NEC Philharmonia + Hugh Wolff: Singleton, Wagner, & Copland
NEC Philharmonia and conductor Hugh Wolff present works by Alvin Singleton, Richard Wagner, and Aaron Copland, recorded in Jordan Hall and streamed to your home.
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- NEC Philharmonia
Alvin Singleton | Again (1979)
Alvin Singleton was born in Brooklyn, New York. A Fulbright Scholar, Singleton received his musical education from New York University and Yale, and at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with Goffredo Petrassi. His compositions span a wide variety of genres including theatre, orchestra, and chamber music. Singleton’s works have been performed by major orchestras in United States and abroad and at festivals including Tanglewood and Aspen.
Alvin Singleton’s Again is a fiercely emotional and evocative work for chamber orchestra. Again is consistent with his later work: largely atonal, yet with hints of tonality and progressive jazz. Singleton pushes the instruments to the limit. Muted trumpet ventures into the highest register; all the players are asked to improvise and repeat passages with free rhythm.
Again begins with pulsating percussion, quickly interrupted. Shades of Bartók in the brass are followed by a fragment of melody in the flute. A precise murmur from the piano leads to a duet for horn and trombone over a staccato bass line in bassoon and double bass. The tempo doubles and the music builds to its first wild climax. Winds and strings alternate phrases, then the strings play increasingly agitated repetitive patterns. The solo marimba emerges from this to lead us to a percussion cadenza. The second half to the piece juxtaposes loud, repetitive passages (some as long at 28 seconds) with shorter enigmatic interludes. Once again the tempo doubles for two loud, jazzy sections. A flitting piccolo interrupts the final quiet music to end the piece.
To this listener, nature can be heard in the interactions between instruments. A flute imitates a birdcall, the echoing clarinet responds. Flirtatious duets between winds and brass call to mind a mating dance. Sharp, unexpected jabs by the brass elicit the same fear a prey might feel moments before a predator’s attack. A soft, ever-present murmur hums in the background, possibly emblematic of the constancy of life itself. A single, sustained tone by muted trumpet calls to mind a patiently waiting predator, undetectably still until a violent moment of action. The piece eschews the ebb and flow of traditional classical music, replacing it with sharp, sudden sound shifts, more characteristic of the natural chaos of life. Again does not follow the rules of music—it follows the patterns of nature.
- Alex Tung
Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Pei Hsien Lu
Richard Wagner | Siegfried Idyll
In 1866, Richard Wagner, the most influential composer of the later Romantic period, began his final and most important personal relationship with Franz Liszt’s daughter, Cosima. Siegfried Idyll is his tender musical gift to her. It was first performed at sunrise on December 25, 1870, on the winding staircase leading to the second floor of “Triebschen”, the villa on the shore of Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, where the Wagners were living. It was not only Christmas Day, but Cosima’s thirty-third birthday.
“Our first Christmas Eve,” wrote Cosima Wagner in her diary, “and I have given nothing to Richard and had nothing from him.” What Cosima hadn’t known was that for several weeks her husband worked in secret on a new composition to honor her and the birth of their first son, Siegfried. Wagner had rehearsed the piece with an ensemble of 15 musicians in private, and on Christmas Day they played the premiere of the Siegfried Idyll. “Suddenly I heard music, and what music!” Cosima wrote. “When it had died away, Richard came in with the five children and gave me the score of his symphonic birthday composition.” Everyone wept. After breakfast the chamber orchestra reassembled and played the piece a second time, then a third.
The piece’s title references the Wagners’ eighteen-month-old son and the opera whose final act Richard had finished just a few months before. Much of the musical material for Siegfried Idyll is drawn from the opera. This is decidedly unusual Wagner. He transformed music which sounds mighty and heroic in the opera into something gentle and intimate. The opera and the idyll share the melody of the love duet, "Ewig war ich,” which Wagner claimed came to him during the summer of 1864 at the Villa Pellet, overlooking Lake Starnberg, where he and Cosima consummated their union.
The work also uses the melody of the German lullaby, "Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf,” heard clearly in the solo oboe. Ernest Newman discovered it was linked to the Wagners’ older daughter, Eva. This and other musical references reveal the idyll's personal significance for both Wagner and Cosima. Wagner said that he could have described every note of the Idyll programmatically. If there was indeed a story here, however, the composer never put it to paper—though he did later inscribe the score with a flowery poem of his own authorship, a dedication to Cosima that was printed in the first edition:
It was your will, noble and sacrificing, that found the proper meaning for my work, consecrated by you into an enraptured quietude, which grew and gave us strength; the world of heroes, was now magically turned to idyll, ancient scenes of a distant homeland—and there a joyous call broke out from my song: “A son is there!” he who must be called Siegfried.
For him and you I now raise up this music in thanks. What nobler form could gratitude for love-deeds take? In our private chambers, we fostered it:
this quiet joy that now takes the form of music. What proves true for us, this unwavering rapture, is also true for our son, noble Siegfried;
with your grace, all these things are now fulfilled, as we silently enjoy this musical joy.
Wagner originally intended the Siegfried Idyll to remain private. However, due to financial pressures, he decided to sell the score to the publisher B. Schott in 1878. In doing so, Wagner expanded the orchestration to 35 players to make the piece more marketable. The original piece is scored for a chamber ensemble of 13 players: flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. This evening it will be played by an orchestra of 25 musicians.
- Liav Kerbel
Da Young Rachel Lim
Lap Hang Cheng
Jakyoung Olivia Huh
Aaron Copland | Appalachian Spring (1944)
Aaron Copland was a composer and conductor whose orchestrations and harmonies defined the sound of American classical music in the mid-twentieth century. Copland’s unique style of writing produced music evoking the American West, prairie pioneers, and the vast landscapes of the United States. His most notable pieces include his ballets Rodeo (1942), Billy the Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).
Appalachian Spring was commissioned by dancer and choreographer Martha Graham and arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Copland and Graham had previously collaborated, and Graham asked Copland to write “an American theme” ballet. The ballet takes place at a wedding in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse, and the story follows the bride, groom, a pioneer woman neighbor, and a fiery preacher with four young followers. The ballet tackles themes of fate and an uncertain future and includes spiritual and religious imagery. The piece is most famous for its elaborate use of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.” The piece had no working title, with Copland simply referring to it as “Ballet for Martha,” which is now the subtitle of the piece. Graham suggested “Appalachian Spring,” borrowing the words from the poem “The Dance” by American poet Hart Crane:
O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Interestingly, the word “spring” has a double meaning - referring both to a water source flowing from an aquifer located in the Adirondacks, and the coming of spring weather and happiness.
The ballet’s original version for 13 musicians was premiered at the Library of Congress. It is this version that we perform this evening. Copland arranged a suite from the ballet for full orchestra which Artur Rodzinski premiered with the New York Philharmonic in 1945. In 1970, members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic first performed the suite with the original 13-piece chamber ensemble. Finally, in 2016, a new version of the piece was published - the complete ballet scored for full orchestra.
- Misha Bjerken
Lap Hang Cheng
Jakyoung Olivia Huh