Sunday, December 13, 2009

Conductors Notes

Paul Cummings
Conductor, Humboldt Symphony:

"Before being joined by the Humboldt Chorale and University Singers for the second half of the concert, the Humboldt Symphony will perform the first half on its own.

I like to structure the concerts with a lot of variety. So we begin with Overture to Nabucco by Verdi, which is very Italian, employing Italian folk songs and melodic writing-- everything is prototypical Verdi.

You can’t get much farther from the Italian lyrical style than Debussy. The Verdi is fast and loud, with a lyrical middle. The Debussy really changes the mood—it’s a completely different musical world: slow, with muted strings, a very serene piece. The Sunken Cathedral is a transcription of a popular piano prelude from Debussy’s first book of preludes. It’s got large proportions and a symphonic character to it. There are a couple of different transcriptions—we’re doing one by Henri Mouton, a French transcriber. It’s about seven minutes long.

That’s followed by Dvorak’s Serenade in D Minor—one of his famous pieces of chamber music, for 11 instruments, all winds except for one cello and one bass. It’s a unique instrumentation, and it requires all the instruments to be featured prominently, so all the musicians do solos. We’re playing the first and fourth movements. Each is about six or seven minutes.

We close the first half with by far our longest work (at about 25 minutes): Beethoven’s First Symphony in C Major. It doesn’t require a large orchestra, as the Verdi does—no trombones, two horns instead of four, no tuba, but it’s got symphonic proportions.

Then in the second half we’re joined by the two choral groups for the Charpentier, commonly known as the Midnight Mass. It’s historically the earliest piece on the program, from the middle of the baroque era. Like the piece we did last year, it’s from France and it employs noels as thematic material. These noels are different, their melodies are not as familiar, unless you grew up in France. But they’re recognizable as Christmas carols.

This piece uses a small orchestra, no brass or percussion, no woodwinds except for two flutes, the string orchestra, and organ to play the continuo part. Though Carpentier is known mostly for his sacred choral music, this is not done very often, but it’s a lovely piece of French baroque. It alternates between sections of orchestra and full chorus with sections for soloists, so it’s got variety within it: the full chorus and orchestra sound rich and full, followed by more intimate sections with soloists and a greatly reduced orchestra accompaniment—cello and organ with occasional string interludes.

We’re so happy to have Greg Granoff to play the organ part, because he really understands baroque music, and he is a wonderful guide and model for our students to listen to.”

Dr. Harley Muilenburg
Professor of Choral & Vocal Music:

Messe de Minuit pour Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704):
Agnus Dei

Messe de Minuit pour Noël is one of 12 settings of the Mass Ordinary found among Charpentier’s autograph manuscripts in Paris. It is a rare example of a Baroque parody Mass—a mass which uses Melodies from other musical works—In this case, 11 French noels—popular, monophonic songs associated with Christmas. The carol melodies are derived from secular songs that in fact are traceable to Renaissance and early-baroque dance melodies.The carols used by the composer give the Mass its predominant character of tunefulness, simplicity, and sweet jubilation.

There is also intense, serious expression of deep sobriety and imaginativeness, particularly in the third movement “Credo”. Variety and interest is achieved by the use of organ and soloists providing contrast to the full volume of sound created by ensemble singers and orchestra.

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