NEC Symphony + Hugh Wolff: Across Continents
This evening’s concert pairs two works of Russian composers, both of which caused their composers great difficulty, with two works from outside the Eurocentric classical tradition. Tan Dun and William Grant Still worked thousands of miles from Europe – this program is music spanning three continents.
Winner of a 2020 NEC Concerto Competition, cellist William Suh '21 performs tonight as cello soloist in the Prokofiev.
This performance is open to in-person audiences, and can also be viewed below via livestream.
Watch livestream from Jordan Hall:
- NEC Symphony
- William Suh '21, cello
Tan Dun | Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds (2015)
Note: This composition is designed as an interactive piece between audience and orchestra, in which audience members have the option of playing an audio recording from their cell phones. The audio recording (recorded by 6 ancient Chinese instruments) is played by both the orchestra members and audience members.
To participate, you will need a copy of the audio recording. Please note that the recording will begin playing automatically when you click the link. Click here to play the audio recording
The interactive portion of the piece takes place as follows:
- The audience will participate before the start of the piece only.
- The conductor will first cue Percussion 4 to play the amplified recording.
- The conductor will then slowly turn towards the audience and cue different sections allowing the audience to gradually begin playing the recording on their cell phones.
- After the audience plays approximately 30" of the recording the conductor will cue the orchestra at bar 1.
You can read more about the piece, including this interactive portion, in the program note below.
What is the secret of nature? Maybe only the wind and birds know …
When Carnegie Hall and the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America asked me to write a new piece, I immediately thought to create and share the wonder of nature and a dream of the future.
In the beginning, when human beings were first inventing music, we always looked for a way to talk to nature, to communicate with the birds and wind. Looking at ancient examples of Chinese music, there are so many compositions that imitate the sounds of nature and, specifically, birds. With this in mind, I decided to start by using six ancient Chinese instruments, the guzheng, suona, erhu, pipa, dizi, and sheng, to record bird sounds that I had composed. I formatted the recording to be playable on cellphones, turning the devices into instruments and creating a poetic forest of digital birds. The symphony orchestra is frequently expanding with the inclusion of new instruments; I thought the cellphone, carrying my digital bird sounds, might be a wonderful new instrument reflecting our life and spirit today.
It has always been a burning passion of mine to decode the countless patterns of the sounds and colors found in nature. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “In order to arrive at knowledge of the motions of birds in the air, it is first necessary to acquire knowledge of the winds, which we will prove by the motions of water.” I immediately decided to take this idea of waves and water as a mirror to discover the motions of the wind and birds. In fact, the way birds fly, the way the wind blows, the way waves ripple … everything in nature has already provided me with answers. With melody, rhythm and color, I structured the sounds in a passacaglia.
A passacaglia is, to me, made of complex variations and hidden repetitions. In this piece, I play with structure, color, harmony, melody, and texture through orchestration in eight-bar patterns. Thus, the piece begins with the sounds of ancient Chinese instruments played on cellphones, creating a chorus of digital birds and moving tradition into the future.
Through nine evolving repetitions of the eight-bar patterns, the piece builds to a climax that is suddenly interrupted by the orchestra members chanting. This chanting reflects ancient myth and the beauty of nature. As it builds, it weaves finger snapping, whistling, and foot stamping into a powerful orchestral hip-hop energy. By the end, the winds, strings, brass, and percussion together cry out as one giant bird. To me, this last sound is that of the Phoenix, the dream of a future world.
Sergei Prokofiev | Sinfonia concertante, op. 125
Andante con moto - Allegretto - Allegro marcato
Cellist William Suh of Morgantown, WV performs tonight as a winner of the 2020 NEC Concerto Competition. Tonight’s performance was delayed until this year due to the pandemic.
William began his studies in Honolulu, HI with the late Andrew Eckard, former associate principal of the Honolulu Symphony and Dr. Jonas Carlson. A scholarship recipient of the Morning Music Foundation, he has appeared in concerto performances with the Oahu Civic Orchestra, Kamuela Philharmonic and Antelope Valley Symphony as a prizewinner of their respective concerto competitions. Other awards include First Prize at the nationwide Music Teachers’ National Association String Competition, top prize at the New York International Artists Association Competition, finalist of the Stulberg International String Competition, the Mondavi National Young Artist Founders' Division Competition, and recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award from National Public Radio’s From the Top.
William has performed in masterclasses for Truls Mørk, Marc Coppey and Laurence Lesser, had cello lessons while at the Perlman Music Program with Astrid Schween, Clara Kim and Zvi Plesser and at other programs with Steven Doane, Frans Helmerson and Yeesun Kim. A dedicated chamber musician, he has worked with the Morgenstern and Weilerstein Trios, pianist Pei-Shan Lee and members of the Cleveland, Emerson, Guarneri, Juilliard and Tokyo string quartets. William’s past festival appearances include the Chamber Music Workshop of the Perlman Music Program where he worked with Joseph Kalichstein, Roger Tapping and Donald Weilerstein as a Young Artist Fellow and the Fellowship Program of the Bowdoin International Music Festival where he worked closely with David and Phillip Ying.
In spring of 2021, William received his Bachelor of Music degree with Academic Honors from the NEC where he studied with Paul Katz. This fall he began his Master of Music degree at the Yale School of Music with Paul Watkins. He is a full scholarship graduate of the Colburn Music Academy where he studied with Clive Greensmith.
An advocate for the democratization of music education, William also works as an IT technical consultant for CelloBello.org. A former grant recipient of the Virtu Foundation, he currently performs on a 1913 cello by Carl Becker Sr., on loan through the generosity of the Colburn Collection.
After twenty years in self-imposed exile, a homesick Sergei Prokofiev returned to his native Russia in 1936. Shortly thereafter he completed his Cello Concerto in E minor, but its 1938 premiere was poorly received and he withdrew the work. Only after a twenty-year old Mstislav Rostropovich resurrected it in 1947 did Prokofiev decide it was worthy of revision. It took years of prodding from Rostropovich, and two revised versions, before Prokofiev finished the work we’ll hear tonight. Now called Sinfonia Concertante, it acknowledged the important role of the orchestra. As midwife, Rostropovich actually wrote some of the fiendishly difficult passagework that made it into the final version. Sadly, Prokofiev died before Rostropovich premiered the piece in Copenhagen in 1954. The three movements do not follow the fast-slow-fast shape of a traditional concerto. The middle movement, both the longest and most energetic, is a kind of center of gravity, between the serious first movement and dancing finale. Due to the demands on the soloist – both brilliance and stamina – the work is infrequently performed. But its astonishing breadth of emotion, high-wire technical dazzle, and deep lyricism make it a winner.
- William Suh '21, cello
William Grant Still | Darker America (1924)
Darker America, as its title suggests, is representative of the American Negro. His serious side is presented and is intended to suggest the triumph of a people over their sorrows through fervent prayer. At the beginning the theme of the American Negro is announced by the strings in unison. Following a short development of this, the English horn announces the sorrow theme which is followed immediately by the theme of hope, given to muted brass accompanied by strings and woodwind. The sorrow theme returns treated differently, indicative of more intense sorrow as contrasted to passive sorrow indicated at the initial appearance of the theme. Again hope appears and the people seem about to rise above their troubles. But sorrow triumphs. Then the prayer is heard (given to oboe); the prayer of numbed rather than anguished souls. Strongly contrasted moods follow, leading up to the triumph of the people near the end, at which point the three principal themes are combined.— William Grant Still
Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky | "Romeo and Juliet" Overture-Fantasie
Like Prokofiev and his Sinfonia Concertante, Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky struggled to complete his Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy. The work, which failed at its 1870 premiere, was extensively revised by the composer, and emerged in its final form only in 1886. It is dedicated to Mily Balakirev – a founding member of the Russian composer collective The Mighty Five – who suggested the subject to Tchaikovsky and offered detailed compositional advice (much of it unsolicited) along the way. At one point Tchaikovsky reassured Balakirev:
“The layout is yours. The introduction portraying the friar, the fight — Allegro, and love — the second subject; and, secondly, the modulations are yours: also the introduction in E, the Allegro in B-flat minor and the second subject in D-flat . . . You can tear it to pieces . . . all you want! I will take note of what you say and will try to do better in my next work.”
The final version remains one of the composer’s most popular pieces. As he suggested, Tchaikovsky captures the story’s essence with three distinct kinds of music: quasi-liturgical music (the friar), furious fight music, and a passionate love melody. After a lengthy introduction built around the friar’s music, these play out in quasi-sonata form capped by a somber coda. The swordfight music reappears in the final moments as fortissimo B-major chords, both violent and resigned, a potent ending to an unresolved tragedy. – --Hugh Wolff
Claire Byeol Kim
Ru-Yao Van der Ploeg
Nga ieng Lai*
Alice Chenyang Xu