Thursday, February 15, 2024

FVSO April 27, 2024 FULL Program Notes

FVSO April 27, 2024 FULL Program Notes

Notes written by Erik Leveille and Kevin Sütterlin

Concert with Baritone Maximillian Krummen

Evan Williams (b. 1988)

Drawing from inspirations as diverse as Medieval chant to contemporary pop, the music of composer and conductor Evan Williams (b. 1988) explores the thin lines between beauty and disquieting, joy and sorrow, and simple and complex, while often tackling important social and political issues. Williams’ catalogue contains a broad range of work, from vocal and operatic offerings to instrumental works, along with electronic music.

His music been performed and commissioned by the International Contemporary Ensemble, Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, Quince Ensemble, and by the Cincinnati, Toledo, Detroit, Seattle, and National Symphonies. His work has received awards and recognition from the American Prize, the National Federation of Music Clubs, ASCAP, and Fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In 2018, he served as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural Classical Roots Composer-in-Residence. He currently serves as the Steven R. Gerber Composer-in-Residence for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Williams holds degrees from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University and Lawrence University. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Composition at the Berklee College of Music, where he teaches composition, conducting, music technology, harmony, and counterpoint.

Titan was written to accompany performances of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, "Titan." The fanfare employs themes from throughout the first, third, and fourth movements of that symphony, with particular emphasis on the minor "Frère Jacques" from the third movement, transforming the somber bass solo into a pulsating groove.

Titan was commissioned by April Ann Brock and Kevin Sütterlin for the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra.

High Ashes for Baritone and Orchestra 
Stella Sung (b. 1959), composer
Ernest Hilbert (b. 1970), poet

Dr. Stella Sung has won both national and international recognition as a composer. Her works have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall in Boston, and the Sydney Opera House, among many other venues. She utilizes digital and multimedia applications in her symphonic music, as well as compositions for dance, ballet, and film. She is the director of the Center for Research for Education, Arts and Technology and Professor of Music at the University of Central Florida. 

Poems by Ernest Hilbert. 

Ernest Hilbert is the author of the poetry collections Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, Caligulan—selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize—and Last One Out. His fifth book, Storm Swimmer, was selected by Rowan Ricardo Phillips as the winner of the 2022 Vassar Miller Prize and appeared in 2023. His poem “Mars Ultor” was included in Best American Poetry 2018, and his poems appear in Yale Review, American Poetry Review, BOMB, Harvard Review, Parnassus, Sewanee Review, Hudson Review, Boston Review, The New Republic, American Scholar, and the London Review. In 2023 he was awarded the Meringoff Writing Award for Poetry from the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers. 

In 2000, Hilbert graduated with a doctorate from the department of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, where he edited the Oxford Quarterly. While there, he studied with Jon Stallworthy—biographer of Wilfred Owen and Louis MacNeice and editor of the Norton Anthology of Poetry—and James Fenton, then Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He later served as poetry editor of Random House’s magazine Bold Type in New York City and editor of the Contemporary Poetry Review, published by the American Poetry Fund in Washington DC. In 2003, he hosted an evening of readings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, entitled “The Future Knows Everything: New American Writing.”

He lives in Philadelphia where he works as a rare book dealer and book reviewer for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Visit him at

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfaring Journeyman)
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

While Gustav Mahler is chiefly remembered now as one of the great symphonists of the late Romantic/early Modern (or any) era, his affinity for the human voice informed his career-long role as a conductor of opera, as well as one of the masters of lieder, or art songs. Songs for one or more voices and a single keyboard instrument predate the Romantic era, but it was the settings of the poetry of Heine, Goethe, Mueller, and others by Schubert and Schumann that elevated the genre from pleasant salon music to works that were an intimate and profound elucidation of the text. 

In 1884, the young Gustav Mahler was assistant conductor at the opera house in the city of Kassel. He began an ill-fated affair with one of the sopranos in the company, Joanna Richter. Richter ended the liaison on New Year’s Eve of that year. Mahler had already begun writing his own poetry – strongly influenced by his intensive study a collection of German folk songs and poems published in the early 19th century as Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn)—and in the following month, whittled his original six songs to a set of four for voice and piano which he titled Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. This is usually translated as “Songs of a Wayfarer,” but Gesellen has a specific meaning at that time—it means a journeyman, or one who has not completed the path from apprentice to master. This is significant not so much for accurately describing Mahler’s place in the world at the time, but that it enhances the song cycle’s overarching theme of alienation and separateness—cut off from his beloved, from society, and even from the splendors of Nature, the protagonist of these songs similarly lacks a true and solid place in the world. 

Mahler leaned heavily on thematic material from these songs in the composition of his first symphony (the second song and fourth song are used in the first and third movements of the symphony, respectively), and as he undertook multiple revisions of the symphony after its unsuccessful premiere in 1889, Mahler created a version of the Lieder for voice and orchestra which is now the version most often heard. 

The first song, “When My Darling Is Married,” is filled with bitter irony, as the protagonist informs us that the happy celebration is her marriage to someone else. The work contrasts a lilting motif in the winds and triangle and a lugubrious lament from the vocalist and strings (the lament, in fact, is the opening motif slowed by more than half). A delicate, tremulous evocation of nature resounds with trills and bird song, but the song sinks back into grief as the singer mourns that even sleep only brings more reflection on his sorrow. Our narrator greets the new day with renewed resolve with “I Walked Along the Fields This Morning.” The sun is shining, and dew still glistens on the grass. A finch chirps, “Hey, you! Good morning! Isn’t it? Isn’t it a beautiful world?” Bluebells tinkle in joyful assent, and our protagonist dares to hope that his happiness might be able to begin, too. With a sad cry of “no, no!” the gloom of isolation returns as he declares that his joy will never blossom. 

The overall delicacy of the first two songs is shattered by the opening of the third, which describes the singer’s pain as a glowing knife cutting deep into his chest. The song ends in bleak despair as our protagonist declares that it would be better for death to close his eyes than to constantly be reminded of his lost beloved. A halting funeral march intoned by the flutes and harp introduces the final song, “The Two Blue Eyes of My Darling.” In a numbed monotone, our narrator states that the eyes of his beloved have sent him out into the world alone, without companions or comfort. Nature intervenes again in the form of a linden tree along the road. In the folk mythology of that era, the linden was a sign not only of wedded bliss, but something of a spiritual portal that connected the living and the dead. Furthermore, it was used in German Romantic poetry as a symbol for temptation of suicide. Taking refuge under the fragrant boughs while the blossoms shower down upon him, the protagonist declares that there, he knows nothing of the world, and all is good again: “All, all! Love and sorrow, and world, and dream!” Whether Mahler means mere sleep, or transcendent union with nature, or the sleep of death is not clear, but sorrow has the final word as the flute and harp dirge has the final, uncertain word. 

Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht

Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht,

Fröhliche Hochzeit macht,

Hab’ ich meinen traurigen Tag!

Geh’ ich in mein Kämmerlein,

Dunkles Kämmerlein!

Weine! wein’! Um meinen Schatz,

Um meinen lieben Schatz!

Blümlein blau! Blümlein blau!

Verdorre nicht! Verdorre nicht!

Vöglein süß! Vöglein süß!

Du singst auf grüner Heide!

„Ach, wie ist die Welt so schön!

Ziküth! Ziküth!“

Singet nicht! Blühet nicht!

Lenz ist ja vorbei!

Alles Singen ist nun aus!

Des Abends, wenn ich schlafen geh’,

Denk’ ich an mein Leid!

An mein Leide!

When my love has her wedding-day

When my love has her wedding-day,

Her joyous wedding-day,

I have my day of mourning!

I go into my little room,

My dark little room!

I weep, weep! For my love,

My dearest love!

Blue little flower! Blue little flower!

Do not wither, do not wither!

Sweet little bird! Sweet little bird!

Singing on the green heath!

‘Ah, how fair the world is!

Jug-jug! Jug-jug!’

Do not sing! Do not bloom!

For spring is over!

All singing now is done!

At night, when I go to rest,

I think of my sorrow!

My sorrow!

Ging heut’ Morgen über’s Feld

Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld,

Tau noch auf den Gräsern hing;

Sprach zu mir der lust’ge Fink:

„Ei du! Gelt?

Guten Morgen! Ei, Gelt? Du!

Wird’s nicht eine schöne Welt?

Zink! Zink! Schön und flink!

Wie mir doch die Welt gefällt!“

Auch die Glockenblum’ am Feld

Hat mir lustig, guter Ding’,

Mit den Glöckchen, klinge, kling,

Ihren Morgengruß geschellt:

„Wird’s nicht eine schöne Welt?

Kling! Kling! Schönes Ding!

Wie mir doch die Welt gefällt!

Und da fing im Sonnenschein

Gleich die Welt zu funkeln an;

Alles, alles, Ton und Farbe gewann!

Im Sonnenschein!

Blum’ und Vogel, groß und klein!

„Guten Tag! Guten Tag!

Ist’s nicht eine schöne Welt?

Ei, du! Gelt? Schöne Welt!“

Nun fängt auch mein Glück wohl an?

Nein! Nein! Das ich mein’,

Mir nimmer, nimmer blühen kann!

I walked across the fields this morning

I walked across the fields this morning,

Dew still hung on the grass,

The merry finch said to me:

‘You there, hey –

Good morning! Hey, you there!

Isn’t it a lovely world?

Tweet! Tweet! Bright and sweet!

O how I love the world!’

And the harebell at the field’s edge,

Merrily and in good spirits,

Ding-ding with its tiny bell

Rang out its morning greeting:

‘Isn’t it a lovely world?

Ding-ding! Beautiful thing!

O how I love the world!’

And then in the gleaming sun

The world at once began to sparkle;

All things gained in tone and colour!

In the sunshine!

Flower and bird, great and small.

‘Good day! Good day!

Isn’t it a lovely world?

Hey, you there?! A lovely world!’

Will my happiness now begin?

No! No! The happiness I mean

Can never bloom for me!


Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer

Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer,

Ein Messer in meiner Brust,

O weh! O weh!

Das schneid’t so tief

In jede Freud’ und jede Lust,

So tief! so tief!

Es schneid’t so weh und tief!

Ach, was ist das für ein böser Gast!

Nimmer hält er Ruh’,

Nimmer hält er Rast!

Nicht bei Tag,

Nicht bei Nacht, wenn ich schlief!

O weh! O weh! O weh!

Wenn ich in dem Himmel seh’,

Seh’ ich zwei blaue Augen steh’n!

O weh! O weh!

Wenn ich im gelben Felde geh’,

Seh’ ich von fern das blonde Haar

Im Winde wehn! O weh! O weh!

Wenn ich aus dem Traum auffahr’

Und höre klingen ihr silbern Lachen,

O weh! O weh!

Ich wollt’, ich läg’ auf der schwarzen Bahr’,

Könnt’ nimmer die Augen aufmachen!

I’ve a gleaming knife

I’ve a gleaming knife,

A knife in my breast,

Alas! Alas!

It cuts so deep

Into every joy and every bliss,

So deep, so deep!

It cuts so sharp and deep!

Ah, what a cruel guest it is!

Never at peace,

Never at rest!

Neither by day

Nor by night, when I’d sleep!

Alas! Alas! Alas!

When I look into the sky,

I see two blue eyes!

Alas! Alas!

When I walk in the yellow field,

I see from afar her golden hair

Blowing in the wind! Alas! Alas!

When I wake with a jolt from my dream

And hear her silvery laugh,

Alas! Alas!

I wish I were lying on the black bier,

And might never open my eyes again!


Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz 

Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz,

Die haben mich in die weite Welt geschickt.

Da mußt’ ich Abschied nehmen

Vom allerliebsten Platz!

O Augen blau, warum habt ihr mich angeblickt?

Nun hab’ ich ewig Leid und Grämen!

Ich bin ausgegangen in stiller Nacht,

Wohl über die dunkle Heide.

Hat mir niemand Ade gesagt, Ade!

Mein Gesell’ war Lieb’ und Leide!

Auf der Straße stand ein Lindenbaum,

Da hab’ ich zum ersten Mal im Schlaf geruht!

Unter dem Lindenbaum,

Der hat seine Blüten über mich geschneit,

Da wußt’ ich nicht, wie das Leben tut,

War alles, alles wieder gut!

Alles! Alles!

Lieb und Leid, und Welt und Traum!

The two blue eyes of my love 

The two blue eyes of my love

Have sent me into the wide world.

I had to bid farewell

To the place I loved most!

O blue eyes, why did you look on me?

Grief and sorrow shall now be mine forever!

I set out in the still night,

Across the dark heath.

No one bade me farewell, farewell!

My companions were love and sorrow!

A lime tree stood by the roadside,

Where I first found peace in sleep!

Under the lime tree

Which snowed its blossom on me,

I was not aware of how life hurts,

And all, all was well once more!

All! All!

Love and sorrow, and world and dream!


Translations by Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

Symphony No. 1 in D major 

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

“The highest ecstasy of the most joyous strength of life and the most burning desire for death: these two reign alternately in my heart; yes, oftentimes they alternate within the hour.”

So wrote the 19 year old Mahler to his school friend Josef Steiner, and this vertiginous dichotomy would remain a constant throughout his life and his compositions, no more so than in his first symphony, composed in a burst of activity from January to March of 1888, while Mahler was second conductor at the Leipzig City Theater, but then revised repeatedly until Mahler settled on the four-movement form that is still heard today in 1896. 

Early audiences were confused and even offended by this ambitious first essay in the symphonic form, for multiple reasons. Mahler was a study in stark contrasts not only to the regions of his heart. On the one hand, he had been steadily working his way from opera house to theater to symphony hall developing a reputation as an exacting maestro with a particular concern for fealty to the score. On the other, there was no composer of the Austro-German symphonic tradition whose music was so nakedly, intimately subjective and personal. Mahler also famously wrote that every symphony should be a world unto itself, but his works are as much an exploration of the inner landscape of the soul and psyche than of the universe without. Everything, therefore, was grist for Mahler’s mill; in the First Symphony alone, we hear references to and echoes of Beethoven’s 9th, Liszt and Wagner, two of Mahler’s own Wayfarer songs, bird calls, country and city dances, nursery rhymes, and klezmer band music that reflects his own Jewish heritage. 

Furthermore, Mahler himself seems to have had difficulty whether he was writing a symphony or a tone poem. At the disastrous first performance in Budapest in January 1893, Mahler presented his work as a “Symphony in Five Movements and Two Parts.” The work was described as programmatic, but aside from some very general remarks sent to a friendly music critic that were published the day before the premiere, the mystified audience was given no clue as to what the programmatic narrative was supposed to be. After that, Maher decided that the work was a depiction of the sorrowful narrator of his Wayfarer songs in a more heroic mode; he therefore adopted the title Titan from the Bildungsroman by the famed German Romantic novelist, Jean Paul and changed the subtitle to “Tone Poem in the form of a Symphony.” Exasperated by the continued poor reception of the work, Mahler removed the original second movement (subtitled Blumine), scrapped the Titan moniker, and the work simply became Symphony No. 1 in D major. Mahler kept returning to this work throughout his life, even tinkering with the orchestration before leading the New York Philharmonic in the symphony’s American premier in 1909. 

Wie ein Naturlaut—like a sound of nature—is one of the score notations at the opening of this work, and Mahler breathes life into the world of his symphony with a brilliant touch of orchestration, one that seems to evoke the entire cosmos itself. The strings intone a pianissimo sustained A, seven octaves in range, from high, whistling harmonics in the violins to the lowest ranges of the cellos and basses. It’s as if Mahler has taken the inchoate “nebula” of sound with which Beethoven opens his Ninth Symphony and stretches it out until it seems timeless. Out of this primordial aura emerges the figure of a descending fourth in the woodwinds. This will become the principal figure of the symphony. Joining it are quiet fanfares that bubble up in the clarinets and offstage trumpets, cuckoo calls, and a tender theme in the horns. Menace makes an appearance as well in the form of an ominous, creeping theme in the low strings heralded by a dark roll of the timpani. Mahler gradually brightens the tempo, and the cuckoo call seamlessly segues into the primary theme of the movement, which is the melody from the second of the Wayfarer songs, “Ging heut’ Morgen über’s Feld.” The mood overall is one of delicate joy and an almost childlike innocence, but the ominous theme and a two-note sighing figure gradually intrude, then dominate, then rise to a moment of genuine terror. Unlike the sorrowful end of the Wayfarer song, however, the darkness is banished with an explosion of D major triumph. The horns whoop for gladness, and the Wayfarer melody resumes in higher spirits than ever and accelerates to a giddy conclusion that is cheekily interrupted by the timpani pounding out the descending fourth that opened the work. 

The second movement is perhaps the most traditional in terms of the German symphonic form. It takes the form of the Minuet and Trio that were invariably a part of the works of Haydn and Mozart, but Mahler swaps out those old courtly dances for a lusty, foot-stomping country Laendler in glittering A major and contrasts it with a suave, elegant waltz in F major. Mahler cleverly uses a solo horn as our guide from the countryside to the ballroom and back again. 

Symphony movements in the form of funeral marches were certainly nothing new—the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica is certainly the most famous example of this—but nothing could prepare audiences for the macabre, discomfiting Grimm’s fairy tale world of the third movement. Mahler wrote that his original inspiration was a famous woodcut by Moritz von Schwind entitled “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession” in which the corpse of a hunter is borne by cortege of woodland creatures, some carrying banners, some playing instruments, some shedding (very possibly crocodile) tears. This bit of folk Schadenfreude doesn’t account for the weird amalgam that ensues, however. Over a grim, soft cadence in the timpani (which is again the descending fourth figure, over and over), a lone double bass scrapes out Frèere Jacques. Other low-register instruments join in the mock solemnity before the oboe gives the game away with a tart, thumb-nosing counterpoint. Two Jewish melodies then appear, one swaying and melancholy, the other more jaunty and complete with a boom-chick accompaniment from the bass drum, cymbals, and the clicks and clatter of the violins tapping the stick of the wood against their strings. The grotesquerie is relieved by an appearance of the “Lindenbaum” music from the last of the Wayfarer songs, a brief oasis of tender poignancy in muted strings, woodwinds, and harp. The funeral march returns more briskly paced and with an especially nasty edge. Paired trumpets sneer out a mock dirge in schmaltzy harmony and the klezmer band wails. The march subsides into gloom and ends with hollow, ghostly thuds.

A scream of pain (again an echo of Beethoven’s 9th, this time the last movement) opens the massive finale—a musical element that Mahler would bring back in his second Symphony, the Resurrection Symphony, as well. Out of the cacophony rises a stern march, characterized by two four note figures, one rapidly descending, one more slowly rising. Both are derived from Liszt’s Dante Symphony, and Mahler early on did describe this movement as “from Inferno to Paradise.” As the march lurches and gasps into exhausted silence, a lyrical lament takes its place. The march asserts itself again, accompanied by the ominous theme from the first movement. Fanfares in C major and D major interrupt, but the victory is hollow. More reminiscences of the first movement and a passionate restatement of the lament are brusquely interrupted by a harsh three note motif in the violas. The march slowly returns as a fugato, accompanied by the sighing figure from the first movement. The climax of terror from the first movement is dispelled for good time; Mahler expands the D major fanfare music into a chorale (and note that it’s based on the same descending fourths that opened the entire symphony) that is proclaimed by the horns, whom Mahler has asked to stand and overpower the entire orchestra. The final measures once again echo Beethoven’s 9th, the only music that rivals these final moments for pure, transcendent ecstasy. 

FVSO March 2, 2024 FULL Program Notes

FVSO March 2, 2024 FULL Program Notes

Notes written by Erik Leveille and Kevin Sütterlin

First Light
Mark Buller (b. 1986)

Mark Buller, a composer based in Houston, writes music which blends rich lyricism with bold gestures and striking rhythms. He has written a wide variety of pieces, from tiny miniatures for solo instruments to operas and works for large orchestra. He has been privileged to write for a number of world-class ensembles and organizations, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Chamber Choir, ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra), and Apollo Chamber Players. His flexibility as a composer has led to some unique projects commissions: four operas for Houston Grand Opera -- including a pastiche opera -- with libretti by Charles Anthony Silvestri and Euan Tait; a series of poignant art songs and a major choral work also for HGO, setting words by veterans and by Leah Lax; and several dozen very short pieces for various forces, entitled Quarantine Miniatures, which celebrate the community of musicians who displayed resilience in the face of COVID-19.

In recent years, Mark's comic song cycles have gained some notice, beginning with Tombstone Songs, which sets hilarious epitaphs from the U.S. and U.K.. One-Star Songbook explores terribly sophomoric one-star Amazon reviews of literary masterworks, maintaining the original poor grammar and spelling. Schlechtesübersetzunglieder sets to music the texts of famous Schubert lieder after having been mangled by Google Translate. And an upcoming cycle, The Beginner's Guide to Conspiracy Theories, is a series of "mad scenes" which once again turns to found texts, setting screeds about the Illuminati, JFK, Goop and other peddlers of pseudoscience, and QAnon.

Recent performances include a second work for the Atlanta Symphony and Robert Spano, The Parallactic Transits; a large-scale Mass in Exile with librettist Leah Lax, for the GRAMMY-winning Houston Chamber Choir; a new chamber version of Tombstone Songs at the Moscow Conservatory; and Drives, and a chamber opera for HGO with librettist Euan Tait.

Originally from Maryland, Mark studied as a pianist before earning his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Houston, where he studied with Marcus Maroney and Rob Smith. He currently teaches at Lone Star College and is Director of Education and Chair of Composition Studies at AFA.

First Light is a fanfare for orchestra, commissioned by Kevin Sütterlin and April Ann Brock as a gift to the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra. The title is intended to evoke the moments just before and after the appearance of light in the east, when after a long dark the patient observer begins to notice the first subtle shades of grey. The idea came from a March 2020 trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in western Texas, when my father, brother and I undertook to climb the state’s highest peak. After two hours of driving in the pitch-black between El Paso and the park, we arrived and began to prepare for the hike, unable to see even the merest outline of the mountain. Amid howling, freezing winds, the scene gradually became grey, and then, from the very peak and slowly descending, the sunrise turned the mountain a vibrant, almost violent orange. To me, this sudden onset of light mirrors the adrenaline thrill of a quiet sunrise, offering the promise of sunrise and a new day. Musically, then, this provides a dramatic framework for the piece: beginning in the darkness, surrounded by wind, then seeing a gradually-lightening landscape surrounding us.

First Light is the second in a planned trilogy of short works for orchestra set over the course of a night and day. The first, The Parallactic Transits, was written to celebrate Robert Spano’s tenure at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and evokes the movement of celestial bodies across the night sky.

Latin Kauyumari    
Gabriela Ortiz (b. 1964)

Latin Grammy-nominated Gabriela Ortiz is one of the foremost composers in Mexico today and one of the most vibrant musicians emerging on the international scene. Her musical language achieves an extraordinary and expressive synthesis of tradition and the avant-garde by combining high art, folk music, and jazz in novel, frequently refined and always personal ways. Her compositions are credited for being both entertaining and immediate as well as profound and sophisticated; she achieves a balance between highly organized structure and improvisatory spontaneity.

Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, called her recent work Téenek “one of the most brilliant I have ever directed. Its color, its texture, the harmony, and the rhythm that it contains are all something unique. Gabriela possesses a particular capacity to showcase our Latin identity.”

Ortiz has written music for dance, theater, and cinema, and has actively collaborated with poets, playwrights, and historians. Indeed, her creative process focuses on the connections between gender issues, social justice, environmental concerns, and the burden of racism, as well as the phenomenon of multiculturality caused by globalization, technological development, and mass migrations. She has composed three operas, in all of which interdisciplinary collaboration has been a vital experience. Notably, these operas are framed by political contexts of great complexity, such as the drug war in Only the Truth, illegal migration between Mexico and the United States in Ana and her Shadow, and the violation of university autonomy during the student movement of 1968 in Firefly.

Based in Mexico, Ortiz’s music has been commissioned and performed all over the world by prestigious ensembles, soloists, and orchestras, such as: the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel and Esa Pekka Salonen, Zoltan Kocsis, Carlos Miguel Prieto, the Kroumata and Amadinda Percussion Ensembles, the Kronos Quartet, Dawn Upshaw, Sarah Leonard, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Pierre Amoyal, Southwest Chamber Music, the Tambuco Percussion Quartet, the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Malmo Symphony Orchestra, the Orquestra Simón Bolivar, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Recent premieres include Yanga and Téenek, both pieces commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel, Luciérnaga (Firefly, her third opera) commissioned and produced by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Únicamente la Verdad (Only the Truth, her first opera) with Long Beach Opera and Opera de Bellas Artes in Mexico. Ortiz currently teaches composition at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City and as a Visiting Professor at Indiana University. Her music is currently published by Schott, Ediciones Mexicanas de Música, Saxiana Presto, and Tre Fontane.

Ortiz has been honored with the National Prize for Arts and Literature, the most prestigious award for writers and artists granted by the government of Mexico and has been inducted into the Mexican Academy of the Arts. Other honors include the Bellagio Center Residency Program, Civitella Ranieri Artistic Residency; a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; a Fulbright Fellowship; first prize in the Silvestre Revueltas National Chamber Music Competition; first prize in the Alicia Urreta Composition Competition; a Banff Center for the Arts Residency; the Inroads Commission (a program of Arts International with funds from the Ford Foundation); a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Mozart Medal Award.

Born in Mexico City, her parents were musicians in the renowned folk music ensemble Los Folkloristas, founded in 1966 to preserve and record the traditional music of Mexico and Latin America. She trained with the eminent composer Mario Lavista at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música and Federico Ibarra at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. In 1990 she was awarded the British Council Fellowship to study in London with Robert Saxton at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1992 she received a scholarship from the UNAM to complete her Ph.D. studies in electroacoustic music composition with Simon Emmerson at The City University in London.

Among the Huichol people of Mexico, Kauyumari means “blue deer.” The blue deer represents a spiritual guide, one that is transformed through an extended pilgrimage into a hallucinogenic cactus called peyote. It allows the Huichol to communicate with their ancestors, do their bidding, and take on their role as guardians of the planet. Each year, these Native Mexicans embark on a symbolic journey to “hunt” the blue deer, making offerings in gratitude for having been granted access to the invisible world, through which they also are able to heal the wounds of the soul.

Ortiz tells us, “When I received the commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to compose a piece that would reflect on our return to the stage following the pandemic, I immediately thought of the blue deer and its power to enter the world of the intangible as akin to a celebration of the reopening of live music. Specifically, I thought of a Huichol melody sung by the De La Cruz family — dedicated to recording ancestral folklore — that I used for the final movement of my piece, Altar de Muertos (Altar of the Dead), commissioned by the Kronos String Quartet in 1997.

“I used this material within the orchestral context and elaborated on the construction and progressive development of the melody and its accompaniment in such a way that it would symbolize the blue deer. This in turn was transformed into an orchestral texture which gradually evolves into a complex rhythm pattern, to such a degree that the melody itself becomes unrecognizable (the imaginary effect of peyote and our awareness of the invisible realm), giving rise to a choral wind section while maintaining an incisive rhythmic accompaniment as a form of reassurance that the world will naturally follow its course.

“While composing this piece, I noted once again how music has the power to grant us access to the intangible, healing our wounds and binding us to what can only be expressed through sound.

“Although life is filled with interruptions, Kauyumari is a comprehension and celebration of the fact that each of these rifts is also a new beginning.”

This Midnight Hour
Anna Clyne (b. 1980)

Described as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods” in a New York Times profile and as “fearless” by NPR, GRAMMY-nominated Anna Clyne is one of the most in-demand composers today, working with orchestras, choreographers, filmmakers, and visual artists around the world. Clyne was named the 8th most performed contemporary composer in the world and the most performed living female British composer in 2022. Clyne has been commissioned and presented by the world’s most dynamic and revered arts institutions, including the Barbican, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic, MoMA, Philharmonie de Paris, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, San Francisco Ballet, and the Sydney Opera House. Her music has opened such events as the Edinburgh International Festival, The Last Night of the Proms, and the New York Philharmonic’s 2021–2022 season. Clyne often collaborates on creative projects across the music industry, including Between the Rooms, a film with choreographer Kim Brandstrup and LA Opera, as well as the Nico Project at the Manchester International Festival, a stage work about pop icon Nico’s life that featured Clyne’s reimagining of The Marble Index for orchestra and voices. Clyne has also reimagined tracks from Thievery Corporation’s “The Cosmic Game” for the electronica duo with orchestra, and her music has been programmed by such artists as Björk.

Several projects have explored Clyne’s fascination with visual arts, including Color Field, inspired by the artwork of Mark Rothko and Abstractions, inspired by five contemporary artworks. In January 2023, Clyne presented a three-part series for BBC Radio 3 called “The Art of Music with Anna Clyne.” Recent projects in collaboration with the dance world have included the world premiere of choreographer Pam Tanowitz’s dance set to “Breathing Statues” for the Royal Ballet in London and performances of DANCE by the San Francisco Ballet with choreography by Nicolas Blanc.

Other recent collaborators include such notable musicians as Jess Gillam, Martin Fröst, Pekka Kuusisto, and Yo-Yo Ma. In 2022–2023. Clyne serves as Composer-in-Residence with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra starting in the 2023–2024 season. Past residencies include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Clyne’s music is represented on several labels and her works “Prince of Clouds” and “Night Ferry” were nominated for 2015 GRAMMY Awards. Her cello concerto “DANCE,” recorded by soloist Inbal Segev, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Marin Alsop, has garnered more than eight million plays on Spotify. Clyne’s music is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.

Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawke, This Midnight Hour is both something of a noirish, gritty cityscape and a psychological journey that explores realms both disturbing and hauntingly, nostalgic. According to the composer, her inspiration was a pair of poems as well as the darkly poetic playing of the lower strings of the ensemble that premiered the work in 2015, the Orchestre national d’Ile de France: the terse La Musica by Juan Ramon Jimenez- “Music –/a naked woman/running mad through the pure night” as well as a stanza from Harmonie du Soir (Harmony of the Evening)  by that bard of the netherworld of the heart and psyche, Charles Baudelaire

                                    “The season is at hand when swaying on its stem
                                    Every flower exhales perfume like a censer;
                                    Sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air;
                                    Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!”

The work erupts in the low strings and woodwinds with propulsive, motoric rhythms that evoke a blind hurtling through dark city streets, where menace lurks from every turn and imposing structures loom overhead. Cascades of downward-spiraling arpeggios sweep across the orchestra with stereophonic effect. Baudelaire’s musical fever dream is evoked with a Parisian waltz wheezed out on a raspy, asthmatic accordion (note the grinding dissonance of the viola section playing a quarter-tone apart from each other). Finally, a chorale, by turns mournful and consoling, arises in the woodwinds while a lone, distant trumpet adds bluesy inflections. The delirium has finally broken, although the final moments indicate that the darkness has perhaps not been entirely dispelled.

Piano Concerto #3 in D minor
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

In October of 1906, Sergei Rachmaninoff and his wife moved from Moscow to Dresden, where he spent much of his time composing rather than on the concert stage as a piano soloist. That didn’t stop the entreaties that came from around the world, and in 1909, Rachmaninov agreed to his first tour of America. During the summer months, he began work on his third piano concerto—a work that makes such demands on the technique and stamina of the soloist that Rachmaninoff brought a silent practice keyboard with him on his trans-Atlantic voyage so that he would arrive thoroughly prepared. After a solo recital performance in Philadelphia, Rachmaninoff traveled to New York City and premiered his new concerto with the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch in late November, and then—to his great satisfaction—gave another performance in January 1910 with the New York Philharmonic, led by none other than Gustav Mahler. The Third piano concerto, perhaps owing to the extreme challenges it presents, did not immediately enter the repertoire, but was popularized by Vladimir Horowitz in the 1930s, and then Van Cliburn’s electrifying and prize-winning performance of the Third at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 brought the work to even greater prominence.

The work’s opening gives no hint of the virtuosic tour-de-force to come; after a mere two measures of the most unassuming orchestral accompaniment imaginable, the piano enters softly, unwinding a long, tranquil melody that evokes the chants of the Russian Orthodox church. A full statement of this theme is then taken up by the orchestra. The piano returns, immediately developing the theme and breaking off into cadenzas. The second theme is heralded by a soft martial figure and blossoms into life in the hands of the soloist. The principal theme returns with increasing thematic variation and development; as the movement builds in roiling intensity, the theme itself is compressed into a two-note motif. The solo piano then unleashes a titanic solo cadenza, in whose wake the second theme is tenderly evoked in a dreamy reminiscence. A final cadenza ushers in a brief, subdued coda in which the principal theme tiptoes away into silence.

The Intermezzo opens, after the briefest of introductions, with a poignant solo oboe. The strings take up this theme, full of the composer’s melancholy lyricism and expand upon it.  The piano bursts in with a stormy interruption, then takes up the principal melody. In an homage to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, a contrasting waltz-like theme follows, with the piano adding brilliant filigree with dizzyingly fleet triplet passagework. The recapitulation of the principal theme is even more darkly hued than its initial presentation, an arresting, brief cadenza and clamorous response from the orchestra ushers in the dazzling Finale. Over a dactylic (long, short-short) pulse, the piano launches into a fanfare-like theme, which the careful listener will note, is directly derived from the accompanimental figure that opens the entire concerto. This cyclic treatment of previous thematic material continues throughout the Finale; after an expectedly contrasting second theme, Rachmaninoff goes off on a long, tangential episode in the distant key of E-flat major. A set of variations on what appears to be a new theme is, in fact, a co-mingling of the second theme of the first movement and the principal theme of the Finale. A mighty coda caps the work, luxuriating in D major triumph before racing to a thrilling conclusion.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

FVSO February 3, 2024 FULL Program Notes

 FVSO February 3, 2024 FULL Program Notes

Notes written by Erik Leveille and Kevin Sütterlin

Maria Grenfell (b. 1969)

Maria Grenfell was born in Malaysia, and completed composition studies in Christchurch, New Zealand. She obtained a master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and a doctorate from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she was also a lecturer. Her teachers have included Stephen Hartke, Erica Muhl, James Hopkins, Morten Lauridsen, Joseph Schwantner, and Samuel Adler. Maria Grenfell’s work takes much of its influence from poetic, literary, and visual sources, and from non-Western music and literature. 

Her orchestral music has been commissioned, performed, or recorded by all the major symphony orchestras in Australia and New Zealand. Her chamber music has been performed by musicians such as members of eighth blackbird, the Australia Ensemble, the Vienna Piano Trio, New Zealand Trio, ACO Collective, and numerous other ensembles. Her work is broadcast regularly in Australia and New Zealand, is released on ABC Classics, Kiwi-Pacific, and Trust CDs, and is available from the Australian Music Centre, SouNZ New Zealand Music Centre, and Reed Music. In 2013 Maria won Instrumental Work of the Year for Tasmania at the Australian Art Music Awards for her septet Ten Suns Ablaze, commissioned by the Australia Ensemble, and in 2017 her double concerto Spirals won the Tasmanian award for Orchestral Work of the Year. Her music was commissioned for the documentary film Quoll Farm, which aired in 2021.

Maria is an Associate Professor at the University of Tasmania Conservatorium of Music and co-ordinates the composition stream. She was Head of the Conservatorium from 2018-2019. She is regularly involved in mentoring young composers through various composer development programs throughout Australia. She served on the Board of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra from 2009-2018. She has given guest lectures at the University of Houston (USA), Auckland University (New Zealand), Yong Siew Toh Conservatory (Singapore), and the University of Melbourne (Australia). In 2013 Maria was Visiting Professor of Composition at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. In 2019 Maria was Kerr Composer in Residence at the Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. She lives in Hobart with her husband, guitarist David Malone, and they have two children. (Sourced from

Roar! was commissioned by the West Australian Orchestra in 2004 for use in their educational concerts. This five-minute playful, cheeky romp is reminiscent of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The sections of the orchestra are presented in the guise of a visit to the circus. A brief brass fanfare serves as welcome and introduction (Ladies and Gentleman!); first up are the monkeys, presented in a playful, syncopated and suitably slightly goofy dance in the woodwinds; trapeze artists and swans are delicately evoked with a meandering waltz in the strings; lions and tigers growl and bristle with a battery of percussion. An exuberant, jazzy solo from the xylophone then leads the entire menagerie in a sassy dance that ends with another flourish in the brass. 

Bonecos de Olinda
Clarice Assad (b. 1978)

A powerful communicator renowned for her musical scope and versatility, Brazilian-American Clarice Assad is a significant artistic voice in the classical, world music, pop, and jazz genres and is acclaimed for her evocative colors, rich textures, and diverse stylistic range. A prolific Grammy Award–nominated composer with more than 70 works to her credit, she has been commissioned by internationally renowned organizations, festivals, and artists and is published in France (Editions Lemoine), Germany (Trekel), Brazil (Criadores do Brasil), and the U.S. (Virtual Artists Collective Publishing). An in-demand performer, she is a celebrated pianist and inventive vocalist who inspires and encourages audiences’ imaginations to break free of often self-imposed constraints. Assad has released seven solo albums and appeared on or had her works performed on another 34. Her music is represented on Cedille Records, SONY Masterworks, Nonesuch, Adventure Music, Edge, Telarc, NSS Music, GHA, and CHANDOS. Her innovative, accessible, and award-winning VOXploration series on music education, creation, songwriting, and improvisation has been presented throughout the world. Sought-after by artists and organizations worldwide, the multi-talented musician continues to attract new audiences both onstage and off. (Sourced from

Bonecos de Olinda was commissioned by the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra for their concert tour of Brazil in 2019. As Assad describes on her website, Bonecos de Olinda are giant, hollow figurines made of sundry materials that are paraded through the streets during the Carnival of Olinda, which takes place in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco. These figures have their roots in European Catholicism, where similar figures of saints featured prominently in religious festivals and crossed the Atlantic during the colonial period. Nowadays, the figurines often depict historical and popular figures in Brazilian history, they are accompanied by street musicians who fill the air with frevo and maracatu dance rhythms. 

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
Chen Gang (b. 1935)
He Zhanhao (b. 1933)

Western colonialism in China meant the influx of Western musical traditions as well, and in 1927, Leipzig Conservatory graduate Cai Yuanpei established the National Conservatory of Music, which would be renamed the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1956. Two students there, Chen Gang and He Zhanhao, couldn’t help but notice that the Bach and Beethoven they learned were met with puzzlement and indifference by most Chinese audiences, but they responded eagerly to Western instruments playing traditional folk melodies and the Shaoxing opera style known as yueju. 

He Zhanhao, who had an extensive background in both of those traditional art forms had become a violinist at the Conservatory had already begun transcribing, arranging, and performing Chinese melodies on Western string instruments, and Chen Gang, who was from a family of musicians and whose ambitions to join the military were thwarted by bad eyesight, became a composer. Determined to blend Chinese and Western music traditions together in a way that would immediately appeal to the public, they began collaborating in 1958 on a violin concerto that would utilize Western instruments and orchestral writing to frame the melodies, pentatonic harmonies, rhythms, and vocalizations of yueju. 

They took as their inspiration an old Romeo and Juliet-like folk tale based on the lovers Zhu Yintai and Liang Shanbo. Determined to make a different life for herself, the teenaged Zhu Yintai leaves her family and village disguised as a boy to enroll in school. Along the way, she meets fellow student-to-be Liang Shanbo and they quickly become soulmates, although Liang remains unaware of his friend’s identity and feelings. They spend three happy years together in school, and upon parting, Yintai invites Shanbo back to her village to court her “sister.” Zhu Yintai returns home to find that her father has betrothed her to the son of a wealthy merchant. When Shanbo belatedly arrives, he realizes his friend’s true identity and his feelings turn instantly from fraternity to deep love. Both lovers vehemently resist and protest the arranged marriage, but Yintai’s father will not be moved. The wedding date is set, and Liang Shanbo falls into such a state of grief and despair that he dies. As Zhu Yintai’s wedding procession approaches her beloved’s grave, a furious storm and whirlwind erupts. As the Earth cracks open Liang Shanbo’s tomb, Yintai throws herself into its depths. As the tempest subsides, the lovers, now transformed into butterflies, rise out of the grave and fly off together. 

The concerto was premiered in May of 1959 by the conservatory orchestra and 18-year-old violinist Yu Lina. It was well-received, but as the Cultural Revolution engulfed Chinese society, the work was condemned as “feudalist” and not heard again until the late 1970s when music conservatories were reopened. The concerto quickly regained popularity and is now regarded as one of the finest examples of Chinese/Western musical hybrids. 

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto is performed as an uninterrupted single movement, but it is divided into seven sections, each depicting a part of the folk tale. Delicate tones in the harp introduce a trill in the flute, which unfolds into a folklike melody which will later become the “butterfly” theme. The oboe and the strings then intone the primary theme of the concerto before it is taken up and rhapsodically expanded upon by the violin soloist into a cadenza (a section in which only the soloist plays in a very virtuosic fashion) which explores the instrument’s uppermost register, as it is echoed by the piano. A bright Allegro in E major joyfully ushers in Zhu Yintai and Liang Shanbo’s adventures and exploits together as fellow students. The violin leads the way with rapid passagework delineating pentatonic scales contrasting with percussive double stops and ricochet bow strokes. This high-spirited merriment ends as their schooling ends and the two sadly part. 

In the following Adagio assai doloroso, the violin laments together first with the orchestra, and as a duo with the cello, depicting the parting words of Yintai and Shanbo. As the tale takes its fateful turn, a descending four-note theme and the ominous sound of the gong emerges from the depths of the orchestra, building in intensity, speed, and volume to a bombastic, fanfare-like interlude. The violin responds defiantly with an impassioned, vehement cadenza as Yintai sees her dreams and future dashed, while angry, brusque, interrupting chords in the orchestra voice her father’s steadfast refusal to yield. Silence falls as Liang Shanbo belatedly appears and realizes Zhu Yintai’s identity. The violin tremulously takes up the love theme again, and the cello responds this time with fervent emotion. The following Presto risoluto is extraordinary and the most evocative of the Shaoxing operatic style. Chinese percussion instruments set the relentless pace and rhythm as the tale builds to its tragic climax, while the violin again depicts the lovers’ turmoil and passion with a virtuosic tour-de-force. The opening of Liang Shanbo’s grave and Zhu Yintai’s final plummet into its depths is heralded by a titanic outburst in the timpani. As the transfigured lovers flutter out of the tomb, the flute once again takes up the butterfly theme; violin and orchestra entwine in a final exultant presentation of the love theme. A brief poignant coda from the violin and airy harmonics in the orchestral strings end the tale on a note of peaceful resolution. 

Chinese Sights and Sounds [炎黄风情] (Selections)
Bao Yuankai [鲍元恺] (b. 1944)

“It was in 1990 when I began to restudy various Chinese folk songs, dance music, ballad music, traditional operas, and instrumental music. My plan was to compose orchestral works based on the best tunes selected from our musical tradition in order to make the colorful and charming Chinese traditional folk music to be enjoyable for all people in the present world. I supposed that the new works should be both Western in form and Eastern in essence—to combine Chinese folk or traditional music with Western modern musical forms is a practical way to break up the isolation of Chinese music and bring it to the world’s stage.”—Bao Yuankai, in an interview from Journal of Music in China, Fall 2002 edition. 

Bao Yuankai was born in Beijing in 1944 and was educated from his youth in flute and composition. He later graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in Tianjin. His earliest musical education had exposed him to the Western classical canon (he first heard Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony as a fifth grader) as well as the traditional music of his own culture. His professors at the Central Conservatory urged him to not merely mimic Western composers, but to forge his own path. That path took a drastic turn during the Cultural Revolution when Bao was imprisoned for five years for the crime of Western influence in his music. His sole consolation during that time was having a sympathetic prison guard who taught him to play the guitar. This experience opened the world of Spanish folk music to Bao and he became fascinated with the music of composer Isaac Albeniz. It was after his release from incarceration and resuming his musical education at the Tianjin Conservatory that Bao found his true inspiration – the Hungarian composer, musicologist, and folk music archivist Bela Bartok. Bartok, along with his friend and fellow composer Zoltan Kodaly, traveled throughout the remote villages of Eastern Europe and as far as Turkey and North Africa collecting, transcribing, and recording traditional folk melodies. Having immersed himself in those rustic tunes, Bartok forged his own harmonic and rhythmic language that was both distinct from traditional Western harmony and from the “twelve tone” harmonic system which dominated classical music from Germany and Vienna in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Beginning in 1980, Bao embarked on his own journey to collect and transcribe melodies from the deep reservoir of Chinese folk music. In 1991, he composed Chinese Sights and Sounds, a suite of 24 folk tunes arranged for an orchestra comprised solely of Western instruments. Through the innovative use of vibrato, glissandos (slides from one note to another), pizzicato (both plucking and strumming the strings), and even shouts from the musicians, Bao’s music emulates both the vocal style of Chinese folk music and opera as well as traditional Chinese instruments. 

Jasmine is lushly scored for strings and presents the melody with a quartet of strings rather than the entire ensemble. The folk song, Jasmine, has been popular in China since ancient times. From the many variants of Jasmine, Bao chose the one from the Nanpi region in Heibei province, near his parent’s hometown. The lyrics describe a girl who compares herself to a jasmine flower, giving it the fantasy of romance and displaying her dreams and feelings about love. 

With lively percussion, wild glissandos in the strings, strummed pizzicatos, and literal yelps from the orchestra, the galloping rhythms of Song of the Wrangler vividly bring this equestrian character to life. This is a popular Yunnan folk song, portraying the nomadic people's lifestyle. Its text translates to: 

The first month of the year is the right time to ride a horse. We ride the horses and pasture them in the grasslands. The bigger horses run in the front, with the ponies following. In February there is a lot of rich grassland for pasturing. Ponies run to the deep mountains to eat. If horses eat no weeds, they will not grow fat. If grass has no dew to absorb, it will not grow.

When people cut firewood they do not cut vines. A good woman will not fall in love with a man who wastes time. An aspiring man is like an evergreen that persists throughout the year, while a useless man whiles away his precious time. When people hoe the soil they do not hoe the rocky places. A good man will not fall in love with a lazy woman. A smart girl can do everything while a lazy girl does nothing.

A gentle flourish of flute, harp, and percussion introduces the lovely melody of Beautiful Scenery of Wuxi, which alternates between the strings and woodwinds, with a particularly pensive solo turn for the English horn. The folk song describes the beauties of Wuxi City, and is characteristic of popular music, since ancient times, of Jiangsu Provinces. The scenery is a source of inspiration for poets, painters and musicians. It is set in the old teahouse in Wuxi city. While enjoying lakeside scenery, guests are listening to the singer playing Erhu and singing local music. The singing helps travelers enjoy the quiet southern China life. The song’s text translates to:

I got a feeling, want to sing and play for you all, you listen carefully, let me sing a song named The Scenery of Wuxi, listen carefully gentlemen.

Small town Wuxi city, from ancient to modern, a total of four gates, once in January of the Republic of China, a new gate called Guangfu was built.

People come and go in Wuxi, the trains are so convenient. a warehouse is under the Tongyuan bridge, whose modification is quite refreshing, the lively market like Shenjiang.

Go out for a walk in Spring, the top choice must be Mei garden, it is comfortable to go boating; pulling the boat by the Tai lake, It is amazing to see a whole garden with plum blossom.

The first good scenery, should be considered Guitou Zhu, best place to spend a summer, zigzag mountain road is elegant, with water by the mountain.

The second finest spring under Heaven, at the foot of mountain Hui, the spring water is clear and can be used for tea, Xi mountain is next to Hui mountain, at the foot of two mountains there is a clay Buddha store.

Yellow Poplar Shouldering Pole prominently features a solo bassoon and ends with a flourish of brass. This is a song from southeastern Sichuan, usually used in the Lantern Festival as background music for dance performances or concerts in a play. The lyrics are humorous, showing the young man bearing the pole, and happily observing the girls’ hair styles and pretty clothes:

Yellow polar shouldering pole is flexible, I carry a pack of rice with the pole and go to Youzhou city.

It is said ladies in Youzhou are beautiful, all of them are good at braiding.

The first girl twists the braid into a dragon-coiled shape, the second girl fastens her hair with a flower-shape hairpin.

Only the third girl does a great work, with a braid called lion rolling silk ball.

The Little Cowherd (or: The Cowherd Boy) is originally from a folk-dance opera in northern China. The main characters in the lyrics are a shepherd boy and a country girl. The girl goes up to the boy, asking for directions. The boy raises a few questions for the girl with which the lyrics begin. They begin to sing and dance. The tune is bright and smooth, the dance is vivid, lively, and witty. 

Who built the Zhaozhou Bridge? Who decorated the marble balustrades on the bridge? Who rode a donkey over the bridge? Who rolled a cart up a groove?

Ban Lu built Zhaozhou Bridge. A wise man decorated the marble balustrades. Guolao Zhang rode the donkey over the bridge. An old man Chai rolled a cart up a groove.

Blossoming for Rainwater is a popular love song. Its translation goes as follows:

A man is like a dragon flying in the sky, while a woman is like a blossom on the ground. If the dragon does not turn over there will be no rainwater, if it does not rain, the blossoms will not grow red.

Bartok himself would certainly nod approvingly at the rustic, rambunctious Song of Riddles scored for strings alone, with a wonderfully swaggering dance tune contrasted with a soulful contrasting lyrical melody. This humorous song uses a musical “tongue twister” in order to represent antiphonal singing between sisters. The conversation and melody are lively, and the tempo is fast-paced. The folk song has only eight measures; in the last two measures there is a slight easing, which reflects children's joyful playtime. The text translates to:

Little girl, little girl, come, you guess what we say, what is long, which is long enough to reach heaven? What is long, which grows in the sea? What is long, which is sold on the Long Street? What is long, which is right in front of the young lady?

Little girl, little girl, come, you say what we guess, the Galaxy is long, which is long enough to reach heaven, the lotus is long which grows in the sea, the noodle is long, which is sold on the Long Street, a silk thread is long, which is right in front of the young lady.

Little girl, little girl, come, you guess what we say, what is round, which is round enough to reach heaven? What is round, which grows in the sea? What is round which is sold on the Round Street? What is round which is right in front of the young lady?

Little girl, little girl, come, you say what we guess, the moon is round to reach heaven. The lotus leaf is round, which grows in the sea, the rice cake is round which is sold on the Round Street, and the mirror is round, which is right in front of the young lady.

Pulling out a Reed Catkin is a song from northern Jiangsu province. The music depicts a rustic countryside atmosphere. 

Call me then I came, pull out a reed catkin, fragrance rose and magnolia blossom, butterflies attracted to flowers and sisters look, mandarin ducks tumbling and lovers guess, my sweet lover, hibiscus and peony flowers blossom in the moonlight.

Cut golden wheat and plant, pull out a reed catkin, wash clothes and harvest mulberry, fear to do laundry after dusk, harvest mulberry and be afraid of dew wet moss. my sweet lover, the next month hibiscus and peony flowers blossom in the moonlight.

Lively fish hop in the net and needs to carry, pull out a reed catkin, diligent sister and brother compete, sister wins and brother sing mountain song, brother wins and sister gives a kiss, my sweet lover, the next month hibiscus and peony flowers blossom in the moonlight.

The Melody of Bamboo (or: Bamboo Flute Tune) is a popular song in the southern Jiangsu province. The song is about love and is used in the music of the Peking opera. The melody is soft and gentle, and is characteristic of southern folk music.

A straight Bamboo-flute, sent to brother as a Xiao [Chinese Instrument], Xiao to mouth, mouth to Xiao, play Xiao with a flower tune. Ask my lover if this Xiao is good or not?

Happy Sunrise resounds with powerful brass. This is a song sung by children in Sichuan, when they are hiking and gathering firewood. The song shows them facing towards the sun with one hand holding the ax, bearing their poles on their shoulders and singing. It expresses the children's optimistic nature and their love for mountain life.

The sun comes out and we are happy, carrying the pole and go to the mountains.

Handing with an axe , do not afraid of tigers and leopards.

Do not care about the cliffs, busy with cutting wood and singing.

Climbing one mountain and another, this happens again and again.

As long as we are diligent, no need to worry about wearing and eating.

The dark-toned, dramatic Lanhuahua unfolds a melancholy melody that alternately soars in the upper strings and positively thunders in the timpani and tam-tam. This is a narrative song from northern Shaanxi. Lyrics are a powerful indictment against the feudal practice of arranged marriages. The young woman Lan Huahua is praised for rebelling against this practice, and for instead pursuing a happy marriage. Sadly, her rebellion ends in her death.

Blue silk thread and Green silk thread, Mrs. Lan gave birth to a child named Lan Huahua, who is adorable.

In May only sorghum grows fast and tall in the field, Mrs. Lan’s daughter is the most beautiful girl among the villages, she is the only good one.

In January the matchmaker comes and in February the engagement is confirmed. In March Mr. Zhou pays the money and in April Huahua is going to marry to Mr. Zhou.

Three teams play the winds and two teams play the percussion, I am leaving my lover and am carried to Mr. Zhou’s house.

I look around after arrival, and I see Mr. Zhou who is so skinny and old enough to die.

If you die early then die, after you die I can leave right away.

I get the lamb and carry the cake, I run to my lover’s home desperately.

I see my lover and have lots to say to him, our love defies the limits of heaven and death.

Dialogue on Flowers concludes this selection from the suite with two contrasting melodies, one briskly rhythmic with skittering strings, the other led by a lyrical solo flute. The piece freely translates to “Can You Guess What Flower It Is?” The song was originally called Flowers (Fan Dui Hua), and was popular during World War II in China. It is a new folk song, using one of Heibei’s traditional pieces, Flowers, coupled with new words. The entire song is filled with various sound effects and rhythm, depicting the various flowers. The song embodies a bright and lively image through the dotted rhythms and syncopations, and the singer’s imitation of a drum beat sound. A slow song, Kite Flying, is inserted during the middle section, evoking a sunny day in March and girls having fun with kites. The slow song Kite Flying reveals the girls’ youthfulness, and features a beautiful and soft tune.

What flower will bloom in January? Winter jasmine will bloom in January, who will wear the winter jasmine? Heroes in the army will wear it; heroes in the army will wear it.

What flower will bloom in February? Begonia will bloom in February. Who will wear the Begonia? Explosion heroes will wear it, explosion heroes will wear it.

What flower will bloom in April? Peony will bloom in April. Who will wear peony? The supporter of the military will wear, the supporter will wear it

Early March is the Qingming Festival, sisters go for a walk, and bring kites with them.

The older sister wears in green, the younger sister wears in garnet red, with a mid-waist skirt.

Hold the kite spindle and cast the line, kites fly in the wind.

The older sister flies a butterfly kite, which has two lively eyes, and whose body carries a bow.

The younger sister flies a centipede kite, which shakes its head and lashes its tail in the air, and is livelier than a dragon in the water.

The older sister collects kite lines, the little sister carries her centipede kite, they go home happily.