Concert 4 “Old, New, Borrowed, Blue”
A Cool Musical Blend
February 22, 2018 7:30 PM
Wine & Cheese Reception 6:30 pm
Cailloux Theater – Kerrville, Texas
Ancient Airs and Dances – Ottorino Respighi
Rhapsody in Blue – George Gershwin
Pictures at an Exhibition – Modest Mussorgsky
Dear Symphony of the Hills Friends,
Our fourth concert of this season will feature outstanding music chosen with inspiration from the bridal rhyme for good luck. In fact, classical orchestral music is a perfect setting for choosing great music that is timeless as well as new.
The orchestra will first perform a work inspired by the Renaissance period, which featured some of the first instrumental ensemble music. Respighi’s masterful Ancient Airs and Dances provides a colorful inspiration for looking back to “old times.” For our “blue” contribution to the performance, we feature George Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue, set for piano solo and orchestra. The Symphony of the Hills welcomes to the Cailloux stage Naoko Takao, director of keyboard performance at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami (FL) and a former Gold Medal winner of the San Antonio International Piano Competition.
In many ways a borrowed work, Modeste Mussorgsky’s epic piano solo “Pictures at an Exhibition” represents a musical journey to an art show with fanciful settings of each painting. In another example of “borrowing,” the orchestra will play the great French composer Maurice Ravel’s orchestral transcription of Mussorgsky’s piano composition. Ravel’s added colorful orchestration helps bring this magnificent musical work to life.
We hope you enjoy this variety of tremendous music!
With sincere thanks for your support and attendance,
Conductor & Artistic Director
Ancient Airs and Dances
Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936)
Ottorino Resphighi was an Italian violinist, composer and musicologist, best known for his three orchestral tone poems: Fountains of Rome (1916); Pines of Rome (1924); and Roman Festivals (1928). His artistic interest in 16th- through 18th-century music led him to compose pieces based on the music of this extensive period. He wrote several operas, and published editions of the music of Monteverdi, Vivaldi, and Marcello. His work in this genre influenced his later compositions and led to a number of pieces based on early music, notably his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances and the Suite Gliuccelli (The Birds). In his neoclassical works, Respighi generally eschewed the classical period, preferring to combine pre-classical melodic styles and dance suites with typical late-19th-century romantic harmonies and textures.
Ancient Airs and Dances (Italian: Antiche Arie e Danze) is a set of three orchestral pieces freely transcribed by Respighi from original lute compositions by Simone Molinaro, Vincenzo Galilei (father of Galileo Galilei) and additional anonymous composers.
Rhapsody in Blue
George Gershwin (1898–1937)
The story of George Gershwin typifies the familiar Horatio Alger Myth: George was of Russian Jewish and Ukrainian Jewish descent. Upon arrival in New York, Gershwin’s father, Moishe Gershowitz, changed his first name to Morris. Moishe (Morris) settled at first with a maternal uncle in Brooklyn, a tailor named Greenstein, where he worked as a foreman in a women’s shoe factory. He married Roza Berskina, also a Russian Jew, in 1895; they were 23 and 19 years of age, respectively. At some time between 1893 and 1898, Morris Gershowitz changed his surname to Gershwine. The second child born to the couple in their second-floor dwelling at 242 Snediker Avenue in Brooklyn was George, on September 26, 1898. His birth certificate bears the name Jacob Gershwine, with the surname being commonly pronounced ‘Gersh-vin‘ by the Yiddish Russian community. The name George came from his late grandfather. He went by no other name but George. Years later, George changed the spelling of his surname to Gershwin after he became a professional musician. Other members of his family followed suit.
George lived a typical childhood existence for children in New York tenements–running around with his boyhood friends, roller skating and misbehaving in the streets. Remarkably, he cared nothing for music until the age of ten, when he became intrigued at his friend Maxie Rosenzweig’s violin recital. The sound and the way his friend played captured him. His parents had bought a piano for his older brother Ira, but to his parents’ surprise, and Ira’s relief, it was George who spent more time playing it.
With a degree of frustration, George tried various piano teachers over at least two years, before finally being introduced to Charles Hambitzer. Until his death in 1918, Hambitzer remained Gershwin’s musical mentor, taught him conventional piano technique, introduced him to music of the European classical tradition, and encouraged him to attend symphony concerts. At home young Gershwin would play at the piano the music that he had heard in concerts, completely from recall and without sheet music. Gershwin proceeded to develop his formal classical training through studies under the classical composer Rubin Goldmark and avant-garde composer-theorist Henry Cowell.
The music of George Gershwin is as much a part of American culture as the flag, blue jeans and a hamburger. He is one of America’s treasures; his Rhapsody in Blue combines the elements of classical music with the influence of American jazz. The piece, commissioned by Paul Whiteman in 1924, established Gershwin’s reputation as a serious composer and has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works. A vivid description of his composing this piece is fascinating. In Gershwin’s own words: “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer–I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise–and there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper–the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.”
Pictures at an Exhibition
Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1880)
Mussorgsky was a Russian composer, one of the group known as “The Five.” He was an innovator of Russian music in the romantic period. As was the case with other members of The Five, he strove to achieve a uniquely Russian musical identity, often in deliberate defiance of the established conventions of Western music. Many of his works were inspired by Russian history, folklore, and other nationalist themes. One in particular is Pictures at an Exhibition.
Pictures at an Exhibition–A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann, is a suite of ten pieces (plus a recurring, varied Promenade) which Mussorgsky composed for the piano in 22 days, following his tour of Hartmann’s exhibition of paintings at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. Viktor Hartmann was an artist of some note in the period 1868–1873 whose work obviously made a strong impression on Mussorgsky. Each of the ten pieces of the Suite represent one of the paintings by Hartmann. This suite is Mussorgsky’s most famous piano composition and is often a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. It has become further known through orchestrations and arrangements produced by other musicians and composers, with Maurice Ravel’s arrangement being the most recorded and performed.
Concert Notes by Jim Adams