FWCO Spring Concert - May 7, 2022
Martin Blessinger - Victory Overture
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218
- Natalie Caldwell, violin
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
- Nachuan Tao, piano
Donald O. Johnston - Piano Concerto
- Barbara Blegen, piano
Klaus Badelt - Pirates of the Caribbean
Victory Overture was written in the summer of 2021 during a difficult time for the world and for me personally. After a burst of creativity at the start of 2020, I fell into a yearlong musical silence, unable to find the will or motivation to compose. The victory referenced in the title celebrates not only survival but also a season of growth and healing — overcoming the global pandemic, overcoming personal trauma, and rediscovering my musical imagination.
— Martin Blessinger
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218
Mozart began violin study at age 6 with his father, Leopold, who had written a celebrated textbook on violin technique the year his son was born. That book remains a go-to reference on performance practices of the 18th century. Although young Mozart moved away from the instrument in his late teens, he was an able player who composed several solo works for violin, including five concertos written between 1773 and 1775 while serving as a court musician to Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo of Salzburg.
The fourth of those concertos is sometimes called the “Strasbourg Concerto” for the style of the dance tune in the last movement. It’s also known as the “Military Concerto” for the martial fanfare of the first movement, which features no trumpets. Mozart may have composed it for himself, but it was soon taken up by the Italian violinist Antonio Brunetti (1744-1786), who took over Mozart’s position in the Salzburg court orchestra.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
We think of Rachmaninoff as a pianist who happened to compose. He thought of himself as foremost a composer who happened to perform. But he was also a capable conductor. He conducted opera at the Bolshoi Theater from 1904 to 1906, and he conducted his own works – notably, his Second Symphony – throughout the United States. He was twice asked and twice declined to become permanent conductor of the Boston Symphony – once in 1910 (after which Karl Muck was appointed to the post) and again in 1918 after Muck was deposed, arrested and imprisoned as a German sympathizer during World War I because Muck had refused to conduct “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
He moved with his family to Dresden in 1906 to devote more time to his composing but never failed to turn down an invitation to perform his own music. When the opportunity arose to take on an American tour in the fall/winter of 1909-1910, Rachmaninoff seized it, composing his Third Piano Concerto for the occasion. He barely completed the manuscript a month before his departure and, having had little time to practice the piano part, famously practiced it on a silent keyboard during his Atlantic crossing. He premiered the concerto on a Sunday afternoon concert by Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Society, November 28, 1909, and performed it again seven weeks later with Gustav Mahler and the rival New York Philharmonic Society on January 16. (The two orchestras merged in 1928 to form the New York Philharmonic). As Rachmaninoff recounted to his biographer, Oskar von Riesemann, Mahler rehearsed the concerto after an electrifying reading of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique:
“At the time, Mahler was the only conductor whom I considered worthy to be classed with Nikisch. He devoted himself to the concerto until the accompaniment, which is rather complicated, had been practiced to the point of perfection, although he had already gone through another long rehearsal. According to Mahler, every detail of the score was important – an attitude too rare amongst conductors.”
Rachmaninoff would eventually perform the Third Concerto with the New York Philharmonic a total of 16 times.
Donald O. Johnston (b. 1929)
This concerto is cast in three contrasting movements. Movement One reveals the main musical thrust of the concerto. This is then followed by two shorter movements of an intense nature to provide structural balance. An interesting facet of the construction of this work is the employment of the octatonic scale for tonal source material resulting in occasional “other-worldly” harmonies.— Donald O. Johnston
Klaus Badelt (b. 1967)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
A native of Frankfurt, Badelt is a Hollywood film composer whose taste in music runs from Mahler symphonies to British synthpop. He wrote movie scores in Germany before coming to America in 1997, when he met Oscar-winning composer, Hans Zimmer. Badelt assisted Zimmer on “Gladiator,” “Mission Impossible II” and “Pearl Harbor” before taking on his own projects: Werner Herzog’s “Invincible,” Dreamworks’ “The Time Machine” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “K-19: The Widowmaker.”
When composer Alan Silvestri was fired from “Pirates of the Caribbean” by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Zimmer was asked to take over scoring the film. As Zimmer was busy on “The Last Samurai,” he referred the job to Badelt. The resulting “Pirates” music – completed with the help of seven assistant composers, nine orchestrators and three synth programmers (and possibly Zimmer’s help with the principal themes) – defined the “sound” of the “Pirates” franchise, though Zimmer would eventually take over as principal composer for the two sequels after Badelt left in 2004 to start his own company.
Badelt composed film scores for “Catwoman,” “Constantine” and “Rescue Dawn” as well as music for the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. His score for “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” received little love from the critics when the movie first opened but quickly became a cult favorite of film music lovers for its catchy, swashbuckling melodies: “Fog Bound,” “The Medallion Calls,” “To The Pirates Cave,” “The Black Pearl,” “One Last Shot” and “He’s A Pirate.”
About Our Artists
Minnesota-born composer Donald O. Johnston (b. 1929) served more than 30 years on the faculty of the University of Montana in Missoula, where he was composer in residence and professor of composition. He studied at Northwestern University and was a protégé of composer Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. A veteran of the Korean War, he served with the 45th Infantry Division and composed marches for his division as well as music for the USO. Johnston’s melodic and harmonic language is neo-romantic, embellished with strong rhythmic currents. He has written numerous works for concert band and orchestra, including six symphonies, of which his fifth (“Time and Space Studies in Three Aspects”) was performed by the Fort Worth Civic Orchestra in 2011, and his third (“Scenarios Medieval”) was premiered by FWCO in 2017.
Martin Blessinger is a Professor of Music at Texas Christian University. He holds a D.M. in Music Composition from Florida State University, where he was a University Research Fellow, studying with Ladislav Kubik and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. He received undergraduate and master's degrees from Stony Brook University, studying with Sheila Silver and Perry Goldstein. Prior to arriving at TCU, he worked as a Lecturer in Music Theory at Ithaca College.
In 2014, Blessinger served as guest composer for the Talis Festival & Academy in Saas-Fee, Switzerland and has since been a featured composer on the Cliburn Foundation concert series, the Basically Beethoven concert series, and with the Texas New Music Ensemble. Further, he was an invited composer at the 2018 Beijing Modern Music Festival/International Society for Contemporary Music World New Music Days Festival in Beijing, China and was named the 2020 Texas Music Teachers Association Commissioned Composer.
His music is published by Reed Music, ALRY Publications, and C. Alan Publications and can be heard on Albany Records.
Barbara Blegen performed her first public full length recital in a music recital hall when she was 11 years old. At age 12, she was the featured soloist with the Missoula Civic Symphony Orchestra. At 15, Blegen was offered a full-ride scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she studied until graduation. Barbara moved on to Baltimore and then Boston, where she landed a contract playing concerts with Columbia Artists. Additionally, Barbara soloed with the New York Philharmonic and St. Louis and Baltimore Symphonies. She retired in 2006 when she returned to her hometown of Missoula almost 50 years later.
“I performed 88 concerts in a seven-year period – it was hard work, but incredibly rewarding,” Barbara says.
In her retirement, Barbara accompanies the University of Montana Opera Theater, the University Choir and Chamber Music Montana; presents master classes; accompanies vocal auditions and music recitals; performs in the UM School of Music Celebrate Piano Series; and performs in the Missoula Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Soirée.
UM piano faculty member Steven Hesla describes Barbara as a flawless pianist.
“We joke in the department that we haven’t heard her miss a note in 10 years,” he says. “She’s adored in this community, and people just love what she brings to music.