The afternoon’s concert is inspired by the format of the Boston Pops concerts- part of the program devoted to light classical pieces and the rest to popular tunes, movie scores, and Broadway excerpts.
The classical half gallops off with the “Allegro vivace” section of Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. Listeners who only heard this work in the background on a tinny radio speaker missed how exciting it is to hear in live performance, with the entire string section punching out the horse-hoof rhythms using a special bow-stroke called ricochet.
Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances were originally written as piano duets, a kind of 19th-Century popular music to be enjoyed at home. There are no actual quotations from folk dances, but the rhythmic and melodic character of Slavic folk music is captured in colorful orchestrations. Johannes Brahms was a great supporter of the younger composer and admired Dvořák’s ability to spin out tunes that were both sophisticated and effortless.
Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande inspired quite a few composers, including Debussy, Schönberg, and Sibelius. The familiar “Sicilienne” is from incidental music that Fauré wrote for a London production of the play.
Concluding the first half of the concert is the premiere performance of Azalea Suite, commissioned by the 2020 North Carolina Azalea Festival. Although no actual title or subject matter was suggested by the Festival, it seemed a natural thing for me to write a multi-movement piece representing the character of a number of Azalea varieties. I perched color photographs of the chosen blooms on my music rack and decided on an adjective describing each (these are parenthetically listed in the program next to each movement title). The final movement is inspired by walking into an azalea garden, where the profusion and variety of color can be breathtaking. My musical garden consists mostly of a collage of themes from the previous movements.
The “pops” half of the program begins with a tribute to Louis Armstrong, followed by a PBS series theme and an unforgettable film score excerpt by John Williams. After a special performance of Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever, we end with a built-in encore in the form of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.
Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 7
Arcangelo Corelli (1653 - 1718)
One of the joys of performing an all-Baroque program is that despite a shared musical language and set of general forms, there is a lot of variety due to regional tastes as well as placement within the 150-year Baroque period. Corelli’s music, from the middle of the period, is sunny and simple- there are rarely more than two musical elements at a time and the rhythms perfectly suit bowed string instruments. Like most of the works on tonight’s concert, there is both an alternation of fast and slow movements and an emphasis on the contrast between one instrument (or a small group of instruments) and the larger ensemble.
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067
J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750)
J. S. Bach admired his Italian predecessors (especially Vivaldi) but brought a new level of complexity to the style. In the Ouverture to his Suite No. 2, the jostling lines of the fugal section are heard in so many layers that each time I listen something new emerges. The remainder of the Suite comprises shorter dance-inspired forms, each in a different tempo and rhythmic style. Throughout, the solo flute rides at the top of the texture, occasionally emerging as the virtuoso soloist (as in Bourée II and the improvisatory Double of the Polonaise). The Badinerie is one of my favorite “built-in” encores.
Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, BWV 1051
J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750)
If the preponderance of viola jokes on the internet is any indication, viola players have to fight for respect against their more-showy violin-playing colleagues. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 is the perfect way to achieve this, since the violins are not even invited. The first movement is fascinating in the way the two viola lines chase each other at a close time interval as the melody keeps diving down and coming up again. The second movement is pure loveliness, and the third is so syncopated that it sounds truly jazzy.
Entrée de Polimne from Les Boréades
Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683 – 1764)
French Baroque composers provide a stylistic contrast to the German and Italian composers we hear more often, so over the years I’ve enjoyed performing works of Lully and Rameau with the Wilmington Symphony. The gossamer textures of this short operatic interlude are magical, and I particularly like the way the bassoon lines weave through the texture.
Concerto a Due Cori No. 1 in B-flat Major, HWV 332
G. F. Handel (1685 – 1759)
The “due cori” in the title refers to the two opposing groups of woodwinds, each group consisting of two oboes and a bassoon. Handel threw this work together in 1748 to augment the premiere of his oratorio Joshua. Apparently, performing a massive oratorio was not enough at Covent Garden and so composers would add some instrumental works to the mix. Messiah fans will recognize Handel borrowing from himself in the second section, but this was actually OK: at least in this case he stole from his own music. Handel effortlessly shifts the focus around the string orchestra and the two woodwind groups, and he goes out dancing in the final Menuet.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.