A Nakamatsu Premiere
Franz Joseph Haydn (b. Rohrau, Austria, March 31, 1732; d. Vienna, Austria, May 31, 1809)
Program note by Dr. Beth Fleming
David Amram (b. Philadelphia, PA November 17, 1930)
“Three Songs” A Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2009)
Composer’s notes on a world premiere work
n the summer of 1948, when I was a carpenter's helper and drove a truck for Taylor Made Homes in nearby Los Gatos, I never dreamed that sixty years later I would return to hear my music performed in San Jose. In fact, since 2005 this wonderful young orchestra has performed two of my pieces, both of them conducted brilliantly by Paul Polivnick. And now, thanks to Marie and William Bianco's generous commission, I have been asked write a concerto for San Jose's own Jon Nakamatsu, to be premiered with the orchestra and with Paul once again conducting.
I am delighted to compose a work for this exciting young pianist. And it was worth waiting 77 years to have the chance to write a concerto for the instrument that every musician loves and relies upon, no matter what they themselves play. As I listened to Jon's splendid recordings, I was again reminded that in an age of electronics and electronic keyboards, the acoustic piano is more than ever
refreshing to hear and a joy to compose for.
I have spent my life listening to the great concertos of the past and present, the treasures of Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Gershwin. But in writing this work, I have tried to follow advice that Leonard Bernstein gave me when he appointed me as the New York Philharmonic's first composer- in- residence. "David," he said, in a stern tone, "Your job as a composer is not just to please yourself. You should always try to add to the repertoire. And use your own roots, your own life experiences. Sing your own song."
I thought about Lenny the whole time I was writing the concerto. I remembered Dimitris Mitropoulos, my first mentor, whom I met as a teenager in the mid 1940s -- like Lenny a gifted pianist as well as a great composer and conductor. I recalled the summer I spent as the Marlboro Music Festival's 1961 composer-in residence, invited by pianist Rudolph Serkin after he read through a piano sonata I had written -- a summer spent hearing some of today's master pianists when they were young.
All of these masters and masters-to-be emphasized to me the lyric nature of the piano. Whatever genre of music they interpreted, they always wanted the piano to sing. When writing today's concerto, this is what I wanted it to bring to the repertoire. Each of the concerto's three movements explores a different way for the pianist to sing through his instrument.
The first movement, Niggun (Song Without Words) is based on the classical sonata form. It opens with the melancholy principal theme introduced by the violas and cellos, then restated by the woodwinds, and finally by all of the strings. The first two bars of this eight bar phrase serve as a motif that recurs through the entire concerto. After the various sections of the orchestra have been introduced, the piano enters with the principal theme. The orchestra restates and develops it, leading to a climax and the concerto's only brief cadenza. Following the cadenza the movement concludes, as we hear the return of portions of the opening motif.
The second movement, Ballade, is a tribute to the great keyboard artists in the ever-changing worlds of Jazz and Latin music whom I have been blessed to play with over the past sixty years. Through long--forgotten nights, all those pianists had their own way of making the piano sing.
The last movement, Jhaptal, pays homage to the sounds of music from India. These first inspired me throughout my trip to Pakistan and India in 1978 and have continued to do so ever since. They guided the composition of my score for the 1991 ballet Chakra, which uses traditional Western instruments to perform traditional Indian folk and classical stylings. The movement begins with a rhythmic introduction, leading to a melody based on Thilana, employing the *Raga Kedaragowla taught to me by Shanta Dhananjayan when we played together in New York. The song is restated, and leads to a 10/4 rhythm known as jhaptal, with a fragment of a melody in the *Raga Bopahli that I heard first in Pakistan and then in my head for years after. **Tabla master Badal Roy showed me the fundamentals of putting some of these rhythms together long ago. The eight bar theme that introduced the concerto is restated as a passacaglia, with the jhaptal rhythm and accompanying 10/4 melody superimposed; and the concerto draws to a joyous close.
* “Raga” (Sanskrit, lit. color or mood): A series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is founded, and the set of rules for building the melody. These give a framework that can be used to compose or improvise, allowing endless variations within the set of notes.
**“Tabla” (Hindi): A percussion instrument consisting of a pair of hand drums of
contrasting sizes and timbres, used in the classical, popular and religious music of the Indian subcontinent.
Program Note by David Amram
Ottorino Respighi (b. Bologna, Italy, July 9, 1879; d. Rome, Italy, April 18, 1936)
Feste Romane (Roman Festivals), Symphonic Poem, P. 157-1928
Ottorino Respighi wrote three great tone poems based around ideas relating to Rome. The first two works are The Fountains of Rome, written in 1917, and The Pines of Rome, which followed in 1924. Feste Romane is the last in that trilogy and as the final work, is the most ambitious. It calls for an organ, a mandolin, two tavolette (a particular sort of resonating drum), along with three flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English Horn, two clarinets, piccolo clarinet, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, bass drum, tambourine, rattle, sleighbells, cymbals, triangle, gong,
glockenspiel, two bells, xylophone, harp, piano, and strings! (It also demands three buccine, an ancient Roman trumpet-like military instrument with a circular tube which requires the bell to lie on the performer's shoulder. Respighi indicated that if buccine were not available, they could be replaced with additional trumpets -- the option taken in today's performance)
Resphighi's music celebrates orchestral gigantism, and it centers around the colorful use of orchestration to “paint” the picture he is trying to evoke with sound. Respighi proudly declared that this work represented his “maximum of orchestral sonority and color.” Feste Romane was completed in 1928, and the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York gave its premiere performance under Arturo Toscanini on February 21, 1929.
Feste Romane is a single movement tone poem with four sections, or moods, that merge seamlessly. The four sections are sound images of traditional public celebrations that range from the festivals of antiquity to celebrations begun during the composer's life. Just as in the previous two works, Respighi provided descriptive intent in a note printed in the score.
The first section, “Circenses,” or “The Circus Maximus,” is a depiction of a festival that happens on 'the people's holiday.' We hear great iron doors unlocked as the faint strains of a religious song are incongruously blended with the howls of the wild beasts of the circus, which hang in the air. The ferocious wild beasts are the bass clarinet, bassoons, contrabassoon, horns, trombones, tuba, timpani, cellos and basses playing low, loud, very beastly growls. The crowd is excited and agitated. The sound of the martyrs' song develops until it overtakes all other sound, and then is again lost in the sonic tumult.
“Il Giubileo,” or “The Jubilee,” the second section, is announced by the sounds of pilgrims trailing along the highway to the city accompanied by the sound of meditative music. At last, as the weary pilgrims reach the summit of Monte Mario, they behold the holy city and a hymn of praise bursts forth. They cry “Rome!, Rome!” and the bells of the churches ring out a jubilant reply. This segment of the music is built largely around an Eastern hymn from the 12th century called “Christ ist erstanden” or “Christ is Risen.”
Respighi's third festival depiction, “L'Ottobrata,” or “The October Festival.” is a harvest celebration in Rome. We hear the distant echoes of a hunt in progress, the tinkling of bells at the market stalls, and the expansive songs of blossoming love in a romantic serenade.
“La Befana,” or “The Epiphany,” the fourth and final festival,is a musical depiction of the night before Epiphany in the Piazza Navone. A trumpet fanfare sounds above the frantic clamor of activity. The barrel-organ from a festival stand sounds and the street cries of the vendors can be heard simultaneously with the music accompanying various peasant dances. Notable in this segment is a comically realistic portrayal of a staggering drunkard by the solo trombone. One sonority is piled relentlessly upon another in this final segment, depicting the tumultuous cacophony of joy unleashed.
Respighi vividly described the places and events in the Eternal City of Rome by using colorful, evocative orchestrations and by weaving small segments of ancient Italian music into the complex tapestry of colorful sound. He was passionate about his country and this piece, along with the other two works in the trilogy, suggest the spirit of nationalism that revived in Italy in the early twentieth century.
Program note by Dr. Beth Fleming