The Colorful Music of Russia :: Concert Preview No. 2

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the final entry of the “Musings” for the “The Colorful Music of Russia” concert that will be performed on Sunday, February 16, 2020.

Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36

Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky

Pretend for a moment that you are Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor and you’ve won a Grammy for “Most Dramatic Symphony Ever”… or something.

Look, just work with me for a moment.

Your award acceptance speech might go something like this:

“I’d like to thank Rudolph Kündinger for the early private musical lessons that my composer took even, though he never really believed Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) would amount to anything. I’d like to thank the Russian Musical Society and the St. Petersburg Conservatory for not only providing him with an opportunity to further his musical studies but saving him from a life as a civil servant. Next, I’d like to thank his fellow Russian composers for recognizing his talent and even allowing their own works to be influenced by his new style of writing music like me. This group includes that august cadre of nationalist composers known as “The Five.” You know who you are.

(At this point the you wink at composers Balakirev, Cui, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and also Mussorgsky who—once again—has shown up drunk to the event.)

“Next, I’d like to thank my composer’s dear friend and confidant, Nadezhda von Meck, who stood by him through the tough times, especially that rather unfortunate marriage to that sweet girl, Antonina Miliukova. I recall she was a fine singer but really didn’t understand what she was getting into with him. It was a mess and didn’t last long at all, even by celebrity marriage standards. Anyway, thanks Madame von Meck, for inspiring my composer to work and financially supporting him so he could forge on. I’ll never forget that time you pestered him for an explanation of ‘our’ symphony even though he really didn’t have a specific program. Remember what he wrote to you?:

‘Fate, the decisive force which prevents our hopes of happiness from being realized, which watches jealously to see that our bliss and peace are not complete and unclouded, and which, like the sword of Damocles, is suspended over our heads and perpetually poisons our souls.’

“Dude… a bit much, no?

“Finally, I’d like to thank Almighty Beethoven for the influence that helped fashion that fate theme you all hear at the beginning of the first movement and keep bringing back, much the same way Beethoven used his famous four-note motif. I think it’s the most important part of my compositional structure as a symphony. I do have to mention the oboe solo that sets off my second movement and the unprecedented use of pizzicato in the Scherzo were pretty clever (by the way, the piccolo player would like a little more time playing instead of having to wait two-and-a-half movements before she plays a note—just sayin’). Even though my composer will likely go on to write some great music after me, I would wager that there will be no more exciting ending to a symphony than what he has me do in the Finale. Wow… talk about throwing in the kitchen sink…. good times, good times.”

At this point you make some rambling statements about the Tsar of Russia before you get hustled off the stage by the show’s producers.

A black and white photograph of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composer

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “The Colorful Music of Russia” featuring BSO Concertmaster Michael Sutton as soloist. The concert takes place on Sunday, February 16, 2020, at 3 p.m., at the Gideon S. Ives Auditorium at the Masonic Heritage Center (11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Masonic Heritage Center Box Office, or by calling 952-948-6506.

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The Colorful Music of Russia :: Concert Preview No. 1

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the first entry of the “Musings” for the “The Colorful Music of Russia” concert that will be performed on Sunday, February 16, 2020.

Two Works by Dmitri Kabalevsky

This concert by the BSO partially features a look into two well-known works by Soviet composer Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987). He, like several other Russian composers, can truly be considered a child of two revolutions, as he began his formal studies in music at the Scriabin School at the age of 15 and later, at the Moscow School.

A black and white photograph of Dmitri Kabalevsky, with his autograph written in blue ink over his chest.
Dmitri Kabalevsky, composer

Upon listening, you can hear that his music is different from that of Shostakovich or Prokofiev even though they were contemporaries. He doesn’t challenge the listener to intensely private moments portrayed in his music or stir the queries of whether there are hidden meanings within it. His music is lyrical, yet never filled with the angst we associate with so many other Soviet composers of the time and hints more at trips to the circus in his youth. There is an enjoyable predictability when compared to other composers that grew up and developed at the same time in the same place as Kabalevsky. It is important to note that Kabalevsky was and still is, recognized for the piano music he composed for children, helping to hone their skills through fingerings and melodic lines that suited young hands with an emphasis on flowing melody lines and harmonies.

The Overture to Colas Breugnon (1938) is a pre-war romp based on the writings of French author Romain Rolland that became Kabalevsky’s first operatic venture. You could say that the boundless optimism of the protagonist suited Kabalevsky’s personality quite well and his music captures Colas’ personality perfectly. It is an early work that required the revisions it received in 1968 but the Overture has remained a concertgoer favorite ever since.

The Violin Concerto in C Major (1948) is a post-war, three-movement work that grabs you by the collar at its opening, releases you only briefly for one poignant slow movement, and then lifts you onto horseback for a wild ride, scimitar and all. Originally written for Igor Bezrodny, a budding Soviet violinist, the work immediately drew praise for the youthful optimism it displays from the start with its Spanish-style rhythms. It is a conversational work that features solo instruments within the orchestra to chatter back and forth with the primary violin solo part. The B? major second movement seems to not be able to contain its penchant for joy (even though it tries to be serious at first!) but remembers its role as a contrasting movement and settles down into peaceful beauty. For the finale, one is advised to buckle up for aforementioned ride, as Kabalevsky alternates from major to minor themes and larger-than-life characters culminating in a cadenza that invite “parental” admonishments from the orchestra. Like a clever child, however, the violin melts the heart and helps us end in youthful triumph, smiles abounding.

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “The Colorful Music of Russia” featuring BSO Concertmaster Michael Sutton as soloist. The concert takes place on Sunday, February 16, 2020, at 3 p.m., at the Gideon S. Ives Auditorium at the Masonic Heritage Center (11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Masonic Heritage Center Box Office, or by calling 952-948-6506.

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New Works and Old Friends :: Concert Preview No. 3

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the third entry of the “Musings” for the “New Works and Old Friends” concert that will be performed on Sunday, October 6, 2019.

When you think of composers who had a large output of music of all types, one has to go to the usual suspects like Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. If one was to further assume that it was one of those aforementioned gentlemen who held some sort of record for the most music written, you would be close but this is serious musicological business, not horse shoes. Nay, that record has to go to Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) with about 900 pieces of music to his credit! This is not bad, considering that the young Georg was almost prevented from fulfilling his desire to be a great musician by his mother who believed that no good could come of this music obsession he had. My favorite quote about that was the admonition from some of the congregants from the Lutheran church he attended that he would turn out “a clown, a tightrope walker or a marmot trainer.” Never have seen a trained marmot, I don’t know that I would have minded that he learn the craft. At any rate, rodents were not in Telemann’s future and he set about studying a wide variety if musical instruments on his own in secret. He wrote and wrote as he matured and traveled to work in many important musical capacities for the great and near great. This came with a cost, however of a couple of marriages that didn’t end well. He did live a long life, dying at the age of 88.

A black and white etching of composer Georg Philipp Telemann wearing a white powdered wig and robes over his writing outfit
Georg Philipp Telemann

Telemann left us with a cornerstone of the viola repertoire, his Concerto for Viola in G Major which was written over a five year period between 1716 and 1721. I’m not sure what the hold up was, but it was the first concerto ever written for the instrument and I suppose he wanted to make sure he got it right. Apparently he did, since the four-movement, slow-fast-slow-fast structure was very appealing. The concerto exploits the wonderful alto voice of the instrument under a variety of articulations and sentiments. If you listen carefully, it will seem that the viola has a uniquely human character and it is perhaps that quality that makes it such a compelling voice to hear in the relationship between instrument and chamber orchestra.

African American violist George Taylor, wearing a robin's egg blue button down shirt, navy suit coat and holding his viola, stands against a colorful wallpapered wall.
George Taylor, viola soloist for the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra concert “New Works and Old Friends” on Sunday, October 6.

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “New Works and Old Friends” featuring Eastman School of Music Viola Professor George Taylor as soloist. The concert takes place on Sunday, October 6, 2019, at 3 p.m., at the Gideon S. Ives Auditorium at the Masonic Heritage Center (11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Masonic Heritage Center Box Office, or by calling 952-948-6506.

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New Works and Old Friends :: Concert Preview No. 2

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the second entry of the “Musings” for the “New Works and Old Friends” concert that will be performed on Sunday, October 6, 2019.

It is always an interesting debate to discuss what makes composers free in terms of how they express themselves. Are they free when they latch on to a current convention, perhaps writing in a style that is challenging for challenge’s sake? Are they freest when they write for themselves or the listener? This is the debate you may have when you listen to the music of Adolphus Hailstork (born 1941 in Rochester, NY). Hailstork is a true eclectic, as he doesn’t seem to feel the need to wed himself to any one musical language. He is at home in any structure he chooses to write.

African American composer Adolphus Hailstork, wearing a black tuxedo, against an ivory colored background
Adolphus Hailstork, composer

His works cover the gamut of styles and types of ensembles available for musical expression. He has written for band, orchestra, chorus, vocal soloists, and an array of chamber ensembles. This is reasonable, given his equally diverse mentors with whom he studied beginning in the early 1960’s including luminaries such as Nadia Boulanger, who was a prime influence for Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland, for example. He also worked with American composers David Diamond and Vittorio Giannini. What you think Hailstork “sounds like” really depends on which of his works you happen to be listening to.

Today, you will listen to his foray into the tonal qualities of the viola with chamber orchestra in Two Romances for Viola and Chamber Ensemble. His conversational and flowing style is a bit like the musical version of a color wheel which holds a melody that wafts from one instrument or sections of the orchestra to the solo viola. The BSO is proud to join the ranks of the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony, and Detroit Symphonies, to name a few, in this celebration of the music of one of our own American composers.

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “New Works and Old Friends” featuring Eastman School of Music Viola Professor George Taylor as soloist. The concert takes place on Sunday, October 6, 2019, at 3 p.m., at the Gideon S. Ives Auditorium at the Masonic Heritage Center (11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Masonic Heritage Center Box Office, or by calling 952-948-6506.

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New Works and Old Friends :: Concert Preview No. 1

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the first edition of the “Musings” for the “New Works and Old Friends” concert that will be performed on Sunday, October 6, 2019.

At first blush, there doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about the development of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) from a budding violinist to Denmark’s best-known composer. In fact, critic Michael Steinberg’s description of the three year-old boy’s fascination with the different pitches coming from striking fire logs is downright cute. It sounds like something that could happen at anyone’s home today. His interest in the violin and the impressive qualities of the piano gave him an outlet for his expression that gave way to composition after the hearing the great masterworks during his teen years. He developed his ear and his talent at the Copenhagen Conservatory, earning money playing at Tivoli Gardens and even learning to conduct well enough to achieve respect among his peer musicians. His output was generous and undeniable in invention and in quality with six symphonies, several diverse concerti, chamber music works, and operas that put him at the top of the Danish musical food chain.

A black and white photograph of Danish composer Carl Nielsen from 1931
Carl Nielsen, composer

In his three-act comic opera, Maskarade, Nielsen seems to have taken his cue form the light wit of Johann Strauss Jr.’s operetta, Die Fledermaus, as a cue for some of his plot. It is essentially a farce revolving around, you guessed it, mistaken identities. The gist of the plot involves Leander and Leonora, who have met at a dance and become smitten with each other. Now this would be fine except that it was a masquerade ball and the infatuated pair wore masks. They had no way of knowing that they had already been promised one to the other by their fathers! Well no matter, as they have two more acts to get it all straight so that a happy ending can be declared with a final chorus of triumph and laughter. If only life were like that: confusion and bumbling that always ends up with song and a champagne toast in a scant three hours!

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “New Works and Old Friends” featuring Eastman School of Music Viola Professor George Taylor as soloist. The concert takes place on Sunday, October 6, 2019, at 3 p.m., at the Gideon S. Ives Auditorium at the Masonic Heritage Center (11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Masonic Heritage Center Box Office, or by calling 952-948-6506.

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