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Classical Series

2015 - 2016

Charismatic cellist Zuill Bailey returns to wow audiences with Benjamin Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra. Blue Fire by New Yorker Daniel Brewbaker contrasts with Falla’s full ballet featuring Andalusian folk songs performed by mezzo-soprano Bonnie Brooks in a flamenco vocal style. The result is a rhythmic, crowd-pleasing and uniquely colorful concert.

“Without question, he is at the top of the ladder of brilliant cellists.”   –Free Times, Columbia, S.C.

Performances sponsored by The Press Democrat and the Dr. Larry Schoenrock Endowment Fund
Zuill Bailey underwritten by Linda Castiglioni

Blue Fire by Daniel Brewbaker underwritten through the generous support of Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem


April 2016 Program Notes by Steven Ledbetter
 
DANIEL BREWBAKER
Blue Fire for Orchestra
 
Daniel Brewbaker was born in Elgin, Illinois on October 31, 1951 and currently lives in New York City.  He composed Blue Fire for the Seattle Symphony, which gave the first performance under Gerard Schwarz on March 6, 1995.  The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass  clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, tuba, timpani, percussion (three players), harp, piano/celesta, and strings. Duration is about 14 minutes.

Daniel Brewbaker began his musical training in his native state with Gordon Binkerd at the University of Illinois, where he received his bachelor’s degree. He went on to The Juilliard School in New York, where he studied with Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter; there he received his master’s degree and the Doctor of Musical Arts.  He describes himself as a “genre composer,” possibly because he has written so many choral pieces, often for specialty ensembles like SSA (soprano/soprano/alto) for women’s and student groups. But he has written a substantial number of chamber and orchestral works as well.  In the case of Blue Fire, he has provided the following description of the ideas that lie behind the piece:
 
Blue Fire is a "symphonic poem," a term that traditionally implies an association with an extra-musical idea, symphonic first movement structure (Sonata Allegro form) and popular or folk elements. In this case, one such association is with the life work of writer/philosopher James Hillman, (who passed away in 2011), and his ideas about the relationship between senex (world weary, hard earned wisdom) and puer, that is, age and youth (world-weary wisdom of experience vs. primordially perfect youthful idealism/optimism), personal and collective myth-making, and sacred and profane love, as contained in a book entitled "A Blue Fire."

This dialectic informs the dynamic contrast upon which the formal structure of the work is based. The musical material also includes hints of Irish and Latin American popular music, as well as oblique references to specific American popular tunes, which I heard my father whistle, and imitated as a child, including "Standing On The Corner," (said to have been conceived at the corner of Main Street and 2nd Street in Napa), and “I Can't Give You Anything But Love,” which appears at the climax of the piece. The music expresses a passionate engagement with the invisible complexities and limitations that life imposes upon us, in a spirit of celebration and gratitude.
 
Blue Fire was begun at Yaddo, in Upstate New York, and completed at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. It was commissioned by Gerard Schwarz for the Seattle Symphony, through the generosity of Miss Naoma Lowensohn, to whose memory the work is dedicated, and was premiered in 1995 by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony.   These current performances are personally dedicated to Jan and Maria Manetti Shrem, great friends and great, generous, lifelong patrons of the arts and creative artists.
 
With great respect, gratitude and love,
Daniel Brewbaker.

 
BENJAMIN BRITTEN
Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 68
 
Edward Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England on November 22, 1913, and died in Aldeburgh, Suffolk on December 4, 1976. He composed the Symphony for Cello and Orchestra specifically for Mstislav Rostropovich, in the spring of 1963, completing it on May 3. He conducted the first performance, with Rostropovich as soloist, in Moscow on March 12, 1964. In addition to the solo cello, the score calls for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets (second doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, tenor trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, whip, gong, snare drum, tenor drum, vibraphone, tam-tam), and strings. Duration is about 35 minutes.
 
Britten’s imagination was frequently fired by the prospect of writing for a musician whom he especially admired. Over the course of his career, such musicians included, first of all, the tenor Peter Pears, but also other singers like Joan Cross and Janet Baker, instrumentalists like the guitarist/lutenist Julian Bream and the harpist Osian Ellis, to name just a few. In 1960 Britten met the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who inspired more works in the sixteen years that remained to him than any other musician, and whose wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, was planned as the female soloist for the War Requiem and the recipient of Britten’s cycle of Pushkin songs, The Poet’s Echo. For Rostropovich he wrote the Cello Sonata, three works for unaccompanied cello (in the manner of Bach’s cello suites), and the Cello Symphony, the title of which makes clear that Britten did not intend a simple virtuoso showpiece, but rather a work that integrated soloist and orchestra into a more unified whole.

By the early 1960s, Britten had composed so many operas and other works for chorus or solo voice that he might appear to have given up large scale orchestral composition entirely. The Cello Symphony is his first orchestral work of such scope in two decades, and its opening movement is the largest sonata structure he ever composed. And, at least in the relative size of the principal sections of his sonata form, it is more typical than any other such movement in his output (Britten tended to compress the recapitulation considerably; here it is closer in length to the exposition and development, which are themselves roughly equal in length.)

The first movement opens darkly, with the orchestral basses descending stepwise in measure-long steps, while the soloist plays a few repeated figures and exposes a tiny but essential motive, the descending half-step D-C#. The orchestral scales are unharmonized as single pitches, but the cello plays chords. The mood of the piece, from this opening through patterns of undulating thirds and sevenths, and the cello’s frequent obsession with the semitone figure, both in downward movement (as at first) and inverted, remains somber. For the secondary key area normal to sonata form, Britten toys with two possibilities, both related to classical tradition, but not normally presented essentially together: the dominant A, and the mediant F, which would be the common choice for a classical work in D minor. By implying these two pitches as the significant tonal centers, yet not strongly confirming either major or minor, but suggesting either as a possibility, Britten creates an expressive language for the piece that suggests the familiar expressivity of music functioning around a home key with motion away from it and back to it at the end (like most music from 1700 to about 1900), yet always offering a complexity and newness that keeps it fresh. In the restatement, the solo cello and orchestra trade their opening materials, the cello taking the descending scale pattern, and the orchestra the harmonized theme.

The Scherzo is a nightmarish dream sequence of mysterious figures (especially bits of scales in three-step patterns, moving upward or downward, broken off from one another). The somewhat macabre character of the music is heightened by calling for the cello to play much of its part sul ponticello (bowing near the bridge over which the strings run, which imparts an other-worldy sonority).

The Adagio maintains the nocturnal character to a considerable degree, though it is less spooky and more elegiac. A distant-sounding horn, appearing as a counterpoint to the cello in the second section of the movement, continues this feeling of darkness and general hush before the timpani begin a dramatic passage of outburst. The slow movement is linked directly to the finale by a solo cadenza, essentially a second development of material from the Adagio.

A solo trumpet interrupts with a theme in a bright D major to bring in the finale, whereupon the solo cello creates an ostinato bass on which six orchestral variations will unfold (here, as in several other works, Britten’s ability to shape variations with a ground bass pattern, which he evidently learned from Purcell, shows itself again). During this passage, the solo cello often carries on a role essentially of accompanist, as part of the orchestra. But at the end the soloist takes on a peroration based on the main theme of the Adagio, drawing in the scale figure from the first movement and brilliant orchestral writing to bring the score, which has been so much somber and dark, into the light at last.
 

Manuel de Falla
El sombrero de tres picos for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra
 
Manuel de Falla y Matheu was born in Cadiz, Spain on November 23, 1876, and died in Alta Gracia, Argentina on November 14, 1946. His ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) was originally composed as music for a mime-play with the title El corregidor y la molinara (The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife), which was first performed in Madrid on April 7, 1917, with Joaquin Turina conducting. It was revised and given its present title for a production by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the first performance taking place in London’s Alhambra Theater on July 22, 1919, under the direction of Ernest Ansermet. The scenario is by G. Martinez Sierra, adapted from a story by Alarcón. The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, harp, timpani, xylophone, wood block, triangle, castanets, side drum, suspended cymbal, crash cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, celesta, piano, strings, and mezzo-soprano voice (the singer, in stage productions, being seated in the orchestra).
 
Pedro de Alarcón’s popular 1874 tale El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), which tells the story of the ill-fated attempts by the corregidor, or resident magistrate, of a small Spanish town to seduce the pretty wife of the local miller, is filled with humor and keen observation. Already in the 1890s it was used as a source for, of all things, a German opera by the great German art-song composer Hugo Wolf. It is very unlikely that Manuel de Falla had even heard of Wolf’s setting when he undertook to write music for a theatrical version.

As Alarcón told it (claiming that he was retelling an old ballad that supposedly had a basis in fact), the corregidor, the representative of the law, is tempted to break the law by the entrancing beauty of the miller’s wife, a young woman from “the North” who has married an ugly older man, but one who is astute and humorous. The original story involved details and locales that could not be worked into the somewhat simplified ballet version—including the miller’s “revenge” by dressing in the corregidor’s clothes and cheerfully going to visit that magistrate’s attractive wife. The lady makes only a token appearance in the ballet, though in the original story she dominated the denouement.

In turning the story first into a mimed stage piece, then a ballet, the collaborators simplified things by omitting the ending at the corregidor’s residence and entirely restricting the location to the exterior of the miller’s house. Of course, Spanish audiences would know all the details of the story in any case, but for others the plot has its confusing elements. Still, the warmth, color and Spanish flavor of Falla’s music made the ballet one of his most successful works and the last big international success of Diaghilev’s company. The original production sported a set designed by Pablo Picasso and the brilliant dancing of Leonide Massine as the miller. (For him, it seems, another change was made between story and ballet—namely doing away with any hint that he was an ugly and older man.) The individuals in the story are delightfully characterized by Falla’s music, which sometimes quotes fragments of traditional tunes and works them into a symphonic web as the characters become intertwined in their story.

There is a brief introduction featuring a mezzo-soprano, which was composed for the London ballet performance in order to give the audience time to admire Picasso’s drop-curtain. The singer warns:

 
 
Casadita, cierra con tranca la puerta,
Que aunque el diablo este dormido
a lo mejor se despierta!
   
Young wife, lock your doors,
for though the devil has been sleeping,
he may wake up!
     

As the curtain rises, the miller and his wife go about their business. Each is represented by a fragment of folk song, the wife by a bit of a jota from Navarre (the region from which she hails) heard as a fragment in the orchestra and later developed as the ballet’s final dance, the miller by a tune from Falla’s Seven Spanish Folksongs, presented in the cellos and bassoons in answer to the wife’s tune. Though the couple is devoted to each other, neither can resist a little flirting. A dandy comes by ogling the wife. Then comes a procession including the corregidor, his wife and their retinue. The corregidor (wearing his badge of office, a three-cornered hat) is captivated by the miller’s wife, but when he notices his own wife observing him, he quickly departs. The miller meanwhile pretends to flirt with a servant girl carrying a pitcher from the mill. Soon they hear the corregidor returning (bassoon solo), and the miller is certain that the magistrate is coming alone to woo his wife. She, however, hides her husband behind the tree, and bids him to watch the proceedings.

As the corregidor arrives, she pretends not to see him and dances a fandango (“Dance of the Miller’s Wife”). The magistrate interrupts her and offers himself in a grotesquely polite little tune in the bassoon. The miller’s wife laughs and begins teasing him by pretending to offer grapes from the arbor, but every time he comes close to take one (or to attempt a kiss), she dances out of reach. Finally he grabs her and tries to kiss her, but he slips in his eagerness and goes sprawling. The miller rushes up, pretending to have just arrived. He and his wife help the corregidor to his feet and brush him off—a little more vigorously than politeness would require!—before letting him go on his way in some disgust, and with threatening gestures. Husband and wife laugh and celebrate in a merry dance, concluding the fandango that the wife had started earlier.

 Part Two opens that evening with the seguidillas, a dance by the neighbors who have gathered to celebrate St. John’s Eve. It is an Andalusian night, filled with the perfume of flowers and the rhythm of guitars. The miller’s wife asks her husband to dance. He performs a vigorous farruca (composed as a late addition to the score to give Massine a big solo number), a macho dance obviously intended for his wife’s benefit. Suddenly “fate knocks at the door”—quoting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony! It is the bodyguard of the corregidor, come to arrest the miller and carry him off. The neighbors, intimidated, depart, leaving the miller’s wife alone. Now the off-stage mezzo-soprano sings again, with a warning:

 
 
Por la noche canta el cuco
Advirtendo a los casados
que corran bien los cerrojos
que el diablo est desvelado!
Cucu! Cucu! Cucu!
   
At night the cuckoo sings,
warning the married couple
to bolt their door tightly
since the devil has awakened!
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!
     

The miller’s wife withdraws into the house; the clock strikes nine. Suddenly the corregidor returns. He dismisses his bodyguard and approaches the house with the mincing steps of a ludicrous overaged Don Juan (the music is that of a courtly dance—almost a minuet). As he attempts to cross the bridge, he falls into the stream, attracting the attention of the miller’s wife. The attempted seduction is a total failure. After threatening him with her husband’s rifle, the miller’s wife escapes, leaving her dripping suitor to remove his clothes and climb into the miller’s bed for some much-needed rest. Just at this moment the miller returns, having escaped his captors. Furious at seeing the garb of the corregidor on his doorstep, he picks up his rifle and seems about to use it on his rival when he notices the official three-cornered hat and has a better idea. Dressing up in the corregidor’s clothes, he writes a message on the wall: “Sir Corregidor, I am off to avenge myself; the Corregidora, too, is very handsome.”

No sooner has the miller left than the corregidor peers out to see if he is alone. He is astonished to discover his clothes gone and furious at the message he sees on the wall. In a frenzy he dresses in the miller’s clothes and is about to go off in pursuit when his own guardsmen arrive and, mistaking him for the escaped prisoner, arrest him. The miller’s wife returns, having failed to locate her husband. She sees him, or so she thinks, struggling with the corregidor’s guards and begins to join in the fray. Spectators gather, attracted by the noise, and finally the miller appears, still in the official uniform of the magistrate. Identities are clarified, husband and wife reconciled, and the poor corregidor, who has already received numerous cuffs from the populace (with whom he is in no way popular) is seized by the bystanders and tossed in a blanket while everyone joins in a general dance of rejoicing, a final transmutation of the wife’s theme heard at the beginning of the ballet.
 
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)

 

 
 

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