Visions of Home
Saturday, December 1, 2018 - 7:30 p.m.
Jim Rouse Theatre
ANTONIN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
SCHERZO CAPRICCIOSO, Op.66
Premiered: Prague, (then Bohemia, now Czech Republic), 1883
Contrary to its self-effacing title, the Scherzo Capriccioso is no light-hearted trifle to be sandwiched between two sterner movements of a symphony. This is a major work, arguably showing Dvořák peering into the future — and the future is Mahler. Dvořák’s glum Seventh Symphony, completed the same year, was inscribed “from the sad years” by the composer, and the Scherzo grew from the same bleak time, which included a slow parade of early deaths among his children and the death of the composer’s mother. Although the opening is cheerful enough, the music soon begins to distort and deform in ways that make one wonder if Shostakovich heard it; the expansion of the orchestra to include bass clarinet and tuba, with extra percussion, points straight at Mahler. The overall form is a straightforward A-B-A, but there are flickerings of symphonic development here and there that seem to show an even larger work trying to escape. Not only is this “scherzo” more substantial than any of the scherzos in Dvořák’s symphonies, it comes close to challenging the symphonies themselves in depth, and in some ways looks past them.
DANIEL BERNARD ROUMAIN (born 1970)
LA, LA, LA, LA
Premiered: 2007 album Etudes 4 Violin & Electronix
Daniel Bernard Roumain was once described as “the most voracious composer in history” — a Haitian-American artist who takes the tradition of American eclecticism into wildly new, different and even alarming areas. A man whose music rotates around the three poles of violin, electronics, and hip-hop is not going to write conventional symphonic music, and this piece, written for his ensemble Dogs of Desire, certainly bears this out. Drums and bass provide a dance floor on which the rest of the orchestra perform strenuous contrapuntal contortions based on what was originally Roumain’s own vocal line. This is not, as we might expect, the music of the streets hauled into the concert hall for “taming” — it is us, orchestra and audience, being schooled in advanced funk. And we have an instructive and surprisingly complex lesson to learn.
SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER (born 1973)
Premiered: Chapel Hill, NC, 2015
The composer has provided the following note:
Hiraeth is a Welsh word with no direct English equivalent, meaning “homesickness tinged with grief or sadness ... a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was.”
In 2013 the North Carolina Symphony commissioned me to write a large-scale piece about my family ties to the state. Although I was born and grew up in New Jersey, North Carolina was my spiritual one — a safe harbor, a place that would, if all else failed, take care of me somehow.
Upon receiving the commission, I began imagining a film accompaniment for the piece. I knew of a filmmaker, Mark DeChiazza, who made beautiful films for concert music, and I thought he might be able to capture the various moods of North Carolina sunlight that did so much to inspire the piece.
Shortly after I received the commission, however, my father was diagnosed with a rare, untreatable cancer. I had just begun writing the piece when, three months later, he was gone.
I could no longer write the piece I’d planned to write. My musical ideas were now refracted through the lens of grief and the anguish and disorientation of letting go. My Dad, with whom I was very close, was my primary living connection to North Carolina. The memories of my time there were newly painful to recall, because I could no longer share them with him. The material grew darker, my thinking about the piece more complex.
Mark’s and my thinking about the film changed as well. We had initially envisioned an abstract visual poem of town and landscape, but because the piece is ultimately about family, Mark suggested we bring some aspect of humanity into it. We decided to shoot images of my own children (then 6 and 4 years old) re-creating my father’s and my memories of Salisbury. We brought together friends of my parents and grandparents who are still living in Salisbury, and just let the cameras roll.
Ultimately, Hiraeth is both elegy and personal meditation. At times I consciously strove to emulate the logic and architecture of a dream, the way memory sometimes feels: motifs overlap in evolving ways; thoughts wander and interrupt one another suddenly; and frequently, one memory is imbued with the color and perfume of another. But mostly I just tried to immerse myself in my own hiraeth for this time and place I can’t return to, and give voice to what rose to the surface.
Note from Mark DeChiazza on the film:
My film for Hiraeth, which partners with performance of composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s luminous and haunting orchestral work, aims to realize moments that never existed — rarefied memories from an imagined childhood. The film's imagery could be understood as an intricate collage of invented home movies — an idealized and blown-up version of dad’s old super-8s.
Shot on location around Salisbury, NC, where Snider’s father grew up and where, as a child, she would visit her grandparents’ home. I cast Jasper and Dylan, Snider’s own children, as the primary subjects of his film, drawn to the immediate and tactile way that children explore their surroundings through play, and how childhood memories are shaped through this mode of encountering the world.
The camera's eye lingers inside a nostalgic and perhaps uneasy past, selectively focusing on some elements while leaving others obscured in glowing haze, drawn too close for clarity. Hiraeth's children move within a story that is always kept slightly outside of our frame — we are right beside it but looking at a tangent to it. Evading narrative's concrete unfolding, we instead receive the moods, colors, and energies that it exudes — a tactile poetry sent to move within the delicate and sweeping currents of Snider’s music.
RICHARD STRAUSS (1864-1949)
DER ROSENKAVALIER — SUITE
Premiered: (Opera) Dresden, Germany, 1911; (Suite) New York, 1944
When American troops came to requisition his house in Munich in the summer of 1945, Richard Strauss introduced himself as “Dr. Strauss, composer of the Rosenkavalier.” It was enough to let him keep his home. Der Rosenkavalier was easily his most famous, most popular work.
The suite opens, simply enough, with sex — the opera’s Prelude, as explicit a love scene as music has ever known, followed by the Marschallin’s music, which makes it clear that she has more in store for the young Octavian than a Wagnerian “Blick”. The famous, much-loved Presentation of the Rose follows, before we are introduced to the oafish Baron Ochs, a bass ironically accompanied by the most famous of all the Rosenkavalier waltzes, once described as “the Big Tune of Richard Strauss’s life.”
The opera’s legendary Trio, strange without the soaring voices, gives way to the aching final duet between Sophie and Octavian. The emotionally wrenching harmony, punctuated by those unforgettable dripping staccato chords from the woodwinds, shows us beyond all doubt that the Reichskammer’s gain was Hollywood’s loss. The Suite ends with another waltz, sweeping and reviving after the near-hallucinogens of the previous twenty minutes.
About the Concert
An evening of diverse musical heritages! Strauss' opera salutes music-making in Vienna -- complete with waltzes -- and this suite deftly weaves highlights of the opera into symphonic form. Dvorak's Scherzo is a thrill ride full of the dances, rhythms, and colors of his native Bohemia. Guest composer Sarah Kirkland Snider's work was inspired by childhood visits to her grandparents in Salisbury, North Carolina, and it accompanies Mark DiChiazza's film of everyday life in small towns. Haitian-American composer and violinist Daniel Roumain's classical take on the dance club scene rounds out this exciting and eclectic program.
"I've just recently become familiar with Sarah Kirkland Snider's music and it is so beautiful! It's no wonder orchestras and performers are knocking at her door asking her for new works. Any time we can have the composer work with the orchestra and speak to the audience it's a thrill. This time I had a particularly special interest in the piece since the music and film were inspired by my native North Carolina.
"We don't get to do much Richard Strauss because his orchestral works often have logistical issues that make them difficult to mount, and of course there's no pit for opera. But this Suite is a great encapsualtion of Rosenkavalier, kind of a chronological "greatest hits" from the show. It has some of Strauss' most rich, sumptuous writing partly because it's set in the opulence of old Vienna and nods at Vienna's musical history.
"The Dvorak makes a great balance to the Strauss. Where Strauss' setting is aristocratic, the feel in Dvorak is very down-to-earth and rural. It's infused with Czech flavor and is a really tuneful showpiece. It's odd to me you don't hear it performed as much as you did just a few decades ago, but it doesn't fit the concert mold of overture-concerto-symphony that is so standard these days...
Daniel Roumain is a friend from way back. His personality and performing are infectious, and so are his pieces. Just like the Dvorak is a rustic foil to the Strauss, I enjoy balancing the small-town beauty of Sarah's piece with something that's so urban and high-energy."