Selby and Richard McRae Foundation FIERY FLIGHT

7:30 PM, Saturday, October 06, 2018
Thalia Mara Hall


John Adams’ barnstormer Lollapalooza and a West Side Story Leonard Bernstein tribute share a blazing spotlight with MSO’s master cellist Veronica Parrales, featured in Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky’s incomparable Firebird suite. 

Cash bar in the lobby prior to the concert and at intermission.

Pre-concert lecture by Dr. Timothy Coker on the Mezzanine, 6:45-7:15p


Concert generously sponsored by:

John Adams, Lollapalooza

Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
          Veronica Parrales, principal cello

Igor Stravinsky, Suite from The Firebird           

JOHN ADAMS: Lollapalooza 
John Adams is one of the most successful composers in America today. His operas on current events (Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, Dr. Atomic) have received critical acclaim, and his instrumental works are played all over the world. Adams’ powerfully effective multi-media symphonic/choral work On the Transmigration of Souls (about the Sept. 11 attacks), won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. Adams is often described as a “minimalist” composer, lumped together with Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but he disavows the label. While his music does make use of repetitive rhythms and patterns not unlike that of Glass, Reich, and others, Adam’s ‘minimalism’ tends to have more forward motion toward an apparent goal, and his patterns always engage the ear. Here is John Adams on Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza is one of those terrific ‘American’ words; we don’t really even care what it means, it just sounds so good—it sounds fun to say it. The dictionary says ‘Lollapalooza’ means ‘something extraordinarily special.’ I didn’t really care (when I wrote my orchestra piece Lollapalooza) what it meant; I was just thrilled by the sound of the word. It’s one of those onomatopoetic words that seems to generate a musical idea. I thought that I would take it and create an orchestral piece around the repeated use of this word. “Lol-la-pa-loo-za”—three short syllables, a long syllable, and then a terminal short one—so that’s really what the piece is, and the piece is designed somewhat in the minimalist manner, with a repeated accompaniment figure appearing first, then another accompaniment figure joining it, and then the statement of the ‘motto’ “Lol-la-pa-loo-za,” which continues on through the piece, and through a series of transformations boogies along, and dances, and then, at the last moment, kind of reaches a terminal ecstasy, where the timpani is pounding, and the brass is repeating as if they’ve gotten locked in some sort of infernal ‘loop’: a Lollapalooza. 

LEONARD BERNSTEIN: Symphonic Dances 
Leonard Bernstein would have turned one hundred on August 25th. Bernstein’s gifts were so multi-faceted and wide-ranging that, in trying to develop all of them, he was criticized for spreading himself too thin. “You know, pianists don’t think I’m a real pianist,” he once said, adding, “conductors don’t think I’m a real conductor, and composers don’t think I’m a real composer.” Critic Donal Henahan called him, simply, “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.” The general public remembers him not for his three ambitious symphonies, but for his Broadway musicals. The most famous of these, West Side Story, is a relocation of the Romeo and Juliet story to Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen in the 1950s. The show ran for 777 performances in its first run, and was nominated for six Tony Awards in 1957. The 1961 film version won ten Academy Awards. In 1961, Bernstein refashioned nine numbers from the musical into this orchestral suite. Here are the movements, described by Bernstein’s assistant Jack Gottlieb[1]

PROLOGUE: The growing rivalry between two teenage gangs, the Jets and Sharks.
“SOMEWHERE”: In a visionary dance sequence, the two gangs are united in friendship.
SCHERZO: In the same dream, they break through the city walls, and suddenly find themselves in a world of space, air and sun.
MAMBO: Reality again; competitive dance between the gangs.
CHA-CHA: The star-crossed lovers see each other for the first time and dance together.
MEETING SCENE: Music accompanies their first spoken words.
“COOL” FUGUE: An elaborate dance sequence in which the Jets practice controlling their hostility.
RUMBLE: Climactic gang battle during which the two gang leaders are killed.
FINALE: Love music developing into a processional, which recalls, in tragic reality, the vision of “Somewhere.” 

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33 
A concerto for cello in all but name, the “Rococo Variations” is an enduring favorite of cellists, who have only a handful of significant works for solo cello and orchestra (concertos by Dvorak, Elgar, Haydn, Schumann, and Saint-Saens among them). Tchaikovsky meant this to be an homage to Mozart, and the misnomer “Rococo” does at least describe—if not Mozart’s music—something delicate, graceful, and charming. It is scored for a “Classical” chamber orchestra. One of Tchaikovsky’s sunniest creations, this music came out of a period of deep depression. Tchaikovsky began it immediately after the spectacular failure of his opera Vakula the Smith at the Marinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, composing it quickly. The version most often heard today is not quite Tchaikovsky’s original version, but one altered by the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who had convinced Tchaikovsky to let him alter some of the solo cello writing and the order and number of movements. Tchaikovsky’s publisher was horrified, saying that Fitzenhagen wanted to “cello it up” to give himself more opportunities for solo display. Tchaikovsky gave in, only to deeply regret it later. Over the years most cellists have stayed with the Fitzenhagen version, despite the clear musical superiority of Tchaikovsky’s original, which was finally published in 1956. 

IGOR STRAVINSKY: Suite from The Firebird 
The 27-year-old Igor Stravinsky, protégé of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, arrived in Paris in 1909 with high odds already in place for a brilliant career. The powerful impresario Serge Diaghilev, after having heard the premiere of Stravinsky’s Scherzo Fantastique in St. Petersburg, was so impressed by the young man that he immediately commissioned him to orchestrate several ballet arrangements for his new company in Paris, the Ballets Russes. Already taking Paris by storm, the company included dancers from the Russian Imperial Ballet who are now regarded as legends—Michel Fokine, Anna Pavlova, and Vaslav Nijinsky. Paris at the turn of the century was fascinated by all things Russian, and Diaghilev’s company rode the wave. Ballet was a French creation, but Parisians were seeing the Russians surpass them in innovation and spectacle. Russia and France had moved closer together politically, and Russia was far enough away geographically and culturally to seem incredibly exotic to the French. But the initial successes of the Ballets Russes were criticized for the way Diaghilev stitched together bits and pieces of Russian music in movements by composers such as Arensky, Taneyev, Glazunov, Tcherepnin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Mussorgsky. One critical called it a “Russian salad.” What was needed was an event that presented Russian music on an equal plane with the spectacular choreography and sets. And that is where Stravinsky’s lucky break came, a break that would lead to a change in the course of music. Diaghilev decided to commission a completely original ballet score, asking Fokine to choreograph several folk tales and bind them together into The Firebird. He approached composer Nikolai Tcherepnin, then Liapunov and finally Anatoli Liadov. When Liadov procrastinated long enough, the frustrated Diaghilev turned to Stravinsky. Ironically, Firebird was seen as an “anomaly” at the time, according to Richard Taruskin. “For this very deliberately, in fact demonstratively ‘Russian’ work had no antecedent in Russian art and was expressly created for a non-Russian audience.” This was Diaghilev’s first commission of a completely original work to be choreographed. As he would often call out to his artistic co-creators, “Astonish me!” The Firebird did, opening on June 25, 1910 at the Opéra de Paris to critical acclaim, and bringing Igor Stravinsky instant international fame at the age of twenty-seven. His fame would be further elevated three years later, when rioting interrupted the premiere of The Rite of Spring at the Théâtredes Champs-Élysées, changing the course of music. 

The Firebird is the mixing of the mythical Firebird story with an unrelated tale, Kashchey the Deathless (also spelled Koschei, or Kastcheï), which became served as the plot of one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas. In the Fokine/Stravinsky ballet, Prince Ivan journeys to win the heart of a princess, but is blocked by the evil magician Kashchey. Awakening from a deep sleep in an enchanted garden, he sees the Firebird, a beautiful magical being. He moves toward the bird and grabs her, but she struggles, then offers him one of her feathers and tells him it can protect from any future trouble. He sets the Firebird free. The Prince wanders through the forest and comes upon an old castle gate. He spots twelve beautiful young women led by Princess Tsarevna, who tells him that the castle belongs to the evil Kashchey, an evil magician capable of casting spells on any passersby. Tsarevna and Ivan kiss. Ivan follows her to the castle, ringing the bell on the gate. Kashchey appears in a group of figures and moves toward Ivan, to turn him into stone. But the feather protects him, the Firebird appears, and Ivan follows her instructions to steal a huge egg, which holds Kashchey’s soul. Ivan throws it to the ground, Kashchey dies, and the spell is broken. Prince Ivan and Tsarevna then unite in love and a wedding, all present giving thanks. 


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