Saturday, October 27, 2012

Humboldt Symphony Concert Notes
 by conductor Paul Cummings

We’re playing a piece by a student composer written just last year by a senior studying with Brian Post, Justino Eustacio Perez. It’s called Prelude and Dance for the Day of the Dead. It’s an interesting piece, highly technical writing with a lot of dissonance, very challenging for the musicians.

  Our Town by Aaron Copland: Copland was asked to write the soundtrack of the 1940 film of Thorton Wilder’s play. This piece draws upon passages from the film. As a concert piece it was first played in 1944 by the Boston Pops, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. It’s a wonderful slow piece, and you can certainly hear the Copland style. There’s beautiful writing for the strings and particularly woodwinds. It follows the traditional form of a slow piece: it starts out very calmly with a very soft dynamic level, and builds in intensity to a midsection where everyone is playing at full volume, very thick texture, and then it unwinds itself, and comes back to the soft and peaceful opening style. It’s got that traditional arch form.

We’re doing two sets of excerpts from cantatas by J.S. Bach—Cantata #12 and #21. In each one we’re doing the symphonia, or first movement, as well as an aria for solo voice with continuo, which is bass line and keyboard instrument filling out the harmony. We have two solo voices: Anna Coleman and Ana Cruz, both students of Elisabeth Harrington. Each does a solo aria movement. The common theme is that the primary instrument is the oboe. Our oboe soloist is Rachel Kamradt, a graduating senior planning to study oboe in graduate school next year, so we want to feature her as a soloist before she goes away.

 These four movements are really fantastic examples of Bach’s writing for oboe, especially from his early period in Weimar, his first major job. This is exquisite writing for oboe—also very difficult. The movements are all slow but still very challenging. They feature the beautiful lyric quality of the instrument. The aria movements are basically duets between the oboe and the singer.

Bizet’s Carmen Suite #1 has five movements. It’s drawn from the opera that made Bizet quite famous. The music in this suite is full of classic solo excerpts that are played by musicians in auditions for symphony orchestras all over the world. For example, the flute solo with harp accompaniment in the third movement is very famous. In the fourth movement there’s a famous bassoon duet, beautifully played by our students. Then the very famous toreador march in the last movement.

The music is full of drama, and evokes the spirit of Carmen, who is a classic femme fatale figure from 19th century opera. This music is now seen as some of the most quintessential Spanish music ever written, even though it was written by a French composer.

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