American composer Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte was inspired by a specific moment of transition in the second movement of a Haydn string quartet. As she describes:
“It was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Op. 77 No. 2—with their spare and soulful shift to the D-flat major trio in the minuet. It is structured like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further. I love the way some music (like the minuets of Op. 77) suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition.”
In a theatrical production, such as a play or opera, the word “entr’acte” indicates an interval between two acts. Historically, this pause, signalled by the closing of curtains, was to facilitate changes in scenery and costumes in preparation for the next act. Eventually, “entr’acte” also came to mean a musical piece or dance inserted for performance during this pause; indeed, such works were distinctly intended to create a break in the action or mood. Shaw’s piece is thus aptly titled, in its exploration of transitional moments to “absurd, subtle, technicolor” ends. They are brought to particularly sharp relief in the string orchestra version she created in 2014 that you’ll hear in tonight’s concert.
Entr’acte begins with a pulsating heartbeat motif, which unfolds in a sweeping manner as the main theme of the minuet. In the minor mode, it has a somewhat mournful quality. Later, it seems to disintegrate into dissonance, then into pitchless noise, through which the full-bodied bowed version alternately emerges with increasing emphasis. The central trio section brings fresh contrast, starting with a plucked melody, to sound “like granite”, in a brighter major mode. Things then seem to get surreal, as motifs are developed. First violins and cellos in a duet of long notes over plucked triplets in the second violins and violas lead into a passage of pizzicato counterpoint. The mood intensifies into an acid bright moment featuring sustained chords in the violins over rippling viola arpeggios; it darkens, becoming more anxious, but then the tension is released through a flurry of plucked strings. Via ethereal harmonics and sighing gestures, the minuet returns. After its reprise, the music ascends into the ether, leaving a lone cello strumming an extended sequence of chords like, as Shaw indicates it to be played, “recalling fragments of an old tune or story.”
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
III. Allegro vivace
Swiss composer Frank Martin wrote his Concerto for seven wind instruments, timpani, percussion, and string orchestra in 1949, the fulfilment of a commission by the Bernische Musikgesellschaft, who requested an orchestral piece from him. It received its premiere in the same year, conducted by Luc Balmer. Martin felt he composed best when given certain creative parameters. For this work, he determined them himself—create a concerto featuring soloists from each of the seven orchestral woodwind and brass families. This was no small challenge, for he had to both display and integrate the vastly different timbres, techniques, and characters of the various solo instruments, along with the forces of a string orchestra.
The resulting work—in the three-movement fast-slow-fast plan of concerto form—is a meticulously crafted, virtuosic tour-de-force. Within the movements, the general structure typically alternates between sections highlighting individual soloists, various groupings of two to three instruments, and larger ensemble groupings (such as woodwinds, brass, and strings). Overall, the Concerto has a playful quality—as if the instruments are having a stimulating conversation and us listeners are reveling their banter.
A syncopated rhythmic gesture opens the first movement; it becomes a recurring motif, interjecting between the individual entries of the solo instruments: oboe, clarinet, then trumpet, horn, and trombone in imitation, flute, and later, bassoon. The string orchestra and the soloists, either individually or in groups, then engage in interplay and build tension, which is eventually released by the timpani in a brief but emphatic solo. Against spiky strings, trombone and oboe present lyrical melodies, leading to a return of the opening gesture; the solo entries are reprised, in more condensed form. Once more, the two groups—soloists and strings—interact, with greater intensity this time. They drive to a bigger peak, after which the woodwinds close with a gentle postlude.
In Martin’s words, the Adagietto, marked “mysterious and elegant”, is “based entirely on a steady two-time beat, which serves as an accompaniment to the melodic elements: sometimes serene, sometimes dark and violent. A lyrical phrase first heard in the bassoon’s upper register is repeated by the trombone with a gentle nobility at the conclusion.” The movement’s basic structure is delineated by an expressive melody played by the violins, later returning twice, the final time reaching an impassioned climax.
The energetic final movement features a recurring light-stepping ascending theme, introduced by the oboe, that alternates with episodes during which the soloists are given opportunity to shine. Listen especially for the timpani’s extended moment in the spotlight. Later, the lyrical bassoon melody from the Adagietto returns in augmented form; solo horn plays it first, then the violins against a march-like backdrop that builds, culminating in a full orchestral statement of the main theme. In the coda, the ensemble is taken up in an accelerating, whirling dance that draws the Concerto to a brilliant finish.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Prisms, Cycles, Leaps by American composer Derrick Skye is an orchestral piece, he says, that “bridges the space between the music of the Balkans, the Volta Region of Ghana and North Indian Hindustani classical music.” As he further explains:
“The time signature of the piece is in a foundational 3/2, but shifts its emphasis to 6/4, 12/8, and 7/8 +5/8 in different sections by using polyrhythmic ostinatos that are found in Ghanaian religious drum ceremonies. The melodic lines of Prisms, Cycles, Leaps combine elements of Balkan music and Hindustani classical music. While the melodic lines use an ornamentation specific to Bulgarian women’s choir music (similar to accaciaturas found in Baroque music), the larger form of the melodic lines resembles the tihai rhythmic cadence and the long phrases found in improvised Hindustani classical music. Tihai is a thrice-repeated rhythmic phrase that is used to end a section or conclude a piece in Hindustani classical music. The title Prisms, Cycles, Leaps references a search for beauty in life and nature through multiple and varied yet cyclical experiences.”
The work, which he completed in 2015 and premiered by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, was, he has noted, “the result of many years of experimentation, training, and research, and is the first in a series of works of a similar theme.” The complex integration of the various musical traditions Skye describes above unfolds in several large sections. Within this structure are smaller segments differentiated further by the juxtaposition of melodic and rhythmic lines that create distinctively shifting “grooves”, underscored by changes in instrumentation.
Prisms, Cycles, Leaps gets going with a propulsive rhythmic ostinato and a flute motif; it steadily builds to a jubilant dance, with violins becoming prominent. Four minutes into the piece, solo instruments—English horn, trumpet, oboe, flute, piccolo, violins—take up a melody in turn. The metre shifts as a nebulous transition eventually leads into a period of sonic brilliance. Claps and lower strings then drive the music forward, as piano, violins, and percussion, among others, are added to the texture. The mood suddenly brightens, and from a backdrop of optimistic violin motifs, a sustained, chorale-like melody emerges. For a moment, it relaxes in peace, but the rhythmic ostinatos start again, bringing about another cycle of instrumental solos. In the concluding minutes, trombones intone a grand descending scale after which the orchestra blazes and shimmers, finally evanescing into the ether.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Aaron Copland had long admired the innovative artistry of American dancer Martha Graham, who in 1931 had choreographed the dance solo Dithyrambic to the composer’s Piano Variations. Over a decade later, in 1942, an opportunity finally arose for the two of them to collaborate—a commission by the eminent music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for a half-hour long ballet. Copland worked on the score (originally for 13 instruments) over the next two years; in 1944, the ballet, entitled Appalachian Spring (which Graham had taken from a poem by Hart Crane), was premiered at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. A critical success, it won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award the following year. Six months after the ballet’s premiere, Copland arranged the music into a suite for orchestra, which was first performed by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Artur Rodzínski, in October 1945. It is in this form that Appalachian Spring is best known today.
Through his distinctive application of modernist elements such as static harmonies, extended tonality, and cross rhythms, Copland evokes in the music of Appalachian Spring a certain character of life in rural America—specifically, its spaciousness, simplicity, and down-to-earth quality drawn from American pastoral mythology as well as Anglo-American folk music. The Suite consists of eight sections (reduced from the ballet’s original 14 segments), which progress without break. Below is the ballet’s synopsis, for context, followed by the composer’s individual descriptions to each section of the Suite.
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Synopsis: A pioneer celebration in spring around a newly built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the last century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, which their new domestic partnership invites. An old neighbor suggests, now and then, the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house.
1. Very slowly. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
2. Fast. Sudden burst of unison strings in A-major arpeggios starts the action. A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
3. Moderate. Duo for the Bride and her Intended—scene of tenderness and passion.
4. Quite fast. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feelings—suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
5. Still faster. Solo dance of the Bride—presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
6. Very slowly (as at first). Transition scene reminiscent of the introduction.
7. Calm and flowing. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer-husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title “The Gift to Be Simple.” The melody borrowed and used almost literally is called “Simple Gifts.”
8. Moderate. Coda. The Bride takes her place among her new neighbours. At the end the couple are left “quiet and strong in their new house.” Muted strings intone a hushed prayerlike chorale passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
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)*
Christopher Millard (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