right at the beginning, that grows into a snake-like worm, insinuating and ever-growing. The timpani plays the second idea—a driving rhythmic cell. The harp, piano, vibraphone and marimba give the third idea—a faux Protestant Hymn that Wright’s own father might as well have taught him. The fourth idea is the theme that, in the opera, Wright uses to pitch his plan (while pitching woo) for what would become the Cheney House in Chicago to Mamah. In Shining Brow, he sings, in the words of Paul Muldoon, “Each room opens into the next, Mamah, so that one may follow one’s bent, as it were, from the living room through the den to the bedroom.” The four ideas are presented in collage.

Nicholas Maw
The World in the Evening
Born November 5, 1935 in Grantham, Lincolnshire
Now living in Baltimore, MD

The World in the Evening is scored for 2 flutes (doubling piccolo, 2 oboes (doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, harp, timpani, percussion, and strings.

Nicholas Maw studied at the Royal Academy of Music, part of a generation of composers who broke away from the conservative styles of traditional English idioms to discover twelve-tone techniques and serialism. Later Maw studied in France with the Schoenberg pupil Max Deutsch while there officially on a French government scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger.

It came as something of a surprise, then, when Maw fulfilled a BBC composition for the 1962 Proms with Scenes and Arias, filled with ecstatically songful writing, clearly derived from the native tradition, but enriched with extended harmonic structures that suggested a complex tonality quite different from the total chromaticism of the Viennese school. He has continued on this path, composing voluptuous music that does not turn its back on the traditions of the past, even when it projects the composer’s own personal vision. Along with a body of passionate instrumental music, he has produced a substantial body of music for voice, ranging from the song-cycle The Voice of Love for mezzo-soprano and piano to a three act opera, The Rising of the Moon, composed for Glyndebourne, and the elegant tribute to Italian love poetry, La Vita Nuova. His largest and perhaps most stunning score was Odyssey, a 90-minute work for large orchestra, which he began early in the 1970s and did not finish until 1987.

Maw composed The World in the Evening on a 1988 David Cohen Commission for the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Bernard Haitink led the first performance there on October 21, 1988. A Christopher Isherwood novel published in the early 1950s supplies the title, but none of the content of the piece. The composer describes the work as evoking a general feeling of evening in several different senses: a time of day, a time of life, a state of mind, and a state of the world. This already suggests a certain dark quality to the score, which rises, in its middle section, to a mood of considerable anguish.

Though it is subtitled Lullaby for Orchestra, Maw did not wish to compose a simple genre piece. Yet the work, in one continuous movement, begins with Lullaby I and ends with Lullaby II; the middle Fantasia is angry and turbulent, building to a massive climax. The music unfolds in clearly melodic terms; much of the thematic material is already present in the opening lullaby. The orchestra is treated in the nineteenth-century sense–as an organic ensemble of extraordinary richness, rather than as a collection of many chamber ensembles. This orchestra produces a rich sonority that varies and changes to support the increasing tension of the central climax and returns to the hushed, barely audible sonorities of the close.
–Steven Ledbetter