|About this Recording
8.559679 - ECHOES - Classic Works Transformed (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)
Echoes: Classic Works Transformed
One of the most important contributions artists can make is to disseminate the art that they believe in to as large a group as possible. I have dedicated my whole life to bringing classical music to people, to demonstrating its intrinsic beauty and humanity, all stemming from my belief that if you can feel this great music, it can truly enhance your life. The concept of Echoes was to select well-known short works—five to ten minutes in length—and to transform them for our present time. Thus by creating new short works incorporating the sounds of well-established pieces, we could reach out to engage a new audience. I wanted each of the works in Echoes to be short enough to be easily assimilated, and thought that these ‘reinterpretations’ of classic works could at the same time make a strong case for contemporary composers. To achieve this end I picked six of my closest composer-friends, and asked them to arrange, orchestrate, or simply be inspired by an older work they loved, and to create something original for this recording. Each new work presented here is thus an ‘echo’ of an earlier piece.
David Stock and Bright Sheng have previously been composers in residence for the Seattle Symphony, and Samuel Jones has served in that capacity since 1997. They have received wide acclaim for their music, which the Seattle Symphony has proudly featured over the years. Aaron Jay Kernis and John Harbison are two of our nation’s best-known composers. I have had the pleasure and honor of conducting their music with the Seattle Symphony. My own contribution to this disc is an arrangement of a wonderful three-movement piece originally composed by the great eighteenth-century composer George Frideric Handel.
David Schiff (b. 1945): Infernal, after Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird (1919 version)
David Schiff’s name is familiar not only as a fine composer, but as a perceptive contributor to the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section and Atlantic Monthly, where his writings demonstrate a deep and thought-provoking knowledge of musical subjects. He studied English literature at Columbia and Cambridge universities, while his teachers at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music included Roger Smalley, John Corigliano, Ursula Mamlok and Elliott Carter. He subsequently published a biography of Carter (1983, revised 1998), and Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue in 1997. Schiff is a professor of music at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. The Seattle Symphony has performed a number of his works.
David Schiff provided these comments on Infernal, excerpted for this annotation:
— Steven Lowe
Bright Sheng (b. 1955): Black Swan
The music of Bright Sheng is well-known to symphony audiences. During the past fifteen years, the Seattle Symphony has performed most of this composer’s orchestral pieces. Moreover, Sheng served as Composer in Residence with Seattle Symphony from 1992 to 1994.
Born in Shanghai, Sheng studied piano with his mother from the age of four and later became one of the first students of the Shanghai Conservatory. In 1982, he immigrated to the United States, becoming a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, and orchestrating Bernstein’s last major work, the song cycle Arias and Barcarolles. He subsequently acquired another champion in Gerard Schwarz, who has actively promoted his music. Gerard Schwarz is hardly alone in his enthusiasm. During the past two decades, Sheng has received performances from most of the leading American orchestras, as well as at the Tanglewood and Aspen Music Festivals, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the San Francisco Symphony “Wet Ink” Festival of new music. Since 1995, he has taught composition and music theory at the University of Michigan, and in 2001 he received a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award.
Black Swan is a transcription for orchestra of a solo piano piece by Johannes Brahms, the Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118, No. 2. The half-dozen pieces that comprise Brahms’s Op. 118 appeared in 1893, though Max Kalbeck, the composer’s first biographer, believed that some of the music originated many years earlier. The song-like second piece of this opus conveys a feeling of serenity and deep tenderness, the autumnal tone that pervades its central episode notwithstanding.
David Stock (b. 1939): Plenty of Horn
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, David Stock still has deep musical roots in his home city. He is Professor of Music at Duquesne University, where he conducts the Duquesne Contemporary Ensemble. He has been Composer in Residence of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Seattle Symphony, and is Conductor Laureate of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble which he founded in 1976. David Stock’s list of honors includes a Guggenheim Fellowship, five Fellowship Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, five Fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and grants and commissions from many organizations including the Seattle Symphony.
Plenty of Horn is a contemporary restatement of Jeremiah Clarke’s well-known Prince of Denmark’s March, previously called “Trumpet Voluntary” and, in the past, erroneously ascribed to Henry Purcell. Stock composed Plenty of Horn on commission from the Seattle Symphony, commenting that “the tune slowly reveals itself in the course of this brief work, then blossoms out in its original form. Since the trumpet is, of course, featured, the play on words in my title seemed apt.”
John Harbison (b. 1938): Rubies
Known for his exceptional resourcefulness and expressive range, John Harbison is one of America’s most distinguished artistic figures. Harbison did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and earned an MFA from Princeton University. Following completion of a junior fellowship at Harvard, he joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been hailed by Fanfare magazine as “original, varied, and absorbing—relatively easy for audiences to grasp and yet formal and complex enough to hold our interest through repeated hearings.”
John Harbison provided these comments:
“Rubies is a version of Thelonius Monk’s Ruby, My Dear, which he composed while still in his teens. When I was invited by Seattle Symphony to make a short piece reflecting my first musical passions my thoughts were of Bach and Monk. Since I had recently made some Bach-like chorale preludes, I chose to make a version of Monk’s tune, first in a chamber-musical, contrapuntal manner, then in the grand orchestral style I had always heard lurking there.”
Samuel Jones (b. 1935): Benediction
The Benediction and Sevenfold Amen by Peter Lutkin (“The Lord Bless You and Keep You”) has been used by countless a cappella choruses for the conclusions of their concerts over the years. Among those choruses was the Millsaps Singers back in the 1950s when Samuel Jones was a student chorister at Millsaps College. When he was asked in 1999 by his alma mater to compose something to conclude a reunion concert of the Singers, he turned naturally to the beloved Lutkin melody to use as a cantus firmus for a chorale prelude for chorus and strings in order to memorialize those earlier shared musical experiences.
At the request of Gerard Schwarz, the composer subsequently transformed this new piece into an instrumental version for inclusion in Echoes. The composer comments: “This work is a chorale prelude, whose compositional procedures are most familiar to us in examples by Bach and, to some extent, Brahms. That is to say, it is a composition based on a chorale or hymn tune by an earlier composer. There are several ways to do this, but the most typical is to compose new underlying thematic material, over which one interlaces the melody of the original source piece, now supported by the new music—in this instance, [Peter Lutkin’s]…Benediction and Sevenfold Amen. In this new concert version, the vocal parts are rewritten for woodwind and brass quintets, with muted strings providing the newly composed underlying support. As a result, Lutkin’s original one-minute choral benediction is enfolded into a new nine-minute instrumental meditation, a contemplative piece that strikes both a nostalgic and intercessory tone.”
Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960): Musica Celestis
From time immemorial, people have imagined heaven as a place of music, its denizens a celestial chorus. “Sing, O ye heavens,” the prophet Isaiah exhorted; “Sing, choirs of angels,” echoes a line from a popular Christmas carol. Horatio bids farewell to the slain Hamlet with a wish that “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
This notion lies behind Aaron Jay Kernis’ Musica Celestis. In a preface to his score, Kernis writes that “Musica Celestis is inspired by the medieval conception of that phrase, which refers to the singing of the angels in heaven in praise of God without end.” While the composer admits he does not share the currently voguish belief in angels, he found this image a fertile one, all the more so as a result of listening to much medieval music, especially that of the twelfth-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen.
Musica Celestis originated as a movement of Kernis’s First String Quartet, written in 1990. The following year the composer arranged the piece for string orchestra, in which form we hear it now. The music begins with a series of sustained chords whose ethereal sonorities may recall for some listeners the opening moments of the Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin. Later, long strands of melody entwined in counterpoint suggest another American composition for string orchestra, Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings. Despite those resonances, however, Kernis’s piece is distinctive, particularly for a central episode filled with energetic scale figures, which contrasts with the nearly static music of the opening and conclusion.
Gerard Schwarz (b. 1947): Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra
Gerard Schwarz has described the genesis of this work as follows: “Handel has always been an inspirational composer for me. I have performed many of his oratorios and his Op. 3 and Op. 6 Concerti grossi. This particular work came at the request of the Canadian Brass, who gave the première at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. I only used three of the movements, as I thought these most appropriate to arrange for brass quintet and strings.”
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