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Teddy Bear Concert | December 14, 2019

Teddy Bear Concert | December 14, 2019

Jim Wilson, Host

With school choirs from Fort Worth elementary schools

Admission Free*

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 West Seminary Drive, Fort Worth, TX

Bring the entire family for an evening of Holiday Favorites!

Sleigh Ride  by Leroy Anderson
The Christmas Song  by Mel Tormé
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane

…some modern day Christmas traditions
…plus the student winner of the FWCO Carol Contest

* Please bring a new, unwrapped stuffed animal to help the Fort Worth Police Department aid children in crisis

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Fall Concert | November 2, 2019

Fall Concert | November 2, 2019

Fort Worth Civic Orchestra
Kurt Sprenger, Music Director

Michael Shih, violin

Saturday, November 2, 2019 at 7:30pm

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

FREE Admission

Artist Profile

Violinist Michael Shih, concertmaster of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra since 2001, has performed throughout the United States and his native Taiwan, as well as on tours of Canada, France, Germany, Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru, China, Japan, and Korea. An United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts, he was a winner in the Naumburg International Violin Competition and Artists International’s Auditions, which led to his New York recital debut at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in 1992. He has appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the Little Orchestra Society at Avery Fisher Hall, the Williamsburg Symphonia, the Abilene Philharmonic, the New York Youth Symphony, the San Pedro Sula Symphony in Honduras, the Taipei Symphony at Taiwan’s National Concert Hall and with the symphony orchestras of Dallas, Fort Worth, Hartford and New Amsterdam. In 2007, he gave the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ Violin Concerto with the FWSO conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and this critically acclaimed performance was released by FWSO Live in recordings titled The Composer’s Voice and Take Six.

An avid performer of chamber music, he has collaborated with Leon Fleisher, Sharon Isbin, Jaime Laredo, Cho-Liang Lin, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Tree and Charles Wadsworth. From 1992 to 2002, he was first violinist of the Whitman Quartet, formerly graduate quartet-in-residence at the Juilliard School and winner of the Naumburg Chamber Music and Catherine Filene Shouse Debut Artists awards. Music festival appearances include Aspen, Bard, Chamber Music Northwest, Chautauqua, Kansai Science City (Japan), La Jolla, Lincoln Center, Ravinia, Spoleto USA, Stuttgart (Germany) and Mostly Mozart. He has also appeared at the prestigious Chiehshou Hall Concert at the Office of the President of Taiwan, at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Chamber Music International in Dallas and Cliburn Foundation’s “Cliburn at the Bass” and “Cliburn at the Modern” series with composers John Corigliano, Sebastian Currier, Osvaldo Golijov, Jennifer Higdon, Lowell Liebermann, Kevin Puts, Christopher Theofanidis and Joan Tower.

Media credits include NPR’s Performance Today, NBC’s Today Show, Japan’s NHK Television and Taiwan’s Public Television. He holds Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Julliard School, where he studied with Dorothy DeLay and Hyo Kang. Other teachers include Chiu-Sen Chen, Masao Kawasaki, Shue-Tee Lee and Margaret Pardee. He was on the violin faculty at the Lucy Moses School for Music and Dance in New York City from 1995 to 2001. Currently, he is a Distinguished Guest Professor of Violin at the Texas Christian University and a 2013 Visiting Professor of Music at the East China Normal University.

Concert Program

Josef Suk (1874-1935)

Toward a New Life

Three blasts of a trumpet fanfare, each a step higher than the one before, open this jaunty little march from the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Suk had dedicated a version of the piece to the Sokol (Falcon) Society, the youth athletic association that was the pride of his native Czechoslovakia, a dozen earlier. After laying it aside, he revised and entered it in the art competition for the Games of the X Olympiad; from 1912 to 1948, medals were awarded for architecture, literature, music, painting or sculpture. The judges awarded him the Silver Medal even though Gold and Bronze weren’t awarded that year!

Notwithstanding the bright, youthful spirit of this march, Josef Suk’s major works of this period in his life were practically Mahler-like in their darkness and brooding character. His musical reputation largely rests on the symphonic tetralogy: Asrael after the Angel of Death (1906), Suk’s cataclysmic reaction to the loss of his father-in-law, Antonín Dvořák, and his wife, Otilie; A Summer’s Tale (1909), a meditation on nature by a man beaten down by fate; Ripening (1917), an autumnal hymn to life; and a valedictory song of earthly liberation, Epilogue (1929). Seen in the light of those works, the name of his Olympic march resonates with the joy of youth’s promise.


Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D

Brahms was the composer with the severest case of self-critical paralysis by analysis. By his own reckoning, he labored 21 years over his First Symphony, knowing full well that the concert-going public expected “Beethoven’s Tenth.” When he finally delivered a symphony at age 43, the floodgates finally opened, a second one soon poured out and, two years later, a violin concerto in the same key as Beethoven’s. (Key signatures and notes that spell out names have enormous significance of homage for composers.)

The D Major concerto is closely associated with Brahms’ violinist friend and collaborator, Joseph Joachim, who advised the pianist-composer on technique and playability – and his prints (and bow markings) are all over it. But the unseen hands behind the work belonged to another Hungarian violinist, Ede Reményi, who instilled in a 15-year-old Brahms a lifelong love of Gypsy music. The concerto’s melodies aren’t overtly alla Zingarese, but it has moments that flirt with Roma style (if filtered through a crusty classical sensibility).

Like the Beethoven concerto, the Brahms’ first movement has a double exposition – the first, a long orchestral introduction of principal themes and the second, the main event for violin. The opening theme is a rolling melody of falling and rising triplets; the contrasting one is an angry explosion of dotted rhythms. A passage with turbulent strings builds the tension and sets up the violin’s dramatic entrance, a virtual cadenza inspired by virtuoso Gypsy fiddling. The actual cadenza comes near the movement’s end and is soloist’s choice, the last major violin concerto without a cadenza written down by the composer.

Brahms originally envisioned a four-movement symphonic structure (as in his second piano concerto), but the interior movements didn’t come together. The scherzo may have made its way into the piano concerto, but the adagio was replaced entirely. The Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate famously refused to take up the concerto, not wanting to stand idle while the oboe played the only tune in the second movement. The finale again has a Gypsy feel, though the melody could have been lifted from (or, rather, inspired by) the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch that Joachim introduced a decade earlier. The concerto wasn’t well received at its first performance in Leipzig, and legend has it that Brahms reacted to the critical commentary by burning the sketches of a planned second violin concerto.


Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

In the spring of 1845, Wagner completed Tannhäuser, his opera about 14th century German Minnesingers and a song contest. A few weeks later, he began sketching the libretto for an opera about 15th century German Mastersingers and a song contest.

But Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was on hold for 16 years while Wagner attended to other distractions: Lohengrin (1848), Das Rheingold(1853), Die Walküre (1856) and Tristan und Isolde (1859). It wasn’t until late 1861 – when a Titian painting in Venice reminded him of the subject – did he return to his Mastersingers. He composed the Prelude to Act I on a train in March, 1862, and premiered it that fall. Another six years went by before the full opera was completed and staged, but the opening prelude introduced many of the principal musical themes associated with its characters.

Wagner cast his opera as a battle of wits between musical progressives and conservatives. His hero Hans Sachs, the historical leader of the Mastersingers guild (and a stand-in for Wagner himself), mentors the young Franconian knight Walther von Stolzing in a song contest to win the hand of the beautiful Eva. Sachs’ nemesis is the musically giftless Sixtus Beckmesser (a stand-in for Wagner’s chief antagonist in real life, the music critic Eduard Hanslick). The prelude opens with two majestic themes representing the Mastersingers and their apprentices. Wagner introduces a contrasting lyrical theme in the violins, Walther’s famous Prize Song. The middle section is a fugue based on the apprentice music, and the work concludes with a return to the majestic theme of the opening bars.

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Spring Concert | May 11, 2019

Fort Worth Civic Orchestra

Kurt Sprenger, Music Director

Winners of the Young Musicians’ Concerto Competition:

William Leicht, piano
1st Place

Eric Rau, cello
2nd Place

 

Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 West Seminary Drive, Fort Worth, TX

Admission Free

 

#womencompose

In our 42-year history, the Fort Worth Civic Orchestra has never performed (to the best of our knowledge) any musical works composed by a woman. That realization took us by surprise, considering the fact that FWCO plays a LOT of contemporary music, a stream where women are very well represented.

So, just in time to observe 100 years since passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote (June 4, 1919), we end our season on a splashy note with a concert featuring works by important women composers. In keeping with our mission to present music of quality to the community and to broaden our audience’s exposure to the classical literature, we add three new (to us) composers to our repertoire.

 

Joan Tower (b. 1938)

Fanfare No. 6 for the Uncommon Woman

Joan Tower comes from a generation of American composers who emerged in the 1970s and ‘80s, among them Philip Glass, John Corigliano, William Bolcom and Steve Reich. Though their styles ranged broadly – some were called “minimalists,” others “new Romantics” – their music embraced tonal centers, consonant harmonies and recognizable melodic themes without fear or shame. Following the experimentalism of the ‘50s and ‘60s, they reaffirmed a musical language that echoed the expressive lyricism of 19th century models but were filtered through a modern esthetic.

Tower’s standing in the musical world was firmly established with Sequoia in 1981, and in the decades since, she’s produced a much-admired body of work. She was the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music (for Silver Ladders in 1990), and her Concerto for Orchestra (1991) and Made in America (2004) have become firmly established in the repertoire.

In 1986, the Houston Symphony commissioned fanfares from 21 composers to observe the 150th year since Texas declared independence. Though it should have produced many forgettable throwaways, the project yielded notable works, including John Williams’ Celebration Fanfare, John Adams’ Tromba Lontana and Tobias Picker’s Old and Lost Rivers. The most enduring, however, has been Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, whose title is a play on Aaron Copland’s anthemic Fanfare for the Common Man. In the years since, she’s composed five more, dedicated as a group to “women who take risks and are adventurous.” Fanfare No. 6, composed in 2014 for piano and later arranged for full orchestra, is an energetic work of pulsating rhythms, shimmering surfaces and big, jazzy interjections. The Fanfare was premiered by Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony in 2016.

In a 1991 essay about her composer residency with the St. Louis Symphony, Tower wrote: “I recently asked a pre-concert audience of around 1,500 people how many of them expected to dislike my piece, and about 90 percent of the hands went up. I then asked them how many thought that was unfair. The same hands went up! With orchestra players it’s a little better, but not much.” The League of American Orchestras has announced that it will award its Gold Baton to Joan Tower at its annual convention this June in Nashville.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Fanfare for the Common Man

Copland’s fanfare was a commission from the Cincinnati Symphony, whose English music director Eugene Goosens had buoyed British public morale in the first world war with fanfares written by British composers. With the world at war again, he now invited 17 Americans (and himself) to contribute fanfares reflecting on aspects of the war, each to be unveiled weekly through the 1942-43 season. There were fanfares …for the Fighting French (Walter Piston), …for Freedom (Morton Gould), …for the Signal Corps (Howard Hanson), but Copland’s is the one that has stayed with us through the years.

Its name was inspired by Vice President Henry Wallace’s speech to the Free World Society in 1942 proclaiming “the century of the common man.” Goosens said to Copland: “Its title is as interesting as the music, and I think it is so telling that it deserves a special occasion for its performance. If it is agreeable to you, we will premiere it on March 12, 1943 at income tax time.” As Copland observed later, “I was all for honoring the common man at income tax time.”

The opening fanfare in Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (familiar as the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey”) was built on three ascending notes (do-sol-do) in the trumpets that pose Nietzsche’s “world riddle.” Like a magician, Copland took those rising fifth and fourth intervals but started on the fifth degree of the scale (sol-do-sol) to transform Strauss’ fanfare to the Super Man – this, just as America’s fight against the Nazi war machine was beginning – into a resounding assertion of the spirit of the Common Man.

 

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969)

Symphony No. 3

In Poland, they pronounce her name gra-ZHEE-na bot-SAY-vitch. She was a gifted violinist, composed seven violin concertos and couldn’t have escaped a life in music if she’d wanted. Her father was a choirmaster. Her brother was a composer. Her other brother was a pianist. Yet hers is the name found in the standard music histories and biographies.

Her father, Vincas Bacevičius, went by his Lithuanian name, but Grażyna identified more with her mother’s Polish nationality. After graduating from the Warsaw Conservatory in 1932, she sought the help of Nadia Boulanger in Paris to hone her composing craft just as Aaron Copland had done a decade earlier. As a violinist, Bacewicz was concertmaster of the Polish Radio Symphony until its disbanding at the outbreak of World War II, but she continued composing and giving concerts in Warsaw throughout the war. In 1945, she took a professorship at the State Conservatory of Music in Łódź. A serious auto accident in 1954 put her in the hospital with a broken pelvis, broken ribs and injuries to her head and face. A friend reported that “she was in a darkened hospital ward fighting for her life, and though she had difficulty talking, she spent the time joking and refusing to discuss the accident or the seriousness of her condition.”

By that time, Bacewicz had already begun to curtail her performing career in order to concentrate on composing; she made a complete break with the violin the year after her accident. By then, she had composed all four of her numbered symphonies, including the Third, which dates from 1952. The works she wrote in the 1940s and ‘50s are often described as neoclassical, though she disputed the term. She did, however, admit to the primacy of structure in her works. “I mainly care about the form in my compositions… [I]f you place things randomly or throw rocks on a pile, that pile will always collapse. In music, there must be rules of construction that will allow the work to stand on its feet.”

Bacewicz’ Third is in the mold of a classical four-movement symphony. The intensity of the opening Drammatico molto lives up to its name and could automatically trigger an, “Uh, oh! An ugly piece of modern music!” reaction. But a minute in, she quickens the pace and tosses a punchy rhythm around the orchestra very much like the motto of Beethoven’s Fifth, this followed by a less urgent but still dark second subject based on the introduction. A muscular development, recap and coda complete the movement’s sonata-allegro structure. The slow movement begins and ends on a stealthy bass pizzicato that bookends a luxuriantly dreamy piece of orchestral writing. The third movement is a quicksilver scherzo with prankish humor while the finale has echoes of the first movement, a slow and sinister prologue and music of obsessively pounding agitation and fury.

Watch Grażyna Bacewicz perform her own Oberek in 1952, the same year she composed her Third Symphony

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Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

The Wreckers Overture

The history of English opera after Handel resumes – after near silence for 150 years – with Dame Ethel Smyth. (Arthur Balfe’s 1843 Bohemian Girl didn’t exactly jumpstart the artform, and the Savoy operas of Gilbert & Sullivan aren’t exactly opera.)

Smyth, the daughter of a stern military man from Kent, shocked her family when she Brexited to Germany to study music. On the continent, she hobnobbed with Clara Schumann, Brahms, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák. She composed a large body of chamber music in the 1880s, but like her musical heroes Wagner and Berlioz, Smyth dreamed of writing opera. Her concert overture Antony and Cleopatra (1890) and choral Mass in D after Thomas à Kempis (1891) gave her a dry run managing large orchestral and vocal forces, and in 1892, she started work on both the comic opera Fantasio and her pirate opera The Wreckers.

It was on a visit to Cornwall in 1886 that Smyth first heard century-old tales of coastal villagers who doused the harbor lights to lure passing cargo ships aground on the rocks, murder the crews and plunder the ships’ stores. Sixty years before Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, Smyth saw the possibilities of the sea as a darkly dramatic setting for opera. The Wreckers overture opens abruptly on a swashbuckling call to arms that the villagers sing in Act 1:

Haste to the shore, the storm is nigh,
The breakers roar, the seabirds cry!
Wreckers away, and haste ye!

This is followed by the heroic theme of Mark and Thirza, young lovers condemned to die in a cave amid rising tide waters for the crime of warning away the sailing ships. A liturgical chorale evokes the piety of the villagers, who credit Providence with delivering the ships, and the overture ends with a coda based on the opening chorus.

The Wreckers had only one performance at its 1906 Leipzig premiere because Smyth withdrew it over her objections to the conductor’s edits. It was mounted in London under Arthur Nikisch in 1908, under a young (not yet Sir) Thomas Beecham in 1909 and at Covent Garden in 1910 under Bruno Walter. Smyth’s Der Wald was the first opera by a woman staged at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1903 (followed by Kajia Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin 113 years after!).

Inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst’s campaign to win voting rights for British women, Smyth became a suffrage activist – famously serving two months in Holloway Prison with a hundred other women for a window-breaking rampage. Dame Ethel was awarded the DBE in 1922, having confessed to her diary when she was 9 of wanting “to be made a Peeress in my own right because of music.” She accepted it enthusiastically, she said, “especially as it was all due to an absurd row in the Woking Golf Club.”

Hear Dame Ethel Smyth’s recollections of Johannes Brahms…

musical-note

 

Young Musicians’ Concerto Competition Winners

 

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16

William Leicht, soloist

It has the most iconic piano entrance in the entire concerto literature. Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto may be more heroic, Rachmaninoff’s Second more brooding, but the tumbling cascade of notes that announce the Grieg Piano Concerto is unchallenged for sheer drama.

All the more remarkable, considering his inspiration was the “straight-out-of-the-gate” entrance from an earlier piano concerto in A-minor, the one by Robert Schumann. Grieg first heard it when he was a student in Leipzig, played by Schumann’s widow, Clara. The falling three-note motive (sol-ti-do) in Grieg’s dramatic opening bars is a characteristic gesture of Norwegian folksong. And like the “Clara” theme of Schumann’s concerto, which weaves through much of his music, it shows up in several of Grieg’s later works, notably the Lyric Suite, the Symphonic Dances and his G minor String Quartet.

By the time he composed the concerto in 1868 at the tender age of 25, Grieg was already under the spell of the late Norwegian composer Rikard Nodraak, who advocated for a strong national music language based on native folk melodies. The concerto’s themes aren’t explicitly from folk tunes, but its powerful sense of place says something about the pervasiveness of Norway in Grieg’s musical foundation. And like the other Romantic piano concertos that joined the hit parade, his melodies proved irresistible to lyricists.

The spin-off songs from Grieg’s concerto haven’t proven as indelible as Tchaikovsky’s (“Tonight We Love”) or Rachmaninoff’s (“Full Moon and Empty Arms” and Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”), but the Broadway schlockmeisters Wright & Forrest set words to all of the Grieg Concerto’s tunes in their 1944 musical “Song of Norway.” The first movement contains two important themes. After the concerto’s dramatic opening, the woodwinds whisper the main melody in A minor, or in Wright & Forrest’s irresistibly awful lyrics:

Once long ago,
Long, long ago,
’Mid these hills dwelled a maid,
Mark you well, for the maiden’s name was Norway!
Trolls and men were entranced when Norway danced!

The piano restates the melody and plays fleet-fingered arabesques before the cellos introduce the secondary idea in C major – or in the Broadway show’s flirtatious banter by Grieg, his future wife Nina and Nordraak:

Nordraak: I’ll right the world and its wrongs if you are near me.
Nina: I’ll be near you.
Grieg: I’ll write such wonderful songs if you can hear me.
Nina: I will hear you.

Franz Liszt was entranced by the concerto when he read through it, but Grieg tinkered with it to the end of his life – never on the melodies but the instrumentation. The version heard in this performance was his final edition.

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Concerto in E minor for Violoncello and Orchestra, Op. 85

Eric Rau, soloist

Though he lived to the age of 77, Sir Edward Elgar’s most fruitful years were the 20 between the initial success of his “Enigma Variations” of 1899 and his Cello Concerto of 1919. Lady Elgar, who was the driving force behind his success and who never lost faith in his talents even as his own flagged, died in 1920. Without Alice, Elgar lost his will and inspiration to write. He never completed another major composition and lived out the rest of his life as a bereaved country gentleman whose quaint Edwardian era music seemed more and more out of fashion. The Cello Concerto was his final masterwork.

The apocalyptic carnage of the Great War from 1914 to 1918 had left Elgar depressed and contemplative, and he wrote little music of note during that time. But the years 1918 and 1919 brought on the final burst of creative energy that yielded his three great works in the melancholic key of E minor – the Violin Sonata, the String Quartet and the Cello Concerto. In March of 1918, Elgar checked himself into a London nursing ward for a tonsillectomy. At the time, surgery on a 61-year-old man was risky and painful, but his doctors were adamant that he have the procedure. He was weak and in pain for days afterward, but he awoke one morning and asked for a pencil and paper, on which he wrote the opening melody – a noble but forlorn theme – of the Cello Concerto.

He had no idea what to do with that little scrap of melody in 9/8 time, but he laid it aside for the better part of a year while he worked on his chamber works during the summer of 1918 in his cottage in Sussex, where he sometimes heard artillery charges from across the Channel. By May of the following year, he conceived of his 9/8 tune as the kernel for a cello concerto. Over that summer, he got up every morning at 4 or 5 to compose and score it. The work was premiered on October 27, 1919 by cellist Felix Salmond with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Elgar. The remainder of that concert was conducted by the imperious Albert Coates, who used up so much time at the rehearsal that the orchestra had little time to prepare the concerto. Accordingly, the premiere was a disaster, and the reviews were punishing. Salmond rarely touched the piece again and did not promote it to his cello students. It was taken up by English cellist Beatrice Harrison, who made its first recordings and gave its American premiere, as well as the eminent cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. But it was the young Jacqueline du Pré whose interpretations in the ‘60s finally brought the concerto the acclaim and admiration it enjoys today.

The concerto is in four movements, though the first and last pair are played without pause like two long halves. The first opens on an anguished cadenza by the solo cello followed by the bittersweet main theme in the violas and cellos. An Elgar biographer said it was “haunted by an autumnal sadness – but the sadness of compassion, not pessimism.” The soloist gives it painful expression, and except for a lyrical but no less mournful middle section, it pervades the first movement.

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March 2 2019

Winter Concert 2019

Delmar Pettys, Violin

Fort Worth Civic Orchestra

Kurt Sprenger, Music Director

Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 West Seminary Drive, Fort Worth, TX

Admission Free


About Our Soloist

Delmar Pettys is much admired in North Texas, having served as principal second violin of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from 1986-2009 as well as a soloist and ensemble leader in his concert appearances and recordings outside the DSO.

A graduate of the Juilliard School, he studied violin with Oscar Shumsky and Joseph Fuchs and chamber music with the members of the Juilliard String Quartet. Mr. Pettys was a longtime member of the Lenox String Quartet. He founded the Evansville Chamber Orchestra and served as artistic director of the Evansville Chamber Players.

He was a member of the Chicago Ensemble and played in the 1965 Casals Festival Orchestra. In leadership capacities, Mr. Pettys was concertmaster of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra (1977-96), acting concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony (1976-77) and acting concertmaster of the Dallas Opera (2009-10). He was a charter member, concertmaster and frequent soloist with the Music in the Mountains Festival in Durango, Colorado. He has been concertmaster of the Eugene Oregon Opera since 2012.

Mr. Pettys has held teaching positions at Grinnell College, State University of New York at Binghamton, University of Evansville, University of North Texas, Texas Christian University and Baylor University.


Concert Program

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Russian Easter Overture

It was during the momentous year between December 17, 1887 and December 15, 1888, that Rimsky conducted the premieres of the three works that cemented his reputation as Russia’s preeminent national composer: Capriccio Espagnol, Scheherazade and Russian Easter Overture. The latter, officially titled Svetliy prazdnik or Bright Holiday (as Easter is called in Russia) was a musical impression of the Eastern Orthodox holiday as celebrated in the composer’s homeland. In contrast to the serenity of Western church festivities, the Russian holiday combined the solemnity of medieval canticle with ancient traditions of vernal pagan revelry. Rimsky used liturgical themes he found in a collection of Russian Orthodox chants, most prominently, the opening canticle Let God Arise alternating between woodwinds and strings with interpolated violin, flute and clarinet solos imitating spring birdsong. A solo cello intones the ecclesiastical hymn An Angel Cried Out against chirruping woodwinds, and the two melodies fill out the introduction in alternating verses until the breathless allegro agitato on the liturgical theme Let Them That Hate Him Flee. The tolling of Russian bells – so colorfully imitated in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and The Great Gate of Kiev – is no less vivid in Rimsky’s pizzicato violins. The trumpets blast a joyous fanfare, and the noisy jubilation ends on the canticle Christ Is Arisen.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor

“We need to bring Prokofiev back home,” Stalin wrote in his diary. The composer had been granted permission to go abroad in 1918, soon after the Revolution. By 1925, though, the Soviet Union had begun courting him to return. The regime was desperate for celebrities and had reached out to Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, both of whom had left before Prokofiev. But it was Prokofiev who seriously flirted with the idea of coming home as early as 1927.

In 1935, he and his family spent an idyllic summer on the Oka River just outside of Moscow. There, surrounded by the area’s natural beauty, Prokofiev was inspired to compose his piano score to Romeo & Juliet and work on his second violin concerto. The concerto was for French violinist Robert Soetens, who’d given the premiere (with Samuel Dushkin) of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins as well as the first performance of Ravel’s Tzigane in its violin-piano version. Stravinsky had already composed a concerto for Dushkin, and Prokofiev had decided to do likewise for Soetens.

Prokofiev worked on it at spare moments while on his concert tours and other travels. He quipped that he began the concerto in Paris, wrote the second movement in Voronezh and completed it in Baku. Soetens premiered it with Enrique Arbós and the Madrid Symphony Orchestra in December 1935 while he and Prokofiev were on a joint concert tour, and he continued to perform it until he was 95. Soetens died in 1997 at the age of 100.

The first movement has two principal melodies: an ascending motif in G minor heard at the outset in the unaccompanied violin, alternating with a contrasting downward line akin to La Vie En Rose. The second movement – whose broadly singing theme in 4/4 and clarinet/pizzicato accompaniment in 12/8 sets up a rhythmic tension of two-against-three – could easily have been a pas de deux scene from Romeo. The final allegro ben marcato is an energetic rondo – a series of episodic variations – with a recurring dance for the violin and castanets that doesn’t sound remotely Spanish.

Two months after the concerto’s premiere, Shostakovich was denounced in Pravda. And over the summer of 1936, the first show trial of the Great Purge was convened. By then, Prokofiev had finally repatriated to the Soviet Union. Given assurances of his freedom to travel, commissions, royalties and a comfortable lifestyle, he continued touring abroad until 1938 when the doors to the outside world closed on him for good. He and Stalin died on the same day, March 5, 1953.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Marche Slave

The Serbo-Turkish War of 1876 was another of those Balkan uprisings that sucked the region’s powers into a broader conflict, here, the Great Eastern Crisis in the Ottoman Empire. Russian volunteers streamed into Serbia to help their fellow Slavs while the Imperial Russian government weighed a formal declaration of war against the Turks.

Like his countrymen, Tchaikovsky was sympathetic to the Serb cause, and he immediately agreed when Nikolai Rubenstein asked him to write a short work for a concert to benefit wounded Serbian and Russian soldiers. He completed the Serbo-Russian March (as he first called it before its French title was universally accepted) in the space of five days in September 1876, and the piece was premiered in November.

The March followed a deliberately descriptive program using themes Tchaikovsky found in a published collection of Serbian folk songs. It opens with the tune he made famous, a funereal The Bright Sun Shines Not depicting the misery of the Serb people under the Turkish yoke. The mood brightens considerably with the major key entry of a patriotic song, The Serb Soldier Happily Goes to War. Tchaikovsky then invents the trick he would put to good use six years later in his overture 1812, layering ominously dark war clouds that crescendo into a fierce battle scene. Solo timpani set the march tempo for the second part, which mixes Serb and Russian themes and prophetically introduces the Russian national anthem God Save the Tsar in the thick of combat to save the day. (It was Russia’s entry into the war in 1877 that tipped the balance and led the Turks to sue for peace the following year.)

Marche Slave was a sensation at its premiere, and the composer frequently conducted it on his concert tours to end an evening with a predictably unceremonious bang.

Listen to Sunce jarko, ne sijaš jednako (The Bright Sun Shines Not)

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December 8 2018

Teddy Bear Montage









Teddy Bear Concert 2018

Saturday, December 8 at 7:00 p.m.

Jim Wilson, Host

With school choirs from Fort Worth elementary schools

Admission Free*

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 West Seminary Drive, Fort Worth, TX

Bring the entire family for an evening of Holiday Favorites!

Sleigh Ride  by Leroy Anderson
The Christmas Song  by Mel Tormé
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

…some modern day Christmas traditions

…plus the student winner of the FWCO Carol Contest, “A Peaceful Birth” by Irene Park


* Please bring a new, unwrapped stuffed animal to help the Fort Worth Police Department aid children in crisis


Teddy_Bear_FWPD

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November 17 2018

Fall Concert 2018

Fort Worth Civic Orchestra

Kurt Sprenger, Music Director

masterchorale

Featuring the Southwestern Master Chorale

Saturday, November 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Admission Free

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary


Concert Program

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John Rutter (b. 1945)

Gloria

In a career that now spans over 50 years, the London-born composer John Rutter has firmly established himself as the preeminent writer of sacred choral works in the English-speaking world. His appealing music – often using touches of jazz and other popular styles and ranging in scale from small anthems and hymns to ambitious works like the Requiem (1985) and the Magnificat (1990) – has become essential repertoire for church choirs and choral societies everywhere.

His first major success was the Gloria, which marked his first appearance in this country. It is now one of the most frequently performed works in the choral canon. Of it, Rutter writes:

    Gloria…was written as a concert work. It was commissioned by the Voices of Mel Olson, Omaha, Nebraska, and I directed the first performance on the occasion of my first visit to the United States in May 1974. The Latin text, drawn from the Ordinary of the Mass, is a centuries-old challenge to the composer: exalted, devotional, and jubilant by turns. My setting, which is based upon one of the Gregorian chants associated with the text, divides into three movements roughly corresponding with traditional symphonic structure. The accompaniment is for brass ensemble, with timpani, percussion, and organ – a combination which in the outer movements makes quite a joyful noise unto the Lord, but which is used more softly and introspectively in the middle movement.”
    The first movement opens with a muscular fanfare, heavy on brass and percussion, and the chorus intones Gloria in excelsis with interjecting commentary from the orchestra. The slower, middle movement was originally written with an organ prelude; in this orchestral version, its birdlike twitters are handled more colorfully by woodwinds, which set the pastoral mood for the serene choral hymn that rises in volume to a triumphal climax praising the “king of heaven” before darkening to describe the “sins of the world.” The jazzy syncopations of the final Quoniam (“For You are the only Holy One”) are a visceral, modern-day expression of joy capped by the triumphant return of the opening Gloria fanfare.


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Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Appalachian Spring

Writing in Harper’s in 1895, Dvorak predicted a distinctive American music emerging out of the popular and folk idioms of its native soil. “The people,” he wrote, “claim their own; and after all, it is for the people that we strive.” What Dvorak couldn’t have guessed was that that characteristic national voice would spring from two composers of European Jewish heritage born in Brooklyn.

George Gershwin (born 1898) expressed a music of the American city in the vibrant language of jazz. Aaron Copland’s red-blooded American sound – harder to peg but no less expressive – was more about the American heartland. His classic film scores to Of Mice and Men, Our Town and The Red Pony and his Fanfare for the Common Man celebrated the nobility of a resilient people who built a nation. But it was his three ‘frontier’ ballets – Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring – that defined the new national musical language.

Copland’s ballets have parallels in the three early ‘folk’ ballets of Stravinsky, including “ritual” elements in the final ballet of each trio. But one big difference between The Rite of Spring and Appalachian Spring is that the title of Copland’s ballet is a body of water, taken from Hart Crane’s poem, The Dance:

    O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
    Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends,
    And northward reaches in that violet wedge
    Of Adirondacks!

The ballet score was composed for choreographer Martha Graham, who didn’t come up with that title until the eleventh hour before its premiere at the Library of Congress in October, 1944. Graham’s concept for the ballet envisioned a 19th century Pennsylvania pioneer community coming together to erect a farmhouse for two newlyweds. Copland composed the score for 13 instruments and later, at his publisher’s suggestion, expanded it for full orchestra with about 10 minutes of cuts in the music. The original ballet score was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

The dominant sonority of the work is built on two simple augmented triads that Copland introduces in the opening bars and then superimposes to create a dense, dreamy chord of rich complexity. There are several lively dances with jagged, frequently shifting rhythms that pose challenges to dancers and musicians alike, beginning with a frisky tune for unison strings that bounces up and down the scale. The ballet’s dramatic climax comes in a set of variations on the Shaker song Simple Gifts, starting on a solo clarinet line and culminating in a heroic march for full orchestra like a noble fanfare for the common folk. The music subsides into the same gauzy haze of sound that opened the ballet.


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Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Bolero

Just after New Year’s Day, 1928, Maurice Ravel disembarked in New York for a four-month tour of Prohibition America – provisioned with his preferred brand of Caporal cigarettes and his favorite French wines. He railroaded the length and breadth of the country, including a stop at Houston’s Rice Institute for a lecture and a pair of recitals.

Before offing to the States, he’d promised the dancer Ida Rubinstein a Spanish ballet based on Isaac Albeniz’ Iberia. On returning to France, he found that the rights to the suite were assigned to another composer, and Ravel – a notorious plodder who only averaged about one new composition a year – had just five months to deliver a ballet. One morning while summering near his boyhood home on the Basque coast – before going out for a swim – he tapped out a poky little tune on the piano with one finger and remarked to a houseguest, “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality? I’m going to try repeating it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”

By August, he was at work on his new Fandango, though by October, he’d renamed it Bolero, and the Rubinstein troupe danced the premiere in Paris on November 22. It was as a concert piece that Bolero really caught the public’s ear, famously in a series of performances – by Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic on their European tour in 1930 – that piqued the composer’s ire. “Toscanini was taking a ridiculous tempo in the Bolero,” said Ravel, “and [I told him so], which disconcerted everyone beginning with the great virtuoso himself.” He later tried to patch things up, writing to the Italian conductor, “My dear friend, I have recently learned that there was a Toscanini-Ravel ‘affaire.’ You were probably unaware of it yourself even though I have been assured that it was mentioned in the newspapers… I trust that such news will not have altered your confidence in the admiration and the profound friendship of your Maurice Ravel.”

The work begins with a quiet, persistent beat tapped out by the drum (4,037 strokes, to be precise). Ravel, who loved mechanical gadgets, told London’s Evening Standard that the rhythm was inspired by his visit to a factory. A solo flute intones the familiar tune like a Spanish boy whistling down the street. It’s soon taken up by a parade of soloists and instrument groups – clarinets, bassoon, saxes, trombone, horn and piccolos (oftentimes well outside the comfort zone of their normal registers) – cutting a wide spectrum of orchestral color. There are 19 variations in all, gradually building in sound and fullness and culminating in a big orchestral tutti that ends the piece in a splash of noise.

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May 5 2018

Spring Concert

Fort Worth Civic Orchestra

Kurt Sprenger, Music Director


Saturday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m.

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 West Seminary Drive, Fort Worth, TX

Admission Free


Concert Program


Mahler

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Symphony No. 1 in D

Someday, advanced artificial intelligence programs will be capable of generating simulated Mahler symphonies by the dozen. When that time comes, each might contain an extended funeral march movement; almost certainly a folk-inspired interlude with a lovely Austrian Ländler; possibly a whirling, demonic waltz; and for sure, a breathtaking apocalypse-to-apotheosis “ride into the sunset” finale.

If the 27-year-old Gustav Mahler agonized over the details of his first symphony – whether to make it four or five movements, a work of pure or program music, a symphony or a tone poem called “The Titan” – he crafted a lasting blueprint for the nine that followed. It poured out of him, he said, “like a mountain torrent.” Yet even at that very moment in early 1888, the symphony as art form was being transformed: by Anton Bruckner’s sprawling Eighth Symphony, César Franck’s D Minor Symphony, Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade – and Mahler’s own symphonies would define the last gasp of Romanticism before the 20th century changed everything.

For a time, Mahler was in what he called “a fight for supremacy” with Arthur Nikisch (his superior at the Leipzig Stadttheater) for creative control of the opera house. He befriended a captain of the Saxon army, a grandson of Carl Maria von Weber, and with Baron von Weber’s permission, edited his grandfather’s unfinished comic opera, Die Drei Pintos and conducted its first performances. Without permission, Mahler conducted an affair with the Baroness, which fueled his desire to write a symphony. But the seeds of the work were sown by an earlier, unrequited romance with the soprano Johanna Richter, who had inspired his Songs of a Wayfarer in 1884.

Listen to Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld (I Went This Morning over the Field)

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In his own words: “The symphony begins where the love affair ends; it is based on the affair which preceded the symphony in the emotional life of the composer. But the extrinsic experience became the occasion, not the message of the work.” And in fact, the Wayfarer theme of “I Went This Morning over the Field” appears in the first movement, “Hans und Grete” in the second and “The Two Blue Eyes of My Beloved” in the third. As Theodor Adorno explained:

“At times, Mahler’s themes assume the role of the joker in a pack of cards… The variants of such joker motifs may easily be taken for granted, as though they were accidental, and indeed, an element of randomness in their sequence is as much a part of their meaning as is accident in games of chance. Yet even here the patient observer will discover a logic in the composition.”

The opening of Mahler’s ‘nature’ symphony suggests an eerie stillness before daybreak. The fluttering of birds, stirrings of the forest, calls of distant trumpets paint a picture of morning that remained unrivaled until the “Dawn” music of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe. The song of a cuckoo melts into “I Went This Morning,” leading in turn to a bright yodeling song. The scherzo movement’s outer sections are taken up by a lusty, danceable Ländler while the trio section is a luscious waltz. The third movement – inspired by a woodcut print of a hunter’s funeral cortège, the forest animals carrying the bier to the grave – betrays its tongue-in-cheek solemnity by a funeral march based on Frère Jacques (in German, Bruder Martin) in a minor key and a klezmerish folk dance.

For those hearing this symphony for the first time, these program notes won’t spoil the beginning of the final movement or the rest of it. Like Beethoven and Berlioz, Mahler uses thematic flashbacks to his earlier movements, but everything points to the final blaze of glory. Mahler was fond of saying that Beethoven wrote only one Ninth Symphony, but as one of his biographers has suggested, every one of Mahler’s was a ‘Ninth.’

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March 3 2018

Winter Concert

Fort Worth Civic Orchestra

Kurt Sprenger, Music Director

Swang Lin, Violin Soloist*


Saturday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Truett Auditorium
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 West Seminary Drive, Fort Worth, TX

Admission Free

Swang Lin
Swang Lin joined the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in 1991 and was soon appointed associate concertmaster, serving as acting concertmaster from 1998 to 2001. Before joining the FWSO, he performed with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York and in concert halls across the United States and Europe, including Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has held concertmaster positions with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Taipei City Symphony Orchestra, and Bear Valley Festival Orchestra. He also has served as a faculty member and performing artist for festivals including Tanglewood, Caramoor, Colorado, Utah, and BBC Proms.

A frequent soloist with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Swang has also soloed with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Kaohsiung City Symphony Orchestra (Taiwan), Shanghai Broadcast Symphony Orchestra, Kunming Symphony (China), and Taipei City Symphony Orchestra, among other ensembles. His performances have been heard on National Public Radio’s Performance Today program and broadcast on Good Morning America and on public television.

An active proponent of chamber music, he has performed with the Fine Arts Chamber Players of Dallas, Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, Spectrum Chamber Music Society, Basically Beethoven, and Snowbird Institute String Chamber Music Festival, and participated in several faculty concerts at TCU.

A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Swang began studying the violin at age six. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in violin performance from the Eastman School of Music under the instruction of Zvi Zeiltin. His other teachers include Naoko Tanaka, Chong-Ping Hsieh, and Hsing-Cheng Si-Tu. Swang resides in Euless with his lovely wife, Amy, and their two cats, Misha and Pinky. He plays the “Eugenie, ex-Mackenzie” Antonio Stradivari violin (1685), generously on loan to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association from an anonymous local patron.


Concert Program


Edward_Elgar

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D, Op. 39

The name of Elgar’s marches, whose stately comportment is Englishness distilled, comes from the pivotal scene in Act III of Shakespeare’s Othello in which the Moor renounces Desdemona and the glories of his past military victories:

O farewell,
Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ ear-piercing fife;
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!

Elgar composed the marches on commission from London publisher Boosey & Hawkes. There were to have been six in all, and the first four were composed between 1901 and 1907. The fifth march was written near the end of his life in 1930, and a sixth was elaborated from archival sketches in 2006 by Elgar scholar Anthony Payne, who had previously reconstructed Elgar’s Symphony No. 3.

The March No. 1 was premiered by conductor and cotton merchant Alfred Rodewald and the Liverpool Orchestral Society (the work’s dedicatees) on October 19, 1901. Four days later, Henry Wood (not yet Sir Henry) conducted it a London Proms concert in Queens Hall and had to repeat it twice as a “double encore” to satisfy the audience. The following year, Elgar recycled his now famous march theme as “The Land of Hope and Glory” section of his Coronation Ode for the crowning ceremony of Edward VII. Its traditional use as a graduation processional dated from 1905 when Yale University conferred an honorary doctorate on Elgar and had the New Haven Symphony perform the March No. 1 as the recessional.


Henryk Gorecki

Henryk Górecki (1933-2010)

Symphony No. 4 (“Tansman Episodes”)

The reputation of the contemporary Polish composer Henryk Górecki (read: goo-RET-ski) rests almost entirely on his madly popular Symphony No. 3 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”) written in 1977 — or more accurately, on its 1992 London Sinfonietta recording featuring soprano soloist Dawn Upshaw. To date, it has sold over a million copies, an improbable number for any classical release, let alone a modern work.

But the listener-friendly Third Symphony — a tunefully emotional expression of parental loss in time of war – was an outlier in Górecki’s otherwise thorny, listener-challenging output. The composer himself remarked, “I never write for my listeners… I have something to tell them, but the audience must also put a certain effort into it.” When it came time to write his Fourth Symphony near the end of his life, he reverted to old form. Górecki completed the short score (a composer’s shorthand notation) before his death, but the work of filling out the orchestration fell to his son, Mikolaj, and the symphony was premiered by the London Philharmonic in 2014.

The savage, flagrantly repetitive five-note motif with bass drum explosions that fills the first movement spells the letters of Polish composer Alexandre Tansman’s name (hence the symphony’s subtitle). But the slow movement’s theme, intoned by a pair of clarinets and muted strings, evokes music by another of Górecki’s compatriots, the Stabat Mater of Karol Szymanowski. The scherzo is a march for horns and trombones that could be mistaken for Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale — with a plaintive middle trio section for piano, violin, cello and piccolo. The finale quickens the pace with a jaunty variation on the five-note opening motif, which returns in its identifiably repetitive glory wtih a finish that rolls like thunder.


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Karl Goldmark (1830-1915)

Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 28*

At its American premiere in 1890, the eminent Boston critic John Sullivan Dwight wrote, “The Violin Concerto of Goldmark sins very little in the way of modern extravagances; there is nothing coarse or boisterous about it. And only occasionally, seldom in fact, does it sound far-fetched. But it is long without obvious necessity or reason.”

Karl Goldmark is a near-forgotten man today, but in his own day, the Austro-Hungarian composer’s Rustic Wedding Symphony, In Springtime overture and violin concerto were much admired and much played. Though his A minor violin concerto of 1877 preceded the Tchaikovsky and Brahms concertos by just a few months, it was closer to Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski without the ostentation. A violinist himself, Goldmark spooled out extravagantly lyrical lines with a natural facility that masked the virtuosity but tested the patience of a critic like Dwight.

A stern orchestral march and trumpet fanfare announce the soloist’s languorous cantabile. The march theme is echoed in the solo line and again in an elaborate orchestral fugato before the violin’s brief cadenza and long, inventively melodic discourse to the end of the movement. The fittingly named Air is a quiet song that suggests a sentimental Scottish ballad. A brisk polonaise introduces a finale that showcases a bag of violinistic tricks — dotted piqué (aka shoeshine) bowings, ricocheted arpeggios, a cadenza of finger-gnarling double-stops — that always play second fiddle to its melodies.