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.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.