Celebrate the new year with a symphonic soundtrack to the American experience led by Maestro Guillermo Figueroa! Rising star and phenomenal pianist Bailey-Michelle Collins joins The Symphony for George Gershwin’s jazzy and rhapsodic Concerto in F.
Governor Lujan-Grisham breathes renewed life into the words of our 16th President in Aaron Copland’s dramatic Lincoln Portrait. Plus, powerful music by award-winning American contemporaries such as Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 4 and John Corigliano’s Promenade Overture make this sensational concert one you don’t want to miss!
Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No. 4
A Lincoln Portrait
GOVERNOR MICHELLE LUJAN-GRISHAM
Concerto in F
JOHN CORIGLIANO (1938– )
In 1772 Joseph Haydn composed one of his most remarkable symphonies, a work that has come down to us with the nickname “Farewell” Symphony. The finale of that symphony concludes with the members of the orchestra getting up in turn and walking off until only two violinists are left on stage and the music fades into silence. Legend has it that Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, was lingering at his country estate and the players of the court orchestra were anxious to get home to their families. They appealed to Haydn, who composed the the “Farewell” Symphony to plead their case. Nikolaus is said to have understood the point and sent the musicians home.
John Corigliano wondered if it might be possible to reverse the process of the “Farewell” Symphony: to start with an empty stage and have the orchestra walk in (hence the title “promenade”) over the course of the music. Corigliano described his procedure: “Off-stage brass announce the start of the work with the trumpets playing the last five measures of the ‘Farewell Symphony—backwards. This forms a fanfare announcing the promenade of performers, which starts with the piccolo, concludes with the tuba, and contains a variety of motives which eventually form a lyrical melody that is built to a climax by the full orchestra.”
The Promenade Overture actually begins with the percussionists in place, and their opening flourishes introduce the conductor, who comes on stage and begins to signal the entrances of the other sections. Their spirited arrivals lead to what Corigliano calls the “lyrical melody,” first announced by the woodwinds. Gradually all the players make it onstage, though the last instrument—the tuba—barely makes it in time for the final note. In reversing Haydn’s procedure, Corigliano has transformed the the “Farewell” Symphony into what might be called a hello-overture.
Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 4
JOAN TOWER (1938– )
In 1943—during the depths of the Second World War—Aaron Copland composed his Fanfare for the Common Man, and its stirring brass calls and thundering timpani have made it one of the most popular fanfares ever written. Forty years later, Joan Tower wondered if it might be possible to re-think the nature of that fanfare and its title. In 1986 she composed her Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, and over the next seven years she composed five further fanfares: 1, 2 ,3 and 5 are for brass ensembles, 4 and 6 are for full orchestra. Tower has said that her sequence of fanfares is dedicated to women who are “risk-takers and adventurers.” Of her enthusiasm for this project, she remarked: “Hey, I like drums—I like rhythmic energy—I like simple colors!” Tower composed her Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 4 in 1992, and it was premiered on October 16 of that year by the Kansas City Symphony under the direction of William McGlaughlin.
Born in New York, Joan Tower grew up in Bolivia, but returned to the U.S. for college and advanced musical training. She received her doctorate in composition from Columbia, and since 1972 has taught at Bard College, where she is the Asher B. Edelman Professor of Music. From 1969 until 1984 she was the pianist and co-founder of the Da Capo Chamber Players. Tower was the first woman to win the Grawemyer Award for Musical Composition, in 1990 for her Silver Ladders, and she has served as composer-in-residence with the Saint Louis Symphony, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Pittsburgh Symphony. She has composed one ballet and numerous works for orchestra, various chamber ensembles, and solo voice.
A Lincoln Portrait
AARON COPLAND (1900–1990)
Early in 1942, during some of the darkest moments of World War II, André Kostelanetz commissioned a new work from Copland. Kostelanetz wanted a patriotic piece that would serve as a morale-booster during those grim months—he told Copland that he hoped for a piece that would demonstrate the “magnificent spirit of our country.” Copland, who had tried to enlist in the army at age 41 after Pearl Harbor, was sympathetic. He and Kostelanetz eventually decided on Abraham Lincoln as the subject for the piece, but rather than writing a purely musical portrait of that president, Copland wrote for orchestra and a narrator who speaks a text drawn largely from Lincoln’s own statements. Copland began A Lincoln Portrait in February 1942 and completed it in April. Its premiere on May 14 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was a huge success, and the music was widely performed. A Lincoln Portrait, however, has outlived the wartime conditions of its creation and remains one of Copland’s most frequently-performed scores (rather to his surprise). The list of those who have narrated A Lincoln Portrait is distinguished—it includes Carl Sandburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Coretta Scott King, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, and many others, including Copland himself.
Copland’s own description of the music serves as the best possible introduction:
In the opening, I hoped to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality, and near the end of the first section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit … This section ends with a trumpet solo, leading without pause into an unexpected allegro for full orchestra. The second section is an attempt to sketch in the background of the colorful times in which Lincoln lived … In the conclusion, my purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame around the words of Lincoln himself—in my opinion among the best this nation has ever heard to express patriotism and humanity.
The quiet opening, which sounds like distant fanfares heard through the mist, soon gives way to the noble main theme of the piece, a variant of the old American folksong “Springfield Mountain,” here announced by the solo clarinet. The rousing middle section quotes a bit of “Camptown Races,” and it is not until the halfway point that the narrator begins to speak Lincoln’s words. Copland quotes from some of Lincoln’s lesser-known writings, but at the end—as solo trumpet quietly declaims the “Springfield Mountain” theme—A Lincoln Portrait drives to its close on the magnificent closing lines of The Gettysburg Address.
Piano Concerto in F
GEORGE GERSHWIN (1898–1937)
The success of Rhapsody in Blue transformed Gershwin from a talented Broadway composer to someone taken seriously in the world of concert music. When Walter Damrosch asked Gershwin to compose a piano concerto, the young composer accepted eagerly: the commission—signed in April 1925—paid him $500. There is no truth to the wonderful story, told many times, that Gershwin left this meeting and went straight to a bookstore to buy a book on musical form so that he would know what a piano concerto was.
F. Scott Fitzgerald nicknamed the twenties “The Jazz Age” (The Great Gatsby was published the same year Gershwin wrote this concerto), and jazz was very much in the air in 1925. Though it employs Charleston rhythms and a blues trumpet, Gershwin wanted his concerto taken as a piece of serious music–he said that it was not so much the effort to write jazz as it was intended to represent “the young, enthusiastic spirit of American life.”
The Allegro opens with a great flourish of timpani followed by the characteristic Charleston rhythm. Solo bassoon introduces the first theme, and the piano makes its entrance, sliding up from the depths into the lazily-syncopated tune. The movement concludes with a Grandioso restatement of the piano’s opening tune and an exciting coda based on the Charleston theme.
Gershwin said that the slow movement “has a poetic nocturnal atmosphere which has come to be referred to as the American blues … ” He contrasts the trumpet’s bluesy tune with the piano’s snappy entrance and then alternates these ideas across the movement.
The Allegro agitato, which Gershwin described as “an orgy of rhythm,” explodes to life, and this opening plunges the pianist and orchestra into a perpetual-motion-like frenzy. At the end, Gershwin brings back the Grandioso string tune from the first movement, and the Concerto in F rushes to a knock-out close that recalls the timpani flourish from the very beginning.
—Program Notes by Eric Bromberger