Notes (2004/11/17)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004 at 7:30 PM
“Orchestra Underground”

Stephen Sondheim
Selections from Sunday in the Park with George (1984)
Born March 22, 1930 in New York City where he currently resides

The selections are scored for flute, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, horn, harp, percussion, piano, synthesizer, and strings.

Sunday in the Park with George (1984) marks a stylistic departure from
Stephen Sondheim’s previous Broadway shows. While 1979’s Sweeney Todd is steeped in the operatic sensibilities of 19th-century London and 1981’s Merrily We
Roll Along
blares forth the Manhattanisms of musical comedy, Sunday in the Park with George, with its Debussy-Stravinsky lineaments as orchestrated by Michael Starobin, reaches into the rarefied world of classical art music.  No Broadway musical before or since sounds anything like it.

Sunday imagines an identity behind many of the personages depicted in Georges Seurat’s 1884 Parisian painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. In the musical’s first act, George completes the painting only by maintaining fragile relations with these persons, including his mistress Dot, who feels shut out.

In “We Do Not Belong Together,” Dot is pregnant with George’s child, but given George’s lack of attentions, she threatens to run off to America with the baker Louis, who, in Dot’s earlier words, “is not afraid to be gooey” and “sells what he makes.” To George’s plea, “What I feel? … Why do you insist you must hear the words when you
know I cannot give you words? Not the ones you need,” Dot responds, “I have to move on.”

“Finishing the Hat” is George’s poignant explanation of the actual and metaphoric window through which he watches society pass by as he obsesses with his painting. Such brutally honest statements as “the kind of woman willing to wait’s not the kind that you want to find waiting” yield to the admission/realization that an artist is always “finishing a hat.”

The second act whisks us a hundred years forward to a high-tech art world governed by commissions, publicity, and incessant networking. As the putative great-grandson of Act-I George, Act-II-George is an inventorsculptor of a series of electrical machines called Chromolumes.  Feeling stagnated at Chromolume #7 and journeying to a possible site of the 1884 painting, 19th-century Dot supernaturally appears to him, urging him, in her familiar words, to “Move On.”  The music of the duet is largely taken from “We Do Not Belong Together,” though the melodic climaxes are considerably more intense, the
key has changed to a more Debussyan B major, and impressionistic gurgles suffuse the accompaniment more pervasively.  Dot’s/Sondheim’s messages are legendary: “Stop worrying where you’re going; move on. If you can know where you’re going, you’ve gone.” “I chose and my world was shaken; so what? The choice may have been mistaken; the choosing was not.” “Stop worrying if your vision is new. Let others make that decision; they usually do.”

– Gerald Moshell

Morton Feldman De Kooning (1963)
Born on January 12, 1926, in New York, and died on September 3, 1987, in
Buffalo, New York.  He wrote De Kooning in 1963 for the documentary Willem de Kooning, The Painter.

De Kooning is scored for horn, percussion, piano (doubling celeste), violin and cello. Performance time is approximately 12 minutes.

Morton Feldman studied composition with Wallingford Riegger and Stefan Wolpe, but especially admired the music of Edgard Varèse.  A residency in Berlin (1971–72) generated commissions from European orchestras and radio organizations, gaining
him wider attention and leading to compositions for larger ensembles. From 1973 until his death, he taught composition as the Edgard Varèse Professor of Music at SUNY, Buffalo.  Feldman’s aesthetic crystallized in the early 1950s when he became associated with John Cage, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff, and David Tudor.

His strongest influence, however, came from New York abstract impressionist painters. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and especially Philip Guston stimulated Feldman to imagine a sound world unlike any hehad ever heard. Throughout his career, he adhered with remarkable consistency to a few tenets learned from them: a dislike of intellectual systems and compositional rhetoric, a hostility to past forms of expression, a preference for abstract gestures set in flat “all-over” planes of time, an obsession with the physical materials of art, a belief in handmade methods, and a trust in instinct.

Of Willem de Kooning’s work, Feldman noted, “It was fascinating to watch de Kooning paint: When you look at his pictures, they all look very, very fast, but he paints very slowly … in slow motion … I just couldn’t believe it. Very slow, but it looked very fast.” Feldman’s friendship and fascination with the painter led director Hans Namuth to approach the composer to create the score for Willem de Kooning, The Painter, a documentary Namuth completed in 1963. The music is a study in contrasted, well-coordinated chords and a free sequence of individual sounds, that works alone or in the context of the film.

Women at an Exhibition (2004)
Randall Woolf was born in 1959, in Detroit, Michigan.  He now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The chamber orchestra version of Women at an Exhibition is scored for flute, oboe (doubling English horn), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), saxophone (soprano/alto/tenor/baritone), horn, trumpet, bass trombone, tuba, electric guitar, Hammond B3 organ, percussion, and strings with video and electronic soundtrack. Performance time is approximately 20 minutes.

Women at an Exhibition was commissioned by the Akron Art Museum and the original version has premiered by the Akron Symphony Orchestra with support from Continental Harmony, which links communities with composers through the creation of original musical works. The program is a partnership of American Composers Forum and The National Endowment for the Arts, with funds provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation and additional support from the Target Foundation. The Akron Art Museum’s project was made possible by the Mirapaul Foundation, the Akron Art Museum Acquisition Fund, and Mrs. Cynthia Knight.

Randall Woolf studied composition privately with David Del Tredici and Joseph Maneri, and at Harvard, where he earned a PhD. He is a member of the Common Sense Composers Collective.

In 1997 he composed a new ballet of Where the Wild Things Are, in collaboration with Maurice Sendak and Septime Webre, which has since been performed by the Washington, Colorado, Georgia, and Louisville ballet companies.   He works frequently with writer and director Valeria Vasilevski, having composed six works with her over the past three years.

His works have been performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two, New Millennium Ensemble, EOS orchestra, Fulcrum Point, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Seattle Symphony, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Bang on a Can/SPIT Orchestra, California EAR Unit, American Composers Orchestra, twisted tutu, and others. CRI/Emergency Music has recorded a CD of his works, entitled Rock Steady. Also on Emergency Music: Dancétudes (Kathleen Supové), My Insect Bride (Common Sense Ensemble), Your Name Backwards (twisted tutu), andWhere the Wild Things Are.

About this piece the composer writes:

My piece was commissioned by the Akron Art Museum and was to be inspired by works of art from their collection.  After I had chosen around 20 works of art, a friend pointed out that I had chosen mostly images of women.  I was intrigued by this, and decided to make women the focus of the piece.  As I composed the music, I kept viewing the various images of women I had collected against different passages of the music.  It became very important to me that the piece not present one idea of women but, rather, a constantly shifting, open-ended statement about women … how they are seen by men, by society, by each other, and how they see themselves.  The music and images together create a collection of thoughts, feelings, and associations about women, always being careful to avoid settling into one set point of view.  In addition to the orchestra, there is a digital audio soundtrack, made of the sounds of women singing, in styles as diverse as country and western, gospel, new wave rock, blues, and renaissance madrigals.  As the music has themes that disappear and return, in new juxtapositions, so does the video with its images of women rendered as works of art.   I hope that this 20 minutes of musical and visual art serve to extend, affirm, and challenge your views of women.

I am very grateful and fortunate to have had the team of Mary Harron and John C. Walsh to create the video.  They completely understood my initial idea, and expanded and improved it beyond my imaginings.  Thanks to them, and to Barbara Tannenbaum, who initiated and conceived of this project.

MICHAEL DAUGHERTY Fire and Blood (2003)
Born in 1954, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Fire and Blood is a concerto for violin and orchestra. It is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets in C, timpani, percussion, harp, strings, and solo violin. It was commissioned and premiered by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi, conductor with Ida Kavafian as the violin soloist. It is 25 minutes in duration.

Michael Daugherty is one of the most performed and commissioned American composers of concert music of his generation. Daugherty’s music came to international attention in 1995 when his Metropolis Symphony (1988–93), a tribute to the Superman comics, was performed in New York at Carnegie Hall by conductor David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  Recent orchestral works include the English horn concerto Spaghetti Western (1998), Hell’s Angels (1999) for bassoon quartet and orchestra, and Time Machine (2004) for three conductors and orchestra.

Currently Daugherty is composing Brooklyn Bridge, a clarinet concerto commissioned by the International Clarinet Society, which well be premiered at Carnegie Hall on February 25, 2005, by the University of Michigan Symphony Band, as well as Ghost Ranch, an orchestral work inspired by the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe commissioned by the BBC for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Naxos has just released a CD of two recent Daugherty orchestral works: Philadelphia Stories and the percussion concerto UFO, featuring Evelyn Glennie as soloist with Marin Alsop conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Daugherty received his doctorate in composition from Yale University in 1986, where his teachers included Jacob Druckman, Roger Reynolds, and Earle Brown. During this time he also collaborated with jazz arranger Gil Evans in New York.  Daugherty pursued further studies with composer Gyorgy Ligeti in Hamburg, Germany (1982-84). After teaching music composition several years at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, Daugherty joined the music composition faculty at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in 1991, where he is Professor of Composition. He was composer-inresidence with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, 1999–2003.

About this work the composer writes:

In 1932, Edsel Ford commissioned the Mexican modernist artist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) to paint a mural representing the automobile industry of Detroit. Rivera came to Detroit and worked over the next two years to paint four large walls of
the inner courtyard at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Considered among his best
work, Rivera’s extraordinary Detroit Industry murals have inspired me to create my own musical fresco for violin and orchestra.  It was Rivera himself who predicted the possibility of turning his murals into music, after returning from a tour of the Ford factories: “In my ears, I heard the wonderful symphony which came from his factories where metals were shaped into tools for men’s service. It was a new music, waiting for the composer … to give it communicable form.”

I. Volcano
Before coming to Detroit, Rivera lived in Mexico City, surrounded by volcanoes. Fire is an important element in his murals, which depict the blaze of factory furnaces like erupting volcanoes. Volcanic fire was also associated with revolution by Rivera, an ardent member of the Mexican Communist party. He saw the creation of the
Detroit murals as a way to further his revolutionary ideas.

The music of the first movement responds to the fiery furnaces of Rivera’s imagination. The violinist plays virtuosic triple stops, while the orchestra explodes with pulsating energy. The composition alternates between repeated patterns in 7/4 time and polytonal passages that occur simultaneously in different tempos. It concludes with an extended violin cadenza accompanied by marimba and maracas.

II. River Rouge
At the Ford River Rouge Automobile Complex, located next to the Detroit River,
Rivera spent many months creating sketches of workers and machinery in action. He was accompanied by his young wife, the remarkable Mexican painter Frida Kahlo
(1906–1954). During her time with Rivera in Detroit, Kahlo nearly died from a miscarriage, as depicted in paintings such as Henry Ford Hospital and My Birth.
The color of blood is everywhere in these works. She also had a passionate and playful side: she loved wearing colorful traditional Mexican dresses and jewelry, drinking tequila and singing at parties. Kahlo’s labors, grief, and zeal for life
added another perspective to Rivera’s industry.

This movement is dedicated to Frida Kahlo’s spirit. The solo violin introduces two main themes. The first theme is dissonant and chromatic, flowing like a red river of blood. The second is a haunting melody that Kahlo herself might have sung, longing to return to her native Mexico. The orchestra resonates with floating marimbas
and string tremolo, echoing like a mariachi band in the distance. The orchestration is colorful, like the bright tapestries of her dress. While death and suffering haunt the music, there is an echo of hope.

III. Assembly Line
Rivera described his murals as a depiction of “towering blast furnaces, serpentine conveyor belts, impressive scientific laboratories, busy assembly rooms; and all the men who worked them all.” Rather than pitting man against machine, Rivera thought the collaboration of man and machine would bring liberation for the worker.  The violin soloist in this final movement is like the worker, surrounded by a mechanical orchestra.  The music is a roller coaster ride on a conveyor belt, moving rapidly in 7/8 time.  This perpetual motion is punctuated by pizzicato strings, percussive whips, and brassy cluster chords. The percussion section plays factory noises on metal instruments like brake drums and triangles, and a ratchet turns like the wheels of the machinery. In addition to this acceleration of multiple mechanical rhythms, the musical phrasing recalls the undulating wave pattern that moves from panel to panel in Rivera’s mural.