Kevin Mcmahon | music director and conductor

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March 04, 2019

March 16, 2019 Program Notes

Tonight’s concert brings back four audience favorites among the music the SSO played at the Weill Center between 2005 and 2009. Our one “new” piece, music from the film A River Runs Through It, will accompany images from Sheboygan’s past, as part of our 100th year celebration.

We also celebrate the spirit of the dance tonight. Two of our works were originally written for world-famous ballet companies, while a third is based on Spanish dance rhythms, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was famously called “the apotheosis of the dance.”

Born St. Petersburg, 10 August 1865; died Paris, 21 March 1936.
The Seasons, Op. 67: Autumn.
Composed 1899 for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg and choreographer Marius Petipa; premiered at the Hermitage Theatre of the Winter Palace, 20 February 1900, Riccardo Drigo conducting. The score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, glockenspiel, celesta, harp and strings. Duration about 10 minutes.

PREVIOUS SSO PERFORMANCE: 10 October 2009, Kevin McMahon conducting, Weill Center (the first piece Maestro McMahon conducted with the SSO).

Alexander Glazunov, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and many years later a teacher of Shostakovich, is one of the most important Russian composers of an “in-between” generation. He reached maturity in the heyday of Imperial Russia and the cultural splendors of St. Petersburg; lived through the years of Revolution while becoming Director of the Leningrad Conservatory of Music; and moved to Paris in 1929. In the West he is famous chiefly for his 1904 Violin Concerto and his ballets Raymonda (1898) and The Seasons, but he left a considerable body of work, including eight symphonies, other concertos, chamber music and a number of choral works.

The Seasons was created for the legendary choreographer Marius Petipa, whose original dances for Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, as well as for revivals of Giselle, Swan Lake and many other classic ballets, are often still used in modern productions. Glazunov’s one-act ballet, with dancers representing satyrs, nymphs and various breezes from classical legend, is in four scenes, beginning with winter.

“Autumn,” the grand finale, opens with a “Bacchanal.” Unlike the orgiastic one in Saint-Säens’ Samson and Delilah this is a joyful celebration of Bacchus as god of harvest and wine. The other Seasons return to join the Bacchantes: first, Winter (woodwinds hint at chill winds) and Spring (delicate and spritely), then after a brief return of the Bacchanal theme, Summer (bold and surging but turning languid). A “Petit Adagio” is next: a breathtakingly lovely slow movement for strings and woodwinds with harp accompaniment. Then a mischievous “Satyr’s Dance,” followed by the Bacchanal theme once again, now in 6/8 time. Swirling sounds suggest falling autumn leaves, and in the concluding “Apotheosis” the music slows as the stage sky darkens and the stars shine brightly.

Born Ambert, France, 18 January 1841; died Paris, 13 September 1894.
España: Rhapsody for Orchestra.
Composed 1883 and premiered 4 November of that year with the Orchestra of the Société des Nouveaux Concerts, Charles Lamoureux conducting. The score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, 2 harps and strings. Performance time: about 6 minutes.

PREVIOUS SSO PERFORMANCE: 24 March 2007, Andrews Sill conducting, Weill Center.

Emmanuel Chabrier was a largely self-taught composer who worked as a civil servant in Paris until he was nearly 40, at which point he composed fulltime while cultivating friendships with many of the great painters (Manet, Degas, Renoir), writers (Zola, Verlaine) and composers (Fauré, Chausson, d’Indy) of the day. He wrote several operatic works but is mainly known today as a composer of short piano and orchestral pieces which were forward-looking in style and an important influence upon Debussy and Ravel, especially their Spanish-inflected music.

España, generally considered his masterpiece (Gustav Mahler once called it “the start of modern music”), had its origins in an 1882 trip to Spain, where Chabrier notated various folk dance rhythms and melodies. He originally called his piece Jota, after the Spanish dance in ¾ time, often with castanet accompaniment. Playful in rhythm, dazzling in orchestration and dynamic contrasts, memorable in tunes, España has an especially remarkable moment halfway through when several different rhythms collide—at which point the original rhythm quietly keeps on going. Incidentally, two of the musical strains were “borrowed” for a 1950s Perry Como hit, “Hot Diggity.”

Born Brooklyn, NY, 14 November 1900; died Peekskill, NY, 2 December 1990.
Appalachian Spring: Suite.
Written in 1943-44 for chamber ensemble and premiered 30 October 1944 with the Martha Graham Company, Louis Horst conducting, at the Library of Congress, Washington DC. In 1945 Artur Rodzinski commissioned Copland to extract a suite from the ballet for full orchestra: first performed 4 October 1945, Rodzinski leading the New York Philharmonic. The score calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and trombones, plus timpani, bass drum, snare drum, tabor, xylophone, glockenspiel, wood block, cymbals, claves, triangle, harp, piano and strings. Performance time is about 23 minutes.

PREVIOUS SSO PERFORMANCE: 3 February 2007, Andrews Sill conducting, Weill Center.

Already celebrated for his “folk ballets” Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942), Copland welcomed a commission from Martha Graham, the revolutionary dancer and choreographer for a ballet on an American theme. The scenario they worked on together changed significantly over the course of their collaboration—at various points the story included a fugitive slave, the intrusion of the Civil War, a Shaker community and a Native American woman—and in the end Graham created her own scenario from the music supplied by Copland. The final ballet, set in Graham’s natal Western Pennsylvania, featured a Pioneer Woman, a Daughter/Bride and her Husbandman (danced by Graham and her husband-collaborator Erick Hawkins), and a fire-and-brimstone Revivalist and his four female Followers. Copland’s working title was Ballet for Martha; Graham named it Appalachian Spring, taking her title from a poem by Hart Crane.

The opening of the ballet—and the Suite, which is about 10 minutes shorter than the complete work—is quintessential Copland, and to many listeners quintessentially American. That is, it conjures up an American dream of pioneers and homesteaders, small farms and rolling hills. The simplicity and “purity” of this passage uncannily evoke a sense of dawn, early spring, a freshness in the air. The fast dance that follows has its own air of simple joy—though, as throughout the piece, Copland’s craft is quite sophisticated without calling attention to itself. 

The music alternates between lively dances and quieter passages with moods difficult to put into words: listeners have heard religious calm, sweet resignation, a sense of either timelessness or of time inevitably passing. Later on, a solo clarinet plays an actual Shaker tune called “Simple Gifts” (now familiar thanks to Copland):

’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Following a set of variations on the tune, climaxing with a grand statement for the full orchestra, we hear a chorale-like passage for strings, and the ballet ends with a return of the serene opening bars.

Born New York City, 7 September 1951.
Suite from A River Runs Through It: 3 selections.
The music was composed for the 1992 film A River Runs Through It. The Suite, requested by conductor Richard Kaufman for the Pacific Symphony, was premiered 29 October 1993, at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, bass drum, triangle, tam-tam, sizzle cymbal, suspended cymbal, cymbal scrape, piano, harp and strings. Duration of tonight’s selections, 7½ minutes.

Mark Isham has had a multifaceted career in music: as a jazz trumpeter (soloist with his own groups and with touring singers, including four years with Van Morrison) and as a composer, with movie and TV soundtracks spanning from Never Cry Wolf (1983) to Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger (2018). He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for A River Runs Through It—music he composed in only four weeks after he was hired by director Robert Redford to replace the originally chosen Elmer Bernstein. The film is a story of two brothers, fly-fishermen who face troubles of young adulthood in early-20th-Century Montana.

The Suite opens with a violin solo in a decidedly Celtic and nostalgic vein; in the film this section accompanies the opening credits, which displays photographs of Old Montana. (Isham said he had been inspired by flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal’s arrangement of an Irish tune.) The next passage, “A Land Filled With Wonder,” portrays the rippling flow of trout streams featured so prominently in the film, as when the young boys leave their studies for a late afternoon of fishing. “Haunted By Waters,” the last section, reprises the main musical themes of the film during the epilogue (the older brother now elderly and alone) and final credits.


Born Bonn, 17 December 1770; died Vienna, 26 March 1827.
Symphony No. 7, in A major, Op. 92.
Composed 1811-12 and first performed 8 December 1813, the composer conducting, at University Hall in Vienna. The score calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, plus timpani and strings. Duration about 39 minutes.

MOST RECENT SSO PERFORMANCE: 1 October 2005, Andrews Sill conducting, Weill Center. First performance of the Allegretto movement: 22 May 1949, Otto Huettner conducting, North High School (now Urban Middle School).

If it’s true that virtually all of Beethoven’s music is preoccupied with rhythm, his Symphony No. 7 nonetheless stands out in this respect. Each of the four movements seems to be driven by its own basic rhythmic pattern, only a bar or two long but possessing the coiled energy to charge the entire movement. The Seventh was a great success upon its first public performance at a wounded veterans benefit concert, with the second movement encored by demand, and the entire concert repeated a few days later.

I. Poco sostenuto; Vivace. This movement’s slow introduction is surprisingly long, but immediately gripping with its forceful A major chord from which a solo oboe quietly extends a four-note phrase. Amid further forte chords, the oboe is joined by its fellow winds, until a steady pulse of sixteenth notes takes us to an intensely dramatic passage. A lovely new theme for the woodwinds is heard, and eventually the introduction reaches an astonishing transition:  a 16th-note pulse on a single note (E) slows down to a whisper, takes on a 6/8 rhythm (which has reminded some of a Morse code signal), and evolves into a spritely theme first played by the flute. Hector Berlioz heard echoes of a peasant round dance.

Suffice it to say that this Vivace section is exuberant, harmonically daring, full of Beethovenian dramatic contrasts of loud and soft, impulsive yet under tight control: a romp on a heroic scale.

II. Allegretto. This moderately paced movement may not be a true “slow movement” but it certainly serves as a great contrast to the first—in its rhythm even more than its speed. Following a disconcerting A Minor chord played by the woodwinds (a chord which will also end the movement), the lower strings play a theme that is hardly more than a basic pulse: long, short-short, long, long, repeated many times. Soon a haunting counter-theme is heard, underpinned by the basic pulse. The winds eventually introduce a new theme in a more hopeful major key, and the movement goes on to develop all this material in unexpected and deeply felt ways.

III. Presto. The Scherzo movement has its own irresistible pulse, driving it onward from the very first bar when it “bursts out of the starting gate,” as one critic has put it. The Trio section is considerably slower, with stretched-out sustained notes in contrast to the impulsive gallop of the Scherzo section. At this period in his career Beethoven was fond of having a second Trio section, as he does here, so the basic structure is ABABA instead of just ABA. Indeed, the Trio makes a surprise third appearance, but very briefly--like a playful echo—before the vigorous final notes of the Scherzo.

IV. Allegro con brio. With its own distinctive rhythm the Finale is even more thrillingly headlong than any of the preceding movements. Writers have commented on its “delirious abandon” or even on the “manic expansion” of its “hammering” four-note beginning. One element of the excitement is the sound of the horns playing in their highest register. Another is the repeated low notes of the cellos and basses that underpin the main theme like the drone of a bagpipe in a peasant dance. Toward the very end Beethoven calls for triple-forte volume, a very rare marking for him, as the movement charges toward the finish line.

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