SPRING DELIGHT

7:29 PM, Saturday, March 23, 2019
Millsaps College - Ford Academic Complex

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This chamber collection mixes classical & neoclassical, delight & intrigue, and 18th through 20th century greats.  Plus, a world premier of "One More Day", by Mississippi composer Ben Williams, featuring MSO's Principal Bassist, Susan Landry.  Drink in this program of Stravinsky, Williams, Bach & Schubert – old wine, new bottles, all worth savoring! 

Igor Stravinsky - "Pulcinella" 

Ben Williams - [world premiere] "One More Day"
          Susan Landry, MSO principal bass

                             INTERMISSION

Johann Sebastian Bach - Ricercare from "Musical Offering" (orch. by Webern) 

Franz Schubert - "Symphony No. 5", in B-flat Major, D. 485 

IGOR STRAVINSKY: Pulcinella Suite

One aspect of Igor Stravinsky’s genius was his ability to re-work and re-fashion old masterpieces into works that bear his own indelible musical signature. After the 1913 riot over the premiere of his Rite of Spring shocked all of Paris and helped make him famous, Stravinsky shocked the public in quite a different way in 1920 with his stylistic about-face, the eighteenth-century musical garb of his new ballet Pulcinella. Like the Rite, it was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes. For Stravinsky it was both a “backward glance” and a “look in the mirror.” “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible.” And so began a musical movement soon dubbed Neo-Classicism, taken up by a whole string of composers in the twentieth century, from Prokofiev, Villa-Lobos and Copland---even Stravinsky’s archrival, Arnold Schönberg. Almost no composer in the first half of the twentieth century was left untouched by the idea. In many ways, this is less of an eighteenth century aesthetic than a twentieth-century one. Spare textures, clean lines and intellectual clarity fit well with our modern sensibilities and can be seen as a reaction to both the overblown emotion of nineteenth century Romanticism, and the complexity of early twentieth century Modernism.

BEN WILLIAMS: One More Day – A Concerto for Double Bass

“One More Day” comes six years after the first piece Williams wrote for MSO Principal Bassist, Susan Landry.  This piece, “Hymnus”, explores several traditional melodies through new lenses.  In a similar way, this concerto originated its inspiration from the Irish folk tune “Slane”, now often known with English lyrics as “Be Thou My Vision”.  While this melody never appears directly, it was a recurring source for the melodic construction throughout.  The composer states:

      ‘One challenge of writing an instrumental concerto in contemporary folk-music style is that this tradition relies so heavily on telling stories through lyrics.  Individual moments of the concerto are like emotional vignettes that are song-like in nature, while featuring the wide-ranging capabilities of the solo double bass line.  The theme of “One More Day” is looking forward with persistent hope to each fresh, new day.’

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Ricercar from A Musical Offering

In the words of Richard Taruskin, “It may be fair to say that the sheer technical dexterity in the art of composition that Bach exhibits…has never been surpassed.” Presented as a gift to King Frederick the Great of Prussia, A Musical Offering is built on a “royal” theme the King himself provided to Bach. The occasion was Bach’s 1747 visit to the court in Potsdam, where his son Carl Philipp Emanuel was employed, of which Bach’s oldest son Wilhelm Friedemann gave a written account:

‘The King used to have a private concert every evening, in which he himself generally performed concertos on the flute. One evening, just as he was getting his flute ready and his musicians were assembled, an officer brought him the written list of the strangers who had arrived. With his flute in his hand, he ran over the list but immediately turned to the assembled musicians and said, with slight agitation: “Gentlemen, old Bach is come.” The flute was now laid aside; and old Bach, who alighted at his son’s lodgings, was immediately summoned to the Palace. The King gave up his concert for that evening and invited Bach … to try his fortepianos, made by Silbermann, standing in several rooms of the Palace. The musicians went with him from room-to-room, and Bach was invited to try them and play unpremeditated compositions. After he went on for some time, he asked the King to give him a subject for a fugue in order to execute it immediately without any preparation. The King admired the learned-manner in which his subject was executed extempore (and probably to see how far such art could be carried, expressed a wish to also hear a fugue with six obbligato parts. But as not every subject is fit for such full harmony, Bach chose one himself and immediately executed it, to the astonishment of all those present, in the same magnificent and learned-manner as he had done for the King.’

Ricercar translates as “to seek out.” At the top of the score are the words Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta (theme given by the King, with additions, resolved in canonic style), spelling out “R.I.C.E.R.C.A.R.” Although Bach impressed everyone in attendance with the three-voice canon he improvised on the spot, the King challenged him to improvise one in six voices. Bach promised he would work one out at home and send it to him. The entire published A Musical Offering (which we will not hear tonight) consists of two ricercars (three- and six-voice), ten canons and trio sonata, lasting nearly an hour in performance. The royal theme appears in all kinds of perorations -- forward, backward, and simultaneously (with ornamentation). This is one of Bach’s most ingenious works, demonstrating the highest order of intellectual control over musical notes. And, it all came from an evening of spontaneous music-making.

FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D. 485

Schubert was one of the most prolific composers in Western music history. He began work on his Fifth Symphony in September of 1816, and was finished by early October. He was only nineteen and already composed close to five hundred works—two hundred just in that year! He composed six symphonies between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. Much has been written about how this symphony was inspired by the music of Mozart. Clearly, we can hear this in its sound and spirit, (and it is no coincidence in a diary entry from the same year), he wrote: “From afar, the magic notes of Mozart’s music still gently haunt me…thus does our soul retain these fair impressions, which no circumstances can efface, as they lighten our existence. They show us in the darkness of this life a bright, clear, lovely distance for which we hope with confidence. O’ Mozart, immortal Mozart, how many, oh how endlessly many such comforting perceptions of a brighter and better life hast thou brought to our souls!” The opening movement, lasting all of five minutes, indeed owes a debt to Mozart, with its balanced phrases and unforced melodic invention. But in the slow movement, Schubert gives us foreshadowing of the harmonic sleight-of-hand to come in his later music, when in three short measures the second theme slips into a new key (a Major third lower), from E-flat to C-flat (!). The color change is simultaneously startling and wonderful. After a turn to darker harmonies, we are led back into the light of the first theme. A scherzo, then a bright finale, follows. The symphony was first heard in the house of one of Schubert’s friends and not again until a public performance in Vienna in 1841, long after Schubert’s early death in 1828 at age 31.

Concert Calendar

June 2019
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