Posted: September 25, 2020

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra returns with music that allows us to heal, remember, reflect, and hope.  Copland’s Quiet City depicts the stillness of our streets, and Barber’s emotional Adagio for Strings captures our heartbreaks and sorrows as we remember those suffering or who have been lost during the pandemic.  The performance leaves us with the true American spirit of possibilities and a better tomorrow through the enduring and popular Appalachian Spring.

Saturday, 10 October 2020
7:30 p.m.
SPSO LIVEstream!

COPLAND A Quiet City

Beth Benson - English Horn
Curry Moyer - Trumpet

BARBER Adagio for Strings
**Intermission**
COPLAND Appalachian Spring: SUITE

Support the SPSO

To make a donation please call 267.328.4493 or donate securely through PayPal by clicking the "Donate" button below.




Conductor

Allan R. Scott

Kile Smith Host
Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra

Entering his nineteenth season as Music Director of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Allan R. Scott has been noted as one of North America’s most dynamic young figures in symphonic music and opera. He is widely recognized for his innovative approach to programming, dynamic vision, and ability to elicit top-notch performances from musicians.

Dividing his time between residences in Helena and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia native also marks his eighteenth season as Music Director of Montana’s Helena Symphony Orchestra & Chorale.  In addition, he also serves as the Principal Conductor of the Wilmington Ballet Company in Delaware.

KILE SMITH
Host

Composer Kile Smith’s The Arc in the Sky with The Crossing received a 2020 Grammy Award nomination for Best Choral Performance, and his Canticle with Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble helped win the 2020 Best Classical Producer Grammy for Blanton Alspaugh.

Mr. Smith has gained national and international acclaim with commissions from The Crossing, Conspirare, Piffaro, Helena Symphony, Lyric Fest, Westminster Choir College, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, the Pennsylvania and iSing Girlchoirs, Choral Arts Philadelphia, Gaudete Brass, Red Shift, and Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, with major choral works heard in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Canada, England, and New Zealand.

AARON COPLAND

Born: Brooklyn, NY, 14 November 1900
Died: Peekskill, NY, 2 December 1990

“I felt that it was worth the effort to see if I couldn’t say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms.”  — Aaron Copland

Standing as we do at the close of the American century, the hundred year period during which the United States was for the first time a major power and contributor to the world economically, politically, and culturally, the question that composer Antonín Dvořák posed almost a century ago still remains for us: what is “American” music? Ralph Vaughan Williams, the grand old man of English music, declared that music, above all other arts, is “the expression of the soul of a nation.”  Today, Aaron Copland’s name is synonymous with “American music” more than any other composer, even more than George Gershwin or Leonard Bernstein. With the musical world still quivering from the impact of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913), Copland sought to recapture an America before the world wars; before its loss of innocence. By comparison, Leonard Bernstein depicted a postwar America, one increasingly divided along racial, religious, and political lines. After studying with Rubin Goldmark (who studied with Dvořák) and Nadia Boulanger (a student of Gabriel Fauré), Copland learned, and eventually preached, the importance of finding one’s own musical voice.  Like most composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Copland composed initially with little or no regard for the listener – composed for the sake of composing. However, technological advances, such as the ability to permanently record live sound or broadcast it over airwaves, changed the composer’s way of listening to and ultimately composing music.  Copland is, perhaps, the first major composer who finally realized and appreciated the importance of the listener beyond the concert hall.  “I have every reason to be particularly grateful to the creator of the phonograph,” he said.  “We composers owe a profound debt to Thomas Edison!” This son of Russian Jewish immigrants quickly began to lead many of his fellow artists in a commitment to capturing a wider audience and speaking to the concerns of the average citizen, the everyday American caught up in the world of the dramas of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Copland responded to America’s calling for culture, pride, and patriotism.  Though he represented the pinnacle of an intense mid-century Americanism, Copland was not an insular nationalist; on the contrary, he was acutely interested in world politics and in how the United States fit into the larger sphere.  As the United States crept towards and through World War II, Copland was so distracted by what he read in the papers that he found it sometimes difficult to concentrate on composing.  During the 1930’s Copland was often associated with more liberal ideas, but he was always honest, saying “musicians make music out of feelings aroused out of public events.” During the wars, a time of global uncertainty and fear, Copland produced several works that were specifically and obviously related to the war effort.  His Lincoln Portrait, in which a narrator recites Lincoln’s thoughts on democracy and duties of citizenship, premiered in 1942, and several months later Copland, accepting a commission “to boost American spirits,” composed his world-renowned Fanfare for the Common Man.  Copland continued to capture and honor the roots of America’s heritage and the soul of the country’s present and future with his ballets Rodeo and the Appalachian Spring, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Parallel Events / 1940

Nazis begin Battle of Britain & establish Jewish Ghetto in Poland

Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister of England

Franklin D. Roosevelt is reelected for an unprecedented third term as U.S. President

U.S. begins military draft for World War II

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania join the Soviet Union

Ernest Hemingway publishes novel For Whom the Bell Tolls

Disney films Fantasia and Pinocchio premiere

Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald dies

Golf Pro Jack Nicklaus, singer Tom Jones, journalists Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel, and actors Al Pacino, Martin Sheen, and Peter Fonda are born

La Guardia Airport opens to the public

Nylon stockings are first sold

Quiet City

Copland’s Quiet City is scored for English horn solo, trumpet solo, and divided strings.
Duration: 10 minutes

Copland’s Quiet City is the composer’s attempt to capture “the night thoughts of many different people in a great city,” explains Copland.  Originally intended as incidental music to an Irwin Shaw play directed by Elia Kazan in 1939, Quiet City told the story of two brothers, one of whom rejected his Jewish heritage in an effort to succeed in the business world, while the other brother maintained an unconventional, artistic, and socially conscious lifestyle.  In Copland’s score, the prominent trumpet solo embodies one of the brothers wandering about the city at night, imagining the thoughts of the people around him.

Quiet City “called for music evocative of the nostalgia and inner distress of a society profoundly aware of its own insecurity,” Copland explains.  “The author’s mouthpiece was a young trumpet player, whose trumpet playing helped to arouse the conscience of his fellow-players and of the audience.”  While the play lasted only a few performances, Copland borrowed the name of the play and the trumpet themes he composed for the incidental music and reworked them into an atmospheric ten minute tone-poem for trumpet solo, English horn solo, and strings (the original incidental music for the play was scored for two clarinets, bass clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, and piano).

Copland biographer Howard Pollock wonderfully analyzes Quiet City.

The slow, soft opening for strings and English horn, an urban pastoral, evokes the quiet city at night, with Copland’s oft-cited telescoped harmonies, along with bass pizzicato (plucking of the strings), suggesting underlying tensions.  The trumpet enters with a repeated-note recitative influenced by Jewish chant – marked by the composer as ‘nervous, mysterious’... The music proceeds to a songful, expressive melody suggestive of a nostalgia for youthful aspirations.  A brief and strong duet for strings clears the air, introducing a dirge that moves optimistically from minor to major and, finally, to a stunning return of the nostalgia theme, now full of hope.  The music winds down to the opening city music and, once again, like a reminder in the night, we hear the work’s nervous call, the work ends on a hesitant note… and the music raises more questions than it answers.

Parallel Events / 1944

Height of World War II in Europe and Pacific

Height of Holocaust

Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected for fourth term as U.S. President

Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie premieres

Leonard Bernstein’s musical On the Town and ballet Fancy Free premiere

Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra premieres

First open-heart surgery

Bandleader Glenn Miller dies in plane crash

Appalachian Spring

Appalachian Spring ballet score was originally composed for flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, two first violins, two second violins, two violas, two cellos, and double bass.  The Suite was later composed for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, timpani, xylophone, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, tabor snare drum, wood block, claves, glockenspiel, and triangle.

Duration: 25 minutes

On May 8, 1945 the headlines of the New York Times read: THE WAR IN EUROPE IS ENDED!  America celebrated its military triumph over totalitarianism.  It simultaneously emerged as a “superpower” in the world along with the Soviet Union.  Technology, weapons, and the will to go to war determined who was more “super.”

Ironically, the caption underneath the headline listed the Pulitzer Prize Awards for 1944 and Aaron Copland received the prize in music for his ballet score Appalachian Spring – the work that became a hallmark of Copland’s artistry and musical vocabulary.  Appalachian Spring “has to do with the pioneer American spirit, with youth and spring, with optimism and hope,” said Copland.  It affirmed why America entered the War, and audiences knew immediately and are still reminded what the country fought for when they saw and heard Appalachian Spring, even though it had no explicit patriotic theme.

Copland’s collaborator, choreographer Martha Graham, not Copland, named the ballet Appalachian Spring after a line from a Hart Crane epic, The Bridge, declaring “O Appalachian Spring!”  Although the ballet is American in spirit, the plot is a love story.  “It was Graham’s great genius,” explained Copland, “to retain the intensity of the relationship while idealizing and abstracting the Bride and Husband just enough so that they reach beyond themselves to express the springtime of the nation as well as the springtime in their own lives.”  The result in the score was music with a quiet glow, a Puritan restraint, and the tenderness of young love, centered around the Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts or ‘Tis the Gift to be Simple.

Perhaps without realizing it, America, while basking in its new status in the world after the War, was also longingly looking back at its innocence and belief that if we just move a little farther west, we will find another beginning, another promise of tomorrow.  In 1986 the U.S. Congress awarded Copland the Congressional Gold Medal recognizing Copland for his “his special achievement in creating a uniquely American style of composition, making a vital contribution to American artistic life.”

 

SAMUEL BARBER

Born: West Chester, Pennsylvania, 9 March 1910
Died: New York City, New York, 23 January 1981

“I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. Don’t ask me to try to forget this and go play football – Please.”  — Samuel Barber to his father

One of America’s most distinguished composers, Samuel Barber is of the generation of English composer Benjamin Britten and is perhaps the American equivalent of Britten.  Both composers explore the loss of innocence in many of their works. At the young age of fourteen, Barber entered the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as one of the school’s first students.  After being graduated from Curtis in 1932, Barber embarked upon a career as a composer.  His musical language was so accessible, and his skill in orchestration so assured, that he quickly gained success.  Barber wrote three operas, including Antony and Cleopatra (commissioned for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House), one ballet, one overture, two symphonies, concertos for piano and violin, three orchestral “essays,” choral works, sonatas for violin and cello, music for piano solo, and songs. The music that Barber wrote, especially during the 1930’s, held onto the ideas of the Romantic period of the nineteenth century, where composers attempted to explore larger than life images and ideals using overly lush melodies. While Stravinsky was guiding the popular trend of rhythmic exploration, influencing such composers as Bernstein, Bartók, and Orff,  others like Rachmaninoff and Samuel Barber held on to the notion that a melody shaped a piece of music. Despite Barber’s flirtation with other techniques of twentieth century composition, Barber never completely abandoned the tonal mainstream in which his greatest strengths lie.  While he did not die until 1981, Barber’s last great work, and maybe his greatest work, was completed in 1962.  Composed for the opening of New York’s Lincoln Center and for the 100th anniversary of his publisher G. Schirmer, Barber’s Piano Concerto went on to win the Pulitzer Prize (his second Pulitzer) as well as the Music Critics’ Circle Award.

Parallel Events / 1938

Hitler seizes control of German army

FDR establishes the March of Dimes to eradicate polio

Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town premieres

Orson Welles reads War of the Worlds on the radio creating mass panic

Picasso paints Young Girl with a Boat 

Copland’s ballet Billy the Kid premieres

Superman premieres in D.C. Comics

Bugs Bunny premieres

First use of seeing-eye dog

Instant coffee invented

King of Spain Juan Carlos I, singer Kenny Rogers, and actors Brian Dennehy, Jon Voight, Natalie Wood, and Christopher Wood are born

Adagio for Strings

Barber’s Adagio for Strings is composed for divided string orchestra.

Duration: 8 minutes

The lyrical and ardently romantic Adagio for Strings is Barber’s best-known composition.  It began as the slow movement from his String Quartet written in 1936, but was later extracted and orchestrated for conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1938.  American audiences instantly connected with Adagio for Strings as it became an inspirational work of contemplation and meditation.  In addition to the struggles from the Great Depression, the threat of Nazi power, the work became an American elegy, especially for the dead of World War II.

Opening with a sense of poignant melancholy, the Adagio for Strings develops into an outpouring of emotional anguish and even grief.  The work is nothing short of a genuine, “non-Hollywoodian” tearjerker, but is never emotionally bullied, never forced.  Musicologist Wilfrid Mellers explains that “the consistently step-wise movement and control of climax exhibits how Barber was correct in believing that the truth of his religious sensibility was inseparable from his awareness of the common heart of humanity.”

Barber produced a third version of his Adagio in 1967 as a choral setting of the traditional Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) text.  Today, the full string orchestra version has been used in over twenty television shows and films, particularly Platoon, and has graced ceremonies in honor of presidents (Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy), martyred politicians, and most recently was used to commemorate the victims of the September 11.

Ultimately, there is an overwhelming sense of simplicity to the Adagio for Strings that gives the work its timelessness.  Music critic Olin Downes suggests that the simplicity is because the Adagio for Strings is “honest music, by an honest musician…”

 

0 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous
SPSO launches SPSO LIVEstream!
Next
CONCERT II: Dreams & Passion