Saturday, October 10, 2015 - 7:30 p.m.
We’ve pulled out all the stops to open our 38th Season! Shostakovich’s legendary Fifth Symphony was written in response to political persecution and the result is one of the most inspiring works of the 20th century. Katherine Needleman, Young Artist Competition winner at age 13 and now a world-renowned artist, returns to perform a concerto by Pulitzer Prize-Winner Jennifer Higdon. As part of the “New Music for America” Consortium, we give the Maryland premiere of a work by Grammy-nominated composer Christopher Theofanidis inspired by ancient myths of Aboriginal Australia.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon (b. Brooklyn, NY, December 31, 1962) is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. Higdon started late in music, teaching herself to play flute at the age of 15 and beginning formal musical studies at 18, with an even later start in composition at the age of 21. Despite this late beginning, Jennifer has become a major figure in contemporary Classical music and makes her living from commissions. These commissions represent a range of genres, from orchestral to chamber, to choral, as well as vocal and wind ensemble.
Hailed by the Washington Post as "a savvy, sensitive composer with a keen ear, an innate sense of form and a generous dash of pure esprit," her works have been performed throughout the world, and are enjoyed by audiences at several hundred performances a year and on over four dozen CDs. Her orchestral work blue cathedral is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral compositions by a living American with more than 500 performances worldwide since its premiere in 2000.
Higdon’s list of commissions and performing organizations is extensive and includes The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The Baltimore Symphony, The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, The London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Luzern Sinfonieorchester, The Hague Philharmonic, The Melbourne Symphony, The New Zealand Symphony, The Pittsburgh Symphony, The Indianapolis Symphony, The Dallas Symphony, as well as such groups as the Tokyo String Quartet, eighth blackbird, and the President’s Own Marine Band. She has worked with musicians that include Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, Hilary Hahn, and Yuja Wang.
Her Percussion Concerto won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in January, 2010. Higdon also received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing Higdon’s work as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.”
Among her other national honors, Higdon has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters (two awards), the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Meet-the-Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ASCAP. In 2012, she was honored by the Delaware Symphony with the A.I. DuPont Award for her contributions to the symphonic literature.
Higdon has been a featured composer at many festivals including Aspen, Tanglewood, Vail, Norfolk, Grand Teton, and Cabrillo. She has served as Composer-in-Residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (2005-06 season), the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra (2006-07 season), the Philadelphia Orchestra (2007-08), and the Fort Worth Symphony (2009-10), the Wheeling Symphony (2012-13) and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (2012-13). In 2010-11, Higdon served as the Eminent Artist-in-Residence at the University of Wyoming. She was also honored to serve as one of the Creative Directors of the Boundless Series for the Cincinnati Symphony’s 2012-13 season.
Most recently, Higdon has written an opera commissioned by Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and Minnesota Opera, based on the National Book Award winner, “Cold Mountain”, by Charles Frazier. It will be premiered in Santa Fe on August 1, 2015. Dr. Higdon currently holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she has inspired a generation of young composers and musicians. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press. For more information: www.jenniferhigdon.com
This “Oboe Concerto” gives the instrument a chance to highlight its extraordinary lyrical gift. The beauty of the soaring line intrigued me as a starting point, and then the realization that the oboe makes a great partner for duets within an orchestral texture, sent me in the direction of creating interactions with other instruments in the supporting ensemble.
This instrument’s playful quality in quick-moving passages set the tone for the faster sections.
I have always thought of the oboe as being a most majestic instrument, and it was a pleasure to be able to create a work that would highlight its beauty and grace.
“Oboe Concerto” was commissioned by the Minnesota Commissioning Club, and premiered by Kathy Greenbank and The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in 2005.
Premiered: Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia, 1937
Early in 1937, Dmitri Shostakovich’s patron, Marshal Alexander Tukachevsky, a national hero, was taken out and shot for non-existent “treason.” If this could happen to one of the top men in the military, what chance did a mere composer stand? His latest opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, had just been denounced in Pravda; the score and parts had been burned. Was the composer next?
The Fifth Symphony is often seen sub-titled “A Soviet Artist’s Reply to Just Criticism.” The subtitle was inserted by an apparatchik in the State music publisher’s office. The symphony is much more than that – but it also conceals a startling secret from the composer’s private life.
The first movement opens with a tight, leaping theme, played in canon – and therefore constantly tying itself down; this struggles with itself until it finally calms down to make way for the eerie, glassy second subject, played at the top of the violins’ range over a slowly chugging short-short-long pattern. Listen carefully; the second subject is actually an immensely slowed down version of the habañera from Bizet’s Carmen. And what does all this “mean”? In 1935, Shostakovich’s mistress had ditched him for a man called Roman Carmen. This, incredibly, is the program-behind-the-program of the symphony.
After combining in a near war, the two subjects are beaten into submission by the short-short-long pattern we heard earlier, and an unmistakable “happy” version of the habañera ends it all, which seems entirely the right phrase to describe the emotional state of the piece by then.
The second movement, somewhere between a militaristic waltz and a hyper-ironic Mahler scherzo, features a solo violin (undoubtedly the composer in the narrative subtext) simpering over the harp and its pizzicato string friends in the Trio, only to swallowed up in more violence. The great critic Hans Keller had a wonderful word to describe such a horribly unfunny fun (“Scherzo”) movement – this is a Scherzoid.
The slow movement takes the already bleak emotional subtext of the work to the point of nervous breakdown. Its importance to the composer can surely be shown by the fact that the movement was written and orchestrated in three days. There is fear, loneliness and more fear, expressed in a language that might be called “Tchaikovsky staring down a gun.”
The finale is, to put it gently, not what it seems. What sounds like a bombastic celebration of Communist bliss actually begins with another quote from the habañera – “Beware! Beware!” – and careful listening will also reveal echoes of Berlioz’s March to the Scaffold and the execution scene of Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel. Shostakovich could rely on the hacks of the Ministry of Culture to only hear the din of mass celebration of joy in the Five Year Plan. He needs to rely on us to hear something very different. We must not let him down.
Christopher Theofanidis (b. 1967) is one of the more widely performed American composers of his generation. He regularly writes for a variety of musical genres, from orchestral and chamber music to opera and ballet. His work, Rainbow Body, which is loosely based on a melodic fragment of Hildegard of Bingen, is one of the most performed orchestral works of the past fifteen years, and has been programmed by over 120 orchestras internationally. Mr. Theofanidis’ works have been played by such groups as the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the Moscow Soloists, and he has a long-standing relationship with the Atlanta Symphony and Maestro Robert Spano. Several of his works have been recorded by that ensemble on the TELARC and ASO MEDIA labels. In 2007, he was composer of the year for the Pittsburgh Symphony, for whom he wrote a violin concerto for the soloist Sarah Chang.
Mr. Theofanidis has written widely for the stage, from a work for the American Ballet Theatre, to multiple dramatic pieces, including The Refuge with Leah Lax for the Houston Grand Opera and Heart of a Soldier with Donna DiNovelli for Thomas Hampson and the San Francisco Opera. His large-scale piece, The Here and Now, for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, based on poetry of Rumi, was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007.
Mr. Theofanidis is currently on the faculty of Yale University and has taught at the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School. He is also a fellow of the US-Japan’s Leadership Program. Mr. Theofanidis’ upcoming works include an evening-length oratorio for the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus, a new work for the Miro String Quartet for Chamber Music Monterey Bay in collaboration with three other composers and the multi-media artist, Bill Viola, and a work for a New Music for America consortium of orchestras centered around the Australian aboriginal ‘dreamtime’ myths.
Dreamtime Ancestors is a 3-movement, 17 minute tone poem for orchestra that includes optional readings before each movement. It is based on the Australian aboriginal creation myths connected to ‘dreamtime,’ where each of us is connected to each other through our ‘dreamtime ancestors’ in the past, present, and future. This is referred to as 'all-at-once time.'
The work is dedicated to Stephen Paulus, a wonderful human being and music maker, who is a part of us of all, past, present, and future.