Music Born of Adversity
Notes on the program
Over the past twelve years Palisades Virtuosi has created many concerts that bring together pieces of music to illustrate a theme. "Music Born of Adversity" includes works that were inspired by a multitude of life's emotions and that run the gamut of life experience from illness and situational conflict to unrequited love and racial subjugation.
Our first work,“L’Operation de Taille” by Marin Marais (1656-1728), tells the story of one person’s trepidation upon facing an 18th Century (YIKES!! - where’s the anesthesia??) bladder stone operation, complete with narrator to tell the tale and PV’s own interpretation of the existing continuo parts. The operation is described throughout a recitativo-like section and then once the patient has gone to rest, a joyous finale ensues.
We are delighted to present selections from Michelle Ekizian’s (b. 1956) new opera, Gorky’s Dream Garden, on the life of Arshile Gorky, the Armenian-American painter (b. 1904, Van, Turkey, d. 1948, Sherman, Ct.)--a founding father of abstract-expressionism and child witness to the Armenian Genocide. The opera was created for the upcoming Centennial Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Often referred to as the “forgotten genocide,” it was the first large-scale act of man’s inhumanity to man of the 20th century, which took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians living in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire, as well as hundreds of thousands of Greeks, Assyrians, Jews and Kurds. [Photo #1 below]
Orror Lullaby from ACT II, scene 5: A brooding Gorky absorbed in his art, and his American-born, ingenue wife, Agnes (18 years younger), are in the living room of their modernist Glass House in the suburbs of Connecticut. Their marital dichotomy is portrayed by Gorky’s singing of the Armenian lullaby “Orror” (Armenian: Gentle), and Agnes’ floating vocals in counterpoint bespeaking of her youthful bewilderment about her mysterious husband. Gorky is obsessed with creating drawings and paintings after a treasured childhood photo--of a nine-year old Gorky and his martyred mother Shushan in Van, 1914 before the Genocide in a mother and son portrait--that would come to be known as his seminal series, “The Artist and his Mother” (1926 – 1944). [Photos #2 & 3 below]
Strange Loop from ACTS I and II: Suggesting the curious turns of fate one encounters on the road of life, a haunting three-bar loop occurs at various turning points throughout the opera’s portrayal of Gorky’s rise, decline and spiraling ascent to a world beyond. [Photos #4 below]
The Real is Surreal Waltz: Charades from ACT II, scene 3: This number precedes ACT II’s closing “Orror Lullaby.” It’s music, a recurring theme in the opera, is in the Soviet era tradition of grand, exotic waltzes, and gives a nod to Aram Khachaturian’s great “Masquerade Waltz.” With the speaking voices of the cast over the music, the number portrays a cocktail party the couple gives in the Glass House in honor of Andre Breton. A flirtation blossoms between Agnes and Breton’s cocky Chilean protégé, Roberto Matta, during the party’s surrealist/Dadaist game of charades with sexual innuendos. Agnes finds Roberto’s whimsical spirit a refreshing change from Gorky’s morose. With his nostalgia welling up in him for his ancestral garden of his lost Armenian lands, Gorky only wants to dance to the lively folk music of The Fiddler by the Tree. [Photos #5 & 6 below]
–story set-ups by Michelle Ekizian
Funding for Michelle Ekizian’s participation has been made possible by the Puffin Foundation.
Alexander Scriabin's (1872-1915) exquisite Prelude in C# Minor for Left Hand, and its companion piece, the Nocturne in D Flat Major, were written during a period when the composer was suffering from tendonitis in his right hand, brought about by overpracticing for a concert tour. Relatively early in Scriabin's oeuvre, they are both redolent of Chopin; ironically, the virtuoso Josef Levinne, with whom Scriabin was in pianistic competition, was famous for his rendition of these pieces.
Unrequited love is the theme of Claude Debussy’s (1862-1918) “Syrinx” for solo flute. The young nymph, Syrinx, desperately trying to escape from the overtures of the Greek god Pan, begged the river gods to help her. They answered her plea by transforming her into hollow water reeds. When Pan breathed on them they made a haunting sound, so he cut them and created the first set of pan pipes. He then sat by the river and played, sadly mourning the loss of the beautiful maiden.
It has become well known that Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was plagued his entire life with various mental issues resulting in debilitating periods of mania or depression. Today he would most likely be considered Bi-Polar, a disorder that ran in his family and which friends (and particularly his famous wife Clara) went to great lengths to hide. Also clouding the issue is the fact that he contracted syphilis that most likely contributed to his final demise. Without the aid of today’s medications he found the release for his angst through his creative skills as a philosopher, writer, musician and particularly as composer. When not in a depressive "down" state he would funnel his energy into his music unleashing his expressive and romantic nature while utilizing the calming influences of structure as modeled by his greatest heroes: Bach and Beethoven. While there may be better examples of his manic depression in some of his other works there is definitely a sense of it here in the juxtaposition of the first and last movements of the Fantasiestücke Op. 73. The first movement begins in a dreamily introspective manner in the key of A minor. It is melancholy but ends with a sudden sense of hope in the key of A major. The last movement stays in A Major and exhibits a fiery passion, pushing along to a frenetic conclusion. These pieces are born out of a distinctly happier and prolific period of his life. When looking at a chart of his yearly output you can get an idea of when Robert was "on" or "off." The Fantasiestucke was composed in 1849, a year in which he was the most prolific, composing 27 works! This was following a period of 8 years in which he wrote no more than 6 works at most in a year and in some years none at all. After 1849, his productivity fell off again and just a few years later he died tragically in 1856 at the age of 46.
The hallmark of a PV’s concert is always the presentation of a newly commissioned work for flute, clarinet and piano, the main thrust of our "Mission to Commission" which has resulted in over 70 new works of music in just 12 years! This evening we present our signature newly commissioned work, “Dog Tales” by Californian and prize-winning composer, Adrienne Albert (b. 1941). Here are the composer’s notes:
When I was commissioned to compose a new work for the November, 2014 concert of Palisades Virtuosi, I was told that the theme of the concert was "Music Born of Adversity". Another holocaust piece, I thought? Or maybe something to do with Ebola? Oh no. Too depressing. How was I to know that, at that exact time, my rescue dog, Dodger, would run away from a friend's home miles from where we live. Frightened and trying to find his way back home, he ended up even further away. Good fortune smiled down upon us! A kind and generous dog lover found him and held him in his car until we made our way to pick up this tired animal who was totally dehydrated and exhausted from running miles to who-knows-where. Those who know Los Angeles and the enormous distances between places and the number of cars know that this little creature had to cross many four-to-six lane boulevards and streets before his little legs could carry him no further. As Tennessee Williams said "the kindness of strangers" was, in this case, what saved my precious dog. To the homeless lady who held him, to my friend who drove me to him, and to the man who kept him safe in his car, I forever thank them, wherever they are.
Each movement of "Dog Tales" has a story. The first movement, "Three Dog Night" refers to my dog-sitting for neighbors who have two dogs and go away frequently on long trips. One can only imagine what ensues during those long nights at my house trying to take care of three dogs. Hence, the irregular time signatures and the overlapping motifs. The second movement, "The Artful Dodger" is a tone poem to my dear dog who "artfully" managed to "dodge" the traffic and possible horrible outcomes on his journey. The last movement, "Mutt & Steff", is a short and, I think, humorous homage to a chihuahua (think small dog=piccolo) and a great dane (bass clarinet) who try to figure out how to get along and live together. It is with pleasure that I composed this work for Palisades Virtuosi, three outstanding and gifted musicians whose commitment to commissioning new works for their unusual ensemble is extraordinary.
By far the largest work on our program is Raymond Wojcik’s (1957-2014) “Between Worlds” commissioned and premiered by PV in 2010. PV released this work just this year on our 5th volume of commissioned works and happily Raymond was able to be with us for the CD Release event, we are thankful to have know this gentle kind man and thrilled that this monumental work has received high praise from reviewers of the CD. Raymond passed away in August of this year and we will miss him very much. We dedicate this performance tonight to his memory.
In the composer’s words: "Between Worlds" was written in 2010 as an expression of the massive disruption being diagnosed with cancer in 2006 has brought to my life. The work’s title suggests the simultaneous experience of personal upheaval while maintaining a seemingly “normal” life. It is primarily a dense, dark and conflicted work that ends with the most transcendent music I've ever written. However, it is not transcendence that I have actually achieved in my life, but that which I continue to seek – for my life has been permanently altered - physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, and it is this massive disruption that is given voice in "Between Worlds". The entire work is based upon and generated by the motive C-A-F#-C-E-Bb which I made to spell in music "cancer". One can trace the motive and its fragments throughout the course of the work. The beginning of the piece has the description "weightless" - disassociated, disembodied, music that conveys a state of shock where there is very little to hold on to. A few minutes into the piece the clarinet and flute play fragments of the "cancer motive" which then accelerates, grows chaotically and leads into a unison statement of the motive followed by very agitated music. A slowing down into a "music box" passage brings a quiet, but poignant tenderness recalling being with my then year old daughter after I learned of the awful news of my diagnosis. This section is followed by music of deep grief leading into a wildly passionate section. A return to the agitated music heard earlier completes this portion of the work.
The music comes to a dramatic halt and the "weightlessness" music returns leading to a section of ironic humor - a sardonic polka. In the polka I quote my myself with a fragment of a musical theme that I wrote when I was nine years old. After the polka’s last “thud” in the piano, a review of fragments from what has been heard before transpires. The final section is the apotheosis of the work built upon a repeated rhythmic pattern played on the piano. Over this pattern are intertwining lines in the flute and clarinet, full of yearning and longing. The music builds to a brief moment that touches transcendence but returns down from the heights while recalling the "cancer motive". A degree of acceptance and peace is implied while the piano plays its repeated pattern seemingly into eternity.—RW
Finally, racial subjugation and unrequited love go hand in hand with the well known story of Madam Butterfly as told through one of Puccini’s most beloved operas. The tragedy of beautiful Cho Cho San who could not face a life without her American officer when she discovered he had found a “proper” American wife and planned to take the child of their marriage to raise in America, resulted in her taking her life. Although the story is fiction it reflects the fate that many women from other countries have suffered during wartimes. We present selections from Madam Butterfly in “Sonata Cho-Cho San”, compiled and arranged by clarinetist Michael Webster (b. 1944).
MEET OUR FEATURED COMMISSIONED COMPOSER
Having collaborated with other composers as a singer, (Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass and Gunther Schuller to name a few), Adrienne Albert began composing her own music in the 1990s. Her music has been widely performed throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe, Australia, South America, Canada, Thailand, China and South Africa. The child of European trained professional violinists, Adrienne began studying the piano at age 4 and composition at 10. She had the good fortune to have had great teachers: for piano, Jacob Gimpel and Aube Tzerko in Los Angeles, Joanna Graudan at the Aspen Music School and early composition studies with Saul Kaplan and Leonard Stein. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in music performance and education. After enjoying a lengthy career performing other people’s music in Los Angeles and New York, she returned to L.A. to study composition with Stephen “Lucky” Mosko at CalArts and orchestration with Albert Harris. Adrienne says "Music has always been a central part of my life. Whether it has been performing, singing, or composing, it is the thread that weaves through each part of my being. I find joy in every form of music, and my life has been an eclectic patchwork of music ranging from avant- garde 20th century vocal and choral music to Baroque, ethnic, folk music, jazz, popular, and of course, classical music. We are each an amalgam of our pasts, influenced by our individual experiences, and I have been extremely fortunate in having an extraordinary past which informs my present and makes me look forward with great enthusiasm to the future.”
GUEST NARRATOR - JULIE SCHMIDT
Julie Schmidt, soprano and narrator, has performed the role of Carlotta Giudicelli to critical acclaim in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and in over forty cities across the nation. She was twice nominated for the Best Actress award by the League of American Theatres and Producers. She has also produced benefit concerts for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in St. Paul, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Houston. Ms. Schmidt has performed with the Greater Miami Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and numerous companies in the New York area. The Kansas native received her Bachelor’s Degrees summa cum laude in Voice and Theory-Composition from Wichita State University, and her Masters in Voice from Florida State University, and in 1990 was a recipient of a Kansas Cultural Trust Grant. She is currently on the voice faculty at the Mannes Conservatory in Manhattan, and maintains a private voice studio in New Jersey. Ms. Schmidt is married to clarinetist Donald Mokrynski and is mother to twins Kaete and Isabelle. Ms. Schmidt received her nursing degree from Bergen Community College in 2012.