Thursday, February 15, 2024

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.

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