Monday, September 30, 2013

Richard Strauss and the Last of His Songs

This weekend, the Harrisburg Symphony begins its new season of Masterworks Concerts on Saturday, October 5th at 8pm and Sunday, October 6th at 3pm, with a program that includes the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss.

Richard Strauss was 84 when he composed a set of songs he did not call his “Four Last Songs.” That was the doing of his publishers but it made sense: at the time, they were not only his last songs, they were his last completed works.

Janice Chandler-Eteme & Stuart Malina in 2011
Janice Chandler-Eteme returns to Harrisburg to sing them with the orchestra and Stuart Malina on a program admittedly of 20th Century Music – the other works on the program are Ravel's ballet Daphnis and Chloe (premiered in 1912) and Stravinsky's epic Rite of Spring (premiered in 1913). These songs were composed in 1948 but not premiered until 1950.

Despite being written when they were, a casual concert-goer may be surprised to find they are 20th Century (a.k.a. “modern”) works at all. Certainly, compared to what was going on during the past century with works by Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Bartók or Elliott Carter – or even Philip Glass and John Adams – these sound very old-fashioned, indeed.

Late in his life, Brahms, of course, was complaining about the cess-pool modern music was headed toward with these new works by the then young Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler (a conductor Brahms very much admired; as a composer, not so much).

Alfred Stieglitz's portrait, 1904
Certainly, Strauss had set people's ears on edge with passages in Don Quixote (the bleating of sheep, really?) or the screaming textures and psychological drama of Salome which had proved such a shocker in 1905 on any number of levels.

But around the time other composers were going even further afield, moving past the harmonies and modulations of Richard Wagner's Tristan into a realm devoid on tonal and eventually even harmonic references to anything familiar – something that seemed to occur around 1911 between Debussy's Jeux (which contained no melodies in the traditional sense and a more intense tonal ambiguity than his Impressionistic style had attempted before), Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and especially Stravinsky's Rite of Spring – Richard Strauss returned to Mozart.

The whole idea behind Der Rosenkavalier, premiered in January, 1911, was to do his version of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, even though his music may sound quite different from Mozart's own. But it already a world apart from Strauss's immediate past with the shrieking intensity of his Elektra, premiered two years earlier.

This return to the aesthetic of the past would be more pronounced in his music for Moliere's play, Le bourgeois gentilhomme which the symphony will perform at November's concert which harkens stylistically back to the late-17th Century, although always sounding like Richard Strauss (at least to us, in hindsight).

Strauss, 1947
The Four Last Songs, grouped together and given that name by his friend Ernest Roth, an editor at the publishers, Boosey & Hawkes, are not performed in chronological order – in fact, the order itself is still being debated, so you may find recordings or performances with a different sequence. Still, it's pretty hard to not end with Im Abendrot (“At Sunset”) even if it was the first of the songs to be written.

Here are four different singers with each of Strauss's songs, followed by translations of the texts:

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Lucia Popp, London Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas (1993):

In shadowy crypts / I dreamt long / of your trees and blue skies, / of your fragrance and birdsong. // Now you appear / in all your finery, / drenched in light / like a miracle before me. // You recognize me, / you entice me tenderly. / All my limbs tremble at / your blessed presence!
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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Berlin Radio Symphony/George Szell (1965):

The garden is in mourning. / Cool rain seeps into the flowers. / Summertime shudders, / quietly awaiting his end. // Golden leaf after leaf falls / from the tall acacia tree. / Summer smiles, astonished and feeble, / at his dying dream of a garden. // For just a while he tarries / beside the roses, yearning for repose. / Slowly he closes / his weary eyes.
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Beim Schlaffengehen (Falling Asleep)
Gundula Janowitz with Berlin Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan (1971):

Now that I am wearied of the day, / my ardent desire shall happily receive / the starry night / like a sleepy child. // Hands, stop all your work. / Brow, forget all your thinking. / All my senses now / yearn to sink into slumber. // And my unfettered soul / wishes to soar up freely / into night's magic sphere / to live there deeply and thousandfold.
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Im Abendrot (At Sunset)
Renee Fleming, London Symphony/Christoph von Dohnanyi (London Proms, 2001):

We have through sorrow and joy / gone hand in hand; / From our wanderings, / let's now rest in this quiet land. // Around us, the valleys bow / as the sun goes down. / Two larks soar upwards / dreamily into the light air. // Come close, and let them fly. / Soon it will be time for sleep. / Let's not lose our way / in this solitude. // O vast, tranquil peace, / so deep in the evening's glow! / How weary we are of wandering – / Is this perhaps death?
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These are very personal songs, their subject aside, given the composer's age and awareness of his mortality. His wife, Pauline, had been a soprano – and most his great roles and his songs were written for sopranos. His father, Franz, had been one of the greatest horn players of his day. Is there a nostalgia recalling his father's horn playing in all the great horn solos that permeate these songs? (The composer's son, by the way, was named after his father.)

But more direct are the quotations from one of Strauss's earlier works, the tone-poem Tod und Verklärung (“Death and Transfiguration”) recalled in the final moments of Im Abendrot.

There are other quotations and references to works by his idols – for instance, the Adagio of Beethoven's 3rd “Razumovsky” Quartet, Op. 59/3 – but “for Strauss's admirers at least,” Matthew Boyden writes in his biography of the composer, “the melancholy of Eichendorff's verses” in Im Abendrot, “allied to the soaring pathos of the music, is almost unbearably sad.”

And, I would add, immensely consoling.

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Many listeners have no idea how old a composer may have been when he or she wrote a particular piece: usually it has no bearing on the music itself, but often it can be rather surprising to know Mendelssohn was 17 when he wrote the Overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream or that Beethoven was 57 when he died (having passed that age, myself, I'm now tempted to add “was only 57...”).

When American composer Lou Harrison wrote his 4th Symphony in 1990 and called it his “Last Symphony,” he was 73 and would live another 13 years. Someone asked him what he would do if he decided he would write another symphony. “Then I would call that one my “Very Last Symphony.”

Does it matter that Beethoven wrote his “early” string quartets around the time he was pushing 30 – Schubert, after all, only lived to be 31 – or that Elliott Carter was still composing when he died last year at the age of 103?

To most people, probably not, but to someone who's interested in the stories behind the music – whether it helps “explain” the music is not the point: nothing but listening (and listening actively) can “explain” music, if even that is possible (and besides, even then, the more you listen to it, the more you might discover in the music) – there has to be something going on here. After all, composers are people, too, and have the same kind of things to deal with as normal people.

So Richard Strauss had been one of the great composers of the late-19th and early-20th Centuries, starting off as a prodigy who could write a masterful horn concerto for his father when he was 17 that is still a major part of any horn-player's repertoire. He wrote a series of tone-poems like Till Eulenspiegel and Ein Heldenleben (“A Hero's Life”), then a series of operas: the scandalously modern Salome and Elektra and then, around 1911, reverted to a Mozart-like nostalgia in Der Rosenkavalier.

After a successful career, then came World War II which created additional problems, particularly for his reputation. He's often been condemned as a Nazi sympathizer because, unlike many other composers, he did not leave Germany nor did he speak out against Hitler's government and policies.

Yet his son had married a Jewish woman and in order to protect her and his two half-Jewish grandsons, Strauss had to be fairly conscious what he could and could not do.

Still, there was something about having one of the greatest composers of the day representing if not the government, the culture of the German nation. And so both sides treaded lightly around these issues. Had Strauss's daughter-in-law been the daughter-in-law of probably any other composer, she would probably have been sent to a concentration camp as millions of others had. Had Strauss spoken up against the Nazis, she might have, anyway...

While that's not the topic, here, it is part of the background and cannot be ignored. To think of any composer writing in the midst of such an environment is one thing; to imagine the Four Last Songs came out of that, in a sense, is almost unbelievable.

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Strauss was in his mid-70s when the war began. He had, essentially, viewed himself as an old man who would probably not write much more. When the war was over and he had composed one of the saddest pieces of music ever written in honor of the city of Dresden, destroyed in the Allied bombing – Metamorphosen – he was now in his 80s.

After the war, American soldiers arrived at his villa in southern Bavaria (the legendary Garmisch-Partenkirchen) and Strauss met them on the steps, announcing himself as “Richard Strauss, the composer of Rosenkavalier and Salome.” The commander put an “Off Limits” sign on Strauss' lawn.

There was an American soldier named John deLancie, an oboist who before the war was the principal oboist of the Pittsburgh Symphony and later of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who met Strauss and talked “shop” with him during the occupation and eventually asked him to consider writing an oboe concerto. Strauss dismissed the idea but later completed one by the end of the year. It is perhaps one of the most Mozartean pieces he ever composed.

Matthew Boyden in his biography describes life for Strauss during his final years, a period sometimes referred to as his “Indian Summer.”

Skipping ahead a couple of years after the war, a tour had been arranged for Strauss in October of 1947 with a Strauss Festival in London, giving his music a chance to be heard again so Strauss the composer could earn some respect and Strauss the conductor could earn some money. The month before, he and his wife relocated to a hotel in Montreaux, Switzerland, which remained their “home-base” until they returned to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in May, 1949.

Thomas Beecham conducted a suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme, (a work the HSO will be playing on its November concert), a scene from an early opera (premiered in 1901) and Don Quixote. A second concert included Ein Heldenleben and Macbeth and the final scene from the opera Ariadne auf Naxos.

A week later, the 83-year-old Strauss himself conducted a program with the tone-poem Don Juan, the Burleske for piano and orchestra, waltzes from Rosenkavalier and the Sinfonia domestica. As he waited backstage to begin the concert, he said, “So the old horse ambles out of the stables once more.”

There were two broadcast performances of Elektra with Beecham and then Strauss made his last appearance at the festival conducting Till Eulenspiegel on a program where Adrian Boult conducted Mozart's “Jupiter” Symphony and Holst's Planets. Strauss left London two days later with ₤1,000 in his pocket and returned to his wife in Montreaux at the end of October.

The next month, he experienced the first signs of a bladder infection but despite the pain and in defiance of his doctors' advice, he set about composing again, no doubt more fully enlivened by the experiences in London. He wrote a delightful “Duet-Concertino” for clarinet and bassoon which Radio Lugano's orchestra premiered the following April.

But then “Strauss appeared to shrink into himself.” Other than thoughts about a children's opera written for his grandchildren (The Donkey's Shadow), “his sketchbooks remained closed.” Instead, he began reading – Goethe and Nietzsche, and the theoretical works of Wagner the composer, but all this only reminded him of what German culture had lost during the war and “his depression spiraled.”

In the new year, his son Franz tried to cheer him up and “almost in an aside he told him to stop brooding and write some songs, suggesting that since many of the country's opera houses had been destroyed [in the war] there would be an increased demand for concert music.”

The year before, Strauss had copied the text of Joseph von Eichendorff's poem “Im Abendrot” (At Sunset) into a diary, beneath a newspaper clipping he'd pasted in it about the destruction of Dresden.

“The poem tells the story of an old couple who, after a lifetime together” – not unlike he and his wife Pauline who'd been married, now, for 53 years – “look to the sunset and ask, 'Is this perhaps death?'”

He'd set the poem then but, after his son's advice touched him, he returned to it and completely reset it, not just as a song for voice and piano but with the accompaniment of the full orchestra, and completed it in May.

Then he got out his volume of Herman Hesse poems and chose four that he liked, creating a cycle of songs all dealing with the subject of death.

He completed “Frühling” (“Spring”) on July 18th, “Beim Schlaffengehen” (“Going to sleep”) on August 4th, and “September” on September 20th.

He never finished the fourth of Hesse's poem he had selected.

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In June, he had been cleared by the de-nazification tribunal, exonerated as much by the circumstances as his admiration he was held in by the world as much as the Allies' wish to demonstrate “forbearance and humanity.” It was unlikely at his age – 84, now – they would expect him to endure prison or forced labor. His property nor any of the “harvests of his collaboration” with the Nazi government “were seized in reparation.”

Then, in December, he underwent bladder surgery and his recovery was slow and painful. He wrote to a friend, “I have actually outlived myself.” He studied scores by Mozart and Beethoven (particularly, the late quartets) and Wagner's Tristan. He began sketching a choral work based on one of Hesse's poems and read volumes of Greek philosophy (in the original Greek). He spent a lot of time reminiscing – his wife, Pauline, had begun her memoirs.

It wasn't until May 10th, 1949, that the Strausses returned to their Bavarian home and many friends were surprised to see how much he had aged. “His eyes, once described by [his friend and librettist Stefan] Zweig as the 'most wide-awake in the world,' were huge and watery; his hearing was now seriously impaired (he told [the conductor] Karl Böhm that everything was a [half-step] higher) and many pictures taken at the time how him straining to hear his photographer.”

But at times his face could still light up. Though he had been advised to rest, he wanted to attend rehearsals in Munich (an hour away) for a new production of Rosenkavalier which Georg Solti was conducting. Overcome by this, he asked to conduct the “Presentation of the Rose” scene at the end of Act II and the glorious trio and duet that concludes the opera. Fortunately, someone was on hand with a camera and caught the Act II finale on film.

Preparing for his 85th birthday, a film crew shadowed him, now, for a documentary film to be called A Life in Music. He was caught playing a bit of his opera Daphne at the piano and walking about the villa.

Henrietta Schirach, a member of the film crew, later recalled,

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“Strauss enjoyed it hugely. Neither the chaos of cables nor the bright lights disturbed him. He had never seen a sound film in his life.” [She was] struck by his silky, tender skin. His blue eyes... blinked suspiciously as he faced the crowd of people. Suddenly he stopped. It was the spotr on which the urn with his ashes was [later] to stand.”
Boyden: Richard Strauss (p.366)
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A month later, he was driven to Munich by the American Military Governor so he could conduct the “Moonlight” music from his last opera, Capriccio with the Radio Orchestra as part of the documentary.

He never conducted again.

Another month passed and Strauss was now ill and confined to his bed, nursed by his son Franz and Alice, his daughter-in-law. He told them “I hear so much music.” When Alice brought him manuscript paper, he was to tired and unable to write anything down.

Talking to a friend, he reminisced about many things:

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“I think I did a good job of conducting Wagner's works.” He described at length a scene from Siegfried after the Idyll [Forest Murmurs] where “a powerful animation must begin and continue through to the end and all the slow tempi must be taken only in a relative sense, but hardly anyone does that... You know the passage I mean?” Then he lifted his arms and began to conduct it, singing the orchestral melody in a loud voice. “The face,” [his friend wrote later], “is slightly flushed; his shining eyes are gazing far, far beyond the walls of the room. Now he is leaning back on the pillows, his eyes moist with tears. 'You must forgive me,' [Strauss] says, 'but when you lie here so alone and there is so much to think about you become a little sentimental.' Then he is silent for a long time...; softly his voice sounds again... 'Grüss mir die Welt' – where does that come from?'”
Boyden: Richard Strauss (p. 367).
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His friend thought perhaps Walküre but Strauss said, “No, no, that's not it – somewhere else...” Actually, Grüss mir die Welt (Greet the world for me) is from Tristan, Act I, perhaps Strauss's favorite opera - Isolde's farewell in scene 4.

A few days later, Strauss whispered to Alice, “It's a funny thing, but dying is exactly like I composed it sixty years ago in Tod und Verklärung [his famous, early tone-poem, Death & Transfiguration].”

Uremia, angina and constant pain “wore the old man down,” Boyden writes, and then following a series of “increasingly severe heart attacks, he died at 2:12pm on September 8th, 1949.”

Pauline, who had been his beloved if often combative wife during their long marriage, “no longer complained,” Boyden writes; “there was nothing left to fight for.” She would sit on his deathbed and weep and died eight months later, only nine days before Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted the world premiere of her husband's Four Last Songs with soprano Kirsten Flagstad.

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Here, Kirsten Flagstad sings Strauss's Last Song recorded at the world premiere performance (some sources indicate it was from the dress rehearsal which others say is incorrect), May 22nd, 1950:

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Considering these songs had been composed more than a year before his death, it surprises me that they weren't rushed out for their premieres almost immediately. I've never found any explanation why Strauss or his family or his publisher never did anything with them.

More surprisingly, these were, in fact, not the last thing he composed. Malven, a very brief and rather inconsequential song, was composed for one of his favorite singers, Maria Jeritza, who had performed so many of his great soprano roles. It's a slight piece for voice and piano setting a rather inadequate poem about garden flowers (the title refers to a rose-mallow) by a Swiss novelist, Betty Knobel, which one source describes as “not being worthy of the honor.” He wrote it in late November 28th, 1948, a full two months after completing “September” and, with an effusive dedication, sent it off to Jeritza who stored it in her safe with her other mementos. No one was aware of its existence until 37 years later, after Jeritza died in 1983.

Even then, it took a while till it was first heard in public – at a New York Philharmonic concert in 1985 with Kiri Te Kanawa. Apparently, the manuscript only became available to them days before the concert, but the composer's grandson, Christian, was able to be in the audience.

So here is an audio clip of Richard Strauss' “Very Last Song.”
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It may not be even close to the rapturous beauty of the only slightly earlier songs, but for anyone interested in an artist's “final thoughts,” interesting, nonetheless.

– Dick Strawser

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The 2013-2014 Season: Hear the Preview!

The Harrisburg Symphony's new season gets underway the first weekend in October and will include seven “Masterworks” Concerts at the Forum. Stuart Malina conducts each concert and this post is just an introduction and overview to each program. Closer to the specific concert-time, I'll be posting more information about the music, the performers as well as video clips (if they're available) of each piece.

All concerts are Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at the Forum in downtown Harrisburg's Capitol Complex and each performance is preceded by a pre-concert talk an hour before.

OCTOBER 5th & 6th:
So, we'll begin with a concert aptly titled Rite of Spring because, with Stravinsky's epic ballet on the second half, what else could one call it? While the entire season is called “Hear the Color,” this is a very colorful program with two ballets famous for their orchestral colors and a set of songs by a composer who was a master at creating orchestral colors, himself.

The concert opens with the sound of flowing water and a beautiful sunrise that opens the third act of Maurice Ravel's ballet, Daphnis & Chloe. We're playing the “2nd Suite” which is really a concert adaptation of Act III of the entire ballet. Just to give you a bit of background to the story, Daphnis is a shepherd who falls in love with Chloe who, in the 2nd Act, is abducted by pirates and rescued by the god, Pan (the inventor of Pan's Pipes but also the source of our word “panic”). The 3rd Act's “plot” can be summed up as “General Celebration after Chloe's Return.” But the music is a lot more interesting than that.

Here's a concert performance of the entire 2nd Suite with Gustavo Dudamel conducting Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony:
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Though the stage of the Forum is small enough (at least in terms of its depth) and there is no pit, you won't see any dancers for this ballet. But just to give you an idea, here's a performance of the ballet's final scene with the Royal Ballet in Frederick Ashton's choreography:
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You may have heard soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme in November, 2011, when she came in at the last minute to sing Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. This time, she's back with four ravishing songs composed for voice and orchestra by Richard Strauss.

Now, he didn't call them his “Four Last Songs” because... well, who knew? But since they were the last songs he composed when he was 84 the year before he died, they've become known as “The Four Last Songs.” Actually, there was to be a fifth, but Strauss was unable to complete it before his death. There are three songs setting poems by Hermann Hesse all dealing with the process of dying. He had already composed a setting of Joseph von Eichendorff's “Im Abendrot” (“At Sunset”) earlier that spring, but because of the nature of the poem and the conclusion of the song itself, it's usually performed as the last of the Four Last Songs even though it was the first of them to be composed. The last music he completed is officially “Beim Schlafengehen” (“Going to Sleep”).

In this video, soprano Renee Fleming sings “Im Abendrot.” (You can read the translation of the poem here.)
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recorded with Claudio Abbado at the Luzerne Festival in 2004.

We don't really need an anniversary to program Igor Stravinsky's ballet, The Rite of Spring (also known by its French title, Le sacre du printemps) but since it was first heard on May 29th, one hundred years ago, why not celebrate its centennial? It is one of the most significant works for the start of 20th Century Music and in addition to its colors and unique technical aspects, it brought rhythm and the percussive use of the orchestra into the possible palette a composer could use. Before then, melody and harmony had been the primary aspects of 19th Century music – there is not much in the way of tunes in this piece, but you can't escape its colors and, above all, its rhythms.

Especially in the ending, the famous “Sacrificial Dance.”

The story takes place in ancient pagan Russia and a village is celebrating the advent of spring and with it, the need to propitiate the gods to give them a good crop and a bountiful harvest. To this end, they must sacrifice a virgin who, then, dances herself to death (at least, that's what she does in this ballet: less bloody, that way...).

Here's the opening of the ballet with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony in a live concert broadcast:
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If you find yourself at a loss – missing your Beethoven or Brahms – think of being outside on a day in early spring: what do you hear? Birds, perhaps, and maybe insects – not as individual songs and sounds but perhaps as a growing texture, becoming more complex and shifting depending on where your attention lies. That's sort of what Stravinsky seems to be doing with his instruments.

Here's the final scene, the Sacrificial Dance, in one of those “animated graphical scores” that help listeners who can't read music to follow what's going on (and make it easier even if you do):
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In the next post for this concert, I'll post three versions of the complete ballet for you: a live concert performance; this animated score; and then the ballet as it might have looked if you'd attended that famous (or infamous) first performance 100 years ago as the Joffrey Ballet reconstructs the original production's scenery and costumes and, most importantly, Vaclav Nijinsky's amazing choreography. Trust me, if you've never seen this before, it will be an eye-opener just as the music so often can be an ear-opener even for those who've heard the work before.

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NOVEMBER 9th & 10th

This concert is called Suite Sounds if only because there are two suites on the program. A suite is a collection of excerpts from a larger work (perhaps highlights or more famous selections) or it can be a collection of otherwise unrelated pieces. The Suite from Richard Strauss' incidental music for Moliere's play Le bourgeois gentilhomme is a selection of highlights and the Respighi “Ancient Airs & Dances” is a collection of Renaissance and Early Baroque lute pieces arranged for orchestra.

Those are the “suites.” But the sounds, perhaps, are very different, especially considering the opening work on the program, another important work for the 20th Century not because of what it sounds like but because of how it made us think about music and sound in general.

Now, I don't want to give away what seems to be the “gimmick” in John Cage's 4'33” (which is pronounced “Four Minutes & Thirty-three Seconds”) but it was written for any instrument or instruments but since it was first performed by pianist David Tudor in 1952, it is usually considered a piano piece. But an orchestra can play it, too.

The standard definition of music is “organized sound.” We try to distinguish between sound that is music and sound that is noise. But John Cage wasn't sure music needed to be so “organized” as it used to be – he would champion an improvisatory approach usually called “chance music.” And much music in the early 20th Century incorporated non-musical sounds in a piece of music: not just the sirens of Edgar Varese's Ionisations or the banging of percussion (or the use of instruments percussively, like in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring), but also Paris taxi horns in Gershwin's American in Paris or the singing of a nightingale by way of a recording in Respighi's Pines of Rome.

So I've already spent more time talking about this piece than it might take to play it. The musician(s) sit and play nothing – nothing – for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Silence? In a sense, but there is, scientifically, no such thing as “silence,” really. As Cage said, following the premiere, about those who didn't understand the piece:

They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.

So what will you hear in the acoustics of the Forum?

The music Richard Strauss composed for Moliere's classic play, Le bourgeois gentilhomme sounds nothing like the Strauss of the Four Last Songs composed in 1949. In fact, this sounds nothing like what Strauss was writing before 1909, with his blood-curdling operas, Salome and Elektra, or his gigantic tone poems like Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben, all very familiar works.

Somewhere around 1911, several composers started breaking away from the past in ways that shocked the public – but Strauss (who'd “been there/done that”) went in the opposite direction, inspired more by his beloved Mozart than what was going on among his contemporaries. It was as if he ignored everything that had happened since Mozart – Beethoven and Wagner, especially, much less his own music.

The action of the play takes place in the home of a “would-be gentleman” who, having made his fortune, is trying to act like those who've inherited theirs. He throws a lavish party. That's all you need to know: there are dances for the tailors and the servants as the evening is prepared – even the dinner gets its own music. But it sounds so different – like French music of the Baroque period, when the play was originally written. In fact, Strauss even uses some of the compositions of Jean-Baptiste Lully who wrote the music for Moliere's original production in 1670!

Here's a bit of the opening music with Vladimir Jurowski conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe – gone are the huge orchestras with vast string sections and incredible washes of sounds that we might be familiar with from his earlier tone poems: this is Strauss in his “neo-classical” mode (though we might call it “neo-Baroque” in a way), writing between 1911 and 1917 before he finally finished the music (and an opera that went with it!). Incidentally, this was being written in Germany at the same time Stravinsky was in Paris and Switzerland composing The Rite of Spring.
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Meanwhile, in Italy at the same time, Ottorino Respighi – best known for his large-scale music portraits of Rome, The Pines of Rome, The Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals – was discovering lute music from around 1600, give or take a decade. He liked them so much he thought he would arrange some of them for a small orchestra so that other people could hear them. In those days, before recordings and the proliferation of “early music groups,” this music was almost totally unknown. While it's Respighi's clothing, the music is originally by Simone Molinaro, Vincenzo Galilei (better known because of his son, Galileo Galilei, the famous mathematician and astronomer), Michael Pretorius and good old Anonymous.
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Johann Sebastian Bach hardly needs an introduction to even the most casual music-lovers, but he's not often heard in symphony concerts any more, especially since these “period instrument” groups or other ensembles specializing in “historically accurate” performances have put us off hearing music originally composed for a handful of players being played by orchestras of 75 to 100.

Perhaps Bach's most famous “orchestral” works are his Brandenburg Concertos – six of them, in all, and each one a different instrumentation. The famous 5th Concerto features a solo group of a flute, a violin and a harpsichord with the “orchestra” which might have been played four or five players. Surprisingly, it's also possibly the first “keyboard” concerto – the harpsichord, predecessor of the piano, was usually relegated to the background – necessary and ever-present (which is one reason it's called “continuo”) but rarely getting a chance to shine as a soloist. Accompanist, yes; part of the ensemble, of course. And this is no delicate sliver of a concerto to accommodate the usually pale sounds of your typical harpsichord: it's quite a long work and it's the keyboard player who gets to show off in a honkingly huge cadenza near the end of the first movement – just like any pianist might get to do a century later in the days of Beethoven and Liszt.

Here's one of those early music ensembles, La petite bande, playing the first movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major:
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JANUARY 11th & 12th:

We throw a spear into the new year, 2014, with a short work by American composer Michael Torke called, appropriately, Javelin, composed for the opening of the Summer Olympics in 1996 (wait... what? That's right!) Now, as it happens, it's not always possible to find performances of everything on YouTube – despite its abundance of cat videos and footage of would-be child prodigies playing “Chopsticks”). I wasn't able to find a good performance with good sound (with orchestra) of either Javelin or a reasonable facsimile, Bright Blue Music. Maybe I'll have better luck by the time the concert rolls around...

Another ballet on the program and another of those works that shocked its audiences when it was first performed in the so-called Roaring '20s. If people had trouble with Stravinsky's music and Nijinsky's choreography when The Rite of Spring hit the stage, Bartók's music was one thing but the story of a prostitute used by thugs to lure victims into their lair to rob them was quite another – especially when you consider the last would-be victim, the Mandarin of the title, refuses to die when the thugs try to kill him. In fact, his wounds only begin to bleed when the girl kisses him – and he dies.

The first time I heard this music, when I was in college, the opening practically pulled me up out of my seat. It was a live performance with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra playing a concert up at Bucknell University's gymnasium (before they had a concert hall) – I've never heard anything quite like that performance.

Here's the opening of the suite from this ballet with Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony in an over-produced broadcast from 1986. The actual performance begins at 2:32 if I can't get the clip to start there automatically (you may want to avoid the boring announcer at the beginning, but hey...):
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The second half of the program is one of the great Romantic piano concertos from the 19th Century, the second one Brahms composed and one that was inspired by two separate holidays in Italy. That's probably most evident in the last movement, which I've selected for this preview. The whole concerto is enormous – about 50 minutes long – and unlike the typical 3-movement concerto, Brahms added a short scherzo (if you can call it that) after the vast expanse of that opening movement. The concerto is sometimes described as a Symphony with Piano Obbligato, and it require a special touch to balance such piano writing against Brahms' symphonic orchestration.

Here's a young Russian-American prize-winning pianist, Kirill Gerstein, with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony in the finale of Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2:
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Our soloist is a young German prize-winning pianist, Markus Groh, who was here six years ago to play Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto (a work that had a lot of influence on Brahms when he was writing his 1st Piano Concerto). Here's a TV interview (with English subtitles) with Markus:
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FEBRUARY 8th & 9th:

This program opens with a special occasion: the world premiere of a work by Steve Rudolph especially commissioned to celebrate our maestro's recent 50th Birthday. Of course, now, he has to learn to play it and conduct it, too, so it's perhaps a double-edged birthday present. Of course, we don't have any audio or video of it yet – it hasn't been completed yet and Stuart hasn't seen it yet – but you can hear the first performance anywhere of these piece in February, 2014, with Stuart Malina and the HSO at the Forum.

So, why else would a program in the month of Valentine's Day be called “Romancing the Cello”? Well, it's one of the great Romantic concertos of all time and certainly the most famous and popular cello concerto in the repertoire. And Zuill Bailey, our soloist, is making a return appearance to Central PA, familiar to fans of past seasons with Next Generation Festival and Market Square Concerts as well.

Here's a video of Zuill coaching a student in the opening of the concerto:
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...and from Telarc recent recording with Zuill and the Indianapolis Symphony conducted by Jun Markl, here's the 2nd Movement from the concerto:
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Beethoven completed nine symphonies – and while they're all masterpieces, some of them are more popular than others: the 9th because of its universal message and inspiring finale; the 5th because... well, does it need a reason? And of course the heroic Eroica and the celebratory 7th, probably one of the happiest creations from any genius.

The 4th of Beethoven's symphonies is, alas, one of those that doesn't get as much attention as the others so here's your chance to hear it live. This performance of the complete symphony is taken from a DVD that includes both the 4th and the 7th, and while I'm not going to tell you don't listen to the 7th, you can sample the 4th here with the legendary Carlos Kleiber: the performance begins at 0:53 after that long walk down the steps, and ends at 34:32.
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MARCH 22nd & 23rd

This program begins with a French composer I wasn't familiar with when I saw the name on the brochure, but I went to YouTube and found several of his pieces available there. Unfortunately, the movement “Aleph” from Guillaume Connesson's Cosmic Trilogy which opens our March concert is not one of them (though there is a recording of it available commercially). But to give you an idea of what the composer sounds like, here is a clip of his piano concerto called “The Shining One” written in 2009:
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The cosmos aside, the Schein of Schein on Chopin is the legendary pianist and teacher, Ann Schein, who may not (but should) be a familiar name despite her career as a teacher and performer. This concert is part of a special combination with Market Square Concerts: she'll perform a solo piano recital a week after the symphony concert at Whitaker Center featuring music by Ravel, Liszt and Chopin.

In this concert, she'll be performing the F Minor Piano Concerto by Frederic Chopin and here's an audio-clip of a performance of its last movement she made in 1960 when she was 20 years old:
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Here, she plays Chopin's Ballade in F Minor at Aspen last year:
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Sergei Rachmaninoff may be a 20th Century composer by his dates, but he is a Russian romantic in the tradition of Tchaikovsky. He wrote three symphonies, the first of which was one of the great disasters in the history of bad premieres (but not for the music, apparently, though Rachmaninoff never published or performed the work again) and the second of which went on to become a very popular work despite its enormous length. The 3rd has not benefited from the 2nd's fame and, first heard in 1936 in Philadelphia, it was too conservative for people who expected something a little more contemporary in the 1930s, and too modern for people who preferred their music to sound like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Well, it's a great work – and Stuart Malina loves it. Judging from his performance of it here a few seasons ago, I think you'll understand why it should be heard more often.

Here's a recording with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsertam from 1997:
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APRIL 12th & 13th

We hope you'll save a place for Elijah in your calendar when the Susquehanna Chorale and the Messiah College Concert Choir directed by Linda Tedford join Stuart and the orchestra for one of the great choral works of the 19th Century, Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio, Elijah.

I'll save the background material for the concert post, but here are two short excerpts that will give you an idea of what to expect. The 1st is just the last few minutes of the work, from a 2010 performance with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Chorus:
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...and one of the arias in Mendelssohn's trademark simplicity with the legendary alto, Kathleen Ferrier, singing “Oh, Rest in the Lord”, recorded in 1946 (keep in mind, this was right after the ordeal of World War II):
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MAY 17th & 18th:

Going "Out with a Bang" would seem a given, considering a concerto featuring a stageful of percussion instruments and a big noisy symphony like Tchaikovsky's 5th. But the concert opens with some quiet music – in fact, the only thing quieter this season would be John Cage's 4'33”.

Aaron Copland's Quiet City was initially conceived for incidental music for a stage play in which a young man plays a bluesy trumpet on the roof of his New York apartment building (keep in mind, his cowboy ballets notwithstanding, Copland described himself as “just a Jewish boy from Brooklyn”), answered in the distance by the night-time silence of a sleeping city – and an English horn.

Here's a performance by an orchestra from another great city, the Santa Cecilia orchestra from Rome, conducted by Antony Pappano:
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One of the works we've gotten a lot of requests to bring back was the Percussion Concerto by Jennifer Higdon which our principal percussionist Chris Rose played a few seasons ago. It was the first performance by a soloist other than Colin Currie for whom she'd written it and she was so impressed by Chris' performance, she arranged the work for band – and he's since played it with his “other gig,” the President's Own Marine Band.

So they'll be back to end our season – we're hoping Ms. Higdon can join us, but she's amazingly busy (and just a couple weeks ago, finished her first opera, a setting of Cold Mountain, two years in the making), so I make no promises, but Chris Rose will be back to play her Perucssion Concerto on this program.

Here's a video of a concert with the University of British Columbia and soloist Jeremy Lawi – I love the camera work so you can get a great idea of just what kind of instruments the soloist is playing: the set-up itself is amazing. And then you get to hear it, too.
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While Tchaikovsky and his 5th Symphony probably don't need much of an introduction, one of the more popular symphonies in the repertoire and one of those "Fate" symphonies like Beethoven's 5th, Mahler's 5th, Shostakovich's 5th and also, for that matter, Tchaikovsky's 4th but unlike its predecessor which gives in to fate and the hero is defeated, Tchaikovsky ends his 5th with a victory celebration. Here's a clip of the finale with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra:
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And if that's not “ending with a bang,” I don't know what is!