I was inspired to write Symphonic Dance No. 1 by the triumphant, prevalent motive that is present in the beginning and the end of the piece. It is such a joyful theme that I thought that it had to be shared with an entire orchestra; at least one instrument from every family (including percussion) gets to play it at some point during the piece. When I completed this piece and stepped back to think of a title, I could not stop thinking about how danceable the varied rhythms all seemed to me.
The piece begins in anticipation, leading up to the main theme. Despite the joys of the beginning section, a mysterious transition leads to a middle section that begins with a melancholy theme. It slowly gains momentum, getting thicker and thicker in instrumentation, until finally the initial triumph and joy from the beginning return as the piece finishes with even more confidence than before. — Karalyn Schubring, MusicaNova Composition Fellow
Notes on the other pieces in the concert by Warren Cohen, Music Director
Violin Concerto in E Minor Julius Conus (1869-1942) was a Russian Violinist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is very much a “one hit wonder”-aside from this Concerto he wrote very little other music, all of which includes the violin, and none of which is played today. This Concerto was written in 1898 and had thet good fortune to be played frequently by Fritz Kreisler and later Jascha Heifetz, who recorded it in 1952. It has stayed in the repertoire in Russia, but is rarely played in the west, although it has had some standing as a student concerto, largely because it uses a very large variety of technical devices in an idiomatic way. It is very much a technical showpiece, more in the manner of Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps than of his contemporary Russian composers. Interestingly, Conus was a lifetime friend of Rachmaninoff, and his son married Rachmaninoff’s daughter in 1932!
El Amor Brujo or “Love, the Sorcerer” was a ballet written by Spanish composer Manuel DeFalla (1876-1946) in 1915 on the subject of a woman haunted by the specter of her dead husband, whose jealous spirit is keeping her from a new love. The ghost is eventually exorcised and all ends happily, but in the attempt to exorcise the ghost we are treated to DeFalla’s greatest hit-the “Ritual Fire Dance”, made famous in the piano version by Arthur Rubinstein in the movie “Carnegie Hall” and later by a kitchy rewrite as a kind of Concerto by Liberace. The Dance, although central to the piece, is simply one of a number of great tunes in this exciting score, including a gorgeous Tango in 7/8 time. The version we are doing is a mixture of two versions of the score; DeFalla included a part for contralto in the score, although finding a singer who can manage the very particular zarzuela style of singing (a style that owes more to Spanish popular music than to opera or lieder) is almost impossible outside of Spain. Knowing this, DeFalla created a version for instruments only, but cut some great numbers that required the voice. We have reinstated those numbers with instruments (mostly English Horn, with some solo violin) taking over the vocal parts.
Visions and Miracles American composer Christopher Theofanidis (b. 1967) wrote this work in 1998 originally for string quartet, (the String Orchestra version is from 2002) and the idea was to write a work of unbridled joy. He had recently composer a number of works of a much darker cast, and felt that the time had come to write something bright and uplifting. The music is never heroic, but the feeling of light and joy, even ecstasy is never far from the center of its universe. It is in three movements, of a characteristic fast/slow/fast pattern. The harmonic idiom is modern but accessible and rhythmic gestures are familiar to anyone who knows modern music.