by Jane Rausch
Although amateur and professional musicians may spend a lifetime perfecting their performance on their primary instruments, they are often curious to explore their ability to play other instruments. Perhaps the most common choice would be the piano, since piano proficiency is often a college requirement for earning a BA or BFA degree. The possibilities, however, are endless, and some members of the Holyoke Civic Symphony have mastered instruments quite different from their principal expertise. Featured on our program today are Tom Stockton (normally in the horn section) and Maestro David Kidwell (normally on the podium) playing the organ; Mike Sherman (horn) playing the bagpipes, John Vance (oboe/ English horn) playing soprano and tenor recorders and singing, and Dick Glashow (timpani and percussion) playing guitar and singing. An encore presentation by the full orchestra from our 2018 season rounds out the program.
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Between 1717 and 1723, JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH composed six suites for unaccompanied cello. The solo suites, a rarity at that time, did not attract much attention in the eighteenth century and were not published until 1825. Even after their publication they were not widely known by anyone besides a few cellists who viewed them as exercises—if they viewed them at all. In 1889, however, the young Catalan wunderkind Pablo Casals found a copy of the suites in a second-hand music shop and immediately recognized their significance. After he recorded all six suites in 1936, there was a groundswell of interest among cellists to study them, and the number of recordings of the suites exploded, as did their popularity and influence. Regarded now as one of Bach’s great masterworks, the suites have been transcribed not only for viola, but also for twenty other different instruments! Viola soloist Erin Thom notes that since the cello and viola have the exact same strings, the transposition can be made by simply changing the clef.
The Prelude that opens Suite No. 5 is actually a prelude and fugue. It is grand and slow, beginning with a deep octave C and continuing on a harmonically rich and tonally resonant journey to a half cadence, leading directly into the fugue. The fugue (which is the only one in the cello suites) is remarkable in that even though it’s written in multiple voices, it contains very few chords: harmony and multiple voicing is, for the most part, implied, but noticeable just the same due to Bach’s remarkable gift for creating expectation and a certain sense of inevitability. In other words, he sets up the progression of the music so that our brains capture the sense of the harmony and multiple voicing, even though throughout most of this fugue Bach has written only one musical line at any given time.
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JOHANN WALTER was a Lutheran composer and poet during the Reformation period. He began his career in the chapel of Frederick the Wise at the age of 21—a position he would hold until Frederick’s death in 1525. By this time, he was the director of the chapel and had become an outspoken musical advocate for Lutherans. In 1524 Walter edited the first Protestant hymnal for choirs, but his most important music work was his Saint Matthew Passion. Walter also wrote a Magnificat (Latin for “My soul magnifies the Lord”) which is a canticle also known as the Song of Mary and usually sung at Matins. The title Primi Toni means that the Magnifcat was written on the first tone for a high choir and a low choir. Recorder soloist John Vance notes that Walter wrote his Primi Toni as a warmup for his choir.
A rather different piece, The Wellerman is a well-known whaling song that refers to supply ships owned by the British Weller brothers who had immigrated to New Zealand. Written sometime between 1860 and 1870, the song’s lyrics have drawn praise as a genuine cultural expression by exploited workers for whom sugar, tea, and rum provided a much-needed respite from the drudgery and toil of their daily lives on a whaling ship called the Billy o’ Tea on its hunt for a right whale.
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TOM STOCKTON contributed this note for his Rondo in E-flat:
I wrote this piece originally in the late 1980s to play on the French horn with an organist at his church. Since then, I adapted it to be an organ solo, but have also performed it with a saxophone player. In its rondo form, the piece is one that an organist would recognize as a type of “Trumpet Voluntary.”
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Bagpipes are a woodwind instrument using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag and equipped with a chanter and at least one drone. The Scottish great Highland bagpipes are the best-known examples in the Anglophone world, but people have played bagpipes for centuries throughout large parts of Europe, Anatolia, the Caucasus, Northern Africa, Western Asia, and around the Persian Gulf. The bag is an airtight reservoir that holds air and regulates its flow via arm pressure. The chanter is a melody pipe with a reed played with two hands. The drone is a pipe that is not fingered but produces a constant harmonizing note throughout play. One of the Highland bagpipes’ claim to fame is the fact that it has been named an instrument of war, since as late as the Korean War there was a piper in British ranks performing the cries of battle.
When asked how he came to play the bagpipes, soloist Mike Sherman replied that his curiosity was piqued by a flyer on a utility pole stating “free bagpipe lessons.” He took lessons at the Monson Middle School during the early years of 2000, and once he became proficient, the Quaboag Highlanders, a military street band, inducted him into his ranks.
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PAUL SIMON wrote “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” in a single night and recorded it in 1966. He released the live recording by the Simon and Art Garfunkel duo in 1972. It has been considered to be inspired by Simon’s relationship with Kathy Chippy, and the song is most lyrically comparable with his piece “Homeward Bound” in that it details finding solace in a lover. The 12-string acoustic guitar accompanying the vocals contributes to its “mystical quality.”
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DAVID KIDWELL contributed this note for his Suite Antique:
Suite Antique is a three-movement work for organ composed in 2013. The modal style gives the piece an old-fashioned feeling. The first movement, Preamble, is in ABA form. The main theme is comprised of only four notes, but it is lengthened with each repetition. The second movement, Pastorale, is flanked by quasi-improvisational solos on a flute stop. Its main theme features the oboe stop, an instrument often used to evoke a pastoral atmosphere. The final movement, Quolibet, has two themes which are heard first individually and are then played simultaneously by both hands and feet.
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ARVO PÄRT is an Estonian composer of classical and religious music. Since the late 1970s, he has worked in a minimalist style and employs his self-invented compositional technique, tintinnabuli. Gregorian chant often inspires Pärt’s music. Between 2011and 2018, he was the most performed living composer in the world and the second most performed in 2019. Frates (meaning “brothers” in Latin) is a three-part work written in 1977 without fixed instrumentation. It has been described as a “mesmerizing set of variations on a six-bar theme combining frantic activity and sublime stillness that encapsulates Pärt’s observation that “the instant and eternity are struggling within us.” The main theme is strongly inspired by the “Le Coucou au fond des bois” from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals (1886).
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ROBERT SCHUMANN is a central figure in the era of nineteenth century musical Romanticism, and his Fourth Symphony is now regarded as one of his most original and inventive works. In departing radically from the classical form of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, it paved the way for the great late Romantic symphonies of Brahms and Dvořak. The Finale has a slow introduction which serves as a bridge from the quiet conclusion of the Scherzo third movement to the dramatically-charged Finale proper. A strong proclamation of the motif theme follows, and then the Finale cites other material from the preceding movements. A bustling orchestral build-up leads to a lusty fanfare from the horns, and the cellos introduce the final theme during a brief respite from the rush to the exuberant conclusion.