Spring Forward program notes

Program Notes
by Jane Rausch

May Day festivals date from ancient times and many cultures still celebrate May 1 with dances and singing to welcome in spring. Certainly it is an appropriate day for the Holyoke Civic Symphony to present its “Spring Forward” concert with music not only reflecting the joyful promise of spring, but also our pleasure as we look forward to next season’s celebration of our 50th anniversary.

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LEROY ANDERSON is firmly entrenched in American popular culture as a composer of delightful miniature orchestra pieces. The Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Fiedler premiered many of his best known works including Sleigh Ride, The Syncopated Clock, and Blue Tango, and Fiedler’s successor John Williams has called Anderson “one of the great American masters of light orchestra music.”

Born in Cambridge Massachusetts to Swedish parents, Anderson received his first piano lessons from his mother who was a church organist. In 1925 he enrolled in Harvard University and earned his B.A. and M.A. in Music. In the 1930s he was directing the Harvard University Band when his distinctive arrangements captured the attention of Arthur Fiedler who urged him to write some original compositions for the Boston Pops Orchestra. Much encouraged, Anderson produced his first such piece, Jazz Pizzicato in 1938. Four years later he joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to Iceland to work with the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps as a translator and interpreter. In 1945 he was reassigned to the Pentagon as Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence. These official duties, however, did not prevent him from composing, and in 1945 he wrote The Syncopated Clock and Promenade. On his release from active duty in the Army, he moved with his wife Eleanor and family to Woodbury, Connecticut.

Anderson continued to compose and conduct orchestras throughout North America until his death from cancer in 1975. Today, nearly 50 years later his compositions have remained part of the standard repertoire of symphonic bands and orchestras around the world. He wrote The First Day of Spring in 1954 during the height of his creativity. It is a beautiful piece with a sweeping melody that features a pastoral oboe.

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The contemporary composer MARK ZUCKERMAN began his formal music studies at Julliard and continued them at the University of Michigan, Bard College, and Princeton University where he earned a Ph.D. Although at first he wrote exclusively twelve-tone music, he soon discovered that he could express himself more convincingly in a musical language that used many sonorities from tonal music woven into structure found in atonal and twelve-tone music. A recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship in 2004, Zukerman has written for solo instruments, bands, and orchestras, but perhaps his most acclaimed composition is his internationally recognized twenty arrangements of Yiddish songs for a cappella chorus.

With reference to today’s world premiere of Civic Celebration, Zuckerman wrote in a note to Maestro Kidwell:

I was inspired to write Civic Celebration for the Holyoke Civic Symphony after hearing the concert two years ago when the Symphony played my Susquehanna Sunset. I was quite impressed by the verve and commitment evident in all the performances on the program and by the loyalty and support shown the Symphony by the people from the community who came to hear it.

Civic Celebration is offered as a tribute to the Holyoke Civic Symphony on its 50th anniversary. It has a kind of exuberant nobility, as befitting both the occasion and the spirit with which the Symphony and its director pursue their mission. Civic Celebration gives everyone in the orchestra something important to contribute; even instruments not normally in the forefront, like piccolo and triangle, play crucial roles. The piece begins and ends with a fanfare. In between there are two themes, both based on the fanfare-which are explore sequentially and then combined.

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WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART was a master of the solo concerto, a Classical genre that finds its roots in the Baroque period. Baroque concertos featured a group of instruments or a soloist, accompanied by a ripieno – an ensemble of the remaining string players. During the eighteenth century there was a growing emphasis on the individual performer over the ensemble, as was evident even in Mozart’s fame as a child prodigy. With the new focus on the musical virtuosos, concertos during the Classical era were usually written as a vehicle to feature a specific performer.

Mozart composed a total of at least 41 solo concertos including 27 for piano and orchestra alone. The Clarinet Concerto was written in the last months of his life and was the final orchestral work he completed before his death in 1791. At that time the clarinet was a relatively new instrument in Vienna, and Mozart wrote the piece for clarinet and basset horn virtuoso Anton Stadler. Stadler loved the low range of the clarinet and preferred to play second clarinet in orchestras to play in this range more often. He supposedly altered his instrument by adding some additional tubing and a key to make the lowest playable note a C instead of the conventional E, thus creating a version of the clarinet known as the basset clarinet. Although there is no autograph score for the Clarinet Concerto, most people believe it was written for Stadler’s basset clarinet, since there are a few passages that utilize the low C. Modern editions of the concerto have been adapted to be played on the standard range of the A clarinet, thus leaving some musical choices up to the performer.

The opening Allegro is in sonata form, with an exposition for the orchestra alone followed by a second exposition for the soloist. When the material returns in the recapitulation, however, soloist and orchestra are united. While there is no true cadenza, there are two brief pauses when the soloist has an opportunity to improvise. Mozart utilized the full range of the clarinet, including several passages with large register leaps which are idiomatic to the instrument. The Adagio is among the most beautiful examples of Mozart’s orchestral writing. In a rounded binary form (ABA), it opens with solo clarinet passages alternating with lush musical responses of the full orchestra. A more formal cadenza appears in this movement. The final Rondo: Allegro is playful and features a variety of surprises and shifts in mood. A typical rondo is in ABACABA form, where the return of an often whimsical and memorable A theme is the main feature of the piece. Mozart tantalizes the audience in this rondo as the two middle A sections each last for only about eight measures before moving on, making the final A theme a big point of arrival in the piece. To close the concerto Mozart adds a virtuosic coda which builds in intensity until the very end. Again featuring the entire range of the clarinet, he writes a combination of fluid lines contrasted by disjunctive passages that traverse the top and bottom of the instrument’s range, often sounding as if two different players are performing at the same time.

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AARON COPLAND was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and conductor of his own and other American music. He was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition and is best known to the public for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s including Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Fanfare for the Common Man. The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit.

Copland composed Appalachian Spring in 1943-44 as a ballet for Martha Graham on a commission from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation. He took Graham’s suggestion for the title but not the narrative of an Appalachian housewarming for a pioneer and his bride. From the ballet score Copland arranged the Suite that we play for you today in eight uninterrupted sections. It opens with a slowly blooming introduction, after which unison strings burst into an elated Allegro. The scenes that follow move from a warm, gentle duet for the pioneering couple, through fleet, fiddling dances for a revivalist preacher and his followers, to an animated dance of anticipation for the bride. A transitional interlude recalls the opening, before the Suite’s climax, a set of variations on the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” which supports scenes of rustic domesticity in the choreography. In the coda, the married couple is left alone in their new home, with tender music that bookends and fulfills the opening expectations.

Graham told Copland that she wanted the dance to be “a legend of American living, like a bone structure, the inner frame that holds together a people,” and the ballet and its music were immediately understood as reflections of a national identity, of hope and fulfillment in a difficult time. As John Martin wrote in his New York Times review: “The spring that is being celebrated is not just any spring but the spring of America; and the celebrants are not just half a dozen individuals but ourselves in different phases.”

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