About this Recording
8.559769 - BOYER, P.: Symphony No. 1 / Silver Fanfare / Festivities / Three Olympians / Celebration Overture (London Philharmonic, Boyer)
English 

Peter Boyer (b 1970)
Silver Fanfare • Festivities • Three Olympians • Celebration Overture • Symphony No 1

 

The five works included on this recording represent a cross-section of my orchestral music composed over a period of some 15 years, from one of my earliest commissions to my most recent. I have been fortunate to receive many opportunities to compose for the orchestra, and the works included here reflect both the varied circumstances of their commissions, and my ongoing interest in the orchestral medium. Often I have received invitations to compose music for celebratory concerts, and three of the works included here were created for such occasions.

Silver Fanfare

Silver Fanfare was composed as the first movement of the six-movement work On Music’s Wings, which was commissioned for the 25th anniversary season (2003–04) of the Pacific Symphony, in Orange County, California. The “silver” of its title refers to the silver anniversary of that orchestra. Though the 30-minute On Music’s Wings calls for vocal soloists and choirs in addition to the orchestra, the 4-minute Silver Fanfare is for orchestra alone, and was designed as a virtuoso orchestral “curtain-raiser,” which could be performed separately. The music is based on two fanfare motives: one employing quickly repeated notes, introduced immediately by the full brass section, and a second with longer note values, introduced by the horns. These themes are developed and interact with each other in numerous ways. The work is celebratory and jubilant in tone, and it places great demands on the orchestra because of its breakneck speed, which is continuous from the first bar to the last. Carl St Clair conducted the première with the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa, California on June 13, 2004.

Festivities

Festivities was commissioned by conductor Gerard Schwarz and the Eastern Music Festival in celebration of its 50th anniversary season in 2011. I’d been a great admirer of Mr Schwarz’s work for many years, and some of my earliest exposure to many works of the American orchestral repertoire came about through the landmark recordings he conducted with the Seattle Symphony, so I’d long hoped for an opportunity to have him conduct my music. As such, when I received an invitation from him to compose a short work in celebration of this occasion, I was delighted at the opportunity. When I learned of the other composers who were also being commissioned in this series, I was honoured to be included among such a distinguished group. Focusing on the idea of a festival brought to mind the term “festivity,” which is defined as “the celebration of something in a joyful and exuberant way.” This description seemed apt for the mood of this short work, and so I titled it Festivities. Gerard Schwarz conducted the première with the Eastern Festival Orchestra in Greensboro, North Carolina on July 9, 2011.

Celebration Overture

The first of the works on this recording to be composed, Celebration Overture was one of my earliest orchestral commissions (at age 27), for the inaugural season of the Henry Mancini Institute, a professional training program for outstanding young musicians, which at that time was a summer institute in the Los Angeles area. I conducted its première with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra in Long Beach, California on August 16, 1997. The work’s title summarizes its content: it was intended as a jubilant curtain-raiser. A fast, rhythmic fanfare theme for four trumpets opens the work, and leads to a processional-like section with a repeated three-note motto, first played by four horns. The fanfare theme returns and leads to the central section, in 7/8 meter, dominated by a furiously fast repeated-note piano figure and sharp accents from the full orchestra. The rhythmic energy subsides, and there follows a lyrical passage, led by the oboe playing a melody which has blossomed from the earlier three-note horn motto. The return of the opening trumpet fanfare, now for the full brass section, leads to the work’s exuberant ending. This was the first of my works to be played by one of the major American orchestras, with the Dallas Symphony’s January 2002 performances, for which I made some minor revisions to the work.

Three Olympians

A number of my works have reflected my interests in mythology and history, and Three Olympians for string orchestra is one. It was commissioned by the Conductors Institute, Harold Farberman, Artistic Director, for performance by its 30-plus conductors at Bard College in the summer of 2000. As an alumnus of the Conductors Institute myself, I was delighted at this invitation. The request was for a work that had three contrasting movements or sections, which would call for different aspects of technique from the conductors. I decided that creating three “mini-portraits” of Greek mythological figures would both fulfil this requirement and supply some general imagery on which to draw. Thus the word “Olympians” in the title is not to be understood in the modern-day “athletic” sense of the word, but in the ancient Greek sense: an Olympian was a resident of Olympus, the home of the Greek gods. There were twelve Olympians, all “major deities.” The three which inspired the music in this case—Apollo, Aphrodite, and Ares—were all children of Zeus, but each had a different mother.

Apollo was the most multi-faceted of these three, the god of reason and intelligence, music, prophecy, medicine, and the sun. Of course, the musical portrayals of Apollo have been numerous, with Stravinsky and Britten providing noteworthy (and daunting) 20th-century examples. For me, Apollo meant “classical” harmony and phrasing, and a great deal of energy. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, which to me unambiguously called for lyrical melody. Ares was the god of war, which to me translated as relentless rhythm, as well as a chance to exploit some of the more menacing effects of which strings are capable. The unison Gs in this movement are a nod to Holst’s famous portrayal of Mars (the Roman incarnation of Ares). This work is unabashedly tonal, straightforward, and hopefully a good deal of fun.

Symphony No 1

Having received numerous orchestral commissions for works celebrating specific occasions or dealing with historical subjects, I had long contemplated undertaking a symphony—specifically, a non-programmatic, multi-movement symphony. Commissions of this nature are rare, so I was pleased when the Pasadena Symphony Association offered me this opportunity, along with a residency for the 2012–13 season.

For any contemporary composer, the decision to title a work “symphony” is a rather daunting one, given the rich and diverse legacy of masterworks in this genre. That decision also raises a number of questions which must be answered: How long a work? In how many movements? Should it be “program music” or “absolute music”? Should the work’s structure and style be based, to some extent, on the symphonies of the standard repertoire? And if so, which symphonies, from which era(s), and which features of those works should serve as models? Having never before undertaken a symphony, this was my first time confronting these questions. Though most parameters of the work were left open to me, its duration was determined by the commission, which specified a work of approximately 25 minutes. That provided a starting point: a length that meant the work would be closer in duration to, say, the first symphony of Prokofiev (ca 15 minutes) than to that of Mahler (ca 55 minutes).

The freedom from any specific program offered by this commission led me to decide that I would not impose any particular plan on the work from the outset, but would simply start composing material and see where it led me. I did feel that there were two common elements of past symphonies which I wanted to include: a scherzo and a lyrical slow movement. Initial sketching led me to a sense that the work would be in four movements, and I composed extensive material that was intended for a fourth finale movement. However, as I continued work on the Adagio third movement, its length grew, and I realized that a final variation of its theme was leading to a grand conclusion, making a separate final movement superfluous. So I discarded the incomplete finale material, and settled on a three-movement plan.

In the twentieth century, many composers wrote three-movement symphonies, including Sibelius (his Third and Fifth), Walton (his Second), Hanson (his First, Second, and Seventh), Shostakovich (his Fourth and Sixth), and Stravinsky (his aptly titled Symphony in Three Movements), among others. Notably, the first symphonies of two American composers whose musical language is much closer to my own are each in three movements, with durations of about 25 minutes: Copland (his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra of 1924) and Bernstein (his Jeremiah Symphony of 1942).

The structure of the first movement, “Prelude,” contains aspects of both arch form and variation form (and does not employ the sonata form characteristic of first movements of many classical symphonies). This movement is based primarily on a single theme, which is introduced immediately by the second violins. This eight-bar andante theme is modal (mixolydian) in character, and has a certain tonal ambiguity. The first section of the movement is a fugato, with subsequent entrances of the theme occurring in the first violins, cellos, and woodwinds. The theme contains a built-in modulation, with the result that each subsequent entrance is pitched a fourth higher than the previous (B-E-A-D-G). The first section gradually reaches a climax, and the second section begins with a doubling of the tempo, and new fanfare-like material played by the brass. In this section, the main theme is developed, now at the double tempo, and sometimes in canon; the fanfare material also recurs. This leads to a dissonant climax and a sudden pause, out of which the cellos emerge playing a single note. Then begins the third and final section, marked to be “suddenly more serene.” Violas and harp introduce a gentle accompanying figure, then violins play further variants of the main theme in canon, again in modal harmony. Woodwinds take up the accompanying figure, and a solo horn plays the full theme over sustained strings to end the movement.

The second movement is entitled “Scherzo/Dance,” which is descriptive of its character. Here I wanted to combine the energy, phrasing and structure of a classical European scherzo with more “American-sounding,” unusual rhythmic patterns. Whereas the phrasing of a Beethovenian scherzo typically consists of twelve fast notes (3+3+3+3), my rhythmic pattern employs thirteen fast notes (3+3+3+2+2). Though the “extra” note creates an asymmetry, the larger groupings of phrases are indeed symmetrical, and the music clearly has a dance-like quality. The movement employs a classical “scherzo–trio–scherzo” structure, in which the trio is somewhat slower and more lyrical. Long stretches of tutti playing here test the players’ stamina, particularly of the winds and brass.

Like the first movement, the third movement, by far the longest of the three, is based primarily on a single theme: a rather long lyrical melody first stated by horns, bassoon, and cellos. This theme was the very first music I composed when I began sketching the symphony. In subsequent statements, more instruments take up the theme, and it grows in intensity. The next section explores darker harmonic colours, and solo woodwinds offer commentaries on the theme. A series of repetitions of a decorated theme fragment leads to a tutti climax, and a brief dialogue for trumpet and horn. Then the strings, divided into fourteen parts including a solo quartet, play the entire theme, joined by harp and celesta. After a soft pause, a new accompanying figure begins in clarinets and harp, growing in just a few bars to include the full orchestra. In this final section, the tempo is still slow, but the rapid accompanying notes (six per beat) make it feel fast. The formerly gentle theme is now exclaimed joyfully, first by violins and horns, and then by the full orchestra, leading to a declamatory, affirmative ending.

This commission was funded by members of the Board of Trustees of Claremont Graduate University: Priscilla and Ferdinand Fernandez, Michael J. Johnston, Michael Rossi, and Megan Scott-Kakures. Additional project funding was provided by Donald P. and Caroline Baker. It was premièred by the Pasadena Symphony under my direction, on April 27, 2013.

I have dedicated this composition to the memory of Leonard Bernstein, whose work has had a profound influence on me in countless ways. I am humbled and grateful that the Bernstein family has accepted this dedication.


Peter Boyer


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