40th ANNIVERSARY SEASON OPENING CONCERT
Sunday, October 16, 3:00 pm
Purchase Performing Arts Center
Jayce Ogren, conducting
Ran Dank, piano
(click the artists’ names above to read their bios)
Jessie Montgomery: Banner
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2
I. Allegro con brio
III. Rondo. Molto allegro
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K.550
I. Molto allegro
IV. Allegro assai
The Westchester Philharmonic’s programs are made possible, in part, by support from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.
The Westchester Philharmonic’s programs are made possible, in part, by ArtsWestchester with support from County Executive George Latimer and the Westchester County government.
By Laurie Shulman
Born 8 December 1981 in New York City
Our national anthem is the basis for this free rhapsody.
Montgomery composed it in observance of “The Star Spangled Banner” centennial.
A violinist herself, Montgomery understands writing for strings.
Listen for bits and snippets of the familiar tune, in varying tempos.
Jazz, ragtime, bluegrass, and square dance styles all make an appearance.
Music is my connection to the world. It guides me to understand my place in relation to others and challenges me to make clear the things I do not understand. I imagine that music is a meeting place at which all people can converse about their unique differences and common stories.
– Jessie Montgomery
So reads a statement on the home page of Jessie Montgomery’s web site. A violinist and educator as well as a composer, she grew up in a musical household on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Her parents worked in music and theater and were active in neighborhood arts initiatives. Montgomery earned her undergraduate degree from the Juilliard School in violin performance, and subsequently completed a master’s in Film Composition and Multimedia in NYU. She is currently a Graduate Fellow in Music Composition at Princeton.
Montgomery composed Banner in 2014 on commission from the Sphinx Virtuosi, a self-conducted string orchestra comprising 18 Black and LatinX musicians. The commission was inobservance of the 200th anniversary of our national anthem. Montgomery’s composer’s note explains further.
Banner is a rhapsody on the “Star Spangled Banner” theme. Drawing on musical and historical sources from various world anthems and patriotic songs, I’ve made an attempt to answer the question: “What does an anthem for the 21st century sound like in today’s multi-cultural environment?” The structure is loosely based on traditional marching band form where there are several strains or contrasting sections; I have drawn on the drum line chorus as a source for the rhythmic underpinning in the finale.
As a culture, we Americans are perpetually in search of ways to express our ideals of freedom, to proclaim, “we’ve made it!” as if the very action of saying it aloud makes it so. And for many of our nation’s people, that was the case: through work songs and spirituals, enslaved Africans promised themselves a way out and built the nerve to endure the most abominable treatment for the promise of a free life. Immigrants from Europe, Central America and the Pacific have sought out a safe haven here and though met with the trials of building a multi-cultured democracy, continue to find roots in our nation and make significant contributions to our cultural landscape. A tribute to the U.S. national anthem means acknowledging the contradictions, leaps and bounds and milestones that allow us to celebrate and maintain the tradition of our ideals.
Montgomery’s 9-minute rhapsody deconstructs phrases from the familiar tune, re-thinking them and combining them with snippets of other musical Americana. Collectively, they feel like a jumbled kaleidoscope, or perhaps a crowded fairground. The piece has some of the patchwork crazy exuberance of Charles Ives, who drew on America’s diverse musical cultures more than a century ago. But the immediacy, string agility, and quicksilver mood changes are Montgomery’s own.
We hear the original version of Banner, for solo string quartet and string orchestra.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19
Ludwig van Beethoven
Born 16 December, 1770 in Bonn, Germany
Died 26 March, 1827 in Vienna, Austria
In the early 1790s, Beethoven was a brilliant pianist newly arrived in Vienna and determined to impress.
The Second Piano Concerto is a splendid snapshot of the youthful Beethoven.
The concerto gives us an idea of his style when he improvised
Listen for a dramatic first movement followed by a lyrical and beautiful adagio
Beethoven’s finale is bright and witty, revealing his sense of humor
Beethoven's career in Vienna in the 1790s garnered him more prestige as a performer and keyboard improviser than as a composer. Wishing to promote his pianistic talent, he wrote many pieces for himself. Opus 19 falls into this category. In fact, it was the first major work for piano and orchestra he completed. Despite its numbering as "Concerto No. 2" and its later opus number (which reflects a later publication date) than the C major Concerto, Op. 15, the B-flat concerto is the earlier work. Recent scholarship indicates that Beethoven may have composed parts of it as early as 1785, when he was still a teenager in Bonn!
Beethoven himself did not consider either of the first two piano concerti to be among his finer works, but both pieces show him having graduated from gifted student to Viennese master. And the Viennese public received him with delight. He may have played the B-flat concerto in public as early as March 1790 (contemporary reports do not specify the key of the concerto). That performance is thought to have been his orchestral début in the Austrian capital. Beethoven is known to have played this concerto in Prague as late as 1798. The Viennese house of Hoffmeister published the Second Concerto in December 1801.
Op. 19 adheres to the Mozartean concerto model, with an extensive orchestral exposition in the first movement preceding the soloist's entrance. Listeners more familiar with Beethoven's C-major concerto will be pleasantly surprised by the intimate, chamber-music like quality of this work. Scored without trumpets or timpani, it permits more focus on the interaction of the piano with the delicate wind instruments. The outer movements, especially the finale, have an irresistible rhythmic vitality that encourages aural memory of their themes. The B-flat Concerto is the forgotten jewel among Beethoven's piano concerti, and its cadenzas – Beethoven’s own – give us tantalizing glimpses of the young genius's improvisatory technique.
The score calls for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, solo piano and strings.
Strum for string quartet (2006, rev. 2012)
Montgomery’s title refers to members of the guitar family.
Strum celebrates American folk idioms.
Traditional and popular elements figure into the musical tapestry.
Listen for varied textures showing off the many colors possible from string instruments.
The fact that Jessie Montgomery’s music appears twice on this program is an indication of how prominent her voice has become in American music. Only 40, Montgomery has rocketed to the top of the most-frequently-performed list, writing powerful and accessible music for chamber ensemble, chorus, solo instruments, and orchestra.
As its title suggests, Strum alludes to plucked strings, specifically those of the guitar family. Montgomery describes this piece as a celebration of American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement. In her seven minute score, she evokes multiple styles, freely migrating between traditional techniques and popular elements. Her composer’s note states:
Strum is the culminating result of several versions of a string quintet I wrote in 2006. It was originally written for the Providence String Quartet and guests of Community MusicWorks Players, then arranged for string quartet in 2008 with several small revisions. In 2012 the piece underwent its final revisions with a rewrite of both the introduction and the ending for the Catalyst Quartet in a performance celebrating the 15th annual Sphinx Competition.
Originally conceived for the formation of a cello quintet, the voicing is often spread wide over the ensemble, giving the music an expansive quality of sound. Within Strum I utilized texture motives, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinati that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. The strumming pizzicato serves as a texture motive and the primary driving rhythmic underpinning of the piece. Drawing on American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement, the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration.
The movement opens with upper strings playing pizzicato. Cello introduces a mournful theme, presently joined by first violin. The mood shifts to a more upbeat tempo, introducing jazzy syncopations and flights of fancy. In some passages all four players use their bows, including in chorale-like rhythmic unison; however, Montgomery’s layered, pulsating rhythms are never far off. Diverse in textures and rhythmically complex, Strum is a joyous paean to string colors.
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
Born 27 January, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria
Died 5 December, 1791 in Vienna·
The first glimmers of musical romanticism are embedded in this symphony.
Restlessness and tragedy are the overriding emotions.
With customary genius, Mozart gives us an island of serenity in the slow movement.
The minuet/trio and finale return to turbulence and drama.
Few works in the classical symphonic literature are more beloved than Mozart's great G-minor Symphony. How ironic that the music should be so familiar, while we have so little information about the circumstances of its composition! We only know that Mozart composed his final trilogy of symphonies, No. 39 in E-flat, K.543; No. 40 in G-minor, K.550, and No. 41 in C, K.551 (“Jupiter”), in a mere six weeks in 1788. Such a combination of quantity and superior quality is almost unparalleled in music history. But why did he compose them? There is no mention of any of the three symphonies in Mozart's letters to give us a clue as to their origin. One theory holds that Mozart was planning to present these works at a series of subscription concerts, but no such series came to fruition that year. More recently, scholars have hypothesized that a performance of the three final symphonies may have taken place in 1790.
If the Viennese public heard the G minor symphony, they must have been baffled. Works in minor keys were unusual in the late eighteenth-century, and Mozart's symphony is singularly dark throughout its four movements. The nervous agitation that introduces the opening movement was a radical departure from the norm, for accompaniment momentarily supersedes melody, and when we hear the theme it is piano. These observations may seem parenthetical to us, but they were bold departures for Mozart. Audiences today hear this symphony as balanced and refined. To late eighteenth-century ears, the music would have been deeply disturbing. Nineteenth-century romantics seized on the G minor symphony as evidence that Mozart was the harbinger of musical romanticism.
Mozart expands the emotional boundaries of the classical symphony in this work through his expressive, intensely personal musical language. Particularly lovely is the lengthy slow movement, which explores nuances of the delicate wind scoring and the persuasive pull of subtly irregular rhythmic patterns. Though in E-flat major, this Andante is hardly a respite from the tragic overtones of G-minor. Chromatic lines in the winds remind us of the broad emotional paintbrushes Mozart used. The finale is harmonically adventurous and as dramatic as anything Beethoven composed. The daring extremes of dynamics and high emotional charge argue persuasively for categorizing K.550 with the early romantics. At the same time, the G-minor symphony's perfection of form and elegant proportions are a constant reminder that in Mozart, the classical era reached its pinnacle.
Mozart's score calls for flute, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings.
Program Notes by Laurie Shulman ©2022
First North American Serial Rights Only
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