Made in America (Subscription #2 2018-2019 Season)

Made in America

PROGRAM NOTES by Wojciech Milewski

 

Seahawk Overture by Erich W. Korngold (1940)

We begin tonight’s journey through American music with an exciting overture written by the undoubted father of American film music, Erich W. Korngold. Even if you may not know his name, you certainly feel his influence in Hollywood, as he has influenced just about every major American film composer today including John Williams. From an early age, Korngold had a passion for opera and music for the stage, which inevitably led to his interest in film music. He developed a connection with the music of Johann Strauss, Jr. and exhumed many of his lost scores, and in his 20s began composing and conducting for the opera all over Europe. It was this passion and talent for dramatic music that led Korngold to move to the United States in 1934 at the request of film director Max Reinhardt. He started composing scores for Hollywood in 1935 where he adopted his successful operatic techniques, including the use of music for specific characters and “leitmotifs” (a short, constantly recurring musical phrase associated with a particular person, place or idea). These were especially present in his swashbuckling film scores, including the 1940 movie The Sea Hawk starring Errol Flynn. The movie ran for two hours and six minutes, and Korngold wrote dramatic, symphonic music for all but twenty minutes of the film. It was his tenth original film score in less than six years, and given how much original music he   created for each film, this was quite an achievement. For his work on more than sixteen films, Korngold received four Academy Award nominations, winning two for Anthony Adverse (1936) and Robin Hood (1938), also starring Errol Flynn. His dramatic and lush, operatic style of composing would influence a wave of American film composers. In 2005, several of his scores were nominated by the American Film Institute for their top 25 film scores in American cinema, including his original, dramatic and daring score for The Sea Hawk (1940) which we will hear tonight.

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR:

– Can you hear and associate particular “leitmotifs” from this overture to certain elements of a swashbuckling pirate movie? Do you hear any sort of dramatic fighting sequences? How about any big swells in dynamics to imitate the ebb and flow of the tide? Is there a lyrical, gorgeous love theme in the overture? Let your ears guide your ability to hear and create the film’s story. Maybe some of the harmonies in the French horns hint at danger on the seas!

 

Letter from Home by Aaron Copland (1944)

To pay tribute to our veterans and troops this Veteran’s Day Weekend, we have chosen to present Aaron Copland’s often forgotten patriotic 1944 piece “Letter from Home.” Since he didn’t serve during World War II, Copland could feel that he was doing his part for the War effort by composing patriotic music that would be meaningful to the general public. He accepted a commission by Paul Whiteman for his Radio Hall of Fame Orchestra, and Copland’s subsequent music suggests the emotions of a soldier on the front lines reading a letter from home. It has been described by many critics as Copland’s “most sentimental” music and is reflective of his own homesickness while in Mexico. During his time there, Copland would receive his own letters from home about his brother’s army service, the death of his mother, and father’s fading health, which certainly influenced his concept of the piece although no personal, literal references in the music exist. Copland wrote that “…it’s very sentimental, but not meant to be taken too literally – I meant only to convey the emotion that might naturally be awakened in the recipient by reading a letter from home.”

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR:

– The piece evokes the majestic, wide-open spaces of the American landscape. Can you hear the sweeping gestures and open tonalities that we associate with Copland’s music and American symphonic music?

– The final bars are an echo of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, written two years earlier. This is certainly not an accident, and speaks to Copland’s intentions for the piece and influence on his audiences. The piece was written for all of us, and Copland reminds us of that in the final bars.

 – Throughout the whole piece, the tonality and keys constantly search for a home base; this feeling of restlessness is a mirror image of the restlessness and emotional struggles Copland wanted to convey in a listener who may be reading a letter from home, or simply be away from it. After a grand, sweeping climax, we arrive in the key of F major..far removed from our initial key of E-flat major.

Celtic Concerto for Harp and Strings by Catrin Finch (2012)

We end our first half with a performance by our very own harpist Emilee Johnson, one of two winners of our annual concerto competition held in August. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that composer Catrin Finch says her aim was to “produce something that was a bit of a challenge” for a harpist! The Concerto represents Finch’s emergence as a young composer, as up until 2012 she was known primarily for her performing and position as Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales, a title reinstated by Prince Charles that had been vacant since the reign of Queen Victoria. Speaking about the piece and composing in 2012, Finch says: “I wanted to develop my compositional side and I discovered that I quite liked sitting down and being creative. It’s difficult getting started and it took a while to learn how to use the software but my creative juices soon started flowing. Once that happens it becomes easier. With composing, you start off with an idea but it can develop into something else as you go along.” The piece was featured on a collaborative album with composer John Rutter, who wrote or arranged pieces for Finch along with her own works. It immediately gained popularity in the UK, and the Celtic Concerto even influenced the creation of a new ballet in 2014 by Ballet Cymru in Wales. We dedicate the performances of this Concerto to Catrin Finch. We wish her strength as she fights her battle with breast cancer, and we ask that you keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

“The arts and culture and heritage is what each country has that’s different and each country has to express themselves. Ballet, opera, modern dance are all ways of expressing and celebrating the wonderful culture we have in the world.” – Catrin Finch (catrinfinch.com)

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR:

The Celtic Concerto is made up of three movements: “JigAJig,” “Hiraeth” and “Solstice.”  Catrin’s own words can help us listen to her composition even more intently: “The first movement was inspired by a piece of Bach I had played,” says Finch. “You could say it’s Bach meets an Irish jig as it’s quite fast. The second movement, ‘Hiraeth,’ features a tune I wrote while I was on sabbatical but at first I didn’t know what it would be for. And the third movement is called ‘Solstice’ as it starts off with just harp and then there are lots of  harmonics. It becomes a bit other worldly.” To add to Catrin’s points, the second movement is entitled “Hiraeth,” a Welsh word meaning “homesickness” or “nostalgia.” Together with her very personal and native Welsh first movement, we can certainly see a link between Aaron Copland’s representation of the American culture landscape in Letter from Home as we do in Finch’s Celtic Concerto.

 

Highlights from Porgy and Bess transcribed by Rosario Bourdon (1935)

We begin our second half with selections from arguably one of the most important English-language operas ever written, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Even more importantly for our purposes, this opera based on DuBose Heyward’s play Porgy was set and written in Heyward’s native Charleston. Classified as a folk opera by Gershwin, it tells the story of Porgy, a disabled street-beggar living in the slums of Charleston. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin’ Life, her drug dealer. The opera plot generally follows the stage play. As mentioned above, Gershwin classified his piece as a folk opera due to the context of original spirituals, folksongs, and influence of Southern music that in Gershwin’s account typify the idea of what an American folk opera would represent. In fact, Gershwin specifically requires in the score that the opera be cast fully with classically-trained black singers, which was certainly a rare choice at the time, and inspired later productions of a similar culturally-effecting nature, i.e. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song. As such, we have a perfect addition to tonight’s Made in America program! Many of the songs in the production have come to be recorded and performed frequently over the years, including “Summertime,” and “Bess, You Is My Woman.” Both of these songs  typify that Gershwin sound we associate with the composer, and therefore also that classic American popular style that would later come to live on the Broadway stage and in popular film music. In fact, can you hear the similarities between Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Ferde Grofé’s Mississippi Suite and Copland’s Letter from Home? Tonight’s medley includes: “Summertime,” “Bess, You Is My Woman,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing.”

 

Romanza from the Euphonium Concerto by Karl Jenkins (2009)

Following George Gershwin’s lush, poignant and folk-based score is an equally sentimental and beautiful movement from Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ Euphonium Concerto, performed by the second winner of our concerto competition, our very own SO principal trombonist Bill Miller. Jenkins’ Euphonium Concerto is a major addition to the euphonium repertory, indeed a very rare solo instrument in the orchestra hall, and it requires both expressive and technical prowess on the part of the soloist. The piece is set in four movements each with a programmatic title: “The Juggler,” “Romanza,” “It takes two…,” and “A Troika? Tidy!” Interestingly enough, it loosely follows the modern humanist format of symphonic design of head-heart-feet-whole body, and as we can see, the “Romanza” is aimed specifically to reach our hearts and emotions. It is a work overridingly designed to connect with a listener, which is arguably Jenkins’ greatest asset as a composer. The piece was premiered by David Childs and the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2009, and is often performed in concert halls around Europe. We are proud to present this beautiful work in Summerville for the first time.

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR:

The “Romanza” is simple music, one might say almost innocent and naïve, celebrating conjunct melodic shapes with a light harmonic accompaniment in the spirit of a tranquil folk-meditation. Can you hear any similarities between Jenkins’ “Romanza” and the second movement of Catrin Finch’s Harp Concerto? After all, they’re both Welsh composers who were inspired by folk melodies and ideas, and both of these movements are aimed to effect the listener’s emotions.

 

South Pacific: A Symphonic Scenario by Rodgers & Hammerstein, arr. Robert Russell Bennett (1949)

Our next piece is a tribute to the music of Broadway, American musical theater, and specifically the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their 1949 collaboration South Pacific was based on James Michener’s 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, and grew into a storyline that tied together several of Michener’s stories from the book. The plot centers on an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II. She falls in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children. A secondary romance, between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman, explores his fears of the social consequences should he marry his Asian sweetheart. The issue of racial prejudice is candidly explored throughout the musical, most controversially in the lieutenant’s song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” In fact, both of these romances played a crucial role in changing the way dual romances were portrayed in operas or musical theater, as up until this point there would be a balance with one romance being serious and the other being comedic. South Pacific featured a storyline with both romances of a serious nature, exploring serious social themes. Supporting characters, including a comic petty officer and the Tonkinese girl’s mother, help to tie the stories together. Because he lacked military knowledge, Hammerstein had difficulty writing that part of the script; the director of the original production, Joshua Logan, assisted him and received credit as co-writer of the book. The musical was incredibly successful and went on to become the second-longest running Broadway musical up to that point – 1,925 performances only second to Oklahoma! from 1943. It won ten Tony awards and is the only musical to ever win Tonys in all four acting categories.  In 1950, the musical also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the second musical to do so following George Gershwin’s 1932 musical Of Thee I Sing. The entire show features an array of singable and recognizable melodies, and tonight’s medley includes: “Dites-moi,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bloody Mary,” “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “A Wonderful Guy,” “Younger than Springtime,” and “Happy Talk.”

 

Mississippi Suite: A Modern Descriptive Suite by Ferde Grofé (1925)

We end tonight’s Made in America program with Ferde Grofé’s 1925 orchestral suite depicting a journey down the greatest river of them all, the Mississippi River. We start our journey in the streams of Minnesota and the lands of the Chippewa Indians and end with a Mardi Gras celebration as we pass New Orleans. The suite was first performed by Paul Whiteman (the same Paul Whiteman who commissioned Aaron Copland to write Letter from Home in 1944) and his orchestra in New York City. You may notice that the piece is very similar to many other pieces on the program, especially the Copland, Gershwin, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein. Grofé served as an arranger for George Gershwin and was intimately familiar with his compositions and techniques. He adapted many of these in his own works, including the Grand Canyon Suite and Mississippi Suite. Additionally, a lot of the orchestration and harmonic language used by Grofé can be found in Aaron Copland’s music, giving it a distinctly “American classical” sound.       Because of these reasons and its incredibly easy listening, Grofé’s music would later come to influence Richard Rodgers in his own writing. For these reasons, Grofé’s Suite ends our program tonight in grand fashion.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the ballad, slow section of the fourth movement was later given lyrics by Harold Adamson and became known as the song “Daybreak,” later made famous by Frank Sinatra?

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR:

The suite is written in four distinct movements each with their own unique character, yet a characteristic that ties them all together.

Movement 1 – “Father of Waters”: The opening lyrical, flowing movement depicts the birth of the river in the streams of Minnesota and the lands of the Chippewa Indians. To depict a flowing river, listen for the rising and falling triplets in the lower strings and woodwinds along with the swells of the dynamics. Additionally, Grofé uses the whole-tone scale in the opening melody to honor the native melodies of the Chippewa Indians; the whole-tone scale was synonymous with American folk music and Grofé creates a lush melody with it in this movement.

Movement 2 – “Huckleberry Finn”: based on the novel by Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn is a short piece ruminating on Huck’s prankish nature and his adventures along the   Mississippi. In this movement, Huck is represented by the bassoon – the ending of the movement is extremely capricious and unpredictable, just like Huck’s nature!

Movement 3 – “Old Creole Days”: This gorgeous, lyrical movement is Grofé’s interpretation of spirituals. It later loosely served as an inspiration for Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here” written for the 1965 Charlie Brown TV special.

Movement 4 – “Mardi Gras”: This fun, final movement depicts a Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebration in New Orleans. It features many jazz elements (syncopations, blues scales, driving rhythm, and short catchy phrases); in the middle of the movement we hear the theme of the river return from movement one, reminding us that we are still on the river itself and just passing by. We end the journey with a grand celebration and a fitting ending to tonight’s program!

 

Soloists:

Harpist Emilee Johnson began Suzuki piano lessons at the age of 4 and is now a certified Suzuki piano teacher. She holds a BA in Music along with certificates in Piano Pedagogy and Composition and is currently in the Masters program for Music Education at Bob Jones University. She is a co-founder and instructor of Early Music Training classes, which introduce children to the rudiments of music. The harp is Emilee’s primary instrument and she regularly performs for social engagements and in collaboration with other musicians. She has served as harpist for the Summerville Orchestra since 2016 and enjoys the opportunity to make and share music with this dynamic group. Emilee is also an active piano      accompanist. She is thankful to be supported by a musical family whom she considers her best friends. When not participating in musical activities, Emilee enjoys cooking, working with children, exploring Charleston’s historic sites, and kayaking.

 

Bill Miller, euphoniumist, has been retired for 9 years from the suburbs of Chicago and lives on Seabrook Island with his high school sweetheart and wife of more than 40 years, Susan. Bill received a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Science in School Administration from Northern Illinois University. He was a member of the nationally recognized N.I.U. Jazz Ensemble and had the unique privilege of touring with many jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie. As an educator, he was a band director, then a Middle School Principal. He concluded his career working at Benedictine University in the Adult Education Program. Bill’s primary instruments are euphonium and trombone which he has been playing since the 4th grade. He is Principal Trombonist for the Summerville Orchestra and performs with several area jazz bands, the Summerville Jazz Combo, the South Coast Symphony, and the Charleston Concert Band. His wife and he have two married daughters and the pride of their lives, four grandsons, and the princess Margot, their granddaughter. They love Charleston and all that the South has to offer. Being a member of the Summerville Orchestra has enriched his life.