Driving percussion propels this energetic program led by Music Director Brett Mitchell. Ravel’s rhythmic Boléro, features many of our musicians in starring roles, including the ever-present snare drum which continues unabated throughout as the orchestra gradually builds in sound to an exultant conclusion. Christopher Theofanidis’ Drum Circles highlights a virtuosic dialogue between seven percussionists and the orchestra, creating a spatially, colorful rhythmic experience. Strauss’ not-so-subtly autobiographical Ein Heldenleben is laid out in six beautifully interconnected sections, each clearly defined in sound while telling the courageous story of its virtuous hero — Richard Strauss himself — in a bombastic finale to a thrilling performance.
The length of this performance is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. This includes one 20-minute intermission.
Repertoire & Program Notes
CHRISTOPHER THEOFANIDIS Drum Circles: Concerto for 7 Percussionists and Orchestra
R. STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life)
Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda:
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) | Boléro
Maurice Ravel was born on March 7, 1875 in Ciboure, France and died on December 28, 1937 in Paris. He composed Boléro between July and October 6, 1928 as a ballet on commission from the dancer Ida Rubinstein, who performed the premiere at the Paris Opéra on November 20, 1928; Walter Straram conducted. The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, oboe d’amore (alto oboe), English horn, E-flat clarinet, two B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, three saxophones, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, harp, and strings. Duration is about 17 minutes.
Ravel originated what he once called his “danse lascive” at the suggestion of Ida Rubinstein, the famed ballerina who also inspired works from Debussy, Honegger, and Stravinsky. Rubinstein’s balletic interpretation of Boléro, set in a rustic Spanish tavern, portrayed a voluptuous dancer whose stomps and whirls atop a table incite the men in the bar to mounting fervor. With growing intensity, they join in her dance until, in a brilliant coup de théâtre, knives are drawn and violence flares on stage at the moment near the end where the music modulates, breathtakingly, from the key of C to the key of E. So viscerally stirring was the combination of the powerful music and the ballerina’s suggestive dancing at the premiere (November 20, 1928) that a near-riot ensued between audience and performers, and Miss Rubinstein narrowly escaped injury. The usually reserved Pitts Sanborn reported that the American premiere, conducted by Arturo Toscanini at Carnegie Hall on November 14, 1929, had a similar effect on its hearers: “If it had been the custom to repeat a number at a symphonic concert, Boléro would surely have been encored, even at the risk of mass wreckage of the nerves.”
Of the musical nature of this magnificent study in hypnotic rhythm and orchestral sonority, Ravel wrote in 1931 to the critic M.D. Calvocoressi, “I am particularly desirous that there should be no misunderstanding about this work. It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from or anything more than it actually does achieve. Before its first performance, I issued a warning to the effect that what I had written was a piece lasting about seventeen minutes and consisting wholly of ‘orchestral tissue without music’ — of one long, very gradual crescendo. There are no contrasts, there is practically no invention except the plan and the manner of execution. The themes are altogether impersonal ... folktunes of the usual Spanish-Arabian kind, and (whatever may have been said to the contrary) the orchestral writing is simple and straightforward throughout, without the slightest attempt at virtuosity.... I have carried out exactly what I intended, and it is for listeners to take it or leave it.” Listeners have.
Christopher Theofanidis (b. 1967) | Drum Circles for Percussion Quartet and Orchestra
Christopher Theofanidis was born on December 18, 1967 in Dallas. He composed Drum Circles in 2019. It was premiered on March 9, 2019 in Portland by the Oregon Symphony with The Percussion Collective as soloists, conducted by Carlos Kalmar. The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings. Duration is about 25 minutes.
Christopher Theofanidis, one of America’s most prominent composers, was born in Dallas on December 18, 1967, and studied at the University of Houston (B.M.), Eastman School of Music (M.M.) and Yale University (M.A. and D.M.A.). He has served on the faculty of the Yale University School of Music since September 2008; his previous teaching appointments include the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Juilliard School, University of Houston, American Festival of the Arts, Texas Piano Institute, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and HighSCORE Festival in Italy. In summer 2014, he joined the faculty the Aspen Music Festival, where he is now Composer-in-Residence and Co-Director of the Composition Program. Theofanidis has held residencies with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, California Symphony and Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, and has also served as a delegate to the United States–Japan Foundation’s Leadership Program. His numerous awards include the Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, Barlow Prize, Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Bearns Prize of Columbia University, Fulbright Fellowship for study in France, six ASCAP Morton Gould Prizes, and a 2007 Grammy nomination for The Here and Now for chorus and orchestra, based on the poetry of Rumi. In October 2003, his Rainbow Body won the First Prize of £25,000 in the Masterprize Competition, a London-based, British-American partnership of EMI, London Symphony Orchestra, Gramophone magazine, Classic FM, and National Public Radio whose winner is chosen jointly by the public and a panel of experts; Rainbow Body has subsequently become one of the most frequently performed pieces by a living composer. Among Theofanidis’ commissions are compositions for the 25th anniversary of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., 700th anniversary of the Grimalkin Empire in Monaco, opening of Bass Hall in Fort Worth, 100th anniversary of the Oregon Symphony, and Heart of a Soldier for the San Francisco Opera in observance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Theofanidis said that Drum Circles, composed in 2019 on a joint commission from the Colorado Symphony, Hartford Symphony, Aspen Music Festival, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Curtis (Institute) Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra, and Oregon Symphony, “keeps coming back to the idea of dialogue and delight, and centers around the joy of sound and collaboration.” Drum Circles calls for a solo percussion quartet as well as three percussionists from the orchestra, and derives its title from the distribution of the instruments around the orchestra. Theofanidis commented, “I like the idea of definition of personality characteristics — the specific character of the music — threading through each movement. Each movement’s personality determines all the musical decisions I made, from timbre to rhythm to phrasing to melodic line…. The first movement, Rivers and Anthems, is a flood of bright clangorous chimes, bells, crotales [finger cymbals], vibraphone, xylophone; they’re playing ‘super melodies’ on top of these cascades of rivers. In contrast, Sparks and Chants features marimbas in a brittle environment created by ‘dry’ instruments: slats, woodblocks, and claves, while the orchestra focuses on strings. The central movement, How Can You Smile When You’re Deep in Thought?, has a bright, punchy sound, like something from the 1940s. Spirits and Drums is shockingly different. It’s ritualistic — all the soloists are playing drums [rather than pitched instruments]. The sound is somewhat threatening, with a lot of low sonorities. The orchestra’s strong statements are punctuated by silence and space. Three Chords and Truth (or, Learning to Breathe Again) is like contemporary country western music and also blues, which can say a lot with a very restricted number of chords played in different voicings. The movement is intimate and lyrical rather than going out with a bang.”
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) | Ein Heldenleben (“A Hero’s Life”), Op. 40
Richard Strauss was born on June 11, 1864 in Munich and died September 9, 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Ein Heldenleben was begun during the summer of 1898 and completed on December 27th of that year. The composer conducted the Orchestra of the Musikgesellschaft of Frankfurt-am-Main in the premiere on March 3, 1899. The score calls for piccolo, three flutes, four oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, two B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, eight horns, five trumpets, three trombones, tenor and bass tubas, timpani, percussion, two harps, and strings. Duration is about 43 minutes.
“No man is perhaps a hero to his valet; but Strauss is evidently a hero to himself.” The autobiographical nature of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben did not slip past Philip Hale, nor has it been less than obvious to anyone else. Literary autobiography and self-portraiture (à la Rembrandt) had been acceptable artistic genres for centuries. So why not music?
So why not Strauss? In 1898, the year of Ein Heldenleben, Strauss was the most talked-about composer in the world. This work was the seventh of his orchestral tone poems, each new arrival greeted with a flurry of international interest by press and public alike. They (Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Also sprach Zarathustra, et al.) were sensational works that carried programmatic music and the art of orchestration to heights that no one else, except Berlioz, had conceived. Strauss was also one of the preeminent conductors of the day, and when he composed Ein Heldenleben he was principal conductor of the Berlin Court Opera and past music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. He parlayed all these activities into an immense income, and it is quite likely that he was the wealthiest composer of concert music ever. With all this, he had a right to be proud.
Early in 1898, Strauss undertook to portray a general overview of the heroic spirit in a tone poem. He painted six aspects of this spirit in Ein Heldenleben. The first three sections portray the participating characters: “The Hero” (“his pride, emotional nature, iron will, richness of imagination, inflexible and well-directed determination supplant low-spirited and sullen obstinacy” noted the modest composer); “His Adversaries” (Strauss said nothing about them — the cackling, strident music speaks for itself); and “His Beloved” (“It’s my wife I wanted to show. She is very complex, very feminine, a little perverse, a little coquettish”). The fourth section, in which the hero girds his loins to do battle against his enemies, was considered the height of modernity when it was new. Section five is an ingenious review of at least thirty snippets selected by Strauss from nine of his earlier works. The finale tells of the hero’s withdrawal from the earthly struggles to reach “perfection in contemplative contentment,” in the obscure words of the composer.
For Strauss’ appearance as guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic in 1921, Lawrence Gilman prepared the following synopsis of Ein Heldenleben, to which the composer gave his approval:
“1. The Hero. We hear first the valorous theme of the Hero. Subsidiary themes picture his pride, depth of feeling, inflexibility, sensitiveness, imagination.
“2. The Hero’s Adversaries. Herein are pictured an envious and malicious crew, filled with all uncharitableness. The theme of the Hero appears in sad and meditative guise. But his dauntless courage soon reasserts itself, and the mocking hordes are put to rout.
“3. The Hero’s Companion. A solo violin introduces the Hero’s Beloved. After an earnest phrase heard again and again, the orchestra breaks into a love song of heroic sweep and passion. As the ecstasy subsides, the mocking voices of the foe are heard remotely.
“4. The Hero’s Battlefield. Suddenly the call to arms is heard. Distant fanfares (trumpets off-stage) summon the Hero to the conflict. The orchestra becomes a battlefield. A triumphant outburst proclaims his victory.
“5. The Hero’s Works of Peace. Now begins a celebration of the Hero’s victories of peace, suggesting his spiritual evolution and achievements. We hear quotations of themes from Strauss’ earlier works: reminiscences of Death and Transfiguration, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Macbeth, Also sprach Zarathustra, the music-drama Guntram, and the exquisite song Traum durch die Dämmerung (‘Dream at Twilight’).
“6. The Hero’s Retreat from the World, and Fulfillment. The tubas mutter the uncouth and sinister phrase that voices the dull contempt of the benighted adversaries. Furiously, the Hero rebels and the orchestra rages. His anger subsides. An agitated memory of storm and strife again disturbs his mood, but the solo violin reminds him of the consoling presence of the Beloved One. Peace descends upon the Hero’s spirit, and the finale is majestic and serene.”
©2019 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Brett Mitchell, conductor
The Percussion Collective
Preludes & Talkbacks
Preludes take place at 6:30 p.m. (FRI & SAT) and 12 p.m. (SUN) in Boettcher Concert Hall. This weekend's Preludes are hosted by Assistant Conductor Bertie Baigent who will share insight into the music.
There will be a Talkback on Friday, March 6, 2020.
Transportation & Parking
Boettcher Concert Hall is at the southwest end of the Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC) located at 14th and Curtis Streets in downtown Denver. It's easy to find and there are two large parking garages available within walking distance: the DPAC Garage and the Colorado Convention Center Garage. Please arrive early to ensure ease of parking and an on-time arrival. With numerous other events happening at the DPAC all the time, parking fills up quickly. Late arrivals will be seated during the first available break. We strongly encourage alternate forms of transportation.
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