April 7th, 2018 | 8:00 pm | Keefe Center for the Arts (Parking and Directions)
Sameer Patel, conductor
Michelle Trainor, soprano
Janna Baty, mezzo-soprano
Alan Schneider, tenor
Sam Handley, bass-baritone
with New World Chorale
BERNSTEIN Chichester Psalms
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9
Bernstein's Chichester Psalms reflects on human nature and the complexity of a global world, from the joyous Psalm 100 ("Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands") to Psalm 133 ("Behold how good and pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity"). Of course no piece of music is more well known that Beethoven's own comment on humanity; join Symphony NH to hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony live.
Sameer Patel is one of America's most exciting young conductors recognized for his versatile musicianship and passionate communication, currently Associate Conductor of San Diego Symphony.
In summer 2016, Sameer was selected among 120 conductors to study at Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. In 2013, he was one of only six selected by the League of American orchestras for the Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, which highlights emerging conductors.
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Listen to the Works
Click on the tracks below to listen to the music on this program.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Bernstein composed Chichester Psalms on commission from Chichester Cathedral, England, while on sabbatical from his position as Music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1965. In an interview in 1977, he noted that he had spent the better part of a year writing experimental music and while he was happy with “the new sounds coming out, after about 6 months I threw it all away. It just wasn’t my music; it wasn’t honest. The result was Chichester Psalms which is the most accessible B-flat majorist [sic] tonal piece that I’ve ever written”. He further described this work as “popular in feeling” with an old-fashioned sweetness along with its more violent moments”.
Chichester Psalms pairs Judaic liturgical tradition with vocal writing more commonly associated with Christian religious music. It has been noted that his combining these two traditions makes an implicit for peace. Bernstein calls for the text to be sung in Hebrew and there is no English translation in the score. Each of the three movements of the Chichester Psalms contains one complete psalm which is paired with excerpts from another. The first movement is based on Psalms 108 and 100. It begins with the phrase “Awake psaltery and harp: I will rouse the dawn” and leads to a scherzo-like dance. The number seven is important in Hebrew numerology and a seven-beat pattern underlies much of this movement, grouped as “One, two, three, four; one, two, three.”
The basis of the more lyrical second movement is Psalm 23, which begins: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want./He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,/He leadeth me beside the still waters,/He restoreth my soul,/He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness,/For His name's sake.” It is interesting to note that some of the music of this movement was taken from sketches from an unfinished Broadway musical “The Skin of Our Teeth” and one theme was adapted from material that had been cut from “West Side Story.”
The third movement is the longest and begins with a somewhat dissonant instrumental prelude that resolves to a more hushed and pastoral setting of Psalms 131 and 133. The principal themes of the first movement resurface in the gentle and peaceful coda of this work. The concluding quatrain “Behold how good/And how pleasant it is/For brethren to dwell/Together in Unity” is Bernstein’s life affirming hope for brotherhood and peace.
Symphony No. 9
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Here is a piece which seems so familiar to so many but bears hearing many times because there is always much more to discover. The Ninth looks forward to the musical future, yet it also provides a look backward to Beethoven’s own early career, and in the last movement not only to prior moments in the symphony itself but even to the historical predecessors of earlier musical eras.
Typical of Beethoven’s composing process, the Ninth took a long time to germinate. He started thinking about it in 1811 while composing the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. The scherzo second movement theme begin to make its appearance in his sketchbook around 1815, and by 1817 there was draft material for the first two movements. At that time he hadn’t decided what the final form might be, perhaps two symphonies, perhaps a purely instrumental work. In 1818 in his writings, he referred to the slow movement (which became the third movement) as an “Adagio Cantique,” perhaps having a notion of singers in that movement, or maybe just Beethoven’s well-known desire for a singing sound and vocal character in his long musical lines. Meanwhile, in 1823 he finished the Missa Solemnis, with sketches going back to 1819. The London Symphony sped the composing of the Ninth by offering Beethoven a commission to finish it by 1824.
Despite the London commission, the Ninth received its premiere in Vienna in 1824. Although by then totally deaf, Beethoven stood next to the conductor to give tempos. In a poignant moment at the end of the piece, he had to be reminded to stop conducting and turn to face the wildly appreciative audience.
The first movement, Allegro non troppo, un poco maestoso (Fast but not too fast, a little majestic) in duple time (two beats to the measure), begins with an open chord in the oscillating second violins and cellos punctuated by brief fanfare-like short/long interjections from the first violins, violas, and basses. Finally, after 17 measures, the orchestra finally lands in the D minor key of the piece and the movement presents the first theme, alternating the short/long with staccato eighth notes and forceful chords. A second section introduces more rapid sixteenth notes in ascending and descending scales. After a short return to the opening ideas, the movement propels into a rich development of the rapid and percussive motifs with occasional softer passages, and the movement ends with a final fortissimo statement of the main eighth note motif. The second movement, a Presto Scherzo in D minor triple time, begins with three loud statements of the main motif, by strings twice and then timpani. Following is a fugal section with the strings playing pianissimo. The score indicates that the very quick measures should be treated as either 3- or 4-measure groups. A trio in a very fast 4-beat meter in D Major starts very legato but then the quarter notes of the trio theme are played separated. After the repeat of the scherzo, the movement accelerates to the coda with the music of the trio, loud then soft then, after a big silent measure, 9 notes with everybody playing forte to end the movement. The third movement, Adagio e molto cantabile (singing) – Andante moderato – Adagio, is a classic Beethoven slow movement with often overlapping long musical lines and deep feeling. The Adagio sections are in 4/4 time, and alternate twice with Andante in 3/4 time. The movement finishes in 12/8, which is still 4 beats but each of the beats subdivided into 3 rather than 2. After the calm of the Adagio, the finale opens with a thunderous jolt of energy and dissonance. It is followed by a recitative played by the cellos and basses, but instead of the usual chords between the short phrases, Beethoven sequentially brings back the music of the first three movements. This radical opening is followed by the simplest of tunes in D Major also starting in the cellos and basses. This first set of variations on the Ode to Joy theme looks further backwards by presenting essentially a recapitulation of the history of western music. The initial statement of this famous melody is a single line with no accompaniment, much like a Gregorian chant. The next statement is joined contrapuntally by the violas and bassoon, the cello and bass part ways, and finally the violins join the increasingly complex counterpoint, all of which moves the musical language from the late medieval period through the Baroque. Next is a homophonic restatement (i.e. a single melody with chordal accompaniment), characteristic of the Classical era. This music becomes more excited, suddenly slows to a short lyrical section, and then rushes back to the explosion of the Presto music which opened the movement. The movement, now in the full throes of Romanticism, no longer looks back. The recitative reappears, sung by the bass baritone soloist rather than played. The text explains the dissonance: O Freunde, nicht diese Tone!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere stimmen/ und freudenvollere
Friends, Not these [harsh] sounds!
Rather let’s agree to [something] more pleasant and joyful
And the simple tune is now the setting for Schiller’s Ode to Joy, first with the bass baritone and then the rest of the solo vocal quartet:
Freude, schöner Götterfunken/ Tochter aus Elysium
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods, Daughter of Elysium
The movement continues with additional variations on this theme joined by the chorus in both the high and low parts of their vocal range. The main sections are:
• March in 6/8 (two beats per measure, subdivided in 3) in “Turkish style”, first with bassoon, contrabassoon, and bass drum, joined by cymbals and triangle, and then a full orchestra in a long fugal passage.
• Andante maestoso in a slower 3 beat measure – a chorale beginning with trombones, cello, and bass along with chorus tenors and basses, then joined by full chorus and orchestra with faster notes accompanying the chorale.
• Adagio ma non troppo, ma divoto [divine] - starts with violas, cellos, and woodwinds alternating loud and soft passages, ending pianissimo with quick notes in orchestra, almost tremolo in strings, accompanying chorale.
• Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato 6/4 – chorus soprano and alto with woodwinds in a chorale declamation, bassoons, first violins, and cello/bass in rapid note accompaniment.
• Allegro ma non tanto 4/4 beat in 2 – fast eighths, imitative, interrupted by short poco adagio twice, then accelerando to the final section.
• Prestissimo cut time – Finale – The chorus proclaims Götterfunken (spark of the Gods) twice and then leaves the final statement to the full orchestra with its own brief explosion no longer of dissonance but of joy.
Join us for Words on Music, a pre-concert discussion at the Nashua Public Library on Thursday, April 5th at 5:30 pm. Click HERE to learn more.
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