Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

program notes: kahane 2

Saturday April 21, 2012
Sunday April 22, 2012

Ives Three Places in New England


Kahane Crane Palimpsest (West Coast premiere) (Co-commission with American Composers Orchestra)


Haydn Symphony No. 104 in D major, H. 1/104,

orchestration: flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings

The artist draws on many different life experiences and influences for creative inspiration. A composer, for example, might write music based on the folk music he or she heard as a child. Or perhaps the composer is urged on by poetry, painting or family history. The influences that inspired the works on tonight’s program are as varied as one could imagine, but all of them helped to shape something unique.

In addition to being a very important American composer, Charles Ives sold insurance. In fact, for most of his adult life, Ives composed music only in his spare time. Consequently, some of his pieces, like Three Places in New England, were composed over long periods of time. He began sketching musical ideas for the piece around 1903, but fashioned most of the work a decade later. Three Places in New England was actually one of the first of Ives’s pieces to be published. It is a good example of his signature style that includes musical quotation, dense and rhythmically complex textures, and dissonance. Ives often quoted from other styles of music and genres including hymns and band tunes. The latter was no accident as Ives’s father George was a bandleader and also one of his first music teachers. George introduced the younger Ives to bitonality and polytonality. Because of this, Ives’s treatment of dissonance in his work is quite unique.

Three Places in New England was revised around 1930, with Ives transforming the large orchestral score to one for a smaller chamber ensemble, creating more opportunities for the work to be performed.

Ives gave each of the three places featured in the work its own movement, and strove to create an aural setting that would allow the listener to feel as though he or she was actually in that place. The element of musical quotation helps to create a sense of space, and perhaps of “being there.” The first movement, The St. Gaudens in Boston Common, was inspired by a Civil War monumentin Boston, Massachusetts. The monument, sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is named for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the nation’s first all-African American regiment. The group served as part of the Union Army in the Civil War and lost almost half of its men in an assault on South Carolina’s Fort Wagner. In light of the subject matter, this movement is suitably somber, an evocation of the regiment’s march to Fort Wagner. Ives suggests the repetitive steps of marching with repeated patterns in the low voices of the orchestra. The dynamics expand and grow in a halting manner before achieving a bright major chord. The end calls to mind a quiet reflection at the monument itself. Ives quotes a number of tunes in this movement, notably songs sung on plantations like “Old Black Joe” and Civil War-era songs like “The Battle Cry of Freedom.” Although the borrowed melodies are more clearly discernible at the opening, Ives also uses them as source materials in other parts of the movement.

Parts of the second movement, entitled Putnam’s Camp, Redding Connecticut, were drawn from Ives’s earliest sketches for the piece. Ives wove the piece from the cloth of two of his earlier pieces, Country Band March and 1776, both of which he completed in 1904. Putnam’s Camp was declared a historic landmark by the government of Connecticut in the late 19th century. It is named for Israel Putnam, a General in the Revolutionary War who fought courageously at, among others, the Battle of Bunker Hill. Putnam’s Camp has been the site of many Fourth of July celebrations, and Ives’s description of the program of this music tells of a dreaming young boy who sees a sorrowful Liberty telling soldiers to remember what they are fighting for. In the midst of this, Putnam appears, evoking cheers from the soldiers. The boy wakes and rejoins the celebrations. As the description might suggest, Ives used many patriotic songs in this movement, including “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.” The unsteady nature of the rhythm and tonality of the piece suggest an amateur ensemble—a community band, perhaps—playing the tunes at the celebration. Some of the tunes are quoted in different keys, adding to the dissonance of the piece, but creating a spatial effect, as if one is listening to one band play a tune while, in the distance, another band plays something different.

The final movement, The Housatonic at Stockbridge, was inspired by the Housatonic River, and by a walk Ives took with his new wife Harmony soon after their honeymoon. (This piece also had another iteration in 1921 as a song using the words from Robert Underwood Johnson’s poem “To the Housatonic at Stockbridge.”) Ives musically captured the mist on the water using unpredictable repeated patterns in the high strings. Although strict quotation is absent from this movement, Ives instead paraphrased a hymn for the melody. The presence of bits and pieces of the hymn tune seems to suggest parishioners in a distant church playing music, perhaps on the opposite banks of the river.

Like Charles Ives, Gabriel Kahane comes from musical parentage. Gabriel Kahane is the son of our own Jeffrey Kahane, and in addition to being a pianist like his father, he is an accomplished singer-songwriter and composer. The music that he composes and performs draws from even more varied influences than did Ives’s music. Well-versed in classical traditions, Kahane also works in a contemporary songwriting style that shows off his melodic and lyrical sensibilities. Kahane’s Orinoco Sketches, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and premiered on their Green Umbrella series at Walt Disney Concert Hall in May 2011, was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “music with something to say.” Tonight we hear the West Coast premiere of a new work by the composer, co-commissioned with the American Composers Orchestra. Of this composition, entitled Crane Palimpsest, Gabriel says:

“I’m setting Hart Crane’s To Brooklyn Bridge as well as songlike responses to it with my own text. The Crane sections will be scored largely for string quartet soloists within the larger ensemble, while the songs with my text (as well as any interludes)will be scored for the whole orchestra.”

Haydn spent most of his career working for Prince Nicholas Esterházy in Austria, but towards the end of his life, he visited London twice. These visits enabled Haydn to present his music to an interested public rather than just his music-loving patron. Over the course of these two visits, Haydn wrote 12 symphonies. Symphony No. 104 is the last of these, and in fact the last symphony Haydn ever wrote. Although it is one of a dozen he wrote for the city, this symphony is commonly called the “London” Symphony. The work was first performed at a concert in the New Room of King’s Theater in Haymarket London as a benefit for the composer. After the show, Haydn wrote: “The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made four thousand gulden on this evening. Such a thing is only possible in England.” Later that same year, Symphony No. 104 debuted in Vienna. (Incidentally the second piano concerto of then 25-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven was featured on the program of that same concert.)

The Symphony opens with a slow introduction, and the exposition of the first movement that follows is played only by the strings. The entire orchestra enters soon after, but this textural shifting will make appearances throughout the movement. The second movement, marked Andante or walking tempo, features more rhythmic complexity and dynamic contrast. This is followed by the traditional minuet and trio movement and then the finale, marked Spiritoso, whose thematic material is drawn from a Croatian folk song called “Oj Jelena.” Here too are dynamic and textural contrasts, but there is counterpoint as well. The symphonies, string quartets, piano trios and oratorios that Haydn composed for London (and the period in Vienna following) are among his most popular and oft-performed pieces, thanks in part to the new influences Haydn encountered on his travels.

– Christine Gengaro, PhD

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