William Grant Still: Symphony No. 5, ‘Western Hemisphere’

Written in 1945, Still’s Fifth is an attractive, easy to listen to and evocative American Symphony.

The movements are described thusly:

  • 1. “The vigorous, life-sustaining forces of the Hemisphere” (briskly)
  • 2. “The natural beauties of the Hemisphere” (slower, and with utmost grace)
  • 3. “The nervous energy of the Hemisphere” (energetically)
  • 4. “The overshadowing spirit of kindness and justice in the Hemisphere” (moderately)

John Jeter conducts the Fort Smith Symphony.

Sousa: ‘Hands Across the Sea’

As is custom, music director Carl St.Clair will once again hold a conducting clinic for children before the orchestra’s Symphony in the Cities events in Mission Viejo and Irvine this month, and then have them come to stage en masse during the concert to lead Sousa’s “Hands Across the Sea.”

Sousa wrote this march in 1899, with such hits as “The Washington Post,” “El Capitan” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” already under his belt. And hits they were. The march was a popular dance form at the time and Sousa was one of the most famous musicians in the country. There was estimated to be more than 10,000 wind bands extant and amateur music-making was in its heyday. Consequently, when a new Sousa march was published, it arrived in a multitude of arrangements for different ensembles and solo instruments.

Here’s the title page of the first edition of “Hands Across the Sea.” Click to enlarge and scroll to the bottom to see the arrangements available.

Sousa later explained the dedicatory quotation (top right of title page) and the title:

“After the Spanish war there was some feeling in Europe anent our republic regarding this war. Some of the nations…thought we were not justified while others gave us credit for the honesty of our purpose. One night I was reading an old play and I came across this line, ‘A sudden thought strikes me,—let us swear an eternal friendship.’ That almost immediately suggested the title “Hands Across the Sea” for that composition and within a few weeks that now famous march became a living fact.”

Here’s a fine recording of it by the United States Marine Band.

The original 1st cornet part.

 

2018-2019 Soka concerts on sale, programming set

Single tickets for next season’s Pacific Symphony concerts at the Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo go on sale today. The popular three-concert series was previously available by subscription only.

Programming for the three Sunday afternoon concerts has also been set.

The series opener, on November 18, will be led by the soloists. Principal trumpet Barry Perkins leads Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto and concertmaster Dennis Kim leads Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, with principal violist Meredith Crawford sharing the spotlight in that work.

Concert 2, on Feb. 10, is conducted by music director Carl St.Clair and features Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with the young American pianist and recent Avery Fisher Career Grant winner Drew Petersen as soloist.

St.Clair is on the podium as well for the series finale, March 31, and Schubert and Chopin appear again on the agenda, this time with the “Unfinished” Symphony and the Piano Concerto No. 1. Conrad Tao, a local favorite, is the soloist in the latter.

Both pianists are scheduled to add a couple of Chopin Preludes to their programs.

All concerts in the series are held on Sundays at 3 p.m. and are performed without intermission. Single tickets are $56, or $46 for students, seniors and acting military. To purchase tickets call (949) 480-4278 or visit the tickets page at the Soka Performing Arts Center website.

Bernstein at the Skirball

I went to the “Leonard Bernstein at 100” exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon, an entertaining way to beat the excessive heat. The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 2, is organized by the GRAMMY Museum and curated by its founding executive director Robert Santelli, a music historian. I doubt that any exhibit could capture the plentitude and variety of Bernstein’s life, but this one — with genuine artifacts, as well as replicas and facsimiles — does a good job at showing just how central Bernstein once was in American life. Here are a few of the items that were on display. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Entrance to the exhibit.

A photo of a young Bernstein with conductor Serge Koussevitzky, 1940s.

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Neglected symphony: Walter Piston: Symphony No. 2

Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 2 was given its premiere by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Kindler in March of 1944. Leonard Bernstein chose the remarkable Adagio of this work to perform with the New York Philharmonic as a memorial to the composer after he died in 1976.

To hear more music in this series, click on the “neglected symphonies” tag below this post.

Happy 4th

As you will probably hear “Star and Stripes Forever,” or “Semper Fidelis” or “The Washington Post” or some other famous Sousa march today, I thought I’d share one of his lesser known gems, the “George Washington Bicentennial” March. Rudolf Urbanec conducts the Czechoslovak Brass Orchestra, of course. Happy 4th.

Kleiber 88

The brilliant conductor Carlos Kleiber would have been 88 years old today. One never needs an excuse to watch or listen to this great musician, but here’s one anyway. He leads the Bavarian State Orchestra in the “Thunder and Lightning” Polka by Johann Strauss, Jr.