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Dead Elvis and Other Gems

6 p.m. March 24

Musical Instrument Museum

 

MusicaNova Orchestra

Warren Cohen, conductor

 

Dead Elvis                                                                                     Michael Daugherty (b. 1954)

     Kristilyn Woods, bassoon

 

Three Gymnopédies                                                         Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990)

I. Molto Tranquillo Alla Siesta

II. Lento Tranquillo

III. Allegretto Semplice

 

Concerto no. 2 for Two Clarinets, Op. 91                                 Franz Krommer (1759-1831)

     Kristin Fray and Anthony Masiello, clarinets

I. Allegro

II. Adagio

III. Alla Polacca

 

Intermission

 

Symphony no. 98 in B-flat Major                                                  Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

I. Adagio-Allegro

II. Adagio cantabile

II. Minuet

IV. Finale. Presto

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MusicaNova concerts are supported by generous grants or donations from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, Hannah’s Oboes, John & Elizabeth McKinnon, Ed and Cynthia DuBrow, W. David Connell, Robert Dixon, Meineke Car Care Centers, the Teets Family, and many more.

 

Playfulness, general silliness, and a few surprises

Program notes by Warren Cohen

 

Dead Elvis

 "Elvis is part of American culture, history, and mythology. If you want to understand America and all its riddles. sooner or later you will have to deal with (Dead) Elvis."

-- Composer Michael Daugherty

 

Michael Daugherty’s music reflects his immersion in the cultural icons of the United States. Throughout his career, he has taken well-known examples of American culture and used them as an inspiration for his compositions.

 

This has led to a series of works with distinctive and attractive titles such as Tombeau de Liberace, Sinatra Shag, and Dead Elvis, which you will hear at this concert. It plays on the conspiracy theory that Elvis is still alive, and on the idea that Elvis was in some sense a “sell out.”  

 

The sell-out idea is underscored by references to Stravinsky’s L’Histoire de Soldat, using the same instrumentation as that work and making a couple of subtle references to it. The Stravinsky piece  is about a soldier who sells his soul to the devil; in Daugherty’s work we are confronted with the idea that Elvis may not be dead -- but if he is dead, did he sell his soul to the devil? 

 

Throughout the work, the composer uses the Latin plainchant Dies Irae mixed with references to Elvis songs and classic rock ‘n’ roll riffs. The result is a unique and fascinating sonic landscape. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that it is essentially a theatrical Concerto for the bassoon, an instrument featured in none of Elvis Presley’s music. The bassoon has both menacing and comic potential, which this is essential to the idea of the piece. It is a tour de force for the sequined soloist.

 

Three Gymnopédies                                                          

Peggy Glanville-Hicks was a unique figure in 20th century music. As a composer, she brought a thoroughly original voice to the concert stage. She was also a music critic, international traveler, and obsessive cultural explorer who at various points in her life lived in Greece, the United Kingdom, Africa, and the United States. She was born in Australia and maintained her connection to the island continent, although she lived there for little of her adult life. Her music reflected her travels, and her musical language was a direct result of her experience of the world.

 

The title Gymnopedie refers to a stately ancient Greek dance. The composer’s understanding of Greek music and culture was profound and an important part of her musical vocabulary. The title also refers to the works of the same title by Erik Satie, and she plays on both the mood and character of her predecessor’s works.

 

These Gymnopedies are also short, meditative, and deceptively simple. She quotes Satie, as if to say, “I know what you are saying expecting to hear,” but then takes the music in a completely different direction. Her Gymnopedies are every bit as beautiful as the earlier compositions and should have a place in the repertoire.

 

Concerto no. 2 for Two Clarinets, Op. 91                                 

Franz Krommer was among several excellent late 18th-century central European composers who lived in the shadow of their great contemporaries Mozart and Haydn. This group included Jan Vaclav Vorisek, Joseph Martin Kraus and Leopold Kozeluch, and any music lover would find it worthwhile to investigate their compositions.

 

They each tried to find a way to create an individual identity for themselves. Krommer distinctively wrote much for wind instruments, although he was not himself a wind player. His music also conveys a healthy cheerfulness that pervades even his frequent minor key episodes. 

 

The concerto on this program is one of two he wrote for the unusual combination of two clarinets and orchestra. It begins in a fashion that will immediately attract attention; instead of the usual orchestral introduction, Krommer introduces the solo instruments at the beginning of the piece.

 

This concerto was written shortly after Beethoven did the same thing in his fourth and fifth piano concertos and one wonders if Krommer was directly influenced by Beethoven. As far as I can tell, this is the first time this device was used in a concerto for wind instruments. Cheerfulness is on full display in this charming movement, and there are a number of wonderful orchestral effects. Passages in the solo instruments are immediately answered by all the wind instruments in the orchestra, creating a fascinating contrast in sound.

 

The second movement is in a minor key but has an air more of slight sadness rather than any dark tragedy. The last movement begins with another striking passage with the clarinets accompanied by pizzicato strings. The effect is particularly brilliant. The contrast in sound between the clarinet and the pizzicato generates a great deal of energy and purpose.

 

Symphony no. 98

This symphony represented the culmination of the six symphonies Haydn wrote for his residency in London during the 1791-92 concert season. The trip was eye opening for the composer. It was the first time he was truly aware that his music would outlive his time on Earth, and he was struck with the realization that after a lifetime of being treated like a servant, he was now the master. He was feted everywhere he went. Aristocrats bowed down to him instead of the other way around. 

 

This greatly affected how he approached the composition of the six symphonies commissioned for the season. He had previously written with a view to pleasing his specific audience at the time and place where the music would be presented, often the audience at Esterhazy Palace in Hungary. He now looked to write works that would have a universal appeal. He made the effects in his music broader, he used larger forms, and he tried to make sure every movement of every work had elements that were fascinating and original. 

 

In this endeavor, he succeeded brilliantly. Symphony no. 98, the last of the set, is a particular case in point.

  • The first movement creates a complex and subtle interplay between a set of notes used in the introduction and then varied in the main section of the movement.

  • The second movement reflects his relationship with Mozart, the person he considered the greatest composer of his time.

  • The minuet shows off various sections of the orchestra and demonstrates Haydn’s skill in writing for all the instruments at his disposal.

  • The last movement was his longest of any symphony to that point, a complex and brilliant work that ends with one of the most shocking surprises in all of Haydn’s music.

 

Haydn spent the day with Mozart just before he left for London in December of 1790, and reportedly at their parting they both feared it would be the last time they saw each other. Mozart was concerned that the long journey, as well as Haydn’s lack of worldliness and knowledge of foreign languages, would be so stressful that at his age -- 59 was old in those days -- Haydn would not make it back alive. But Haydn did return after a year, a few months after Mozart died. Their premonitions had come to pass, but not as either expected.

 

Haydn was in the midst of composing Symphony no. 98 when word reached him of Mozart’s death, and he was deeply affected by it. He quoted the Jupiter symphony in the second movement, and incorporated references to several other Mozart compositions as well.  He both honored his great friend and showed his understanding of the universality of both of their compositions, giving a particular poignancy to what is otherwise a cheerful and at times downright cheeky work.

 

 

MusicaNova Orchestra

Violin I

Julian Nguyen, concertmaster

   John and Elizabeth McKinnon chair

Pamela Buck

Linda Quintero

Grace Wills

Jaime Wu

 

Violin II

Spencer Ekenes, principal

   Robert Dixon chair

Lisa Eisenberg

Dasom Jeon

Jamilyn Richardson

Patty Waxman

 

Viola

Janet Quiroz, principal

   Dominique van de Stadt and Octavio Pajaro chair

Elizabeth Hanson

Mason Haskett

Carolyn Snyder

 

Cello

   Ed & Cynthia DuBrow section

Maria Simiz, principal

Moira Bogardus

Jennifer Cox

Cindy Leger

 

Bass

Sila Kuvanci, principal

Alberto Allende

Nathan Benitez

 

Flute

Lisa Tharp Friedeman

 

Oboe

Nicholas Alexander, principal

   Nina Gurin memorial chair

Hannah Selznick

   Denise Wilson chair

 

Clarinet

Timothy Haas

 

Bassoon

Kristilyn Woods, principal

John Friedeman

 

French horn

Martha Edwards, principal

Gail Rittenhouse

 

Trumpet

Greg Lloyd, principal

Stephen Martin

 

Bass Trombone

Sean Holly

 

Percussion

Sonja Branch

   Leger Strategies chair

 

Harp

David Ice

Piano

Lisa Tharp Friedeman

Personnel manager: Liz McKinnon

Assistant personnel manager: Jamilyn Richardson

Librarian: Spencer Ekenes

Video recording: David Ice

Audio recording: Vault Classical

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