Friday, May 06, 2016

ArMack Orchestra and Humboldt Symphony Program Notes

Armack Orchestra
Cassandra Moulton, conductor

 Satchmo! A Tribute to Louis Armstrong arranged by Ted Ricketts

"Louis Armstrong was the first important soloist to emerge in jazz, and he became the most influential musician in the music's history. As a trumpet virtuoso, his playing, beginning with the 1920s studio recordings made with his Hot Five and Hot Seven ensembles, charted a future for jazz in highly imaginative, emotionally charged improvisation. For this, he is revered by jazz fans. But Armstrong also became an enduring figure in popular music, due to his distinctively phrased bass singing and engaging personality, which were on display in a series of vocal recordings and film roles."
--William Ruhlmann for

Louis Armstrong  "practically invented jazz." "Improvisation was created by the likes of Louis Armstrong."  He "invented swing, a strictly American form of music that will never go out of style, because it's our national tempo.  Louis invented bop; he invented rap.  Whatever the next category that comes out, you'll discover he was the first one who did it."--singer Tony Bennett from his book Life is a Gift.

The Fair from Petrouchka by Igor Stravinsky, arranged by Merle J. Isaac

 The Firebird was Stravinsky's first big hit, and it made him famous, almost literally overnight, at the age of twenty-eight. Petrushka is that most difficult of artistic creations—the follow-up.

 The Firebird had not only made Stravinsky the talk of Paris, then the capital of the international art world—capturing the attention of the city's biggest names, including Debussy and Proust—but it had scored a huge success for Sergei Diaghilev, who had taken a risk hiring the young, relatively unknown composer to write music for the Russian Ballet's 1910 season. Naturally, both men wanted another sensation for the next year.

Stravinsky already had an idea. While he was finishing the orchestration of The Firebird, he had dreamed about "a solemn pagan rite: wise elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring." These powerful images suggested music to Stravinsky and he began to sketch almost at once.

At first he thought of it as a symphony, but when he played parts of it at the piano for Diaghilev early that summer, the impresario immediately knew that this was music for dance.

 With Diaghilev's urging, Stravinsky continued working on the score that would eventually become their biggest sensation, Le sacre du printemps—The Rite of Spring. But in the meantime, Stravinsky got sidetracked. When Diaghilev went to visit Stravinsky in Switzerland at the end of the summer, he was stunned to discover that the composer had begun a completely different work instead. As Stravinsky recalled, Diaghilev "was much astonished when, instead of the sketches of the Sacre, I played him the piece which I had just composed and which later became the second scene of Petrushka."

What had begun as just a detour from The Rite now became the main project of the year, and at the same time, the score with which Stravinsky found his modernist voice—the voice that made The Rite possible. -- Phillip Huscher for Chicago Symphony

Humboldt Symphony
Paul Cummings, conductor

An Outdoor Overture by Aaron Copland

"A funny thing about Aaron Copland’s buoyant, invigoratingly open-air piece, An Outdoor Overture: it was written in 1938 for performance in the indoor auditorium of the High School of Music and Art in New York City. The work owes its existence to a request from the school’s orchestra director, Alexander Richter, for a composition to begin the institution’s long-term plan to concentrate on “American music for American Youth.” And who better to inaugurate such a campaign than an American composer who had so recently affected a radical and crucial stylistic change in his music, a change from austerity and dissonance into folkish simplicity?"

"In composing the piece, Copland kept in mind that, although he was writing for a high school orchestra of at least near-professional capability, he must still hold careful rein on the over-all difficulties. But neither did he underestimate the expertise of the student players and in devising the music in his typically syncopated, brilliant manner, he provided them, and professional orchestras, with an attractive bit of Coplandiana."--Orrin Howard  for Los Angeles Philharmonic

Concerto #2 for Piano and Orchestra by Sergei Rachmaninoff
First Movement

"A quality especially apparent in the Second Piano Concerto is a sense of effortlessness in its unfolding, and that is something new in Rachmaninoff's music. He begins magnificently, and with something so familiar that we come perilously close to taking it for granted—a series of piano chords in crescendo, all based on F, each reinforced by the tolling of the lowest F on the keyboard, and, through the gathering harmonic tension and dynamic force, constituting a powerful springboard for the move into the home chord of C minor. Once there, the strings with clarinet initiate a plain but intensely expressive melody, which the piano accompanies with sonorous broken chords.

 The piano's role as accompanist is also worth noting. Nowhere is the pianist so often an ensemble partner and so rarely a soloist aggressively in the foreground as in this first movement of the Second Concerto."--Michael Steinberg for the San Francisco Symphony

Both Orchestras

Carmen Suite for Orchestra No. 2 by Georges Bizet, assembled by Ernest Guirard

"Whereas the first suite drawn from Bizet's opera Carmen focused on preludes and entr'actes, the second is mostly a string of hit arias and ensemble pieces, with individual instruments filling in for the missing voices."

"The opening "Marche des contrebandiers," or "Smugglers' March," depicts the nocturnal progress of smugglers through the mountains...Befitting the secretive nature of the business at hand, this is a predominantly quiet but still cocky march, full of pert woodwind solos.

 Next comes one of the opera's two most famous numbers, Carmen's teasing-seductive "Habanera," concerning the fickle nature of gypsy love. Bizet based it on a popular song by the Spanish composer Yradier. In this non-vocal form, the line is divided into long phrases and allotted to various instruments-usually solo woodwinds, but also trumpet, and at some points the violin sections.

The long Nocturne is actually Micaëla's aria from Act 3. Here the long, flowing, yearning melody is taken mainly by the solo viola (solo horn in some versions), although it becomes violin property when it begins to soar halfway through the piece.

 The "Chanson du toréador" is the opera's greatest hit, although Bizet was ashamed of it and denigrated it as "trash." Here, the torero ("toréador" is a French fabrication) enters in the form of a solo trumpet to tell his bullfight story through dramatic verses as well as the famous marching chorus.

"La Garde montante" is the Act 1 children's chorus, in which kids tag along at the changing of the guard. Thus, the piece begins with militaristic fanfares in the brass, but quickly is taken over by a whimsical piccolo march. Clarinets and violins also fill in for the children's voices as the piece progresses."--James Reel,

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