Sunday, December 8, 2019 at 4:00 pm
Our annual Christmas Pops concert features something for the entire family! Led by Principal Conductor Guillermo Figueroa, this exciting afternoon presents the full Symphony Orchestra performing holiday favorites such as excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Suite from The Nutcracker, Faith’s Brazilian Sleigh Bells, Berlin’s White Christmas … and much more. Plus, the Santa Fe Youth Symphony—under the direction of SFYS Conductor William Waag—joins us again for a special side by side performance. Bring the entire family and enjoy!
Be sure to join us for a FREE preview talk one hour before the concert.
Selections from The Nutcracker Suite
PETER ILYCH TCHAIKOVSKY
Born May 7, 1840, Votkinsk
Died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg
Early in 1891, the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg approached Tchaikovsky with a commission for a new ballet. They caught him at a bad moment. At age 50, Tchaikovsky was assailed by worries that he had written himself out as a composer, and—to make matters worse—they proposed a story-line that the composer found unappealing: they wanted to create a ballet on the old E.T.A. Hoffmann tale Nussknacker und Mausekönig, but in a version that had been retold by Alexandre Dumas as Histoire d’un casse-noisette and then furthered modified by the choreographer Marius Petipa. This sort of Christmas fairy-tale full of imaginary creatures set in a confectionary dream-world of childhood fantasies left Tchaikovsky cold, but he accepted the commission and grudgingly began work.
Then things got worse. He had to interrupt work on the score to go on tour in America (where he would conduct at the festivities marking the opening of Carnegie Hall), and just as he was leaving his sister Alexandra died. The agonized Tchaikovsky considered abandoning the tour but went ahead (it was a huge success), and then returned to Russia in May and tried to resume work on the ballet. He hated it, and—probably more to the point—he hated the feeling that he had written himself out as a composer. To his brother, he wrote grimly: “The ballet is infinitely worse than The Sleeping Beauty—so much is certain.” The score was complete in the spring of 1892, and The Nutcracker was produced in at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg that December, only eleven months before the composer’s death at 53. At first, it had only a modest success, but then a strange thing happened—that success grew so steadily that in the months before his death Tchaikovsky had to reassess what he had created: “It is curious that all the time I was writing the ballet I thought it was rather poor, and that when I began my opera [Iolanthe] I would really do my best. But now it seems to me that the ballet is good, and the opera is mediocre.”
Tchaikovsky may have suspected—in the months before his premature death—that The Nutcracker would prove a success, but he could have had no idea just how popular it would prove: over the last century The Nutcracker has become an inescapable part of our sense of Christmas, and the current catalog lists nearly forty recordings of the familiar Suite. This concert begins with March, followed by one of his finest, The Waltz of the Flowers from Act II of The Nutcracker, then Trepak, and concluding with Mother Ginger and Her Children.
We hear such music and are left wondering: how possibly could the man who wrote it have worried that he had dried up as a composer?
Born May 11, 1888, Tyumen, Russia
Died September 22, 1989, New York City
Born in Russia, Israel Baline came to this country with his family at age five. He began writing songs as a boy and published his first at age nineteen. Four years later, under the name Irving Berlin, he achieved fame (and wealth) with the song Alexander’s Ragtime Band and went on to become one of the most characteristic American voices of the twentieth century: Estimates of the number of songs he wrote run as high as 1500. Many of these—songs like God Bless America, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and This Is the Army, Mr. Jones—have become part of the American national identity.
White Christmas was originally part of Berlin’s score for the 1942 film Holiday Inn, sung by Bing Crosby. The mellow sound of Crosby’s voice was perfectly suited to this song, with its warm but relaxed sentiment, and White Christmas—in its many reincarnations—has become an inescapable way we think of that holiday. Its popularity has never been in doubt: White Christmas won the Academy Award as the best song of 1942.
Suite from The Polar Express
Born March 26, 1950, New York City
In 1985 Chris van Allsburg published The Polar Express, a brief book about a boy who wishes to hang onto his belief in Santa Claus. His faith is rewarded when the Polar Express pulls up in front of his house and whisks him off to the North Pole, where Santa selects him to receive the first gift of the holiday. Much of the success of the book was due to its handsome illustrations, and The Polar Express won the 1986 Caldecott Medal as the outstanding children’s book of the previous year.
In 2004 film-maker Robert Zemeckis turned that book into a feature film that employed computer graphics as part of its visual effects. For the music for the film, Zemeckis turned to his longtime collaborator, composer Alan Silvestri, who had earlier written the scores for such films as Romancing the Stone, the Back to the Future series, Forrest Gump, and the first Predator. Working with his own collaborator Glen Ballard, Silvestri produced a score that featured orchestral music, choral settings, and solo songs. From that film score, Silvestri arranged a concert suite, and in it fans of the movie will hear such favorites as “The Polar Express,” “Believe,” “Hot Chocolate,” and “Spirit of the Season.”
Born June 29, 1908, Cambridge, MA
Died May 18, 1975, Westbury, CT
Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride has become an inescapable part of the way we observe Christmas, and its infectious rhythms and pleasing tunes can be heard in every shopping mall in this country during the holiday season. The story behind this famous music is an interesting one. During World War II, Anderson had served as a translator for the army in Iceland. There was a housing shortage after the war as veterans returned from overseas, and Anderson, his wife, and their infant daughter had to move into a cottage in Woodbury, Connecticut, that was owned by his mother-in-law.
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Finale
Born December 8, 1865, Tavastahus, Finland
Died September 20, 1957, Järvenpää, Finland
Sibelius’ Second Symphony, composed in Italy in 1901 when the composer was 35, has become one of the most famous in the orchestral repertory. It is easily Sibelius’ most popular symphony, it is a favorite of audiences around the world, and it is a favorite of performers, too: over thirty recordings are currently available. This symphony’s popularity has been explained in various ways. Some sense the sunny atmosphere of Italy warming Sibelius’ austere Scandinavian sensibilities. Others hear a Finlandia-like program that dramatizes Finland’s struggle for national identity in the face of foreign domination. But Sibelius would have had none of this. He wanted his music considered abstractly—as sound-drama and not as a vehicle for extra-musical interpretation—and there is no doubt that the Second Symphony, in all its austere grandeur, is a stunning success as sound-drama.
Sibelius’ music has the sweep of the true symphonist, yet his symphonic methods are unique. Rather than presenting themes and then developing them, a Sibelius symphony will often present its themes at first only as fragmentary shapes. These shapes can come together to assume a more complete form within the course of a movement, but then shatter into fragments once again. And this transformation of material takes place during violent contrasts of mood, long buildups that culminate in a constant series of climaxes, and great splashes of instrumental color that burst out of the leaden skies of Sibelius’ musical landscape. These methods may be unique, but they take us on a true symphonic journey leading into the heroic finale. No wonder this is one of the most emotionally satisfying—and most popular—symphonies ever written. The heroic Finale is triumphant conclusion “intended to rouse in the listener a picture of lighter and confident prospects for the future.” (Kajanus, London Symphony Orchestra)
The Allegro moderato is heroic in every sense of the term: its broad D-major opening strides ahead in thunderous octaves, trumpet fanfares and throbbing accompaniment push this music steadily forward, and this heroic beginning might prove anticlimactic were it not for Sibelius’ control of his material. More lyric secondary music intervenes, and Sibelius continually delays the return of the home key of D major until the shining return of the main theme in the triumphant final moments.
Brazilian Sleigh Bells
PERCY FAITH (arranged by Lee Norris)
Born April 7, 1908, Toronto, Ontario
Died February 9, 1976, Encino, California
Percy Faith received his early training as a pianist in Canada and as a young man played the piano for silent films in movie houses. His career as a pianist came to an end at age 18 when his young sister accidentally set her dress on fire, and Faith’s hands were burned seriously as he rescued her. He then switched to a career as an arranger and composer, became an American citizen in 1945, and was based primarily in Hollywood, where he wrote film scores, recorded, and made countless arrangements for a number of artists.
Fantasia on Greensleeves
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
Born October 12, 1872, Down Ampney
Died August 26, 1958, London
The old English folksong Greensleeves (mentioned by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor) has been heard in many settings on many different texts, ranging from lovesongs to political ballads to hymns to dances and to Christmas and New Year’s carols (and even to some obscene variants). Vaughan Williams had a passion for English folk music, and he first used the Greensleeves tune in 1912 when he included it in the incidental music he composed for a production of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives at Stratford-upon-Avon. When he composed his opera Sir John in Love (based on The Merry Wives) during the years 1924-8, Vaughan Williams used the tune once again: it is sung by Mistress Ford in Act III. In 1934, this setting was arranged for small orchestra (flute, harp, and strings), and in this version it has become one of Vaughan Williams’ best-known works.
JOHANN STRAUSS I
Born March 14, 1804, Vienna
Died September 25, 1849, Vienna
The Viennese craze for waltzes was launched by Johann Strauss I and Josepf Lanner in the early nineteenth century, but Strauss’ son—Johann Strauss II—was the real waltz king. It was the son who wrote the Blue Danube, Emperor, Wiener Blut, Morning Papers, and hundreds of other waltzes that will charm audiences as long as there is music. Though the waltzes and performances of the senior Strauss were much admired in his lifetime, his music has almost disappeared from concert programs today, and by a curious irony his one composition to achieve enduring fame, the Radetzky March, is not a waltz at all.
In 1848, revolutions swept across Europe, threatening the old order in general and the Hapsburg monarchy in Vienna in particular. In that same year Field Marshal Radetzky, the commander of the Hapsburg forces in Italy, crushed a revolt by Italian nationalists and was installed as governor of Lombardy. Imperial Vienna was grateful for any military success in those nervous times, and in celebration of this victory Strauss wrote his Radetzky March.
This quick little march (it zips past in less than three minutes) is in ternary form. It opens with the snappy march tune itself, and the jaunty middle section is full of leaps and trills before the opening material returns to round matters off emphatically. It is easy to understand the eternal popularity of this music, one commentator notes that it “fires the blood like pepper.”
A couple of notes: The Radetzky March was one of the earliest examples of a musical generation gap. Strauss Sr. was intensely conservative politically and he was only too happy to write music to celebrate a victory by the establishment. In fact, The New Grove Dictionary describes the Radetzky March as a “symbol of the military might of the old Hapsburg monarchy.” However, his sons (including Johann II) were sympathetic with the revolutionary spirit of the times. While their father’s Radetzky March was entertaining Imperial audiences in the palaces, the sons were conducting their own Revolution March on the barricades.
Second, every year the Vienna Philharmonic gives a New Year’s Eve concert, a program of Viennese waltzes to welcome in the New Year. It is a wildly popular concert and is televised around the world. By tradition, there are only two encores for this concert. The first is the Blue Danube Waltz. The second is the Radetzky March.
—Program notes by Eric Bromberger
Founded in 1984 by Gregory W. Heltman, and led by Principal Conductor Guillermo Figueroa today The Santa Fe Symphony includes sixty-five professional musicians and over 90 choristers—all New Mexico residents, under Executive Director Daniel M. Crupi. Our musicians trained at esteemed conservatories such as Juilliard and Northwestern. Many performed with globally-recognized orchestras, including the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
One of the most versatile and respected musical artists of his generation—renowned as conductor, violinist, violist, and concertmaster—Guillermo Figueroa is the Principal Conductor of The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. He also serves as the Music Director of the Music in the Mountains Festival in Colorado, Music Director of the Lynn Philharmonia in Florida, and is the founder of the highly acclaimed Figueroa Music and Arts Project in Albuquerque. Additionally, he was the Music Director of both the New Mexico Symphony and the Puerto Rico Symphony. With this last orchestra, he performed to critical acclaim at Carnegie Hall in 2003, the Kennedy Center in 2004, and Spain in 2005. Learn more …