Stravinsky, Prokofiev + Mazzoli was performed and recorded on November 16, 2019 at the Alex Theatre.
The program features four pieces with strong influences from the past. We open with twentieth-century composer Maurice Ravel’s look back at the 18th century, specifically the work of François Couperin. We will also hear the West Coast premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Dark with Excessive Bright for Double Bass and Strings. Although this is the newest piece on the program, it still owes a debt to earlier music, specifically music of the Baroque and Renaissance periods. Igor Stravinsky’s 1920 ballet Pulcinella marks the composer’s first foray into a style known as neo-classicism. Sergei Prokofiev provides the finale with his Haydnesque “Classical” Symphony.
RAVEL “Le tombeau de Couperin”
During World War I, French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) wrote a six-movement suite for solo piano titled Le tombeau de Couperin. A “tombeau” (“tomb” in French) is a musical tribute to someone who has passed away. The musical world was deeply affected by the conflict, as composers and musicians were among those serving in the military. Orchestras lost members, and many composers shifted focus from large-scale works to smaller, sparser pieces. Ravel, who worked as an ambulance driver in the war (he was nearly 40 when the conflict began), was profoundly changed by the experience, and he wrote a piece to commemorate some of the lives affected by the war. Although a tombeau was most often written for one person, Ravel dedicated the individual movements to his contemporaries. Ravel orchestrated four of the six movements in 1919, and the piece received its premiere the following year.
In this woodwind-heavy work, Le tombeau de Couperin highlights our virtuosic wind section and notably features Claire Brazeau, LACO’s principal oboe. Claire holds an Artist Diploma from the Colburn School and studied under the tutelage of LACO’s former principal oboe Allan Vogel. Claire loves connecting with audiences on social media platforms and actively curates her Instagram page (@oboejones) with concert clips, upcoming performance information, and pictures.
In LACO History
Prior to this most recent performance, Le tombeau de Couperin had been played five times, the last performance dating back to 2011 under the baton of LACO’s fifth Music Director and Conductor Laureate, Jeffrey Kahane.
Missy Mazzoli “Dark with Excessive Bright” for Double Bass and String Orchestra
Grammy–nominated composer Missy Mazzoli was recently deemed as “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York” (The New York Times) and “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” (Time Out New York), writing music for some of the most prominent performers and ensembles working today. Mazzoli’s Dark with Excessive Bright for double bass and string orchestra was originally composed for contrabass soloist Maxime Bibeau and commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. When describing the piece, Mazzoli explains:
“While loosely based in Baroque idioms, this piece slips between string techniques from several centuries, all while twisting a pattern of repeated chords beyond recognition. “Dark with excessive bright”, a phrase from Milton’s Paradise Lost, is a surreal and evocative description of God, written by a blind man. I love the impossibility of this phrase, and felt it was a strangely accurate way to describe the dark but heartrending sound of the double bass itself.”
The soloist for this West Coast premiere of Dark with Excessive Bright is LACO’s very own principal bass David Grossman, an educator, composer and bicoastal multi-faceted musician who is also a member of the New York Philharmonic.
Take a glimpse in this behind-the-scenes video as David Grossman and Missy Mazzoli discuss Dark with Excessive Bright:
Watch the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s short film about Maxime Bibeau and Missy Mazzoli preparing for the 2018 world premiere of Dark with Excessive Bright:
STRAVINSKY Pulcinella Suite
Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella was written for Les Ballets Russes after the great triumph of The Firebird and the great scandal of The Rite of Spring, but it marked a new compositional direction. Stravinsky would later remark, “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible.” The inspiration for Pulcinella, outside of the music of the past, was commedia dell’arte, Italian improvised theater and its stock characters. In the staged ballet, Stravinsky reinvented the music with movement, lively characters, and even singing roles. Pulcinella Suite is a pared-down version of the ballet (nearly half the movements are omitted in the suite) with instrumental passages replacing the singing roles. The one act ballet consists of 21 excerpts whereas the suite has only eight movements (Sinfonia, Serenata, Scherzino, Tarantella, Toccata, Gavotta, Vivo and Minuetto). Stravinsky’s work with music of the past retains much of the charm of the original pieces, but with harmonic and rhythmic twists that are pure twentieth-century inventiveness, and pure Stravinsky. Pulcinella Suite premiered in December of 1922 in Boston with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Monteux.
In LACO History
LACO’s first performance of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite was in 1979 under the direction of British conductor Brian Priestman. Former LACO music directors Gerard Schwarz, Christof Perick and Jeffrey Kahane have also conducted Pulcinella Suite.
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 1, “Classical”
At a young age, Sergei Prokofiev was condemned as avant-garde and his music was perceived as difficult to understand. It is intriguing, then, that one of his most famous works Symphony No. 1 looks back to the older style of Haydn and is known by the nickname “Classical.” Prokofiev wrote his Classical Symphony in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. It meshes the classical tradition of clarity and formality with the renegade spirit of Prokofiev’s early works. Although the Classical Symphony fits the usual definition of neoclassicism, Prokofiev never admitted it. It was an isolated experiment, he explained, adding that he disliked Stravinsky’s preoccupation with neoclassicism, which he famously called “Bach on the wrong notes.” Classicism was attractive to the unsentimental Prokofiev because it eschewed the overwrought emotion of Romanticism. As a result, throughout the traditional four-movement form of the symphony we hear playful Haydnesque qualities in the Classical Symphony, as well as references to the Classical practice of alternating opposites: loud and soft, high and low, light and dark. Classical Symphony premiered in April 1918 in Saint Petersburg (formerly Petrograd), with Prokofiev himself conducting the piece.
In LACO History
This is LACO’s eighth performance of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. The last time it was performed was at the Golden Gala and 50th Anniversary Concert at The Music Center’s Mark Taper Forum in April 2018. The Mark Taper Forum was LACO’s first main venue for ten years under founding music director, Neville Marriner.
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