Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Danzón No. 2
(b. Alamos Sonora, Mexico, 1950)
Composed in 1994.
Premiered on March 5, 1994 in Mexico City, conducted by Ronald Zolman.
Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion, piano and strings.
Duration: approximately 10 minutes.
Arturo Márquez, born in Alamos Sonora, Mexico in 1950, began his musical training in La Puente, California in 1966, and subsequently studied piano and music theory at the Conservatory of Music of Mexico and composition at the Taller de Composicíon of the Institute of Fine Arts of Mexico with Joaquín Gutiérrez Heras, Hector Quintanar and Federico Ibarra. Márquez also studied privately in Paris with Jacques Castérède, and at the California Institute of the Arts with Morton Subotnick, Stephen Mosko, Mel Powell and James Newton. Márquez, today one of Mexico's most respected musicians, has received commissions from the Organization of American States, Universidad Metropolitana de México, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Festival del Caribe, Festival de la Ciudad de México, 1992 Seville World's Fair and the Rockefeller Foundation, and grants from the Institute of Fine Arts of Mexico, the French Government, the Fulbright Foundation and other prestigious organizations. In 1994, he was awarded the composition scholarship of Mexico's Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes. Márquez's professional appointments have included leader of the Navojoa Municipal Band, teacher of composition at the National School of Music of Mexico, and a residency at the National Center of Research, Documentation and Information of Mexican Music at the National University of Mexico.
Márquez has composed four works for varied instrumentation titled Danzón. In 1942, after a good-will visit to Cuba, Aaron Copland wrote his Danzón Cubano, and gave the following description of the form: "The popular Cuban dance style known as danzón has a very special character. It is a stately dance, quite different from the rhumba, conga and tango, and one that fulfills a function rather similar to that of the waltz in our own music, providing contrast to some of the more animated dances. The danzón is not the familiar hectic, flashy and rhythmically complicated type of Cuban dance. It is more elegant and curt and is very precise, as dance music goes. The dance itself seemed especially amusing to me because it has a touch of unconscious grotesquerie, as if it were an impression of 'high-life' as seen through the eyes of the populace — elegance perceived by the inelegant." Of his colorful and melodic Danzón No. 2, commissioned by the Music Department of Mexico's National University, Márquez noted, "I discovered that the apparent lightness of the danzón hides a music full of sensuality and rigor, music of nostalgia and joy that our old folks live with, a world that we can still grasp in the dance music of Veracruz and the dance halls of Mexico City. Danzón No. 2 is a tribute to the world that nurtured it. It tries to get as close as possible to the dance, to its nostalgic melodies and its monotonous rhythms, and although it desecrates its intimacy, form and harmonic vocabulary, it is a personal way of expressing my admiration and feelings towards real Mexican popular music."
Concierto en Tango for Cello and Orchestra
Miguel del Aguila
(b. Montevideo, Uruguay, 1957)
Composed in 2014.
Premiered on May 18, 2014 in Buffalo, New York by the Buffalo Philharmonic, conducted by JoAnn Falletta with Roman Mekinulov as soloist.
Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, trombone, timpani, percussion, harp, piano and strings.
Duration: approximately 19 minutes
Miguel del Aguila, born in Montevideo, Uruguay on September 15, 1957, earned diplomas in theory and composition from the Escuela Municipal de Musica and the Conservatorio Audem in his native city before moving to the United States in 1978 to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he received his degree in piano in 1982. Following his graduation, del Aguila lived for the next decade in Vienna, where he studied at the Hochschule für Musik, composed, taught, conducted, played piano and had several works performed at the city's most prominent concert halls. Since settling permanently in Los Angeles in 1992, del Aguila has established himself among America's leading composers, having held residencies at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York and New Mexico Symphony, served as music director of the choral ensemble Ojai Camerata, taught at Ventura College, and received the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, Meet the Composer/Music Alive Award, Lancaster Symphony Composer of the Year Award, First Prizes in the Olympiad of the Arts and the AEMUS and Jeunesses Musicales competitions, designation as the Los Angeles Times' "1994 Resident Music Man of the Year," and three Grammy nominations. Also an active pianist and conductor, Miguel del Aguila has appeared in performance at such noted venues as Carnegie Recital Hall and Merkin Hall in New York and the Konzerthaus and Bösendorfer Hall in Vienna. His catalog of well over a hundred compositions, many of which have been performed, broadcast and recorded internationally, includes opera, orchestra, chamber, choral and solo works, as well as music for theater and television.
Del Aguila wrote of his Concierto en Tango, commissioned in 2014 by the Buffalo Philharmonic for the ensemble's Principal Cellist, Roman Mekinulov, "In 2012, Roman suggested to me the idea of writing a concerto in tango style that would explore the less classical sound and technique of the cello. I liked this idea, as the cello has the intensity and expressivity of a tango singer and is an excellent medium for such a work.
"While most people associate tango with the 1920s Valentino films or the tango nuevo of Astor Piazzolla, to many of us who grew up in Montevideo or Buenos Aires in the 50s and 60s, tango has a very different connotation. It is associated with childhood memories of happy and prosperous times and with family gatherings where we, as children, often just enjoyed watching everyone dance. Given that context, tango carries a special nostalgia for a time and a place in a society that no longer exists. Those were the days before the economic collapse of the 1970s and the horrors of the 'Guerra Sucia' [dirty war] of the military dictatorships that followed. The imagery of those events is portrayed in the music of Concierto en Tango.
"Rather than limiting myself to a single style, I also included idioms from earlier types of tangos, including the 19th-century Spanish tango-habanera, the Brazilian tango-maxixe, and the early milongas of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in which the African influence was still evident in its syncopations and fast beat. However, Concierto en Tango has a rhythmic complexity beyond any of those dances, and it represents my abstraction of those rhythms as they fuse with my own personal style. The harmonic language is conservative. I deliberately tried to avoid a 'classical' sound and especially the intense romantic style of many cello concertos, which, combined with the melodrama of tango, would have resulted in a very dark work. Several humorous and lighthearted passages add a joyful side, a rarity in the tango genre, which is traditionally deprived of such positive emotions.
"The overall form is A–B–A: fast–slow–fast. The middle, slow section features the traditional cantabile and expressive qualities of the cello while the outer fast sections require rhythmic precision, bow control and accuracy of intonation in the highest registers of the instrument. Some of these fast sections challenge the performers with constant time-signature shifts. (In some places, there are almost one hundred consecutive bars where each has a different and irregular time signature). Some of these rhythmically complex passages are played by a quintet of soloists comprising cello, violin, double bass, piano and conga drums. Concierto en Tango was written to honor the memory of my brother, Nelson del Aguila (1964-2012)."
Suite from Appalachian Spring
Aaron Copland (b. Brooklyn, New York, 1900; d. North Tarrytown, New York, 1990)
Composed for chamber orchestra in 1943-1944; revised as a suite for full orchestra in 1945.
Ballet premiered on October 30, 1944 in Washington; suite premiered on October 4, 1945 in New York, conducted by Artur Rodzinski.
Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns, trumpets and trombones in pairs, timpani, percussion, harp, piano and strings.
Duration: approximately 24 minutes.
In 1942, Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, one of America's greatest patrons of the arts, went to see a dance recital by Martha Graham. So taken with the genius of the dancer-choreographer was Mrs. Coolidge that she offered to commission three ballets specially for her, and Graham chose as composers of the music Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindemith and an American whose work she had admired for over a decade — Aaron Copland. In 1931, Graham had staged Copland's Piano Variations as the ballet Dithyramb, and she was eager to have another dance piece from him, especially in view of his recent successes with Billy the Kid and Rodeo. She devised a scenario based on memories of her grandmother's farm in turn-of-the-20th-century Pennsylvania, and it proved to be a perfect match for the direct, quintessentially American style that Copland espoused in those years.
The premiere was set for October 1944 (in honor of Mrs. Coolidge's 80th birthday) in the auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the limited space in the theater allowed Copland to use a chamber orchestra of only thirteen instruments (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano and nine strings). He began work on the score in June 1943 in Hollywood while writing the music for the movie North Star and finished it a year later in Cambridge, where he was delivering the Horatio Appleton Lamb Lectures at Harvard. The plot, the music and most of the choreography were completed before a title for the piece was selected. Graham was taken at just that time with the name of a poem by Hart Crane — Appalachian Spring — and she adopted it for her new ballet, though the content of the poem has no relation with the stage work.
Appalachian Spring was unveiled in Washington on October 30, 1944, and repeated in New York in May to great acclaim, garnering the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Music Critics Circle Award as the outstanding theatrical work of the 1944-1945 season. Soon after its New York premiere, Copland revised the score as a suite of eight continuous sections for full orchestra by eliminating about eight minutes of music in which, he said, "the interest is primarily choreographic." On October 4, 1945, Artur Rodzinski led the New York Philharmonic in the premiere of this version, which has become one the best-loved works of 20th-century American music.
Edwin Denby's description of the ballet's action from his review of the New York premiere in May 1945 was reprinted in the published score: "[The ballet concerns] a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the 19th century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end, the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house."
Copland wrote, "The suite arranged from the ballet contains the following sections, played without interruption:
"1. Very Slowly. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
"2. Fast. Sudden burst of unison strings in A-major arpeggios starts the action. A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
"3. Moderato. Duo for the Bride and her Intended — scene of tenderness and passion.
"4. Quite fast. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feelings — suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
"5. Still faster. Solo dance of the Bride — presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
"6. Very slowly (as at first). Transition scene to music reminiscent of the introduction.
"7. Calm and flowing. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer-husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title The Gift To Be Simple. The melody I borrowed and used almost literally, is called 'Simple Gifts.' It has this text:
'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.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right.
"8. Moderate. Coda. The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. At the end the couple are left 'quiet and strong in their new house.' Muted strings intone a hushed, prayer-like passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music."
Suite from Carmen
(b. Paris, 1838; d. Bougival, near Paris, 1875)
Composed in 1872-1875.
Premiered on March 3, 1875 in Paris, conducted by Adolphe Deloffre.
Instrumentation: Scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussion and strings.
Duration: approximately 20 minutes.
Carmen, Prosper Mérimée's earthy novella of 1845, was an unlikely subject for Georges Bizet to have chosen for representation at the Opéra-Comique, whose bourgeois works had accustomed the theater's audiences to light-hearted, happy-ending stories disposed in breezy musical numbers separated by and his librettists, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, smoothed the edges of the story and the characters (Carmen was little more than a raw prostitute in Mérimée's novella), critics and audience were bemused by the tragic progression of its plot, the depth of its characterization, the lubriciousness of its emotions, and the cumulative power of its impact at the opera's premiere on March 3, 1875. Though Carmen did not initially achieve the success Bizet had hoped for, neither was it the fiasco that some legends later made of it. It was retained in the Opéra-Comique repertory, and given 35 times before the end of the 1875 season and thirteen the next, though Bizet died in Paris exactly three months after the premiere, knowing little of the opera's success. Carmen then was produced to much acclaim across Europe and in America (first at New York's Academy of Music on October 23, 1878), and by the time that it was revived at the Opéra-Comique, in 1883, the original spoken dialogue had been replaced with composed recitatives by the New Orleans-born composer Ernest Guiraud. Carmen was invariably performed in this through-composed version until Bizet's original score again came to light in the 1960s.
The lure of Carmen continues unabated. Carmen is probably the most frequently performed opera in the world, having reached its 3,000th performance in Paris alone within a half-century of its premiere in 1875. In America, Carmen is one of the "operatic A-B-C's," the three most popular works at the Metropolitan Opera — Aida and La Bohème complete the triumvirate. It has been recorded some three-dozen times, more than any other opera save Rigoletto (according to Alan Blyth's compendious book about Opera on Record), and it was the third opera to be recorded complete, when Emmy Destinn created the title role (in German!) in 1908, preceded only by Aida (1906) and I Pagliacci (1907). In addition to its innumerable stage presentations, three unusual versions of the opera have appeared during the last two decades: Peter Brook's controversial adaptation as a play-with-music, which emphasized the grittiness of Prosper Mérimée's novella of 1845 on which the opera was based; Carlos Saura's spectacular flamenco movie with Bizet's music as accompaniment for some of the most exciting dance ever photographed; and a filmed production of the complete opera with Julia Migenes-Johnson and Placido Domingo shot on location in Spain.
Carmen continues to excite and intrigue as do few other musical works. The fascination of the opera is not just in the glorious music but also in the characterization and dramatic power that electrify the score: Carmen herself is an unfathomable mixture of dark sensuality and steely scorn; Don José is an all-too-human Everyman, drawn like a moth into the searing flame of Carmen's temptations; Micaëla is sweet and good and pitiable and defeated by events beyond her control; Escamillo, the Toreador, parades his machismo as a mask for his lack of feeling and tenderness.
Intermezzo (Entr'acte to Act III) provides a quiet, lyrical foil to the surrounding events. The Prelude to Act I serves as the gateway to the fiery and tragic tale that follows. Aragonaise (Entr'acte to Act IV), brilliant and languorous by turns, sets the scene for the opera's searing conclusion. Nocturne is Micaëla's aria in Act III in which she implores Don José to return home to his dying mother. Song of the Toreador (Act II) is the swaggering melody of the haughty bullfighter Escamillo. The Toreadors is the brilliant music heard as the procession of bullfighters enters the arena in Seville in Act IV.
©2015 Dr. Richard E. Rodda