Know Before You Go…

Our program note annotator Michael Clive writes about the guitar’s most famous work, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. After reading about this beautiful piece, listen to Pablo Villegas playing the exquisite slow movement.


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Bust of the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, with an image of his wife, the pianist Victoria Kamhi, in the background. España Park, Rosario, Santa Fe Province, Argentina.

So many of classical music’s great geniuses led tragically short lives—Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Bizet all died in their 30s—that when we encounter those blessed with longevity, we rejoice. The Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, though blinded by diphtheria at age 3, lived to be 98. He credited the apparent calamity of his illness for his lifelong involvement in music.

Rodrigo made rapid progress at the conservatory in Valencia, graduating early and going on to Paris, where he studied with Paul Dukas at the École Normale de Musique. But while he absorbed the elements of French style and refinement, his music remains Spanish to its very core. With Manuel de Falla (b. 1876) and Enrique Granados (b. 1867), Rodrigo was central to the flowering of musical creativity that raised the prominence of Spanish music in the 20th century. These composers burst upon the music world like a new discovery, though their cultural lineage extended back centuries. Musicians and audiences greeted them like long-lost brothers, but their distinctively Iberian sound, drenched in folk melodies and in the traditions of Spanish church music of the Baroque period, was like nothing to be heard in the rest of Europe.

While Manuel de Falla gained renown for ballet scores that traveled with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Granados’ orchestral and piano compositions earned their standing as repertory staples (and his opera Goyescas in opera houses including New York’s Metropolitan), Rodrigo became known for his remarkable concertos. They reflect the Spanish affinity for the guitar; the two best-known examples, his Fantasy for a Nobleman and the Concierto de Aranjuéz, are both for that instrument. But there are other notable examples, including a spectacularly original concerto for harp. Rodrigo composed the Fantasy for a Gentleman in 1954 for Andrés Segovia, and though it is often mistakenly associated with Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme—inspiration for many musical adaptions—the gentleman of Rodrigo’s title is actually Segovia himself. But the Concierto de Aranjuéz remains his most popular and widely performed composition.

Inspired by the gardens at the Palacio Real de Aranjuéz, the concerto opens with two themes in alternation. As Rodrigo notes, the movement is “animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigor without either of the two themes … interrupting its relentless pace.” Their rhythmic impetus makes the slow hush of the second movement all the more dramatic, with a dialogue between solo instrument and ensemble that is traditional in concertos. The last movement, as Rodrigo notes, “recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar.”

The late George Jellinek—a perceptive musicologist and commentator not inclined to exaggerate—called Rodrigo’s concertos revolutionary, and asserted that their freshness resulted from the composer’s use of the second interval. Even listeners with no musical background are likely to have heard about other harmonic intervals—thirds, fourths, fifths, and so on—but seconds, comprised of two notes that lie next to each other on the piano keyboard, are rarely heard or mentioned. And, yes, we do hear them frequently in this concerto. But are they so fully responsible for the concerto’s distinctive sound? Or do they function more like the rainfall on a streetscape in Paris or at the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, adding a poetic dimension to a scene that is already beautiful?


Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor‑in‑chief for The Santa Fe Opera.

Meet the Bandoneón

Astor_Piazzolla.jpgWhy is there a squeezebox on stage with Pacific Symphony this week? Well, that’s not just any button accordion—it’s a bandoneón, the rich, dark-voiced squeezebox that was born to sing the blues of Buenos Aires: the tango. The bandoneon is a type of concertina popular in Argentina and Uruguay. It’s considered to be the musical heart and soul of the tango.

The famed Argentine-American composer Astor Piazzolla used to tell audiences the instrument’s background by recounting that the bandoneon was invented in Germany to be used as a small organ in churches, but ended up in the brothels of Buenos Aires before moving on to the international tango scene. “Yes, this instrument has had an interesting tour,” Piazzolla would say smiling.

zj1ninl7.jpeg“Sinfonia Buenos Aires,” the final piece on the program (May 2, 3, 4), is by Piazzolla, who was a virtuoso bandoneonista. He wrote a part for himself and, in fact, this sinfonia was accomplished enough to win Piazzolla a scholarship to study in France with noted composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. It was Boulanger who told Piazzolla that his true creative voice was in composing for the bandoneon. He went on to revolutionize the traditional tango into a new style termed “nuevo tango,” incorporating elements from jazz and classical music.

Playing the bandoneon part for these concerts will be Daniel Binelli, direct from Buenos Aires. Binelli is widely acclaimed as the foremost exponent and torchbearer of the music of Astor Piazzolla. Watch this video of Binelli playing, and notice that the instrument when fully open is over three feet wide!


 

– by Jeanne Quill

On the Passing of Principal Cellist Timothy Landauer

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Principal Cellist Timothy Landauer performs at a League Luncheon

It is with deep sadness that I share with you the passing of our beloved Timothy Landauer, Principal Cellist of Pacific Symphony.

As many of you probably know, Tim battled cancer over the last year with great determination and courage. Even as he was in discomfort, he managed to perform at the highest levels during his final appearances with Pacific Symphony. Tim has a teenage daughter who was just accepted to Boston University and his former wife Ana was a Pacific Symphony violinist and current member of the LA Opera orchestra. His mother has been a devoted supporter of and collaborative pianist with Tim, and we share our deepest condolences with all of them. It’s a heartbreaking time for them.

Tim’s family history is fascinating.  His grandfather was a German scientist who fled the Nazis before World War II because he was Jewish. He settled in China but wasn’t allowed to leave for the US. He eventually settled in Taiwan. This move created political difficulties for Tim’s parents, the most severe of which was being forced into slave labor during the Cultural Revolution.

Tim’s father was Associate Principal Cellist of the Shanghai Symphony and his mother was a pianist. Tim’s ability to emigrate from China to the US was expedited by virtue of his winning the Piatigorsky Competition in LA in 1983. He studied with Eleonore Schoenfeld at USC, where he earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and also served for three years as an assistant to the great cellist Lynn Harrell, who joined Pacific Symphony as a soloist during its first international tour in 2006. Tim joined Pacific Symphony in 1995 and was one of Carl’s earliest principal musician appointments. They shared a deep personal bond which one could observe backstage or onstage. They collaborated many times including the Elgar Concerto and Tim’s signature solo work in Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote. 

With Orli Shaham, he collaborated for 11 seasons, performing 28 concerts, 80 rehearsals and 51 pieces as part of the Café Ludwig series. These sold-out concerts were a lovefest between musicians and audience!

We all know that Tim was a beautiful musician, possessing extreme virtuosity, rich tone production, and he was an inspiring leader of his section. It’s hard to imagine life in the orchestra without Tim, but the soaring, soulful beauty of his performances and his delightful, self-deprecating, humble personality will never be forgotten. 

 

Warm regards,

John Forsyte, Pacific Symphony President

Villegas: “5 Life Lessons from Plácido Domingo”

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Pablo Sáinz Villegas & Plácido Domingo

Pablo Villegas, who will be the featured soloist in our upcoming “Master of Guitar” festival on May 2-4, wrote a blog post last year about the inspiration he draws from his relationship with world-renowned opera singer Plácido Domingo.

Villegas touches on finding energy in being passionate about your work, the benefits of continued optimism and how being with loved ones brings happiness. Give it a read on his blog, and we hope to see you at “Master of Guitar”!

 

“L’enfant et les sortilèges” Director’s Note

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“L’enfant” Stage Director Robert Neu

It’s always a little humbling when you’re asked to direct a piece you don’t know. Since I’ve been working in the opera business for a while I pride myself on knowing the repertoire. So when I recently had this happen—with a work by Ravel, one of my favorite composers—I was immediately curious to figure out why this great work had never been on my radar. I quickly figured out it wasn’t that the music is in any way inaccessible. If you love Ravel’s greatest hits—Boléro, Daphnis et Chloe, La Valse—you’ll love this piece. L’enfant is unmistakably pure Ravel! Then could it be the text? But this was written by Colette—that amazing and provocative early 20th century French writer who also penned Gigi and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. (There was even a recent movie about her starring Keira Knightley!)

Maybe it was the subject matter? Let’s see—a charming quasi-fairy tale about a misbehaving young child who has encounters with dancing chairs, a grumpy grandfather clock, and two amorous cats and nurses an injured singing squirrel back to life. What’s not to like about that?

And then I figured it out—why L’enfant is rarely produced: 1) It’s an unusual length. At just 52 minutes, it barely counts as one act in the opera house. So any theater producing it needs to find a companion piece—and there are very few operas of comparable length. 2) Along with eight principal singers covering 21 roles, the piece requires a children’s chorus and an adult chorus, and a sizeable and virtuosic orchestra. 3) L’enfant needs that rare conductor who is equally at home with vocalists and instrumentalists and who has a sense of theater and collaboration.

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Marie-Therese Gauley as the child in “L’enfant’s” original 1926 production

Obviously, none of these have to do with the accessibility, playfulness, joy and depth that this opera provides. So leave it to Pacific Symphony to figure out that this is the perfect piece for an orchestra to program in a situation that is much more flexible, nimble and freewheeling than most opera houses are able to be. And thank you, Pacific Symphony, for inviting me and a first-rate group of performers and designers to have the rare treat to produce this masterpiece, and to have the pleasure of presenting it to your audiences.

You and I—we’re all richer for being able to add L’enfant to our repertoires!

 

– Bob Neu

“Defiant Requiem” Concert Finds Light Admidst the Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

This is an excerpt of an article by Paul Hodgins, for Voice of OC. You can find the full article on their website here.


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[Murray Sidlin], who is in town to perform a work that uniquely honors victims of the Holocaust, said he’s saddened that anti-Semitism is becoming a regular headline in his native country. The Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last October was a turning point, Sidlin thinks.

“Does (this new round of anti-Semitism) surprise me? Yes it does. Prior to a couple of years ago, according to the Anti-Defamation League and the State Department, the U.S. had the lowest rate of anti-Semitic behavior in the world – not non-existent, but hardly newsworthy or threatening. Now that’s all changed.”

Sidlin is in Orange County to present “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín” with the Pacific Symphony on April 16. Created by Sidlin, “Defiant Requiem” tells an amazing story about a group of Jewish prisoners in the Terezín Concentration Camp, located about 30 miles north of Prague during World War II, who performed Verdi’s huge and challenging Requiem Mass under unimaginably trying circumstances.

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Murry Sidlin, “Defiant Requiem” conductor

Sidlin’s multi-media work combines Verdi’s choral masterpiece with live actors, video testimony from survivors, film footage from Terezín and interviews with original chorus members. “Defiant Requiem” recounts how and why these Jewish prisoners chose to learn and perform the Verdi Requiem during their darkest hours, using only a single smuggled score. They sang it 16 times; one performance was attended by senior SS officials from Berlin and an International Red Cross delegation. Conductor Rafael Schächter told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”


If you’d like to learn more about this concert, please visit our website here.

The 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

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Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag during the first Moon walk

Like many of us of a certain age, composer Michael Daugherty remembers watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing on television. It was the culmination of the Space Age, one of our era’s defining events, a moment that divided history into before and after. And Daugherty particularly remembers something that can be lost in the passage of time: there was no guarantee that the three astronauts would return.

“Back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my mother and father and four brothers and I all watched together,” he says. “I remember that it was an important media event, like The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, in that everyone, the world, was watching. Watching and wondering if they would make it there and back safely. There was a lot of suspense, whether it would be successful or not. President Nixon had prepared a speech to the nation in case a catastrophe happened, expressing condolences to the families. There was a high expectation that they would not make it back.”

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins did make it back, though, to a tickertape parade and international acclaim. And the landing date is enshrined as one of the great dates in history, a triumph for adventure, exploration and science. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that awe-inspiring achievement, and Daugherty has paid tribute to the Giant Leap for Mankind with a new work for orchestra, “To the New World.” Pacific Symphony, which commissioned the work, gives the piece its World Premiere April 11-13 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in a program that includes another “space-y” work, Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”

Daugherty had been Pacific Symphony’s composer-in-residence during the 2010-11 season, when he completed “Mount Rushmore” for chorus and orchestra, and is happy to be returning with something new.

“The Symphony said, ‘We have an idea for the piece, and we think you’re the person to do it,’” says Daugherty. “I thought, ‘Yes, that would be great, but oh my god, what am I going to do?’ And the work is paired with ‘Zarathustra,’ one of the greatest symphonic works of all time.  When you’ve got a work being performed, there are some other works you don’t want to be near: “Zarathustra,” “Rite of Spring,” Beethoven’s Ninth, “Carmina Burana”—all great orchestral masterpieces. I wanted to do something that would stand up next to the Strauss, and thought, ‘This is what emotionally I can connect with. Now I need a concept, a script, an idea, that gets me going.’ I work with whatever comes to mind, and then one thing leads to the next.”

Daugherty typically spends months researching and reading in preparation for the compositional process. In this case he visited the Neil Armstrong Museum (“It’s in Wapakoneta, Ohio, about two hours from where I live in Ann Arbor”), watched the film First Man, and watched the new movie Apollo 11 (“It’s phenomenal. They found fifty hours of footage they’d taken of the liftoff, which no one had ever seen before. It looks like you’re right there in the control room”). In the process, he discovered a few odd but useful facts about Armstrong, namely that he was a lifelong music fan and played euphonium during his time at Purdue University.

“When I discovered that, I decided to have a euphonium solo in the first movement,” he says. “The first movement is one of mystery, suspense, trepidation. So musically it’s more dissonant, more ambiguous, and mysterious.  But I do use echoes of the second movement of the Dvořák [on the voyage, Armstrong brought along a tape recording of Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, subtitled “From the New World”]. The echoes come in and out occasionally. I suppose that was maybe the astronauts thinking about going home. That they were going forward but also thinking about back home.

“Another thing, one of my teachers in the 1980s, György Ligeti, was famous for his music in the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. So, as an homage to Ligeti, I’ve put in cluster chords, some other reference points and put my own framing and take on all that. The second movement is more of a whimsical movement because the astronauts had a great sense of humor. When they landed, they started to goof around, jumping, doing strange things, making jokes. It must have been a relief that they were on the moon finally. So the second movement is very whimsical. I also decided to use a soprano—I’ve never done this before—but there’s a singer who sits with the orchestra and is like a Theremin. The score asks for the vocalist to go ‘aaa’ and ‘ooo,” blending in with the orchestra, glissing up and down. Armstrong was a fan of the Theremin. There was some bachelor pad space music in the 50s that used the Theremin, and he liked it, so I reference that sound world.”

As for the final movement, “Splashdown,” Daugherty found inspiration in the mission name itself.

“I asked myself what can I do,” he said, “and then thought, ‘Apollo 11. Maybe I should write in 11/8 or 11/4.’ I’d never done that before, and had a blast. The 11-beat rhythm goes throughout, and it leads to a very catchy tune. I take the 11 over 4 and get these polyrhythms. It’s really cool.”

Underlying the music, though, is a stark realization: the landing was one of the few unifying moments in world history.

“It was an amazing time, when the whole nation rallied around these people,” he says. “JFK kept saying this was a peaceful mission for all mankind, and the entire world for one moment was one.  Millions of people were watching and it was one of those rare moments when the whole world came together, maybe because it was outside the world and we could put down our animosities. That it was happening so far outside. The moment was short-lived but that’s also what music does. It brings people from different walks of life into the hall to celebrate music. It’s unifying.”


Peter Lefevre has written for Opera News, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Orange County Register, among others.