Syttende Mai Concert Program Notes

The Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
William Schrickel, Music Director

Sunday, May 17, 2015 – 4:00 PM
St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, Minnesota

Steven Amundson, guest conductor


Kristin Kuster                                   Rain On It

Edvard Grieg                                    Norwegian Dances, Op. 35

Steven Amundson                           Handprints

Antonín Dvořák                               Symphony #8 in G major, Op. 88


Kristin Kuster (b. 1973) has composed numerous works for orchestra, wind ensemble, chamber ensemble, and voice. Her lush compositions take inspiration from architectural space, the weather, and mythology. Some of her other titles include Lost Gulch Lookout, Little Trees, Moonrise, and The Trickster & The Troll. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Kuster is associate professor of composition at the University of Michigan. Premieres of Kuster’s music have included works for the Philadelphia-based Network for New Music, The Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, the Lisbon Summerfest Chamber Choir, percussionist Joseph Gramley, and the Donald Sinta Quartet.

The composer provided the following notes for Rain on It:

Rain feels like a transition time, with the potential for newness after it envelops all it touches. I think of each piece I have written as a sonic snapshot of where and how I was at the time they were written. The music of Rain On It is a re-imagining of melodies, harmonies, and textures from two pieces — a string quartet and a work for orchestra — that I wrote within poignant transitional times in my past. Having recently emerged from another transitional period, I took musical materials from these pieces, re-wove, re-shaped, and transformed them into a newly-changed fleeting sonic moment: a simultaneity that conflates a past as it has passed and a future as it is yet to be. In this music, I freeze an instant of imagined rain, fully static, non-passing, and still. Yet I stretch and dwell within this moment to capture a mood, which celebrates the relentless intensity of time, our enraptured emotionality that is over in the blink of an eye, our strained and fumbling grip on time, churning, incessant, and ceaseless. After the rain, there is newness and joy.

Dad was a meteorologist; he loved weather. When it rains I am with him, and I love the weather, too.

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), undoubtedly Norway’s most important composer, fully embraced the folk music traditions in his home country. His encounter with Norwegian “Mountain Melodies Old and New,” compiled by Ludwig Lindeman, served as the inspiration for his Norwegian Dances.

A suite in four movements, Norwegian Dances was originally written for piano duet. Grieg’s friend, the Czech-born conductor and violinist Hans Sitt, completed the orchestration. Most of the melodies are “halling” dances, based on the traditional dance styles from the Hallingdal region of Norway. Presented in a variety of tempos, all the melodies are in duple meter. Each of the four movements is in three parts, the middle section always offering contrast to the outer sections.

These dance tunes, which vary widely in mood and character, are usually given to violins or solo woodwinds in an orchestration that provides an abundance of colors, off-beat accents, and rich sonorities. Grieg paints a vivid musical portrait of the delightful folk-dance traditions set in the beautiful landscape of Norway.

Steven Amundson (b. 1955) – Handprints was commissioned by the Bloomington (MN) Symphony Orchestra in honor of their 50th anniversary season. Amundson was music director of the BSO from 1984-1997. The title recognizes the many wonderful musicians, conductors, managers, board members, and all the other supporters whose “handprints” have made an indelible impression on this orchestra and its inspired music making over these past 50 years.

When one relates the human hand to music, the interval of a fifth comes to mind because of its five fingers. In a magical opening, strings quietly “join hands” in a series of fifths that are layered in the formation of community. These intervals of fifths are a unifying force in the composition, both harmonically and melodically. In the main body of the work (allegro), accents and syncopation abound providing an energetic orchestral texture. A slow, reflective section in the middle of the piece features solo woodwinds, horn, violin and piano. A return of the opening ideas is abbreviated and proceeds to a strong and passionate rendering of broad lyricism in the full orchestra, which celebrates the orchestral community: Good friends sharing the joy of music with each other and their audiences.

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), like Grieg, embraced the folksong traditions of his country, and many of the melodies in his G major symphony are reminiscent of the Czech spirit. The symphony is more rhapsodic than his other symphonies – a departure from his otherwise more straightforward formal designs and melodic inventions.

The first movement opens with a theme played by cellos that is both sublime and yearning. The music brightens as the flute plays a second tune in the major mode depicting a birdsong. The pace quickens as the full orchestra combines for an energetic statement based on the flute theme. A modulation to B minor ushers in a new, more somber theme accompanied by a lively triplet figure in strings. A joyful closing section in B major rounds out the exposition of this modified sonata-allegro form. After the return of the opening cello melody, a highly motivic development section ensues, followed by a recapitulation and festive coda.

The second movement provides much of the emotional weight of the symphony. The tonality wavers between minor and major, and Dvořák provides strong contrasts in character, alternating gorgeous legato melodies in the strings with light-hearted gestures in the woodwinds.

The third movement minuet is not at all like the traditional stately dance but rather is rampant with rich lyricism and extended, asymmetrical phrases. In the trio, a simple, folksy tune is embedded in a hemiola rhythmic backdrop, another one of Dvořák’s strikingly inventive orchestrations. The minuet returns, and a surprisingly quick dance in 2/4 closes the movement.

The finale of the symphony opens with a festive fanfare played by trumpets. In a rehearsal of this symphony, conductor Rafael Kubelik once remarked, “In Bohemia, the trumpets never call to battle – they always call to the dance!” But we must wait for the dance to begin. Dvořák calls once again on the cellos to play the first main theme, and a series of repeated short variations follow. The dance bursts out in the full orchestra with a ff allegro statement of the cello theme, filled with trills and other orchestral flourishes. A lively flute solo follows, accompanied by shimmering strings. The music shifts to minor and the woodwinds play a compelling droning theme based on the interval of a minor third. The cellos reprise the first theme and, once again, several short variations follow. A shortened return of the festive full orchestra theme and a life-affirming, brilliant coda replete with brass fanfares concludes this wonderful symphonic creation by the Czech master.

Notes by Steven Amundson