Masterworks 4: Spring Serenade
Presented by Wedgwood Insurance
Kerri MacPhee appears through the support of RBC Foundation
The Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kerri MacPhee, an evening of diverse and delightful classical music.
Our program includes two portions, the first conducted by Kerri MacPhee – former NSO RBC Emerging Artist Conducting Fellow. We are delighted to welcome Kerri back the podium to conduct works as part of her doctoral program. These include Serenade for wind instruments, cello and double bass in D minor Op. 44, B. 77 by A. Dvorak, Octuor for Wind Instruments by I. Stravinsky and In this Broad Earth by S. Bryant.
The second half of the evening features music by the NSO string section, led by NSO Concertmaster, Heather Kao. Selections include: String Symphony no. 6 in E-flat major by F. Mendelssohn and Two Melodies op. 53 by E. Grieg.
JOIN US EARLY FOR A WHOLE EVENING OF FUN
Join us before the concert for our digital pre-show featuring Listen Up! hosted by Dale Jarvis. Listen as we go behind the scenes with interviews of the artists, musicians and composers behind our concerts. Watch here.
Get ready to unwind with a pre-show cocktail. Our friends at Piatto will show you how to channel your own internal mixologist here.
Kerri MacPhee is a D.M.A. candidate at Texas Tech University, specializing in Wind Band Conducting. Kerri holds degrees from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Mount Allison University, and was the first RBC Emerging Artist Resident Conductor of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.
Mrs. MacPhee has conducted the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, the Mount Allison University Wind Ensemble, the MUN Wind Ensemble, as well as the MUN Junior Band Week summer program. In her time in Texas as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Mrs. MacPhee assisted with conducting the 400-member Goin’ Band from Raiderland marching band as well as conducting all four of the Texas Tech University Bands.
Growing up Mrs. MacPhee was an active member of the Canadian Cadet Movement and enrolled as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces in 2007 to continue her work with the program. Now a Lieutenant(Navy), she has also been an Aide-de-Camp to the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador since 2016.
Steve Bryant (b. 1972) is an acclaimed American composer, conductor and educator. His eclectic output consists of works for orchestra, chamber music, wind ensemble, and band, as well as electronic music. He composed In This Broad Earth for brass ensemble and percussion in 2015. The title comes from Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Universal,” from Leaves of Grass. Bryant states that this short fanfare is inspired by the beauties of nature and a celebration of the earth. As a composer, he aims “to write music that leaps off the stage to grab you by the collar and pull you in.” (stevebryant.com.) Composed for trumpets, horns, trombones, euphoniums and tubas along with a vast assortment of percussion instruments, In This Broad Earth does just that. An attention-getting clash is followed by a loud theme composed of a four-note rising motive which is distributed through all the instruments in varied forms. These pervasive motivic variations are enhanced by colourful percussion and a wide range of dynamics. The powerful solemnity of the opening switches to a lighter faster section and culminates in a triumphant crescendo to an abrupt end. Mission accomplished!
Composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) made a name for himself with his early Russian influenced music such as The Firebird and Petrushka. These scores feature lavish orchestration and depict stories and characters. In 1913, his pagan-influenced ballet, The Rite of Spring provoked a near-riot. Ten years later, his Octuor (aka Octet for Winds) elicited equally shocked though less violent reactions because of its unprecedented about-face of musical style. Much has been written about this short but revolutionary work, including the composer’s “Some Ideas about my Octuor” which appeared in The Arts, (London), 1924. Here are a few samples:
My Octuor is a musical object. This object has a form and the form is influenced by the musical matter from which it is composed. My Octuor is not an “emotive” work but a musical composition based on objective elements which are sufficient in themselves.
Stravinsky chose an unusual array of instruments (flute, clarinet, 2 bassoons, trumpets in C and A, tenor and bass trombone) in order to capture the “rigidity of the form” he had in mind, and also to clarify the musical architecture by means of the sonorities of each instrument.
This work marks the beginning of Stravinsky’s Neo-Classical style, a term he deemed “meaningless.” The style combines the forms and techniques of 18th century classical music with 20th century harmonic language and often complex rhythmic features. From beginning to end, counterpoint is a fundamental feature of the Octet, from simple two-part invention style to intricate four to six- part writing in the second movement’s fugato variation. Stravinsky wrote: I consider counterpoint as the only means through which the attention of the composer is concentrated on purely musical questions.
The Octuor contains three movements. The opening Sinfonia is in sonata form with a Haydn-inspired slow introduction in woodwinds. The sonata-allegro bursts into a jagged march theme with everchanging metres and tempi played by the entire ensemble. The second movement, Tema con variazioni, originated as a waltz which Stravinsky subsequently turned into this set of variations. In fact, the movement is a combination of rondo and variation forms modelled on the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto K.452. The Tema begins gently with flutes and clarinets in unison accompanied by syncopated chords in the other instruments. Variations 1, 3 and 6 are similar and marked Variation A in the score. This forte recurring section is described by Stravinsky as a “ribbon of scales.” A virtuosic feat for all, it introduces new variations with different characteristics, notably, a march (variation 2), a waltz (variation 4), a cancan (variation 5), and a slow fugato section (variation 7). Stravinsky inverted the intervals at the beginning of the movement to create the fugato subject which is played in rotation by pairs of instruments. Following an impressive crescendo and decrescendo, a solo flute cadenza leads to the Finale inspired by J.S. Bach’s Two-part Inventions for keyboard. Soon after, the contrapuntal texture unexpectedly becomes chordal as the Octuor closes with jazzy syncopations.
Stravinsky sums up the essence of Neo-Classicism which would pervade his compositions for three decades: I consider that music is only able to solve musical problems; and nothing else, neither the literary nor the picturesque, can be in music of any real interest.
Czech composer Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904) was so impressed upon hearing a performance of Mozart’s Serenade for Winds in B-flat major K.361 that he immediately set out to write his own composition for a similar ensemble. He accomplished this in just two weeks in January 1878, and his Serenade for Wind Instruments, Cello and Double Bass in D minor, Op.44 was premiered ten months later with the composer at the podium. Written for pairs of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, a contrabassoon and three horns. Dvořák also added a cello and double bass, like Mozart. The conventional forms of the four movements are enlivened by his unique melodic inventiveness and Czech folk-like dance rhythms.
The dotted rhythms of the opening Moderato quasi marcia evoke popular central European village bands. The jaunty first theme, presented by principal oboe and repeated three more times, is supported by the strings in unison octaves with the bassoons. Lyrical interjections are heard in clarinets. This is followed by a perky new tune, sudden pauses, long oboe melodies, interactions between all the instruments, and a teasing transition back to the march theme.
The Classical form of the Menuetto movement is strongly flavoured by rhythms of Czech folk dances. The tuneful “sousedska”, a gentle dance in triple time according to the Dvořák Archive, is introduced by the oboes, repeated by clarinets, accompanied by bassoons and strings and augmented by horns. A “furiant” comes next. This is a quick dance with sudden switches between duple and triple meters. It begins with trill motives in oboes and clarinets. Everyone joins in leading to an impish return to the charming “sousedska.”
The third movement Andante con moto is clearly a homage to Mozart’s Serenade, K.361. It begins with syncopated horns and cello while the clarinets and oboes share a lyrical melody. It would be difficult to match the perfection of the barely perceptible emergence of the oboe in Mozart’s work, but Dvořák’s tribute has its own grace and elegance. Gentle woodwind dialogues are accompanied by horns and strings. A serene four-note motive floats over repeated notes in bassoons and horns. The mood becomes quite menacing as agitated descending scales interact with different motives. Like Mozart, Dvořák delights in exploring wind colours. Slow trills in winds, odd horn dissonances and mournful descending scales bring this beautiful movement to a peaceful close.
The Finale, Allegro molto starts with a lively polka tune featuring many repetitions of short patterns. The form is similar to a Rondo with alternating sections in different keys. Tuneful folk-like melodies, rhythms and tempo changes permeate the movement until a surprise restatement of the first movement march. The Finale ends with a renewed burst of energy with spectacular fortissimo trills in clarinets and triumphant arpeggios in horns.
Composer and pianist Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) brought Norwegian music to international attention with compositions such as his incidental music to Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, the Holberg Suite, and his Piano Concerto with a folk-influenced last movement. Grieg was above all a master of smaller genres such as songs set to texts by Norwegian writers Henrik Ibsen and Hans Christian Anderson among others. Like many composers, he transcribed a number of his works for different ensembles, a practice which made their music accessible to a larger number of performers and audiences in pre-recording times.
Two Melodies, Op. 53 (1891) is a transcription of two of Grieg’s songs for voice and piano. This composition for string orchestra begins with “Norwegian,” original title “The Goal”, from 12 Melodies Opus 33 for Voice and Piano (1873-1880) with words by Aasmund O. Vinje. The orchestral version captures the ambience of the folk-like tune with its repeated phrases. A tranquil middle section with solo violin and cello melodies over sustained notes and atmospheric trills intensifies in mood and dynamics. The second melody, “The First Meeting” is an arrangement of Four Poems from the “Fisher Lass,” Opus 21 (1870-1872) with texts by B.M. Bjørnson. A brief arpeggio introduction is followed by a gentle Andante with short phrases which gradually become more chromatic and expansive. Lush string sonorities are interrupted by an expressive solo cello interlude. This evocative work ends serenely with a subtle touch of bittersweet dissonances.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) began his career as a composer at a very early age. By the time he was twelve years old, this child genius had written operas, chamber music works, piano compositions and six of his thirteen string symphonies (1821.) The remaining seven were completed by 1823. From the age of ten, Felix studied composition with Karl Friedrich Zelter, an enthusiastic champion of Baroque counterpoint. This was the beginning of Mendelssohn’s lifelong love of J.S. Bach’s music. The precocious Felix produced some of his most extraordinary compositions, the String Octet, Op. 20 (1825), and Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826) while still in his teens.
Mendelssohn’s string symphonies were modelled on the earlier Classical style of Mozart and Haydn [who died just months after Mendelssohn’s birth]. The String Symphony No. 6 in E flat major consists of three movements, Allegro, Menuetto and Prestissimo.
Beginning with a cheerful tutti unison statement, the Allegro proceeds with light-hearted dialogues in the violins over a walking bass in violas and low strings. A new melody with sustained notes in first violins is accompanied by staccato scale patterns. Some key changes and imitation lead to a return of the opening tutti.
The Menuetto mixes Classical and Baroque elements and extends the standard form. A forceful drone in low strings accompanies a bumptious melody in violins. In Trio I, violins and low strings play sustained notes while violas jump around in syncopated leaps and trills. The leaping motive then alternates between violas and first violins on the way back to a repeat of the Menuetto. Trio II features a drone in low strings and a solemn hymn melody in first violins. The hymn phrases, remarkably similar to J.S. Bach’s chorale “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” from the Saint Matthew Passion, are interspersed with themes from the Menuetto. A majestic fortissimo statement of the four-voiced chorale then leads to further development of the Menuetto ideas to conclude the movement.
The Prestissimo makes an abrupt entry in a burst of boisterous enthusiasm. It is full of surprises as its youthful composer appears to try out everything he has absorbed so far. The movement contains virtuosic passages with frenzied scales and furious arpeggios, sudden pauses, a whimsical theme of repeated notes, tuneful melodies, and sophisticated Bach-style contrapuntal writing. This delightful symphony ends with the irrepressible energy of its brilliant young composer.