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
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.
Dominick Argento: The Boor
Vern Sutton, tenor (The Servant)
Maria Jette, soprano (The Widow)
Jake Endres, baritone (The Boor)
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.
“A Few Words About Chekhov” program notes
Dominick Argento (b. 1927) is the Composer Laureate of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. He lives in Minneapolis and taught composition at the University of Minnesota for 40 years. He 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, a work which Clara Osowski, this afternoon’s mezzo soprano soloist, performed last season with William Schrickel and the MSO. Argento’s Ode to the West Wind was premiered by soprano Maria Jette and the MSO under Schrickel’s direction in October of 2014.
Argento’s A Few Words About Chekhov was commissioned by The Schubert Club and premiered at St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on October 12, 1996. The cycle comprises seven songs written for mezzo soprano Frederica von Stade and baritone Håkan Hagegård (partnered at the premiere by pianist Martin Katz) and incorporates texts drawn from letters written by Russian playwright Anton Pavlovitch Chekhov (1860-1904) to his wife, actress Olga Knipper (1868-1959) along with excerpts from Knipper’s 1924 essay, A Few Words About Chekhov. The composer orchestrated the piano accompaniment in 2002, and the piece was performed in its new setting in 2003 by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Andreas Delfs.
The 38-year-old Chekhov (who had been practicing medicine as his principal profession since the age of 24 and writing as a free-lancer since his late teens) met the 30-year-old Knipper, the Russian-born daughter of German parents and an original member of Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theater, in 1898 when she starred in a Moscow revival of Chekhov’s The Seagull. The playwright, who first exhibited symptoms of tuberculosis 14 years earlier, adored Moscow and all its artistic trappings, but he had been forced by his “bacillus” to move to Yalta, a warm-weather city situated on the Crimean Peninsula of the Black Sea, 800 miles from Moscow. Living so far from one another, Anton and Olga courted primarily by writing letters, and they married in 1901. They strove to see each other as often as possible until Chekhov’s death in 1904 from TB.
Argento’s song cycle artfully traces the arc of Olga and Anton’s warm, intimate relationship, from first meeting through the trials of being forced to live far apart to Chekhov’s premature death at a German health spa at the age of 44, and it does so by the artful juxtaposition of the thoughts, hopes, dreams, observations and feelings of each member of the couple for the other. Though their words only occasionally overlap, their loving spirits are perfectly entwined.
©William Schrickel 2016