March 16, 2022Print | PDF
by F. J. Haydn (1732-1809)
And God said: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together to one place,
and let the dry land appear; and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of waters called the Seas;
and God saw that it was good.
Rolling in foaming billows, uplifted roars the boisterous sea.
Mountains and rocks now emerge, their tops into the clouds ascend.
Through the open plains outstretching wide in serpent error rivers flow.
Softly purling glides on through silent vales the limpid brook.
Clarinet Concerto in A Major by W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Watch this video featuring Ann Murdocca who talks about this piece from a soloist perspective.
by Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962)
About Jennifer Higdon
Jennifer Higdon is one of American’s most acclaimed figures in contemporary classical music, receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, a 2010 Grammy for her Percussion Concerto, a 2018 Grammy for her Viola Concerto and, most recently, a 2020 Grammy for her Harp Concerto. Higdon’s first opera, Cold Mountain, won the International Opera Award for Best World Premiere and the opera recording was nominated for 2 Grammy awards. In 2018, Higdon received the prestigious Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University which is awarded to contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition. Higdon enjoys several hundred performances a year of her works and her works have been recorded on more than seventy CD’s.
For more information on the composer, visit: http://jenniferhigdon.com/
About the Percussion Concerto
The 20th century saw the development of the percussion section grow as no other section in the orchestra. Both the music and the performers grew in visibility as well as in capability. And while the form of the concerto wasn’t the least bit new in the century, the appearance and growth of the percussion concerto as a genre exploded during the later half of the century.
My “Percussion Concerto” follows the normal relationship of a dialogue between soloist and orchestra. In this work, however, there is an additional relationship with the soloist interacting extensively with the percussion section. The ability of performers has grown to such an extent that it has become possible to have sections within the orchestra interact at the same level as the soloist.
When writing a concerto I think of two things: the particular soloist for whom I am writing and the nature of the solo instrument. In the case of percussion, this means a large battery of instruments, from vibraphone and marimba (the favorite instrument of soloist Colin Currie), to non-pitched smaller instruments (brake drum, wood blocks, Peking Opera gong), and to the drums themselves. Not only does a percussionist have to perfect playing all of these instruments, but he must make hundreds of decisions regarding the use of sticks and mallets, as there is an infinite variety of possibilities from which to choose. Not to mention the choreography of the movement of the player; where most performers do not have to concern themselves with movement across the stage during a performance, a percussion soloist must have every move memorized. No other instrumentalist has such a large number of variables to challenge and master.
This work begins with the sound of the marimba, as Colin early on informed me that he has a fondness for this instrument. I wanted the opening to be exquisitely quiet and serene, with the focus on the soloist. Then the percussion section enters, mimicking the gestures of the soloist. Only after this dialogue is established does the orchestra enter. There is significant interplay between the soloist and the orchestra with a fairly beefy accompaniment in the orchestral part, but at various times the music comes back down to the sound of the soloist and the percussion section playing together, without orchestra.
Eventually, the music moves through a slow lyrical section, which requires simultaneous bowing and mallet playing by the soloist, and then a return to the fast section, where a cadenza ensues with both the soloist and the percussion section. A dramatic close to the cadenza leads back to the orchestra’s opening material and the eventual conclusion of the work.
Written for Colin Currie, this work is dedicated to him. “Percussion Concerto” was commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and The Dallas Symphony Orchestra. This commission was made possible with support from The Philadelphia Music Project (an artistic initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, administered by The University of the Arts), and by a generous gift from LDI, Ltd. and the Lacy Foundation.
by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
It took Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) just one month to compose his ninth symphony. Completed in August of 1945, the symphony was composed to celebrate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The premiere took place on November 3, 1945, at the Grand Hall of Leningrad Philharmonic, with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and Yevgeni Mravinsky conducting. The symphony was subsequently performed in Moscow on November 20, 1945, at the Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra and Mravinsky conducting.
The Soviet State anticipated this symphony to be a grand celebratory symphony. Going against these expectations, however, Shostakovich composed a rather short work (20-25 minutes), having a different character from his previous symphonies, and full of musical humor. Shostakovich described the work as a “joyful little piece” and that “musicians will like to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it.” Indeed, the symphony was not well received in the West, one critic writing “The Russian composer should not have expressed his feelings about the defeat of Nazism in such a childish manner.” Notwithstanding the symphony’s lighter character and humor, Mravinsky remarked that “…of course, the symphony is not entirely ironical, it also has genuine lyricism and profound sorrow.” Shostakovich further explained that “the majority of my symphonies are tombstones. Too many of our people died and were buried in places unknown to anyone, not even their relatives…only music can do that for them. I’m willing to write a composition for each of the victims, but that’s impossible, and that’s why I dedicate my music to them all.”
The symphony consists of five movements, the last three played continuously without pauses. Many solos are featured throughout the symphony, including prominent solos for the woodwind instruments, the trumpet, the trombone, and the violin. The first movement, Allegro, includes a light upbeat theme and features a virtuosic piccolo solo. The theme is interrupted several times by a two-note motif interjected by an insistent trombone. The theme quickly changes from major to minor tonalities and showcases various characters and moods. The second movement, Moderato, begins with a lyrical clarinet solo that is gradually joined by the rest of the wind instruments. The strings then display the melody in a dark and ominous character. The spirited third movement, Presto, features a solo clarinet and the wind section in a fast scherzo-like carnival atmosphere. This movement showcases extreme instrumental ranges, techniques, and exaggeration of characters that is often observed in Shostakovich’s symphonic writing and orchestration. The reflective fourth movement, Largo, opens with a minor and heavy low brass recitative with an intermittent bassoon solo that is free, expressive, and melancholic. The bassoon solo leads the orchestra into the final movement, Allegretto – Allegro, which contains a bright, charming, yet mischievous theme in E-flat major. The movement concludes triumphantly yet ends abruptly, leaving one surprised or even a bit confused.
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