A Gershwin Celebration
Friday, October 21, 2016
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
An evening of music by the celebrated American composer, including A Tribute to Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, interpreted as “a musical portrait of New York City” and stunning, exciting and moving selections packed with human emotions from Porgy and Bess.
A Tribute to Gershwin for mixed chorus and orchestra was arranged by Jack Jarrett. A native of Asheville, North Carolina, his academic credentials include a B.A. from the University of Florida; an M.A. from the Eastman School of Music; a Diploma in Conducting from the Berlin Hochschule für Musik; and a Doctor of Music in Composition from Indiana University. Dr. Jarrett’s compositions are published by G. Schirmer, Lawson-Gould, Carl Fischer, Bourne, Tuba Press, and Warner Brothers, and include a four-movement Choral Symphony on American Poems. He has written in all major musical media, including three operas which have received full-scale performances. His works have been performed by a number of orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra (recorded at Abbey Road), Czech Radio Orchestra (recorded in Prague), the Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic, the M.I.T. Concert Band, the Eastern Music Festival Orchestra, the Greensboro Symphony, the Richmond Symphony, Cedar Rapids Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, New Mexico Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, New Haven Symphony, Hartford Symphony, Illinois Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Florida Symphony, Oklahoma Sinfonia, Omaha Symphony, the Long Bay Symphony, the National Gallery Orchestra, and the National Musical Arts Ensemble. His arrangement is a 20-minute suite of Gershwin songs, including “Somebody loves me,” “But not for me,” “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” “Summertime,” “”S’Wonderful,” “My Sweet Embraceable You,” “Someone to watch over me,” and “I got Rhythm.”
Our performance of Rhapsody in Blue written for mixed chorus and orchestra, is an arrangement by renowned pianist, Michael Fennelly. The Californian made his first concerto appearance at age ten, and subsequently performed with many orchestras throughout California, including the Orange County Philharmonic, Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra, Santa Clara Symphony and the South Coast Symphony Orchestra. While still in high school, he was flown to New York as a last-minute replacement for a soloist with the New York Virtuosi Orchestra, and performed Brahms’ First Piano Concerto in Germany. He has performed concertos with the Manhattan Symphony and with the Barge Festival, and has participated in many world premieres, including Blitzstein’s Cain for the American Composers Alliance. Michael Fennelly was the United States winner of the Horowitz Competition, and made his Carnegie Hall solo recital debut as winner of the Artist International Competition. He was a prize-winner of the Young Artist Peninsula Music Festival, and the Young Keyboard Artist Association. He has performed in Moscow Conservatory’s International Chopin Symposium, New York’s Schoenberg Music Festival, and Italy’s Wilhelm Kempff Beethoven Seminar, and in master classes under John O’Connor, Richard Goode, and Abbey Simon. He has been praised as a pianist with “flair and energy” (The New York Times).
Porgy and Bess, A Concert of Songs was arranged for soprano, baritone, choir and orchestra by Robert Russell Bennett. Robert Russell Bennett (June 15, 1894 – August 18, 1981) was an American composer and arranger, best known for his orchestration of many well-known Broadway and Hollywood musicals by other composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers. In 1957 and 2008, Bennett received Tony Awards recognizing his orchestrations for Broadway shows. Early in his career he was often billed as Russell Bennett. His career as an arranger began to blossom in 1919 while he was employed by T.B. Harms, a prominent publishing firm for Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. Dependable yet creative within the confines of formulaic arranging, Bennett soon branched out as an orchestrator and arranger for Broadway productions, collaborating particularly with Jerome Kern. Although Bennett would work with several of the top names on Broadway and in film including George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Kurt Weill, his collaborations with Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers stand out both for sheer volume and for highlighting different facets of an arranger’s relationship with a composer. Bennett described his own philosophy: “The perfect arrangement is one that manages to be most ‘becoming’ to the melody at all points.” Through this, he kept his commercial arrangements simple and straightforward, with a careful ear for balance and color. With Gershwin and his Broadway musical scores, Bennett would work from annotated short scores (dual folios for piano with general suggestions for which instruments would play what.) He worked very closely as Gershwin’s assistant during the period in which Gershwin composed his score for the 1937 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film, Shall We Dance, often spending late nights with Gershwin rushing to complete orchestrations for deadlines. The next year Gershwin died. Later Bennett would be turned to yet again as a definitive orchestrator of Gershwin’s other works, both on Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture and the orchestral medley Gershwin in Hollywood.
Beethoven Symphony #9
Friday, November 18, 2016
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) began his musical studies in his native Bonn, with Christian Gottlob Neefe, who used the works of Bach as composition manuals for his uniquely gifted student. He recommended that Beethoven study with Mozart, but when he moved to Vienna in 1792, Mozart was dead and he studied, instead, with Franz Josef Haydn and Antonio Salierei, two of the most famous composers of their time. In a composing career encompassing a great variety of works, Beethoven used the complexities he had learned from Bach and the musical forms perfected in the late 18th century by Mozart and Haydn to move into a new 19th-century realm – one which ensures his place in the world’s pantheon of great composers.
Beethoven’s symphonic works reshape, in startlingly original ways, the traditional techniques he inherited from the 18th century, pushing compositional and performance boundaries further, and giving the orchestra a new and increasingly dramatic role. There is nothing abstract in Beethoven’s music: it reflects a complex, contradictory universe and a very beautiful and personal one, and nowhere is this more evident than in his Symphony No. 9.
He began sketches for the 9th Symphony in 1815, but the final shape and content took nearly 10 years to mature. In 1823 he contacted the London Philharmonic Society to see if it would commission a new symphony: the Society offered him L50 for an “unpublished” work, allowing him to premiere it in Vienna. By early 1824 it was complete, and the Viennese premiere took place on May 8, 1824.
By 1824 he was profoundly deaf and unable to hear the performance or the thunderous ovation it received. It seems to have been a scratchy performance: the orchestra, a combination of theater orchestra professionals and amateurs, had difficulty learning the score, and, in performance, some actually stopped playing when the parts became too difficult. Vocal soloists complained of the tessitura and difficulty of the work, and apparently transposed high entrances down or did not sing them at all. The composer, immersed in his score, was unaware of this:, hearing, in his own way, the extraordinary contribution he had made to the choral-orchestral repertoire.
The Symphony No. 9 is in the traditional 4-movement form, but there is nothing traditional about the work’s size and complexity or the unexpected addition of a chorus to the final movement. In four movements, it is scored for solo vocal quartet, chorus, strings, flutes, piccolo, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, contrabassoon, horns, trumpets, timpani and percussion. The last movement recapitulates themes from the first three, making it a small symphony in itself, and the inspired setting of parts of Schiller’s Ode to Joy make it marvelously unique in the symphonic literature.
Also on the program…
GOODNIGHT MOON, a lullaby for Chorus and Orchestra,
Arranged by Glen Roven, based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown
The Moon and Me
My violin concerto based on Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runways Bunny had enjoyed a bit of success; it was recorded by SONY and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Brooke Shields narrating, and I conducted the American Symphony with Glenn Close narrating for the American premiere at Carnegie Hall. Symphonies around the country were asking for a companion piece so I turned, of course, to her many other books for inspiration.
The obvious choice was Brown’s most popular book, Goodnight Moon. But there was a problem: I didn’t understand it. Here I was, an adult man, with no comprehension of a book every nursery child could recite from memory. I had no idea why it was so successful, nor why it spoke so passionately to children the world over. I shared this with my sister, a new mother, who whispered in some embarrassment, “I don’t get it either.” (She whispered, no doubt, because she did not want such blasphemy to banish her from the 89th Street playground.) Nevertheless, my nephews Myles and Zack couldn’t get enough. Like every other preschooler, Myles demanded it be read each night like clockwork, and not only once; Goodnight Moon had to be read over and over and over until he fell blissfully asleep, dreaming, no doubt, of that bowl full of mush. Hush!
Still, I couldn’t write what I didn’t feel, understand, or even like. So I read hundreds of other children’s books, hoping to find that same creative spark that had inspired my concerto. Nothing.
Because of my concerto, I met Leonard Marcus, who is not only one of the world’s great authorities on children’s literature, but also the author of Awakened by the Moon, The Biography of Margaret Wise Brown. In that book he devotes over thirty pages to Goodnight Moon, a story of barely thirty words, placing the narrative in the context of the progressive Bank Street School where Ms. Brown trained as a teacher—and where the school’s youngest students formed her first audiences. It was his explanation that opened my eyes:
Goodnight Moon is a here-and-now story, but one supercharged with emotion, with a freewheeling sense of the fantastic as an aspect of the everyday.”
After reading Leonard’s book, I got it. This was a book told from the point of view of a child, a child who discovers new things every day, a child who marvels at a telephone, a red balloon, and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon. And it all takes place in the child’s own universe. Which happens to be a “Great Green Room.”
Finally I heard music in my head. I knew I could create that great green room in the orchestra, a comforting space where a child feels safe and warm. I would create the kittens, the mittens and the quiet old lady (who is pictorially, of course, the Mother Bunny.) And I would create the explosive moment when the great green room bursts open and every listener, young or old, wishes goodnight to the stars and goodnight to the air and goodnight to noises everywhere.
Among my many theatrical scores, songs and orchestral compositions, this is perhaps my favorite. Just like the cow, I am over the moon to hear the National Chorale conducted by Everett McCorvey sing the world premier of the full chorale version with Symphony Orchestra. On the same program as Beethoven’s Ninth, no less. And I’m ecstatic to join the world’s community of children in appreciating—at last! —the great Margaret Wise Brown.
Handel’s Messiah Sing-In
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
The annual Handel’s Messiah Sing-In at Lincoln Center was created as a celebration of choral singing and is today New York City’s most popular Holiday Season Community Music Event.
The Sing-In audience-chorus includes 3,000 singers of all backgrounds who come from throughout New York City, the greater New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, across the United States and from countries around the world. It includes choral singers who sing in church and temple choirs, community choral organizations, high school, college and alumni choruses, people who formerly sang in choirs and many vocal music lovers who want to spend this one special evening singing and being surrounded by thousands of stereophonic voices, all singing Handel’s great choral masterpiece together.
The audience is the chorus—there is no chorus on stage. Rather than being seated in block SATB sections, the audience is seated “scrambled” so that attending choral groups and participating singers can sit with those whom they came with. Each participant brings a Messiah vocal score, and the sound of the massed mixed vocal parts in a tapestry of song throughout the hall is glorious.
There are 17 distinguished choral conductors, each of whom, in turn, conducts one chorus accompanied by the Sing-In organist at the Avery Fisher Hall organ. (Almost every well-known choral conductor in the Greater New York Area and beyond either participates or has participated in the Chorale’s annual Sing-In.) There also are 4 splendid professional soloists singing some of the best known solos and providing additional musical inspiration. Everett McCorvey, Artistic Director of the National Chorale and the Sing-In, is the host for the performance.
The Messiah Sing-In was conceived and developed in 1967 by Mr. Josman, the Chorale’s Board and a group of New York City choral conductors to celebrate choral singing on a community-wide basis. It was agreed by all that the best way to achieve this was to invite the choral singing community to gather one evening annually during a traditional singing time of the year and to sing a great choral work in a major concert hall under the shared leadership of a team of prominent choral conductors. As a result, the name Messiah Sing-In was created. The December Holiday Season was determined to be the best time of year for the event and Handel’s Messiah was selected as the great choral work with which most singers were familiar. Avery Fisher Hall, the exciting new concert hall in the City in the 1960’s was chosen to be the Sing-In location. The plan attracted the enthusiastic interest of New York’s choral community and the public, and the first Messiah Sing-In took place on Friday evening, December 13, 1967. It was an immediate success and has continued as a joyous, traditional choral community singing event every year since then.
The National Chorale has also presented Handel’s Messiah Sing-In in Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, Rochester, NY, Phoenix, Tulsa, Lawrence, WI, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Amphitheater and the Ocean Grove Auditorium, NJ.
This year is the eagerly looked forward to 49th Anniversary of the New York Messiah Sing-In.