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As part of NEC's celebration of Benjamin Britten's 100th birthday, Associate Director of Orchestras David Loebel conducts a British-themed program:
Mendelssohn: "Scottish" Symphony
Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem
Tippett: Suite in D for the Birthday of Prince Charles
The Philharmonia and David Loebel continue NEC’s celebration of the Benjamin Britten centennial with a performance of a work that could very easily fit into the Conservatory’s concurrent festival, Music: Truth to Power. Composed while the pacifist Britten was staying in the United States during Britain’s involvement in World War II, the Sinfonia da Requiem was commissioned by one of the world’s most bellicose nations—Japan. And, even without a specific program, its character reveals its creator’s deeply held convictions.
The story of the commission is full of diplomatic missteps, which ultimately resulted in the Japanese, already at war with China and about to bomb Pearl Harbor, angrily rejecting Britten’s piece. So instead of the Sinfonia having its premiere on the occasion of the 2600th anniversary of the Japanese ruling dynasty, it was first heard in Carnegie Hall, New York on 29 March 1941 with the New York Philharmonic under John Barbirolli. Not long after the New York premiere, Serge Koussevitsky conducted the work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This performance led to the Koussevitzky Music Foundations commission of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.
In three movements, the Sinfonia was dedicated to the memory of Britten’s parents. The movement titles, Lacrymosa, Dies irae, and Requiem aeternam, are taken from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass and, of course, anticipate the funeral rites of the many who would be killed in the War. The dark tone and the Latin titles were particularly offensive to the Japanese, a non-Christian nation seeking to celebrate jingoistically its world stature.
In describing the work, Britten told the New York Sun in 1940, "I'm making it just as anti-war as possible ... I don't believe you can express social or political or economic theories in music, but by coupling new music with well known musical phrases, I think it's possible to get over certain ideas ... all I'm sure of is my own anti-war conviction as I write it."
Sir Michael Tippett’s Suite in D for the Birthday of Prince Charles was apparently not on the program when the London Philharmonia serenaded the Prince of Wales on his 65th birthday, November 25. Instead, the orchestra saluted the new pensioner with 90 minutes of Wagner (his choice) at the Buckingham Palace shindig financed by Indian tycoon, Cyrus Vandrevala and his wife, Priya. David Loebel and the NEC Philharmonia, however, are making up the gap by programming the 1948 work that has been described as “wonderfully lyrical and fabulously funny” by allmusic.com.
Finally, in keeping with the British theme of the concert, the orchestra and Loebel conclude with Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 “Scottish” that evokes the composer’s memories of a walking tour through Scotland.