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About the Music

Masterworks I - Pasajes

Tania León Pasajes

Composed: 2022

Premiered: August, 2022 Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

Length: c. 14 minutes

Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, bongos, tambourine, congas, timbales, rototom, marac, wood chimes, zurdo, tom toms, suspended cymbals, harp, piano, and strings

Tune in to the music: Tania Leon “Pasajes” (Detroit Symphony Orchestra co-commision)

Listen for: Artistic Director José-Luis Novo hopes listeners will notice the magic of the slow movement in Mozart’s Piano Concerto, “it’s really special”, he says. “It shows the genius of some composers who can do so much with so little.” Also listen for the slow movement of Bruckner’s piece juxtaposed against the contrasting style of William Grant Still. Both composers will be celebrated with major anniversaries this year – Bruckner’s 200th and Still’s 130th, and both contributed so much to the symphonic world. Also, both of these pieces are much admired by our brass section!

Tania León (1943 – ) is highly regarded as a composer, conductor, educator, and advisor to arts organizations. León is the founder and artistic director of Composers Now, dedicated to the empowerment of living composers by celebrating the diversity of their voices and honoring the significance of their artistic contributions to the cultural fabric of society. In 1969, León became a founding member and first Music Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, establishing the Dance Theatre’s Music Department, Music School and Orchestra. She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978, and founded the Sampler Concerts series presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art at Atria. In 1994, in her capacity of Latin American Music Advisor, she co-founded the American Composers Orchestra’s Sonidos de las Américas festivals. From 1993 to 1997, she was New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. León served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A CUNY Professor Emerita, she was awarded a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship, Chamber Music America’s 2022 National Service Award, and Harvard University’s 2022 Luise Vosgerchian Teaching Award.

León’s honors include induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters; recognition from the Fromm, Koussevitzky, and Guggenheim Foundations; ASCAP’s Victor Herbert Award; and a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship. Her works have received Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Her orchestral work Stride, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music. In 2022, she was named a recipient of the 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements. In 2023, she was awarded the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University. Most recently, León became the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s next Composer-in-Residence—a post she will hold for two seasons, beginning in September 2023. She also held Carnegie Hall’s Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair for its 2023-2024 season.

Masterworks I opens with León’s Pasajes, written in 2022 in collaboration with New Music USA’s “Amplifying Voices” program. Pasajes recalls scenes from León’s early life in Cuba and her upbringing, including a song reminiscent of the melodies of Latin American cultures, rhythms indicating the pulse of Caribbean culture, and the dances of carnaval. “Each ‘passage’ in the piece is a fresh idea,” León says. “Regardless of genre, you have poetry in sounds,” she adds. “It’s like going to a museum and looking at a canvas that you have seen before. This is a new way of painting; like Picasso or Monet, but with a new palette.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488

Brian Ganz, piano

Composed: 1786

Premiered: 1786

Length: c. 26 minutes

Orchestration: Solo piano, 1 flute, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings

Tune in to the music: Mozart -Piano Concerto No 23 A major K 488, Maurizio Pollini, Karl Bohm

Listen for: The poignant slow movement in F♯ minor, the only work Mozart wrote in this key.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical period. Despite his short life, his rapid pace of composition resulted in more than 800 works of virtually every Western classical genre of his time. In fact, Mozart is widely regarded as among the greatest composers in the history of Western music. Born in Salzburg, Mozart was a child musical prodigy. He composed from the age of five until his death at age 35. Mozart’s 27 concertos for solo piano and orchestra, composed between 1767, when he was only 11, and 1791, the last year of his life, served as a standard model for composers of his and following generations.

Mozart’s piano concertos are recognised as among his greatest achievements. In 1786, Mozart managed to write two masterpieces in one month: the first was No. 23 in A major K. 488, one of the most consistently popular of his concertos. At the time, Mozart was also writing the opera Le nozze di Figaro. Mozart hoped to appeal to his Viennese supporters with a piano piece that was new and tantalizing. His piano concertos were intended for his own performance and probably first heard at Lenten season concerts the year he composed them. K. 488 has all the characteristics of a composer at the height of his powers, although Mozart was only 30 when he wrote it.

Mozart’s piano concertos are structured in three movements, the first usually the most complex and longest, followed by a slower, quieter second movement, and then a rondo or sonata. K. 488 follows this pattern. Slow movements in minor keys are uncommon in works by Mozart. An “adagio” marking is rare, too. Listen for these in the performance, particularly the bassoon’s imitation of the clarinet and violins. The restrained first movement, and slow sad second are followed by a glorious third that keeps pianist Brain Ganz in constant motion.

Brian GanzBrian Ganz is widely regarded as one of the leading pianists of his generation. After his performance at the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Piano Competition, the critic for La Libre Belgique wrote: “We don’t have the words to speak of this fabulous musician who lives music with a generous urgency and brings his public into a state of intense joy.” Mr. Ganz is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Leon Fleisher. Earlier teachers include Ylda Novik and the late Claire Deene. An enthusiastic teacher, Mr. Ganz is artist-in-residence at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he has been a member of the piano faculty since 1986, and in 2000 he joined the piano faculty of the Peabody Conservatory. Mr. Ganz has remarked, “I am an active explorer of the many ways in which the study and performance of great music can remind us of the Spirit which unites all living things.” He has donated numerous performances in benefit concerts and was a founding member of the Washington Chapter of Artists to End Hunger.

 

 

Anton Bruckner Symphony No. 3 in D minor: Movement II

Composed: 1872-1873

Premiered: Vienna, December 1877

Revised: 1876-1877 and again 1889

Dedication: Richard Wagner

Length: c. 16 minutes

Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings

Tune into the Music: Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor, WAB 103 – II. Adagio. Bewegt, quasi andante – YouTube

Listen For: The second movement begins with a noble chorale, echoing the lines of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Bruckner dedicated his Symphony No. 3 to Wagner and it is sometimes called Bruckner’s Wagner Symphony.

Instrumentation: one pair each of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings.

Josef Anton Bruckner (4 September 1824 – 11 October 1896) was an Austrian composer and organist best known for his symphonies and sacred music. Bruckner wrote complex symphonies, which he often revised for one reason or another, sometimes making them even more complex. Listeners don’t need to understand the technical complexities of his work to enjoy it.

As a devout Catholic, celebrated organist, and both a student and teacher in cathedrals, Bruckner’s compositions offer moments that are reverent, sacred and magical. Symphony No. 3 offers a gradually building intensity that feels like a musical prayer. The work is notorious as the most-revised of Bruckner’s symphonies, and there exist no fewer than six versions, with three of them being widely performed today. Viennese audiences were disinclined to appreciate the premier of Symphony No. 3, mostly due to their dislike of Bruckner’s friend Wagner. To make matters worse, the conductor originally planned for the premier died a month before the opening performance. The composer agreed to step in, but his skills were sadly lacking. Much of the audience, and eventually even the orchestra, left the theater before the concert ended. Among those who stayed was Gustav Mahler, seventeen at the time, and a future admirer of Bruckner’s work. Today, Bruckner’s music is admired by the greatest conductors of our time, including our own José-Luis Novo. To some lovers of classical music, Bruckner’s compositions are the zenith of symphonic writing.

William Grant Still Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American Symphony”

Composed: 1930

Premiered: 1931, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra

Length: c. 23 minutes

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 3 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, tenor banjo, timpani, cymbal, drum set, triangle, vibraphone, harp, celeste, and strings

Tune into the music: Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American Symphony” – William Grant Still

Listen for: Moments of jazz, blues, and spirituals adjacent to traditional symphonic scoring, such as use of the banjo.

William Grant Still, Jr. (May 11, 1895– December 3, 1978) remains one of the most prominent African American composers of classical music. A leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and known as the “Dean of Afro-American composers”, Still was born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas. Still took formal violin lessons and taught himself clarinet, saxophone, oboe, viola, cello and double bass. He was interested in pursuing a college music education, but his mother pushed him to study medicine at Wilberforce University in Ohio, concerned that societal limitations would prevent a successful career as a black composer. Nevertheless, Still dropped out of Wilberforce and entered Oberlin University to study music.

Still broke racial barriers and earned many “firsts” in classical music. He was the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States. His 1949 opera Troubled Island was the first by an African American to be performed by a major opera company, New York City Opera. It was also the first by an African American to be nationally televised. The premier of Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American” was the first time the complete score of a work by an African American was performed by a major orchestra. Still composed Song of a City for the exhibit “Democracity,” at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, which played continuously during the fair’s run. Despite writing music for the fair, Still was unable attend the fair without police protection except on “Negro Day”.

Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American”, was first performed in 1931 by the Rochester Philharmonic. By the end of World War II, the piece had been performed in orchestras across the United States and Europe, and was arguably the most popular of any composed by an American at that time. The piece embraces classical European four-movement symphonic techniques, but incorporates African-American musical idioms throughout, including traditional jazz, blues, and spirituals. Still said, “I seek in the ‘Afro-American Symphony’ to portray not the higher type of colored American, but the sons of the soil, who still retain so many of the traits peculiar to their African forebears; who have not responded completely to the transforming effect of progress.” Still’s notes include titles for each movement: Longing, Sorrow, Humor, and Aspiration, and link each to poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar’s accurate portrayals of African-American life in the South using folk materials and dialects complement Still’s efforts to interweave African and European traditions in Afro-American Symphony.

Movement I: Twell de Night Is Pas, Paul Laurence Dunbar

All de night long twell de moon goes down,

Lovin’ I set at huh feet,

Den fu’ de long jou’ney back f’om de town,

Ha’d, but de dreams mek it sweet.

The end of the first movement is accompanied with the following quote:

All my life long twell de night has pas’

Let de wo’k come ez it will,

So dat I fin’ you, my honey, at last,

Somewhaih des ovah de hill.

Movement II: W’en I Gits Home, Paul Laurence Dunbar

It’s moughty tiahsome layin’ ‘roun’

Dis sorer-laden erfly groun’,

An’ oftentimes I thinks, thinks I,

‘T would be a sweet t’ing des to die,

An go ‘long home.

Movement III: An Ante-Bellum Sermon, Paul Laurence Dunbar

The poem is about emancipation and citizenship of the blacks in America. The lines quoted by Still in the score are as follows:

An’ we’ll shout ouah halleluyahs,

On dat mighty reck’nin’ day.

Movement IV: An Ode to Ethiopia, Paul Laurence Dunbar

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul,

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky,

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.