NEC Philharmonia + Hugh Wolff: Price, Chin, & Haydn
NEC Philharmonia and conductor Hugh Wolff present works by Florence Price, Unsuk Chin, and Haydn, recorded in Jordan Hall and streamed to your home.
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- NEC Philharmonia
Florence Price | "Andante moderato" from String Quartet in G Major (1929)
On May 25th 2020, George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed by the police. His death sparked widespread outrage and soul-searching. Many in the classical music world felt prompted to address the longstanding neglect of composers of color. In the light of these events, Florence Price’s works are currently being rediscovered – a long-overdue and sadly posthumous appreciation of a great talent.
Florence Price, an African-American pianist, organist, and composer, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887 and died in Chicago in 1953. Price grew up in an integrated community and her family was fortunate to be relatively affluent. Her parents had the financial means to help Florence pursue her musical education. At the time, her father was one of only about a dozen African-American dentists in the nation and her mother was a music teacher. Florence grew up playing the piano, encouraged and taught by her mother, and after graduating as valedictorian from her high school at the young age of fourteen, was admitted to the New England Conservatory where she studied the piano, organ and composition.
As a woman of color, Price experienced the systematic racism and sexism that left out so many despite their innate musical abilities. She wrote Serge Koussevitzky, the legendary music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to consider her scores. He never responded. But in 1933, her Symphony No.1 in E minor was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, making Price the first African-American woman to have a work played by a major American orchestra.
One of her more under-appreciated works is her two-movement String Quartet in G major written in 1929. The second movement “Andante moderato--Allegretto'' is an uplifting, soulful movement that stands well on its own, and can be played by a small string orchestra (just as Barber’s “Adagio for Strings'' is the second movement of his String Quartet, Op.11).
Price’s music often has an introspective quality, reflecting her difficult experiences as a woman of color. It is believed that she took inspiration from Antonín Dvořák’s advice after he visited Spillville, Iowa to weave Negro spirituals into the fabric of classical music. Price, a religious woman, took compositional inspiration equally from the African-American church and European romantic composers such as Dvořák and Tchaikovsky.
The work begins with a vocal, heartfelt melody in the first violin. This pastoral melody is fully developed before a dramatic character change leads to the rustic central Allegretto. Here, the viola is given a powerful folk-song like melody, and is accompanied by the other string instruments plucking the strings of their instruments. This haunting melody is passed around the ensemble until a new bright idea emerges. This all leads back to the opening “Andante moderato” theme, bringing the piece to a poetic and tender conclusion.
- Nicolas Perkins
Claire Deokyong Kim
Unsuk Chin | Gougalōn (Scenes from a Street Theatre) (2009/2011)
The music of composer Unsuk Chin is in demand – and she is an important and prolific voice in modern music. As a young woman, she studied with György Ligeti, who criticized some of her early compositions as well-written but exhibited a ‘lack of personality’. She responded by creating a strongly personal style that exhibits technical mastery while remaining profoundly moving. She often blends beauty and humor in music. She often draws on personal experiences to write music with both beauty and humor. Gougalon (2011) is a fine example of this.
Gougalon was premiered in 2011 by the Cité de la Musique Ensemble Intercontemporain, under the direction of Susanna Mälkki. The piece was conceptualized, in the words of the composer, after a “...Proustian moment [she] experienced – entirely unexpectedly – during [her] first sojourn in China in 2008 and 2009” which triggered memories of “a troupe of entertainers [she] saw a number of times as a child in a suburb of Seoul.” This was the period after the Korean War, marked by poverty and loss. Chin’s recalls the marketplace filled with amateur musicians, fortune-tellers and hawkers of unregulated medicine and other wares putting on an elaborate show. The title Gougalon, an old German word meaning to hoodwink or act in a ridiculous fashion, aptly describes the scene.
The 20-minute work is arranged into six movements with humorous titles like “Lament of the Bald Singer,” “The Grinning Fortuneteller with False Teeth” and “Episode Between Bottles and Cans.” When listening to Gougalon, one is struck by the contrast between the primitive scene that inspired the music and the incredible amount of complexity and precision in the score. The soundscape heard at the market may there subliminally, but this rich and wild musical fabric is strictly high modernism. That said, the humor is still quite palpable and shines through the dense textures beautifully.
Prologue – Dramatic Opening of the Curtain
Lament of the Bald Singer
The Grinning Fortune Teller with the False Teeth
Episode between Bottles and Cans
Circulus vitiosos – Dance around the shacks
The Hunt for the Quack’s Plait
Claire Deokyong Kim
Oboe, English horn
Prepared Piano Four Hands
Alice Chenyang Xu
Franz Joseph Haydn | Symphony No. 83 in G Minor, Hob. 1:83, "La Poule"
Haydn’s 83rd symphony, also known as “La Poule'' or “The Hen,” is one of six symphonies Haydn wrote between 1785 and 1786 for Paris on commission from conductor, composer, and violinist Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. This commission was a fantastic new opportunity for Haydn and he leapt at chance. After years of composing for a small orchestra at Esterhazy, a provincial town near Vienna, Haydn now had at his disposal a renowned Parisian orchestra with forty violins, ten contrabasses and four times the usual number of wind instruments. Haydn was able to spread his wings and expand his compositional palette.
This is the only one of the six “Paris” symphonies in a minor key, and, like most of Haydn’s minor key symphonies, shares some of the passion and drama of the Sturm und Drang style. The piece starts with a stormy ascending G minor motive followed by a dramatic silence. This is repeated multiple times before giving way to the second theme of remarkably different character. Little grace notes in the first violins and a dotted rhythm repeated note in the oboe create a comic pecking sound – hence the symphony’s subtitle. The dotted rhythm dominates the movement, uniting the stern opening and comic second theme. The second movement is a peaceful Andante that is disrupted by sudden fortissimo ascending and descending scales and oddly static repeated notes. This is witty and urbane Haydn at his best. The minuet loops pairs of eighth notes into little running groups of three, creating a lively lilt. The finale is an extremely quick jig-like 12/8 dance. The development takes a turn for the minor, recalling the drama of the first movement, but the symphony ends in triumphant G major.
- Thompson Wang
Claire Deokyong Kim