Lili Boulanger (1893 – 1918), like Mozart and Schubert, represents sadly unfulfilled promise in that she died at age 24, having already written a number of significant works. “D’un matin de printemps” (“Of a spring morning”) is a brief but dramatic tone-poem combining sparkling “awakening” music with two slower, more languorous sections. She was completing the work in her last days, and her sister Nadia (the famous teacher of many American composers like Aaron Copland) had to write in the final editorial details.
We tend to form impressions about composers based on their most oft-performed works, and so when Debussy is mentioned his slow, dreamy “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” comes to mind. Not everything he wrote was gauzy and rhythmically vague, and in his Petite Suite (originally written for two pianos) there are many dancelike moments and some extroverted festivity.
The final two works on the concert were rescheduled from two previous pandemic-canceled concerts. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture is one of those “guilty pleasures” many of us share. The combination of Shakespearean drama with Slavic rhythmic elements and a generous helping of unabashed sentimentality has made this work a perennial favorite.
My Azalea Suite was commissioned by the 2020 North Carolina Azalea Festival and was intended for a spring 2020 Azalea Festival Pops Concert. The orchestral parts were copied and slipped into the musicians’ folders in anticipation of the first rehearsal when North Carolina was shut down due to coronavirus. I’m thankful to the Festival and grateful that two years later we’re finally able to give the first performance.
The inspiration for the five-movement suite was the many forms that azaleas take- each of the first four movements is based on one or two varieties and my subjective reaction to their differing characters. The final movement incorporates themes from the other movements in a kind of chaotic depiction of a whole bank of azaleas.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.