I started to compose Symphony No. 13 in the summer of 2020 in New York City. My life as a “symphonist” began 30 years ago in 1992 when, at the suggestion of conductor Dennis Russell Davies, I was commissioned to write my First Symphony. While I always thought of myself as a theater composer – which has the virtue of being true – it was Dennis that “didn’t want me to be one of those opera composers who never wrote a symphony.”
So while I have spent the majority of my creative life in theater in one form or another, through friendly coercion and also with great joy I have written a number of symphonies which were purely instrumental, as well as another group which included vocal materials or were based on outside material: poetry, wisdom traditions, and even popular music.
I first heard the National Arts Centre Orchestra live in 2016 at the Glenn Gould Prize concert when they performed my Symphony No. 8. I have had a home in Nova Scotia for over 50 years and come here every year. And a number of my pieces have premiered in Canada over the years. When invited by the NAC Orchestra to compose a new work, I began to think of a new full-scale instrumental symphony to be part of their program “Truth in Our Time.” The piece is part of the kind of music which I view to be a new body of work that started with Symphony No. 11 from five years ago. The journey continues to explore my own ideas about the language of music as it has evolved for me in the form of these symphonies.
What can a piece of music express about the idea of truth? When we consider a figure like Peter Jennings, a Canadian by birth, an immigrant, a journalist, an American by choice, rather than making a proclamation about “what is truth,” for the composer we are on much better ground when we talk about “This is the music that I listen to, this is the music that I like, and this is the music that I write.”
—Philip Glass, January 2022, New York City
The world premiere of the work was given by the NAC Orchestra in Toronto on March 30, 2022; followed by the U.S. premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York on April 5, 2022. Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 13 receives its Southam Hall debut on April 13 & 14, 2022.
Canadian Nicole Lizée (b. 1973) is an award-winning composer and video artist who creates new music from an eclectic mix of influences, including the earliest MTV videos, turntablism, rave culture, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Alexander McQueen, thrash metal, early video game culture, 1960s psychedelia, and 1960s modernism. Hailed by the CBC as a “brilliant musical scientist”, she is fascinated by the glitches made by outmoded and well-worn technology and captures these glitches, notates them, and integrates them into live performance. Lizée’s compositions range from works for orchestra and solo turntablist featuring DJ techniques fully notated and integrated into a concert music setting, to other unorthodox instrument combinations that include the Atari 2600 video game console, omnichords, stylophones, Simon™, vintage board games, and karaoke tapes. In the broad scope of her evolving oeuvre, she explores such themes as malfunction, reviving the obsolete, and the harnessing of imperfection and glitch to create a new kind of precision. Her commission list to date is comprised of over 50 works for numerous distinguished artists and ensembles.
Zeiss After Dark was a co-commission of the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, as one of 40 co-commissioned “Sesquies”—two-minute concert openers—to celebrate Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017. Premiered by the NAC Orchestra in Ottawa on February 23, 2017, it has since been performed by other ensembles. Lizée provides this description of her “Sesquie”:
Stanley Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott filmed the unprecedented “candlelight scene” in Barry Lyndon using three-wick candles as the only light source. The resulting scene was unlike any other in cinema history for its look—gauzy and akin to a moving oil painting. The creativity and technical ingenuity required to capture this decidedly organic effect was considerable. Cameras with custom-mounted Zeiss lenses designed for NASA were Kubrick’s solution to an almost insurmountable problem of light. In writing this piece, I imagined a sonic equivalent: a musical work that brings sound into focus through techniques that emulate the conditions involved in ultra lowlight—glow, flicker, bokeh—reimagined for orchestra.
Scored for woodwind, brass, timpani, and percussion, Lizée draws on their distinctive timbres (as well as requiring the musicians to hand clap) to musically capture this cinematic low light technique.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
III. Presto –
IV. Largo –
After Dmitry Shostakovich’s (1906–1975) Ninth Symphony premiered on November 3, 1945, by the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky, it was clear by critical reaction that what was heard was not what had been expected. To be sure, the composer initially projected a kind of “heroic victory symphony”, one that could effectively memorialize the contributions of the Soviet people in the war effort against Nazism. In the end, the Ninth seemed to fall short; its comparatively lighthearted character was deemed to be an inappropriate response to—and reflection of—the post-war mood. The Soviet cultural authorities appeared to have felt this, and in 1948, they barred the Ninth Symphony (and other works by Shostakovich) from further performance. Only after Stalin’s death in 1953 was the ban lifted; the work was featured in concerts again beginning in 1955.
It’s possible that it was thought the Ninth Symphony would display, for example, a clearly defined emotional arc of victory over suffering. However, even such tropes are never just what they are at face value in Shostakovich’s music. There is frequently embedded a subtext of dark irony, which the composer honed from years of writing music under the deep scrutiny of Stalin and his Party. It’s worth considering that Shostakovich was aware that writing a “heroic victory symphony” would mean celebrating Stalin and his Party, who had previously murdered thousands, and whose oppressive regime, under which the composer had already suffered a very public denunciation in 1936, would resume after the war. Thus, it seemed impossible to create such a work while providing an authentic emotional outlet for what the Soviet people had been through. Perhaps, then, the bitter irony of this situation can only be expressed by the darkly humorous music of the Ninth.
The opening Allegro is a comic affair with two main themes: a jaunty motif introduced by the first violins, and later, a cheeky tune piped by the piccolo, announced boisterously by the trombone with timpani and snare drum. (One can’t help but hear circus music in the latter.) Tension builds as the themes develop, becoming caricatures of themselves as they reach a frenzied climax. The key melodies are reprised but given new instrumentation and context, the movement’s darker edge becomes more evident.
Solo clarinet begins the second movement with a kind of melancholy, off-kilter waltz melody, which is then taken up by the flute, along with the bassoon. The strings lumber in with an anxious ascending passage, over which oboe and clarinet rise in lament. Solo flute brings back the main theme, after which the strings’ lumbering passage also returns, but at a higher register; they break through to an ethereal peak. The piccolo closes the movement with a plaintive final rendition of the opening melody.
The last three movements are played through without pause. The Presto is a highly theatrical Scherzo of mercurial brilliance. Solo clarinet takes the lead again, this time with a sparkling theme, which is then played by woodwinds, and later, strings. In the trio, the trumpet blasts a lampoon of a song tune. After the Scherzo’s return, the pace slows and the mood takes a solemn turn, leading into the fourth movement, which begins with a stentorian passage of menacing dotted rhythms played by trombones and tuba. This ominous “announcement” alternates with a meditative bassoon solo of elegiac quality. Is this music looking back at the war or forward, as a portent of things to come? Whatever it is, it doesn’t dwell here for long. As if shaking off bad memories or future concerns, the bassoon starts the finale with a charming tune, which is reprised throughout in various guises. The strings later present a robust theme. Gradually, the orchestra advances with the main melody; the pace suddenly quickens, eventually reaching a climax—the light-stepping tune now a military march. (Whether this is an authentic or forced celebration is open to interpretation). The tempo picks up again, and the orchestra scampers to the symphony’s end.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
I. Moderato nobile
Erich Korngold (1897–1957) composed his Violin Concerto during the summer of 1945. At the time, he was living in Hollywood with his family, in exile from his native Vienna since 1938, away from the Second World War being fought in Europe. He dedicated the work to Alma Mahler-Werfel, a friend, and also a recent émigré to Los Angeles with her husband, the writer Franz Werfel. The Concerto was premiered on February 15, 1947 by soloist Jascha Heifetz with the St. Louis Symphony directed by Vladimir Golschmann.
After a childhood as a celebrated musical prodigy and a burgeoning career as a leading composer of opera and concert music in Europe, since 1935, Korngold had been writing almost exclusively film scores for Hollywood. While this was a career move that ultimately helped save him (he was Jewish), his family, and his music from Nazi persecution, he intended to return to what he was doing before, back in Vienna, once the war was over. The Violin Concerto was intended to facilitate his “comeback”. He finally returned in 1949 (following a major heart attack in 1947) but soon found himself an outsider: the younger generation seemed to not know of him, and he was dismissed for being “merely” a film composer. Furthermore, his post-war concert works, including his Violin Concerto, were criticized for being “old fashioned”—their sumptuous harmonies and passionate melodies characteristic of late Romantic, fin-de-siècle style were felt to be out of touch with more modern idioms and the traumas of the Second World War. He died thinking he’d be largely forgotten, but in the 1970s, interest his film scores sparked renewed attention to his concert works. Today, his Violin Concerto is now an established work in the concert hall and on recordings, beloved by violinists and enjoyed by audiences everywhere.
In his own introductory note to the Violin Concerto, Korngold wrote, in 1947, “I have always remained true to my own beliefs; that music should be melodic, and as an old Viennese master used to preach and teach to me—‘wohllautend’ (well sounding).” It suggests that Korngold strongly felt that even after the horrors of war, there is still a place for music that is beautiful and hopeful, full of adventure and fantasy, like his symphonic film scores. In fact, the Concerto itself draws on music he composed for four movies in the late 1930s. The first movement’s noble opening theme, introduced by the solo violin, is from Another Dawn (1936). It becomes a refrain throughout, structurally delineating key sections: a quicksilver transition, followed by a tenderly passionate second theme, this one from the score to Juarez (1939); then another fast section, including the solo violinist’s cadenza, after which the main themes are reprised, inventively rescored. The movement closes with a flourish.
The Romance is a dreamy, rhapsodic song for violin on a melody from Korngold’s score to Anthony Adverse (1936), which had earned him an Oscar. It bookends an atmospheric contrasting section evocative of night. A vigorous dance of a finale follows. Based on music from another film score, The Prince and the Pauper (1937), this is a virtuosic tour-de-force for the soloist, giving this Concerto a dazzling finish.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen to David Bowie, American composer Philip Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times. He is the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film, and in popular music—simultaneously. Over the last 25 years, he has completed over 25 operas, 12 symphonies, 13 concertos, film soundtracks, nine string quartets, and a growing body of work for solo piano and organ.
Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 13 was commissioned for Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra by the Jennings family as a tribute to the late Toronto-born Canadian journalist Peter Jennings. A highly respected news anchor for ABC News, Jennings was also a trustee of Carnegie Hall during his years in New York City, the founding director of the American chapter of the Friends of the NAC Orchestra, and served as a lifelong champion of Canadian artists generally. The world premiere of the work was given by the NAC Orchestra in Toronto on March 30, 2022; tonight’s performance is the Symphony’s U.S. premiere.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Soo Gyeong Lee*
Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
Max Cardilli (guest principal)*
Hilda Cowie (acting assistant principal)
Joanna G’froerer (principal)
Charles Hamann (principal)
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Darren Hicks (guest principal)*
Lawrence Vine (principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
Donald Renshaw (principal)
Chris Lee (principal)
Feza Zweifel (principal)
ASSISTANT PERSONNEL MANAGER
Non-titled members of the Orchestra are listed alphabetically