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News from MSO Music Director, William Schrickel

11/19/2017 Program Notes

The Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
William Schrickel, Music Director

Sunday, November 19, 2017—4:00 PM
St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church, Plymouth, Minnesota

William Schrickel, conductor


Program

Gunther Schuller                 Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee

I. Antique Harmonies
II. Abstract Trio
III. Little Blue Devil
IV. Twittering Machine
V. Arab Village
VI. An Eerie Moment
VII. Pastorale

Antique Harmonies

Antique Harmonies

Abstract Trio

Abstract Trio

Little Blue Devil

Little Blue Devil

The Twittering Machine

The Twittering Machine

Arab Village

Arab Village

An Eerie Moment

An Eerie Moment

Pastorale

Pastorale

Intermission

Modest Mussorgsky/Maurice Ravel                 Pictures at an Exhibition

I. Promenade
II. Gnomus
III. Promenade
IV. The Old Castle
V. Promenade
VI. Tuileries
VII. Bydlo
VIII. Promenade
IX. Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells
X. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
XI. Limoges–The Market Place
XII. Catacombs–Sepulchrum Romanum
XIII. Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua
XIV. The Hut on Chicken’s Legs
XV. The Great Gate of Kiev

Gnomus

2. Gnomus

The Old Castle

4. The Old Castle

Tuileries by Monet

6. Tuileries by Monet

Bylo by Van Gogh

7. Bylo by Van Gogh

Ballet of the Chicks

9. Ballet of the Chicks

Goldenberg and Schmuyle

10. Goldenberg and Schmuyle

Limoges

11. Limoges

Catacombs

12. Catacombs

Hut on Chickens Legs

14. Hut on Chickens Legs

Great Gate of Kiev

15. Great Gate of Kiev

Program Notes

Gunther Schuller (1925-2015) was a brilliantly gifted American composer, performer, teacher, conductor, writer, lecturer, clinician, music publisher, and administrator. He won the Pulitzer Prize in Music, received a MacArthur Foundation “genius award,” and authored a definitive 2-volume history of jazz. Schuller was the principal horn of the Cincinnati Symphony at the age of seventeen and joined the Metropolitan Opera Symphony orchestra when he was nineteen. Self-taught as a composer, he created more than 150 works in all genres. Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee was written for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and Antal Doráti in 1959. Each of the work’s movements was inspired by the design, shape, content, mood, or title of drawings and paintings created by the Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) between 1912 and 1933. The composer wrote the following explanation of the Seven Themes:

In Antique Harmonien-1925 (Antique Harmonies) I tried to preserve not only Klee’s amber, ochre and brown colors, but also the block-like shapes with which, in constant variation, Klee builds this remarkable painting. Over a dark, dense background, blocks of lighter colored fifths gradually pile up, reaching a climax in the brighter yellow of the trumpets and high strings. A repeated cadence common in 14th–century music on the organum-like open fifths establish the “antique” quality of the “harmonies.”

The music for Abstraktes Trio-1923 (Abstract Trio) is played almost entirely by only three instruments at any given time, but the three instruments differ during the course of the piece, changing from the bright color of woodwinds through the grainier texture of muted brass and bassoon to the somber hues of low woodwinds and tuba.

Kleiner blauer Teufel-1933 (Little Blue Devil) is transformed into a kind of jazz piece. A perky, angular theme (my subjective musical impression of the geometrically conceived head in Klee’s painting) is combined with a blues progression, altered to nine bars instead of the usual twelve, and occasionally distorted asymmetrically. Various shades of the “blue” are maintained through the use of brass and low-register clarinets.

A piece on Klee’s famous Die Zwitschermaschine-1922 (Twittering Machine) should, it seems to me, do primarily one thing—namely: twitter. The mathematical constructive element in present-day serial techniques seemed to lend itself especially logically to such a pointillistic musical representation.

Klee’s Arabische Stadt-1922 (Arab Village) is an abstracted aerial view of a town baking in the bright North African desert sun. A beholder of such a scene—floating, as it were, above the village—might hear the often simultaneous chant of Arab melodies: the melancholy distant flute, blending with the throbbing drums and the nasal dance tunes of the oboe. In preparation for the piece, I consulted numerous musicological sources on Arab music (including works by Bartók and Hornbostel), and used either authentic Arab folk material or very close adaptations thereof.

The music of Ein unheimlicher Moment-1912 (An Eerie Moment) is a musical play more on the title than on Klee’s actual pen drawing. (The German word “unheimlich” is practically untranslatable by a single English word, having a connotation not only of “eerie” but also “unearthly” and “terrifying.”) I have also tried to convey the atmosphere created by the slinking shapes of the picture. The strange, ominous tension of the opening finally finds release in two terrified outbursts, only to sink back into oblivious calm.

Pastorale-1927 was subtitled “Rhythms” by Klee. It is one of the many works of the artist employing a variation principle. It is also a painting that cannot be understood at a single glance. As in Klee’s painting, several rhythmic-melodic shapes occur on various register and speed (temporal) levels. The pastoral quality of the clarinet, French horn and English horn underlines the suspended mood of the music.


Early in 1874, Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1891) attended a posthumous exhibition in St. Petersburg of artwork created by his friend Viktor Hartmann, an architect, designer, and painter who had died suddenly from an aneurism the previous August at the age of thirty-nine. In a miraculously short 20-day period during the summer of 1874, Mussorgsky composed Pictures at an Exhibition, a suite of ten piano pieces linked with a recurring “promenade” theme representing the composer himself in various moods as he wanders through the different rooms of the gallery studying Hartmann’s creations.

In 1922, conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) to orchestrate Mussorgsky’s piano music. Since its Paris premiere on May 23, 1923, the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures has been a favorite of audiences, performers, and conductors. The following synopsis of the work, by Malcolm MacDonald, appears in the forward to the published score:

      1. The piece begins with the Promenade, a formal and somewhat ponderous theme with a pronounced Russian character. Its uneven meter depicts the portly Mussorgsky.
      2. Gnomus—The music depicts a gnome hopping on crooked legs. Hartmann’s picture was a design for a gnome-shaped nutcracker.
      3. Promenade
      4. The Old Castle—A troubadour sings before a medieval castle. Here, Ravel gives the main melody to the saxophone.
      5. Promenade
      6. Tuileries—The music depicts the Paris gardens, bustling with nursemaids and squabbling children.
      7. Bydlo—A Polish ox-cart rolls along on enormous wheels. Ravel gives the melody to the tenor tuba.
      8. Promenade
      9. Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells— Hartmann’s picture shows sketches of some costumes for Trilby, a ballet by J. Gerber.
      10. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle—This is a double portrait based on two pictures of [men] by Hartmann. Musically, one is arrogant and austere…; the other is pathetic with its importunate whining repeated notes.
      11. Limoges–The Market Place—The French market-women in this clatteringly rhythmic piece are said to be gossiping about lost cows, a drunken neighbor and some false teeth.
      12. Catacombs–Sepulchrum Romanum—Hartmann depicts himself probing the mystery of the catacombs by the light of a lantern.
      13. Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua—Mussorgsky figuratively picks up Hartmann’s lantern from the catacombs and continues the quest in this spectral, quasi-religious transformation of the Promenade tune. In the autograph score, Mussorgsky wrote: “A Latin text would be suitable—the creative soul of the dead Hartmann leads me to the skulls, invokes them…the skulls begin to glow faintly….”
      14. The Hut on Chicken’s Legs—This is a brilliant, grotesque march. Hartmann designed a clock in the form of the hut in which dwelt Baba-Yaga, the mythical witch of Russian folklore who ground up human bones with her mortar and pestle to feed to her captives.
      15. The Great Gate of Kiev—This design was commissioned in 1866 but never built. Hartmann’s gate was in ancient Russian style, with a cupola shaped like a Slavic war helmet. Mussorgsky’s finale, incorporating a triumphant variant of the Promenade theme, brings the suite to a conclusion with pealing bell-effects that recall the coronation pageantry of the composer’s opera Boris Godunov.

©William Schrickel 2017

10/15/2017 Program notes

Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra

William Schrickel, Music Director

Sunday, October 15, 2017—4:00 PM

St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, Minnesota

William Schrickel, conductor

Dominick Argento, composer

Maria Jette, soprano

Jake Endres, baritone

Vern Sutton, tenor & stage director

Program

Leonard Bernstein:  Suite from Candide

You Were Dead, You Know/Paris Waltz

Bon Voyage/Drowning Music/The Kings’ Barcarolle

Ballad of Eldorado/I Am Easily Assimilated

Fanfare/The Best of All Possible Worlds

Make Our Garden Grow

Following the Bernstein performance, there will be a brief discussion onstage

with composer Dominick Argento about his one-act opera, The Boor.

Intermission

Dominick Argento:  The Boor

Vern Sutton, tenor (The Servant)

Maria Jette, soprano (The Widow)

Jake Endres, baritone (The Boor)


Program Notes

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was was one of the most gifted and famous musicians of the 20th century. A pianist, conductor, composer, writer, lecturer, and teacher, Bernstein brought his wide-ranging knowledge and contagious excitement and energy to all his artistic pursuits, and the one hundredth anniversary of his birth (in Lawrence, Massachusetts on August 25, 1918) will be celebrated around the world.

The Parisian-born Voltaire (1694-1778) wrote his satirical novella, Candide, in 1759. In the mid-1950s, playwright Lillian Hellman and Bernstein decided to use Voltaire’s wickedly funny and biting indictment of the philosophical system called Optimism as the basis for a new Broadway musical. The Philosophy of Optimism, based upon writings of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, is the belief that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that everything that happens, no matter how horrific, no matter who or how many are victimized, is truly for the best and represents the will of a benevolent Creator. Or, in the words of Alexander Pope: “One truth is clear—whatever is, is right.”

Bernstein’s Candide opened on Broadway in December of 1956 and ran for only 73 performances. The show was reworked and rewritten and the music rearranged several times in the ensuing thirty years (occasionally without any input from Bernstein) before achieving its final form in a version first performed by the Scottish Opera in 1988.

Charlie Harmon, who was at various times in the 1980s Bernstein’s personal assistant, archivist, and music editor, arranged a concert suite from Candide in 1998, dedicated to Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra. In his notes to the CD recording of the work by the dedicatees, Harmon wrote:

To open the suite, You Were Dead, You Know makes an appealing start. It has a big tune, a parody of an opera love duet that is every bit as fine as its nineteenth-century sources. It also has a built-in segue to the Paris Waltz. Bon Voyage … was easy to include next in this suite because it’s in the same key as the waltz. … A transition that exists in the full score of Candide fits perfectly between Bon Voyage and the Ballad of Eldorado. This Drowning Music (when Candide is shipwrecked in the Atlantic) and The Kings’ Barcarolle (where Candide meets five deposed kings afloat a log, mid-ocean) help point the way toward the calm observations of the ballad.

The Spanish number, I Am Easily Assimilated, is an orchestral showpiece that … leads directly to a Fanfare (which is the only music in the suite also heard in the famous Overture to Candide). The Fanfare rushes headlong to a downward scale played by trilling woodwinds. This motif of Doctor Pangloss is the perfect reminder of The Best of All Possible Worlds, which comes next.

An orchestral dying-away leads to a solo horn sounding the motif associated with Cunegonde. As in the theater work, this is the lead-in to Make Our Garden Grow, ending the suite with Candide’s devotional resolve, in one of the most inspiring pieces of music ever written.

Dominick Argento (b. 1927) is the Composer Laureate of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and this afternoon’s performance celebrates his upcoming ninetieth birthday on October 27. He lives in Minneapolis and taught composition at the University of Minnesota for 40 years. Argento was the first recipient of the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, given in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the arts in Minnesota. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975 for From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, a song cycle written for Dame Janet Baker, and he received a Grammy Award in 2004 for Casa Guidi. Argento’s

Ode to the West Wind was given its first pubic performance by soprano Maria Jette and the MSO under William Schrickel’s direction in October of 2014.

Argento composed The Boor in 1957 while completing his Ph.D. studies with Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music. A 3-character opera based on Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s The Bear (Farce in One Act), a play written in 1888, The Boor was premiered on May 6, 1957 under the baton of Frederick Fennell as part of Eastman’s Festival of American Music. The opera’s libretto was written by John Olon-Serymgeour.

The plot: A young Widow has shut herself away in her home for a year, mourning the death of her older, faithless, abusive husband. Her elderly Servant urges her to set aside her grief and reenter the world of the living, but she vows to continue her mourning. A middle-aged country gentleman (The Boor) arrives at the Widow’s home, and despite being told by the Servant that the Widow sees no one, insists on talking to the woman. He has come to collect a debt owed to him by the Widow’s late husband. The Boor shows her a bill for oats that were purchased by her late husband to feed Toby, the horse her husband rode when he would disappear for weeks on end to conduct a series of illicit extra-marital affairs.

The Widow says she has no cash on hand, but will have her agent pay the debt “the day after tomorrow.” The Boor responds that he must make a mortgage payment to his bank tomorrow or face foreclosure and he demands to be paid immediately. The Widow refuses and stalks off to another room, but the Boor resolves not to leave until he receives his money. Alone, he ruminates bitterly about the unflattering way he is perceived by others and laments his unsuccessful attempts to collect what is owed to him by an assortment of business associates. The Widow returns, frustrated by the Boor’s annoyingly loud utterances, and the two engage in an escalating series of arguments about money and the nature of men, women, and gender equality until, when the Widow insults him personally, The Boor challenges her to a duel. The Widow accepts his challenge and goes to retrieve her late husband’s pistols. While the Servant begs the Boor to leave, the Boor admiringly marvels at The Widow’s strength and resolve. He realizes that he likes her.

The Widow returns with the pistols, but never having fired one, asks the Boor to show her how they work. As he offers her a lesson in the mechanics of the firearms, the two simultaneously wonder (without voicing their feelings to the other) why they are fighting “when love is dreaming so near.” They prepare to go to the garden to shoot it out, but the Boor tells the Widow that he is going to fire his pistol harmlessly into the air, confessing that he has reluctantly fallen in love with her, and he ultimately offers his hand in marriage. The Widow tells him to leave, but as he prepares to go, she vacillates. The two share a long gaze, then embrace one another. It is clear that more is about to happen, but … the curtain falls.

©William Schrickel 2017

Dominick Argento will discuss The Boor with William Schrickel from the stage prior to the intermission of the performance.

Memorial Day Listening: MSO & VocalEssence on MPR

Mark Your Calendar for Memorial Day Listening:
Commemorate Memorial Day by listening to a special one-hour program on Classical Minnesota Public Radio featuring the 2015 VocalEssence Dreams of the Fallen performance with special guests Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and world-renowned pianist Jeffrey Biegel. Written by local composer Jake Runestad, Dreams of the Fallen includes text by poet and Iraq War Veteran Brian Turner.

Learn more about the piece, and mark your calendars by visiting the VocalEssence website.

Dreams of the Fallen: A Musical Observance of Memorial Day
with Steve Seel
Monday, May 29 at 8 PM CST
Classical Minnesota Public Radio