Postponed to Thursday
The Boston Landmarks Orchestra will take inspiration from Terpsichore during its annual Dance Night next Wednesday on the Esplanade. Programs featuring dance groups provide an opportunity to showcase the depth of talent that runs through Boston’s diverse cultural communities. In recent seasons, dance collaborations have represented traditions from West Africa, Armenia, Colombia, Cuba, Ireland, Korea, Puerto Rico, Syria, and Venezuela.
Johannes Brahms was still a teenager in Hamburg when he met the exiled Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi. Reményi had been active in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, and came to Hamburg in 1851 to evade capture by the Habsburg military authorities. He soon fled to the United States, returning to Hamburg in 1853. There, he invited Brahms to serve as his piano accompanist on a European tour. It was Brahms’s first extended trip outside of his native city. While touring in Weimar, Brahms played for the most famous of all Hungarian musicians, Franz Liszt. Liszt then returned the favor, reading Brahms’ Scherzo Op. 4 at sight. In Hanover, Brahms met Joseph Joachim, who arranged for Brahms to pay a visit to Robert and Clara Schumann, a visit that changed the course of his career and his life.
Making music with Reményi provided Brahms with his first exposure to Hungarian folk music, including the well-known dance style known as the csárdás. He became adept at playing many popular Hungarian pieces at the piano, frequently entertaining friends with them “à la Hongroise.” In 1869, he made some of his Hungarian Dances available for amateurs to play at home, arranging them for piano four-hands (two pianists, one piano). Two players sitting side by side can make a grander sound than one pianist, to be sure. But there is also a built-in social element wholly appropriate to the spirit of this music. Brahms described his arrangements as “perhaps the most practical [pieces] so impractical a man as I can supply.” The Hungarian Dances were an instant hit, becoming the most lucrative publications of his career. Brahms orchestrated only three of the twenty-one dances—Nos. 1, 3, 10—but many other arrangers soon jumped in, creating versions for all sorts of combinations.
I am not the only one here tonight who was introduced to these irresistible showpieces by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, who performed them in orchestrations by Martin Schmeling. Fiedler programmed some of the Hungarian Dances with the Boston Pops as early as 1929, and recorded both Nos. 5 and 6 in June of 1950 in Symphony Hall for release on 78 RPM records. He recorded No. 6 again in 1960, and released it in “Living Stereo” on the LP, “More Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music.”
Suddenly, Florence Price is everywhere. It isn’t just that a talented black female composer has been rediscovered, it’s that the more people hear of her music, the more they want to hear. Price’s spirituals settings have always been popular, but today there is great interest in her entire output. In the past few years, recordings have been issued of her songs, piano works, two of her four symphonies, two violin concertos, and her piano concerto, in a reconstructed orchestration by the composer Trevor Weston. Weston composed Griot Legacies for the Landmarks Orchestra and the New England Spiritual Ensemble in 2014.
Born in Little Rock, Price came to Boston at the age of 15 to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. Her mother urged her to list her city of birth as Puebla, Mexico, believing it might mitigate racial prejudice. At NEC, she was a standout student, becoming one of the few private pupils of the school’s president, George Whitefield Chadwick. Following graduation, she returned to Little Rock, married, and eventually settled in Chicago. She and her husband divorced in 1931, leaving Price to raise her two daughters on her own. In Chicago, she formed a deep friendship with the composer and pianist Margaret Bonds. It was through Bonds that Price became acquainted with Langston Hughes and other leading African-American intellectuals and artists. The Landmarks Orchestra performed three of Bonds’ spirituals arrangements on its Deep River concert on August 1.
Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1 is in E minor, the same key as Amy Beach’s First Symphony, ‘Gaelic,’ performed by Channing Yu and the Mercury Orchestra on this series two weeks ago. Is it a coincidence that the two symphonies are in the same key? Beach’s symphony—which predates Price’s by thirty-six years—has enjoyed a certain amount of fame ever since it was premiered, especially because that first performance was given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Price’s First Symphony was introduced by no less an institution: the Chicago Symphony, under the direction of Frederick Stock. The year was 1933, and it marked the first time that a major American orchestra had performed a symphony—perhaps any music at all—by a black woman.
What is certain is that both women paid tribute in their inaugural symphonies to Antonín Dvořák, composer of the ‘New World’ Symphony, also in E minor. In an interview given to the New York Herald on May 21, 1893, Dvořák had said:
In the Negro melodies of America, I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music. They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, bold, merry, gay or what you will. It is music that suits itself to any mood or purpose. There is nothing in the whole range of composition that cannot be supplied with themes from this source.
In 1938, Price wrote an essay making similar claims, citing specifically the spirituals:
“We are waking up to the fact, pregnant with possibilities, that we already have a folk music in the Negro spirituals—music which is potent, poignant, compelling. It is simple heart music, and therefore powerful.” Price followed Dvořák’s lead in eschewing direct quotation of folk songs, instead imbuing her music with their rhythms and character. Like Dvořák and Beach, she worked within a traditional European four-movement symphonic structure. Tonight, we perform the final two movements of Symphony No. 1: Juba Dance and Finale. The European model dictated that one of the two middle movements should be in a dance form. For Haydn, that usually meant a minuet. For a composer like Dvořák—who preferred to draw from Czech folk traditions—it often meant a Furiant. It was the Juba dance that filled that role for Florence Price. The Juba dance was part of her musical upbringing in the South. It features stomping feet and body percussion of all sorts. In its active footwork and strong syncopations, the Juba dance is a clear precursor to African-derived forms of American dance, including tap dance, jazz, and hip-hop.
The Finale of Price’s symphony is a perpetual-motion showstopper, echoing folk dance-inspired finales of composers before her. Both Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsakov had used the tarantella, for instance, to create exciting symphonic finishes: Mendelssohn in his ‘Italian’ symphony and Rimsky-Korsakov in Sheherazade. After the strings introduce the up-tempo main theme, clarinets, and then a horn, sing a contrasting tune, accompanied by plucked strings in imitation of a banjo. Trumpet, flute, and oboe offer their own versions of the lyrical theme. Soon the quick dance tune returns, and is run through ever-more virtuosic variations until its quicksilver athleticism becomes all that matters, in a ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ sort of way.
Manuel de Falla was Andalusian by birth, and by temperament. Almost all his early works draw on folk elements derived from various regions of Spain, but his primary focus was his native Andalusia. Falla was part of a decades-long movement of creating distinctly Spanish work in the lineage of Isaac Albéniz (Ibéria), Francisco Tárrega (Recuerdos de la Alhambra), and Enrique Granados (Goyescas). But Falla was the only composer of this group to excel in orchestration, a skill he absorbed during the seven years he lived in Paris, where he befriended such composers as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky.
The relationship of Falla’s music to the culture of the Roma—the preferred name of a people often referred to as ‘Gypsy’ (Spanish: ‘Gitano’)—is complicated. The role of Roma culture in Spain is itself complicated, and fraught with misunderstanding and prejudice. Falla knew Roma performers from his youngest days. As with Roma performers in Hungary, the music and dance they performed in Andalusia was adapted from local styles. “It was not originally theirs, but was nonetheless their creation,” writes Angus Fraser (The Gypsies). The ongoing legacy of Roma music and dance in Spain is flamenco, with, at its core, an expressive technique known as cante jondo (‘deep song’). The term holds within it the mysteries of duende, an untranslatable word related to the passion and deep suffering of a people. According to Fraser, Falla described cante jondo as “compounded with Byzantine liturgical, Arab, and Gypsy elements… Its motifs, couched in laconic defiance and compressed ambiguity, were love, loyalty, pride, jealousy, revenge, freedom, persecution, sorrow, death.” Federico García Lorca once characterized cante jondo as “the sound of gushing blood.”
In an interview before the premiere of El amor brujo, Falla said, “The work is eminently Gitano… I have tried to live it as a Gitano, to feel it honestly, and I have not made use of any elements other than those that I have believed to express the soul of the race.” Falla often said that he wished to go to the core of folk expression, to distill its essence into the purest possible form, free of anything alien or inauthentic. In El amor brujo, he created music that is both spare and emotionally charged. It is remarkable for its economy and for its expressive force.
In 1914, the well-known flamenco artist Pastora Imperio invited Falla to collaborate with the poet Gregorio Sierra to create a set of songs based on traditional Roma stories. The two became so enthralled with the idea that they decided to expand their co-creation into a zarzuela, a uniquely Spanish form of theater incorporating song, dance, and spoken word. The playwright Gregorio Martínez Sierra devised the scenario, of which he wrote the following description: “The beautiful gypsy girl Candelas loves the young Carmelo. But each time that she wants to throw herself into his arms, she sees the menacing specter of a man she once loved who continues to torment her after his death. However, a devoted friend, Lucia, agrees to turn the attention of the specter upon herself, thus freeing Candelas from this posthumous influence. Candelas joins the young Carmelo and disappears with him.”
Falla’s original version of El amor brujo was scored for a chamber ensemble of fifteen players. Over the course of a decade—following the premiere of the first version in 1915—he continually revised the work. Eventually, he created no fewer than nine different versions, including a ballet for expanded orchestra that premiered in Paris in 1925. This is the version that is best known today, and the one that we perform tonight. We are thrilled to welcome mezzo-soprano Ann McMahon Quintero in a return engagement. Ann first performed with the Landmarks Orchestra last summer in the Verdi Requiem.
Flamenco dancer Yosi Karahashi made her debut with the Landmarks Orchestra as part of last season’s finale, dancing to music from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. While a student in her native Japan, Yosi chose to travel to Spain to learn the art of flamenco. She ended up staying there for sixteen years, studying at the legendary flamenco school, Amor de Dios in Madrid. She now makes her home in Boston. “Having the opportunity to choreograph and perform in El amor brujo with Christopher Wilkins and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra is a dream come true as a dancer, choreographer and dress designer,” she writes. “No other composer has shown the essence of Spain so perfectly: so full of energy and passion. In working on El amor brujo, I have had to draw intensely from all my experience, creating a kind of mirror that reflects myself, my training, and my background. It has been my special pleasure to design the costumes for this performance as well.”
Introduction and Scene
The Introduction of El amor brujo is modeled on the Spanish paso doble (‘double step’), a type of music well known from the traditional opening of a bullfight. A trumpet blares out a portentous fanfare as strings and piano imitate the powerful flourishes of guitars.
In the Cave—Night
In a seaside cave in Cádiz, Candelas sits with an old Roma woman. Candelas believes that the sounds of the ocean portend ill, but her venerable companion assures her that the sea says nothing.
Song of a Broken Heart
¡Ay! Yo no sé qué siento,
Ay! I don’t know what I feel,
Candelas senses the presence of the ghost of her former lover, a specter that has been intruding in her encounters with a new lover, Carmelo.
Dance of Terror
Candelas dances with her tormentor.
The Magic Circle
The ghost vanishes. Candelas goes to the cave of a witch, who relates to her “The Tale of the Fisherman.” It is a story of innocence, of first love.
At Midnight—The Spells
A clock in the village strikes midnight.
Ritual Fire Dance
Candelas performs a dance of exorcism to drive away her phantom lover.
An oboe imitates a flamenco singer. The strings issue a warning, recalling the music of the introduction. A flute quotes the music of the old lady in the cave.
Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp
Lo mismo que er fuego fatuo,
Like the will-o’-the-wisp,
The trumpet fanfare of the Introduction returns. Candelas’s new lover, Carmelo, has an idea. He will create a decoy in order to distract the ghost. He invites Lucia, friend of Candelas, to dance with them both.
Dance of the Game of Love
Tu eres aquel mal Gitano
You are the evil gypsy
Finale—Bells of Dawn
The specter reappears, but this time his eye falls on the lovely Lucia. Carmelo declares himself to Candelas. As church bells signal the dawn, they exchange a kiss of perfect love.
¡Ya está despuntando el día!
Dawn is breaking!
Following intermission, we premiere a work that is the result of an exciting process of teamwork. The much-admired composer and teacher Devin Ferreira, advisor and friend to the Landmarks Orchestra, writes, “Jake Gunnar Walsh and I wrote Full Circle for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra with participation from the youth of Camp Harbor View. The orchestral writing was generated from recordings of my original hip-hop music, which was then transcribed, arranged, and orchestrated by Jake in three separate movements. Our goal was to express the style and sounds of hip-hop using the instruments of the symphony orchestra. Recordings of my beatboxing are transformed from vocal sounds to orchestral percussion, plucked pizzicato strings, and low brass. Some of my tracks featuring expansive chords on the synthesizer are now played by the full string section. Colorful bursts from the woodwinds and mallet percussion assume the role of high frequency electronic components of hip-hop music. The orchestral brass act as both a powerful horn section and as the hardcore bass drop that characterizes so much hip-hop music. At a glance, hip-hop and classical music might seem to have little in common—and yet, in our compositional process, we found many more similarities between the two styles than meets the eye and ear.”
Another longtime collaborator of the Landmarks Orchestra—and with Devin Ferreira—is the composer, drummer, teacher, and all-around creative force, Ryan Edwards. Ryan has been an enthusiastic collaborator with the Landmarks Orchestra for many years, especially in recent partnerships with Camp Harbor View. He describes another important aspect of tonight’s presentation: “Our performance features projected mapping video and visual animation created by Boston’s own MASARY Studios. MASARY members Sam Okerstrom-Lang and Ryan Edwards, along with Jeremy Stewart, travelled to Camp Harbor View to capture video content reflecting the vibrancy of the camp’s island setting. Out of that content, they have created original work to project onto the iconic Hatch Shell. Additional 3D animations were created by Samo and Philip Gedarovich specifically to work with the Hatch Shell’s architecture, adding a magical spectacle to dance with the music and form. MASARY is a Boston-based creative team specializing in artworks that span light, sound, performance and interactivity.” To learn more about MASARY Studios, visit www.masarystudios.com
Ashleigh Gordon and Anthony R. Green, Co-Founders/Directors of Castle of our Skins, explain the origins of the next work, Choucoune:
“As neighborhood artists through the Celebrity Series of Boston, we have collaborated with a host of youth organizations celebrating folk songs from the African diaspora. In 2018, we teamed up with the Conservatory Lab Charter School for the Series’ annual Dorchester String Fest, offering our strings-only mix of traditional folk songs. Tonight, you’ll hear Choucoune, a traditional Haitian song of unrequited love with original lyrics by the Haitian poet laureate Oswald Durand that we arranged and performed for that event. Set to music in 1893 by Haitian-American composer Michel Mauleart Monton, this slow love song has gone through a dramatic transformation since its first performance that year in Port-au-Prince. Known more commonly as the lively calypso “Yellow Bird,” it was adapted—with unrelated English lyrics—by the American lyricist duo Alan and Marilyn Bergman and arranger/choral director Norman Luboff. Later recorded by such artists as Chris Issak, Lawrence Welk, and Harry Belafonte, their adapted version grew in popularity, becoming a hit in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. Wanting to pay tribute to the song’s roots, this arrangement by Castle of our Skins Composer-in-Residence Anthony R. Green displays a slower nostalgic side as expressed in the original Haitian poem and song.”
Our performance of Choucoune has come about through a four-way partnership. We are joined onstage by young members of the Dudamel Orchestra of the Conservatory Lab Charter School. CLCS represents the longest-running performing partnership in our history. In addition, a quartet of professional musicians from Castle of our Skins has helped coach their younger colleagues, and they join us on stage as well. Finally, it is an honor to host the professional dancers of JAE, Jean Appolon Expressions. We have looked forward to partnering with Jean and his company for several years. It is a deep pleasure to know that our plans are finally coming to fruition tonight
Papa Loko is a traditional Haitian folk song. It was chosen by Jean Appolon as a moving and authentic tribute to traditional Haitian culture, choreographing the work especially for this performance. Tonight, we give the world premiere of a new orchestration of Papa Loko by a longtime Landmarks collaborator, the composer Gonzalo Grau. Gonzalo’s arrangement is inspired by a version recorded by Haitian singer Toto Bissainthe. In Vodou culture, Papa Loko is a presiding spirit, overseeing ceremonies, rituals, and magic.
The brilliant young professional dancers of Boston Ballet II—in choreography created by Associate Director, Peter Stark—perform to another Arthur Fiedler favorite, Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda. It’s one of those pieces everyone knows, even if most people have no idea how they know it. Like Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain—performed here last week—the Dance of the Hours was featured in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia. There it featured dancing gators and hippos in tutus. The work was also an unlikely star vehicle for comedian Allan Sherman, whose “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” climbed all the way to #2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart in the summer of 1963. Sherman sang the first tune of the ballet to original lyrics that imagine a boy writing home to lodge various complaints about life at a summer camp. Go figguh.
Peter Stark writes,
Maestro Wilkins and I worked together a decade ago in Orlando, FL where I was Orlando Ballet School director and Chris was conductor of the Orlando Philharmonic. Together we presented Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, choreographed by the late Richard Cook, a faculty member at The Juilliard School. Cook created the ballet for Jonathan Stafford, then a 15-year-old Juilliard student. Stafford went on to a professional career with New York City Ballet, and was recently appointed artistic director there. It is a thrill to bring this classical ballet to Boston with the emerging dancers of Boston Ballet II.
The spiritual contagion Lisztomania was a widely-diagnosed affliction reported throughout Europe in the 1840’s. Anyone exposed to live performances by pianist Franz Liszt was susceptible, though females were the far more vulnerable sex. “A veritable insanity,” was how Heinrich Heine described it, “one unheard of in the annals of furore!” Certain traits in Liszt’s personal profile were cited more than others as contributing factors. These included his handsome physique; animal magnetism; aphrodisiacal charisma; virtuoso showmanship; and presumed amiable relations with the devil. His piano playing was also sometimes mentioned.
In addition to the extraordinary fame Liszt enjoyed throughout the European continent, he was considered a national hero in his native Hungary—this despite the fact that he hardly ever lived there and spoke German as his first language. Occasionally he gave recitals attired in traditional Hungarian folk dress, a spectacle that was part patriotism, part stagecraft, and part publicity stunt. But it earned him the undying affection of many independence-minded Hungarians during the runup to the Revolution of 1848, an event already mentioned in connection with Brahms.
As a composer, Liszt was deeply drawn to Hungarian folk music and to the csárdás. The csárdás evolved from the eighteenth-century genre of verbunkos, performed as a recruiting dance by members of the Hungarian military. Its intent was to create an alluring picture of life in the Hungarian military by showing off the physical prowess of the performers. The setting was usually a tavern, or any locale with an atmosphere of good-natured fellowship. A standard csárdás is made up of multiple sections, with constant variations of tempo between them. The pace invariably picks up toward the end, culminating in a rousing finish.
Most of the nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies Liszt composed for solo piano are built on the structure of the csárdás. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is among the most recognizable works in the literature. Arthur Fiedler recorded it in 1960 with the Boston Pops, on an LP called The Music of Franz Liszt. But the work is also well known as the soundtrack to the 1947 Oscar-winning animated short, “The Cat Concerto,” directed by Hanna and Barbera. In case you’re wondering, this Tom and Jerry classic is the best cat video ever. And it was made before there were cat videos. It is hilarious and musically shrewd, and worth seven minutes of your day. Though be warned, you may end up watching it more than once.
In Karl Müller-Berghaus’s popular orchestration, the key of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is shifted down a half step, from C# minor to C minor. The new key is far more flattering to the string section, as you can hear in the ringing of all the low open G strings about twenty seconds into the work. After a dramatic Introduction, the first main section, called Lassan (“slow” in Hungarian), offers a resplendent image of masculine allure. This is the essence of verbunkos, and an expressive mode that was second nature to Liszt. Phrases are open-ended, allowing for showy displays of virtuosity. There is a short cadenza—a quasi-improvised solo phrase—for the cello section at the end of the first long phrase. And then three additional cadenzas highlight the solo clarinet, a choice of instrument that suggests the tárogató, a traditional Hungarian folk instrument. The solo oboe begins the quicker Friska (“fresh” in Hungarian). The pace is restrained, but the simple rhythm invites elaboration and acceleration, creating the “you-can-hear-it-coming” effect so essential to the csárdás. Soon the dance develops into a rollick for full orchestra, as even the trombones demonstrate their prowess as high-kicking Hussars. The tempo slackens for a moment toward the finish, only to mount a final assault in the coda. The speed pushes the endurance of the performers near to the breaking point, or possibly beyond. Liszt provides a series of six chords—three slow, three fast—for the full company bow.
The Hatch Shell is associated in the memories of many Bostonians with Arthur Fiedler, whose giant bust stares out at the Hatch Shell just a few steps away. Maestro Fiedler started the tradition of free orchestral concerts on the Esplanade in 1929, when he conducted an ensemble made up of members of the Boston Symphony, dubbed the Boston Sinfonietta. We conclude our 2019 season with two of Maestro Fiedler’s favorites. In his very first season at this venue—on August 3, 1929—he closed his program with a performance of the Dance of the Hours. And what is that familiar catchy music that we perform tonight as an encore? If you’ve made it this far in the Podium Note, you have earned a right to know: Leroy Anderson’s Fiddle Faddle.
Christopher Wilkins was appointed Music Director of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in the spring of 2011. Since then the orchestra has helped reaffirm founder Charles Ansbacher’s vision of making great music accessible to the whole community.