Sax and the City (Subscription #4, 2018-2019 Season)

PROGRAM NOTES by Wojciech Milewski   An opening word from Wojciech: Thank you so much for joining us tonight! I’m thrilled to take a second to make your listening experience that much more meaningful and enjoyable. Our solo piece tonight, “Paths of Quiet Light,” features the soprano saxophone, a unique instrument that doesn’t usually appear on symphonic programs. We often associate the saxophone as a part of jazz or band music, and mainly through popular music (think George Michael, Kenny G, or John Coltrane). However, when it was originally invented in the mid-19th century it was meant to be a member of the woodwind family that had the same power as a brass instrument. It was as agile as a violin or clarinet and had a wide range of colors that allowed it to blend with nearly any instrument of the orchestra. This inspired us to program a concert around our solo that showcased how composers used the sax over the years. Composers from France and Russia added it into orchestral pieces and even wrote concerti for it in the mid-late 19th century (Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto or Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite); later the French Impressionists exploited its unique color (Ravel’s arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition and Bolero, or Debussy’s Rapsodie) and; finally, jazz and orchestral composers from the United States and Russia in the 20th century (Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris, John Adams City Noir, Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije), many of which we feature tonight in different arrangements. And so, we are thrilled to present you with our own homage to the saxophone and the composers that helped make it a part of our modern day orchestra. On behalf of all of us at the SO, thank you for being here and enjoy the program!   Symphony No. 2 by Alexander Borodin Our opening piece tonight should inspire all of our amateur composers out there to continue their work!  Alexander Borodin was a chemist and doctor by profession, and composed in his free time, sometimes even while he was working, or while he was ill. Can you imagine him running from the lab during his experiments so he could jot down some themes for his symphonies at the piano in his apartment? This was actually a common occurrence (which his friend and composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov frequently jokes about in his memoirs and correspondence), and a big reason why it took Borodin over six years to complete his second symphony! From 1869-1877 when the piece premiered, Borodin worked on two other opera projects (Prince Igor and Mlada) from which he borrows heavily in this symphony. In fact, the first movement was originally a rousing choral number in Prince Igor. During that time, he took frequent breaks from composing, as he oversaw the creation of the School of Medicine for Women in 1872 where he taught heavily, and also became the director of the Medical-Surgical Academy facilities. Thankfully for us, Borodin ultimately took his time with his second symphony. As with most things in life, good things come to those who wait. WHAT TO LISTEN FOR: Movement 1: Visualize a gathering of Russian warrior-heroes; this is the spirit of the movement in Borodin’s own words. It is built around two main themes – the striking and powerful opening B minor theme, and a lyrical gentle theme in D major that then interweave throughout the movement. Borodin uses many tempo changes and sudden shifts in dynamics to further the idea of contrasts. Listen for how he writes both themes in different instrument groups throughout the movement while keeping a constant rhythmic drive. Can you hear the repetitions? – Movement 2: A very unique Scherzo, it is written in a 1/1 meter which breaks the common practice of being written in triple meter. Its tempo marking, unrelenting drive and energy make it very similar to the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. See if you can hear the connections there! The middle Trio section is a warm, lyrical section in 6/4 which to many represents a lullaby or barcarolle; this trio is followed by another energizing Scherzo. – Movement 3: A wonderfully lyrical, lush movement that opens with a “Boyan” (Russian bard/minstrel who often sang of epic tales) accompanying himself on a harp. The Boyan’s song is represented by the clarinet, but his theme is later taken up by other instruments in the orchestra as Borodin re-orchestrates it many times throughout in what many musicologists call his “most serene melodies.” What do you think is the emotion of the main theme? – Movement 4: The fourth movement follows the third immediately without a break (attacca), and can be interpreted as a representation of heroes and knights feasting and celebrating victory. It is a very operatic movement and is closely related to Prince Igor in its use of pentatonic scales and rhythmic patterns, which feature heavy syncopations and dance-like figures. The movement also features a lot of percussion instruments to give it a more exotic and rich sound. It is a bright and jubilant celebration that takes us to the finish with great energy.   John Williams Highlights, arr. Ted Ricketts A man that needs no introduction, John Williams’ soundtracks and film scores speak for themselves: Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, and many more. However, he began his career in a much different way which we celebrate tonight. Williams’ father was a jazz percussionist meaning John was around jazz from a very early age, especially as he grew as a pianist and brass player all the way through college. In fact, it was this experience that started his career while serving in the military as a composer/arranger for the U.S. Air Force Band, and he continued to compose, arrange and play after leaving the service. He then attended the Juilliard School to study piano and played as a jazz pianist in clubs around New York City. Following his studies, he moved back to California where he immediately got involved in Hollywood as a “session musician,” notably playing for the recordings of Henry Mancini (that’s him playing the piano on Peter Gunn by the way). He slowly developed his own style and blend of neo-romanticism, jazz, and lush orchestral writing. He often used jazz, and frequently wrote for the saxophone! Two of his most famous saxophone pieces that come to mind are The Cantina Band Music from Star Wars, and the Main Theme from Catch Me If You Can. The latter is an incredibly complex piece that Williams later arranged as a concert piece for solo saxophone and orchestra, winning a deserved Grammy for his efforts. Tonight’s medley includes music from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, A.I., and The Patriot, which has some local significance as several of the movie’s scenes were filmed in the Charleston area!   Paths of Quiet Light by Matthew Emery (2012) – SC Premiere Canadian composer Matthew Emery has an obvious talent for blending colors and voices together. Just 28 years old, Emery’s music has already been performed on several continents and he has won several international prizes for composition. He is now the composer in residence for several ensembles, including the Amabile Choirs of London, the ORIANA Women’s Choir in Toronto, That Choir and the Exultate Chamber Singers. In 2016, he was named one of the “hottest” classical musicians under 30 by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). Primarily a composer of choral and vocal music, he strives for the same unique blend of colors and textures in his instrumental music. His 2012 composition “Paths of Quiet Light” is no different. Here are Matthew’s own words about the piece and also what to imagine as you listen: “The work began as a solo violin and piano work, inspired by the Pacific Ocean. I was living in Vancouver at the time, and I often went to the beach in the mornings when the ocean was still. The repetitive texture comes from the image of slowly lapping waves. The melody appears in fragments, as if to suggest something which slowly comes into focus. The music is all intuitive – just writing what I thought needed to come next.”   Gershwin by George, arr. Jerry Brubaker George Gershwin didn’t really care for music until about the age of ten when he heard his friend’s violin recital. He was hooked and started taking piano lessons shortly afterward. At age 15, he dropped out of school to write and arrange music for Tin Pan Alley, working with the popular music styles of the time: jazz, ragtime, vaudeville, etc. His first national success was the 1919 song “Swanee” and he went on to collaborate on a few Broadway shows with longtime friend William Daly. In 1924, Gershwin wrote his first major classical work, Rhapsody in Blue, which was heavily influenced by jazz and the theater. A trio of saxophones feature prominently in Gershwin’s original version and orchestration, including the rarely seen sopranino saxophone! It was orchestrated (several times) by composer Ferde Grofé and premiered by Paul Whiteman, a prominent jazz bandleader responsible for several major premieres, including the music of Grofé and Aaron Copland. It went on to be Gershwin’s most popular work and established Gershwin’s signature style of blending vastly different musical styles in new ways. In fact, it was so unique that he was rejected by prominent French composers Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger when he applied to study composition with them after moving to France in the mid-1920s; both feared they would spoil his originality with too much Classical influence. Ravel himself said: “Why become a second-rate Ravel when you’re already a first-rate Gershwin?” Thankfully for us, Paris also inspired Gershwin to write An American in Paris, the now popular work that captured the sounds of a bustling Parisian day. The work featured several saxophone parts. Upon returning to the United States in 1929, he continued to write music for many stage shows including Girl Crazy, as well as his first opera Blue Monday. It was a predecessor to Porgy and Bess, Gershwin’s 1935 “folk-opera” set in the fictional slums of Catfish Row in Charleston. Although a commercial failure at its premiere due to the Great Depression, the work is now considered to be one of the most important American operas of the twentieth century and is frequently performed today. Sadly, Gershwin passed away from a brain tumor at the age of 39, making us all wonder just what else he had left to say. Although tonight’s arrangement does not include the saxophone, it does feature music that originally included the instrument(s). The medley consists of: Strike up the Band!, I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You from Girl Crazy, An American in Paris, Prelude II (Blue Lullaby), Summertime from Porgy and Bess, and Rhapsody in Blue.