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 https://www.mariagrenfell.com.au/about)

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 clariceassad.com)

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.