|Mother Goose Suite|
|Mariandá para Orquesta Sinfónica|
|Symphony No. 9|
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Mariandá para Orquesta Sinfónica
Ernesto Cordero (1946– )
The subtitle of Mariandá is “Night, Dawn and Celebration in Puerto Rico.” According to the composer, Ernesto Cordero, the first section of the piece musically recreates night and daybreak in Puerto Rico’s countryside and tropical forests. Cordero depicts sounds of crickets, rain and thunder to signal the night, and then bird songs indicate that the sun is rising. After a brief transition, the second section is a celebration of the day in Puerto Rico, with music that dances and plays, evoking the sounds of guitars in the cellos and basses. This section is based on the traditional dance rhythms of the “seis Mariandá,” which provides the title of piece.
Mariandá is a traditional Puerto Rican musical style that combines music of indigenous (native), colonial, and enslaved people. Mariandá is one of the many subtypes of bomba, which blends music and dance of three different cultures found on the island of Puerto Rico. These three cultures are the Taino (now-extinct population indigenous to the Greater Antilles), the Spanish (those who colonized Puerto Rico) and the African (the people who were enslaved by the Spanish and brought to Puerto Rico to work in the sugar cane fields). Traditionally, bomba was played with drums called bombas (or barriles) that were made out of various sizes of barrels that had been used to store rum. Other instruments included maracas and sticks called cuá that would be used to hit the sides of the bomba drums.
Born in 1946, Ernesto Cordero studied music composition and guitar at the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico and the Madrid Royal Conservatory. He studied with some of the most important guitarists of the 20th century, including Aliria Díaz and Regino Sáinz de la Maza. Cordero has been a professor of music at the University of Puerto Rico since the early 1970s, and was also the director of the International Guitar Festival of Puerto Rico.
Cordero and today’s conductor, Guillermo Figueroa, have a longstanding professional relationship and are two of the most prominent Puerto Rican classical musicians currently active. Figueroa has conducted or performed in the premieres of several of Cordero’s pieces, including Figueroa’s 2012 NAXOS recording of Cordero’s violin concertos, which was nominated for a Latin Grammy award.
Mother Goose Suite
MAURICE RAVEL (1875–1937)
Ravel’s fascination with the world of the child found expression in his art: he wrote music for children to hear (such as his opera L’Enfant et les Sortileges) and music for them to play. His Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite) for piano-four hands dates from 1908. Ravel wrote it for Jean and Mimi Godebski, aged 8 and 10, the son and daughter of some of his friends, though it was two other children–aged 7 and 10–who played the premiere in Paris in 1910. Each of the five movements was inspired by a scene from an old French fairy tale; the suite, however, should be understood as a collection of five separate scenes rather than as a connected whole. In an oft-quoted remark, Ravel described his aim and his technique in this music: “My intention of awaking the poetry of childhood in these pieces naturally led me to simplify my style and thin out my writing.” This may be music for children to hear–and for very talented children to play–but it is also music for adults: it evokes the freshness and magic of something long in the past. In 1911, Ravel orchestrated Ma Mère l’Oye, slightly expanding the music in the process.
The very gentle “Pavane of the Sleeping Princess” depicts the graceful dance of the attendants around the sleeping Princess Florine. “Hop O’ My Thumb” tells of one of the most famous figures in children’s tales–the little boy who leaves a trail of breadcrumbs behind in the woods, only to become lost when birds eat the crumbs. The music itself seems to wander forlornly as the lost boy searches for the path; high above him, the birds who ate his crumbs cry out tauntingly. “Empress of the Pagodas” tells the story of the empress who is made ugly by a spell, only to be transformed to beauty at the end. When she steps into her bath in the garden, bells burst out in happy peals. Ravel’s use of the pentatonic scale–the music is played mostly on black notes–evokes an oriental atmosphere. “Beauty and the Beast” brings another classic tale. Ravel depicts Beauty with a gentle waltz, Beast with a lumpish, growling theme in the contrabassoon’s low register. A delicate glissando depicts his transformation, and Ravel skillfully combines the music of both characters. “The Enchanted Garden” brings the suite to a happily-ever-after ending. The opening–for strings alone–is simple, almost chaste, but gradually the music assumes a broad, heroic character and–decorated with brilliant runs–drives to a noble close in shining C major.
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, op.125
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Beethoven’s Ninth is at once his grandest symphony and his most challenging, and its challenges have been both moral and musical. The unprecedented grandeur of Beethoven’s music, the first use of voices in a symphony, and in particular the setting of Schiller’s “An die Freude” have made the Ninth Symphony one of the great statements of romantic faith in humankind, a utopian vision of the universal bond of all people.
As a piece of music, the Ninth seems so perfectly conceived that it comes as a surprise to learn that it took shape very slowly over a span of thirty years, and Beethoven’s conception of this music changed often during that process. At this point in his career, Beethoven had formulated what we know as his “late style,” but for the Ninth Symphony he reverted to his Heroic Style, that powerful approach built on conflict and triumphant resolution that had animated such works as the Third, Fifth, and Seventh Symphonies.
The opening of the Allegro ma non troppo, quiet and harmonically uncertain, creates a sense of mystery and vast space. Bits of theme flit about in the murk and begin to coalesce, and out of these, the main theme suddenly explodes to life and comes crashing downward–this has been universally compared to a streak of lightning, and surely that must have been Beethoven’s intention. He introduces a wealth of secondary material–some lyric, some martial–but the opening subject dominates this sonata-form movement, returning majestically at crucial moments in the drama. The ending is particularly effective: the coda opens with ominous fanfares over quiet tremolo strings, and out of this darkness the main theme rises up one final time and is stamped out to close the movement. The second movement, marked Molto vivace, is a scherzo built on a five-part fugue. Beethoven breaks the rush of this fugue with a rustic trio for woodwinds and a flowing countermelody for strings.
Beethoven at first conceived of the Adagio molto e cantabile in straightforward theme-and-variation form, based on the opening subject. In the course of its composition, however, he came up with a second theme he liked so much that he could not bring himself to leave it out, and he first voices it in the second violins and violas. The best way to understand the resulting form is to see it as a set of variations with contrasting interludes based on the second subject.
After the serenity of the third movement, the orchestra erupts with a dissonant blast. Beethoven’s intention here was precise–he referred to this ugly opening noise as a Schrecken-fanfare (“terror-fanfare”), and with it he wanted to shatter the mood of the Adagio and prepare his listeners for the weighty issues to follow. Then begins one of the most remarkable passages in music: in a long recitative, cellos and basses consider a fragment of each of the three previous movements and reject them all. Then, still by themselves, they sing the theme that will serve as the basis of the final movement and are gradually joined by the rest of the orchestra. Again comes the strident opening blast, followed by the entrance of the baritone soloist, who puts into words what the cellos and basses have suggested: “Oh, friends, not these sounds! Rather let us sing something more pleasing and more joyful.”
Schiller’s text, with its exaltation of the fellowship of mankind and in man’s recognition of his place in a universe presided over by a just and omnipotent god, is set in a series of variations on the opening theme, the music of each stanza varied to fit its text. One of these sections deserves attention, for it has confused many listeners. The finale reaches an early climax when the chorus sings “und der Cherub steht vor Gott!” A moment of silence follows, and out of that silence, the woodwinds begin to play some rough and simple music. Critics have tried to make sense of this section in different ways–some hear it as military music, others as a village band, blatting and tooting away. It seems wildly out of place, a blot on the otherwise noble texture of the movement. But what Beethoven does with this makes it all clear. Gradually the pace quickens, and bit by bit the other sections of the orchestra join in, followed by the tenor solo (“Froh”) and the chorus. The music begins to surge ahead, and suddenly it takes off and soars, and out of that awkward little woodwind theme Beethoven builds a magnificent fugue for full orchestra. The theme that had seemed clownish moments before is now full of grandeur, and Beethoven’s music mirrors the message of the symphony: even the simplest and least likely thing is touched with divinity and–if properly understood–can be seen as part of a vast and noble universe.
In a world that daily belies the utopian message of the Ninth Symphony, it may seem strange that this music continues to work its hold on our imagination. Perhaps the secret of its continuing appeal is that for the hour it takes us to hear the Ninth Symphony, the music reminds us not of what we too often are, but of what–at our best–we might be.
—Program notes by Eric Bromberger
Soprano Mary Wilson has been hailed as one of today’s most exciting artists, receiving critical acclaim for a voice that is “lyrical and triumphant, a dazzling array of legato melodies and ornate coloratura” (San Francisco Chronicle). Opera News heralded her first solo recording, Mary Wilson Sings Handel. Stating “Wilson’s luminous voice contains so much charisma,” they dubbed her recording one of their “Best of the Year.”She is consistently in high demand on the concert stage and has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Detroit Symphony, National Symphony of Costa Rica, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Virginia Symphony, Eugene Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Pacific Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Dayton Philharmonic, Memphis Symphony, Colorado Music Festival, IRIS Chamber Orchestra, VocalEssence, Berkshire Choral Festival, and at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Ms. Wilson sang the world premiere of the song cycle Songs Old and New written especially for her by Ned Rorem with the IRIS Chamber Orchestra. She has frequently worked with conductors including Jeffrey Thomas, Nicholas McGegan, Bernard Labadie, Martin Pearlman, Martin Haselböck, Robert Moody, Carl St. Clair, JoAnn Falletta, Michael Stern, Anton Armstrong, and Leonard Slatkin. The 2018 season marks her return to the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing the Kaddish Symphony.
Hailed by Opera Today for her “pleasing and pliant voice” Iranian Canadian mezzo soprano, Shirin Eskandani, recently made her Metropolitan Opera stage debut this season as Mercedes in Carmen. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards including first place at the Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competition and fourth place at the Licia Albanese-Puccini Competition. Recent career highlights include company debuts with the Metropolitan Opera, the Rossini Opera Festival, Sarasota Opera and Opera Southwest. Her recent roles include Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte, Sandrina in un Avvertimento ai Gelosi, Angelina in La Cenerentola, Zaida in Il Turco in Italia, the Mother in Hansel and Gretel, and Ragonde in Le Comte Ory. On the concert stage, Ms. Eskandani has performed in numerous works including Bach’s Matthaus-Passion, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Handel’s Messiah, and Durufle’s Requiem. She has premiered several works including The Oratorio to End all Oratorios with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. She is a Midwest district finalist at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has worked as a young artist with Merola Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Opera Theatre St Louis, Syracuse Opera, the Ash Lawn Opera Festival, and Banff Opera. She received her Bachelors of Music from the University of British Columbia and her Masters of Music from the Manhattan School of Music.
With an international career that expands for more than 20 years and 60 roles, tenor Rafael Davila recent important engagements include Don Jose in Carmen with the Metropolitan Opera in NY, Renato Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu and under Maestro Placido Domingo’s baton for Opera de Valencia in Spain, the premiere of Jimmy Lopez’s opera Bel Canto with the Chicago Lyric Opera where he created the role of General Alfredo, Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci for Sarasota Opera, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, as well as for the Macerata Festival in Italy, and Don Carlo, Carmen, Norma and La Forza del Destino for Washington National Opera.
Hailed for his “big bronze voice,” Adrian Smith was heard most recently in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in a return to the Western Piedmont Symphony in Hickory, NC, as well as Count Monterone in North Carolina Opera’s Rigoletto. Other engagements in the season included a return to the Asheville Lyric Opera as Dulcamara in L’elisir d’amore, as well as Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Hickory Choral Society. Previous seasons’ performances include Alidoro in La Cenerentola and Zuniga in Carmen, both with El Paso Opera, Lycos in Hercules vs. Vampires with North Carolina Opera, as well as Papageno in The Magic Flute and Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia, both with the Asheville Lyric Opera. Mr. Smith was twice a member of the Apprentice Artist program at the Santa Fe Opera, performing roles such as Larkens in La fanciulla del West, Friar Jean in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, and the Major Domo in Strauss’ Capriccio.