- Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
- Festive Overture
- Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953)
- Suite from Lieutenant Kizhe, Op. 60
- Alexander Borodin (1833–1887)
- Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor
- Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
- Suite from The Firebird (1919 version)
Eric Garcia, now in his second season as assistant conductor of the Seattle Symphony, leads Orchestra Seattle at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 5, in an exciting program of masterpieces by Russian composers. The concert opens with the exhilarating Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich and closes with Igor Stravinsky’s colorful suite from his first great ballet, The Firebird. In between, baritone Charles Robert Stephens sings the solo part in the rarely heard vocal version of Sergei Prokofiev’s suite from Lt. Kizhe, his very first film score, and the Seattle Chamber Singers join the orchestra for the rapturous Polovtsian Dances from Alexander Borodin’s opera Prince Igor.
This special concert takes place in Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus, where parking on Sunday afternoons is free in the Central Plaza Garage (enter on 15th Ave. NE at NE 41st St.) Advance tickets are available online or by phone at 1-800-838-3006.
Concert Preview: Tune in all this week to KING-FM’s Northwest Focus for previews of the music on this program. Listen online at king.org or over the air at 98.1 FM.
About the Conductor
Eric Garcia currently serves as assistant conductor for both the Seattle Symphony and the Eastern Music Festival. He formerly served as director of orchestral activities and professor of conducting at the University of Evansville and music director of the Evansville Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. He has also served as music director at St. Xavier University in Chicago, where he held several conducting positions and appeared as guest conductor with numerous orchestras. Among these, he guest-conducted the Northwest Festival Orchestra of Illinois, working with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
As a doctoral student at Northwestern University, he conducted performances with the Contemporary Music Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra and Philharmonia. A frequent conductor of contemporary music, Mr. Garcia has worked directly with composers including John Adams, George Crumb, Frank Ferko, David Lang, Lowell Lieberman and Jay Alan Yim.
Mr. Garcia has attended the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival and School, working with such eminent conductors as Nicholas Kraemer, Murry Sidlin, Leonard Slatkin and David Zinman. At Aspen, he worked with the American Academy of Conducting Orchestra, The Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies, and the Aspen Opera Theatre Center. His principal conducting teacher is Victor Yampolsky. Additional conducting teachers include Peter Bay, Dan Lewis and Larry Rachleff. He received a Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music in orchestral conducting from Northwestern University under the mentorship of Victor Yampolsky, and a Bachelor of Music degree in music theory from the University of Texas.
About the Soloist
Baritone Charles Robert Stephens has enjoyed a career spanning a wide variety of roles and styles in opera and concert music. At New York City Opera, he sang the role of Prof. Friedrich Bhaer in the New York premiere of Mark Adamo’s Little Women, and was hailed by The New York Times as a “baritone of smooth distinction.” He has sung on numerous occasions at Carnegie Hall in a variety of roles with Opera Orchestra of New York, the Oratorio Society of New York, the Masterworks Chorus and Musica Sacra, as well as with ensembles throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Festive Overture, Op. 96
Shostakovich was born September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975. He composed this overture during the week preceding its November 6, 1954, premiere, scoring it for triple woodwinds (including piccolo and contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion and strings.
After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, the Soviet musical establishment relaxed its disapproval of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, allowing the Bolshoi Theater to hire him as an artistic consultant. Each autumn, in commemoration of the 1917 October Revolution, the Bolshoi mounted a performance featuring a newly commissioned work. Mere days before the 1954 concert, a Bolshoi official arrived at Shostakovich’s residence, pleading with him to write an overture on very short notice.
Shostakovich acquiesced, inviting his friend Lev Lebedinsk to keep him company as he composed. Lebedinsk later recalled: “The speed with which he wrote was truly astounding. Moreover, when he wrote light music he was able to talk, make jokes and compose simultaneously, like the legendary Mozart. He laughed and chuckled, and in the meanwhile work was under way and the music was being written down. Two days later the dress rehearsal took place. I hurried down to the [Bolshoi] and I heard this brilliant effervescent work, with its vivacious energy spilling over like uncorked champagne.” Shostakovich derived the work’s opening fanfare from a simple piano piece he had composed for his daughter a decade earlier—his ability to work so quickly may have been aided by similar borrowings from unpublished sketches. Early the next year he drew inspiration from the overture for a cue in his film score for The Gadfly.
Suite from Lieutenant Kizhe, Op. 60
Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka (Ukraine), to Russian parents, on April 23, 1891, and died in Moscow on March 5, 1953. He composed his score for Lt. Kizhe between March and October of 1933 and the next year created this suite, which he conducted at its premiere on December 21, 1934. The suite calls for solo baritone, pairs of woodwinds (plus piccolo and tenor saxophone), 4 horns, cornet, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion, harp, piano (doubling celesta) and strings.
Two decades before collaborating with Shostakovich on The Gadfly, Soviet filmmaker Alexander Faintsimmer directed his first picture, Lt. Kizhe, for which another great Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev, provided music. At the time, the composer maintained his principal residence in Paris, but during a December 1932 journey to the Soviet Union he visited Kizhe’s sets at the Belgoskino studios in Leningrad, mapping out the film’s musical requirements. He composed the score back in Paris, working from the screenplay and timings supplied by the filmmakers.
Based on a 1927 novella by Yuri Tinyanov, who also scripted the film, Lt. Kizhe unfolds during 1800 at the palace of Tsar Paul I. While the monarch naps, a military adjutant sneaks away for a dalliance with the lady-in-waiting to Princess Gagarina. The young woman pinches her paramour on the posterior, prompting an outburst that wakes the tsar, who vows to banish the man responsible to Siberia. Meanwhile, a military clerk erroneously transcribes the phrase (поручики же: “the lieutenants, however”) as (Поручик Киже: “Lieutenant Kizhe”), leading the tsar to inquire about the non-existent officer. The adjutant and his superior use the misunderstanding to their advantage, fixing blame for the nap incident on Kizhe. Before long, the tsar experiences a change of heart and recalls Kizhe from Siberia. Onlookers express bewilderment as the invisible Kizhe receives a promotion, weds the lady-in-waiting and—finally—dies, ending the ruse before it unravels completely.
After the film’s debut on March 7, 1934, Prokofiev fashioned a five-movement suite on commission from the Moscow Radio Symphony, retaining most of the score’s material. The brevity of many of the film cues posed a challenge to the composer, who spent more time creating the suite—“searching for a form, re-orchestrating, polishing, and even combining themes”—than he had on the film score itself.
“Kizhe’s Birth” collects several brief episodes from early in the picture: A solo cornet opens the film, yielding to fife-and-drum music for the tsar’s soldiers and domestic staff going about their routines with military precision. Solo oboe introduces the theme for Kizhe when a slip of the pen brings the soldier to life, followed by brilliant brass fanfares as the tsar inspects his troops. The Kizhe motive returns when the half-mad monarch resolves to promote Kizhe to commander of the armed forces.
“Romance” combines two folk-like songs performed in the film by, respectively, Princess Gagarina (who accompanies herself on harp) and a male servant. Prokofiev here sets them both for solo baritone, creating an expansive and colorful orchestral accompaniment not heard in the film—even combining the tunes in counterpoint at one juncture. (Most performances and recordings of this suite use Prokofiev’s alternate versions of the second and fourth movements, which replace the vocal soloist with saxophone, bassoon and various other instruments.)
The recessional from “Kizhe’s Wedding” opens the suite’s central movement, after which solo cornet introduces a happy melody heard during the ensuing wedding reception, followed by the return of the Kizhe theme on tenor saxophone. Prokofiev expands and extends his film cue, which also underscores Kizhe’s honeymoon later that evening.
“Troika” jumps back earlier in the story, when the tsar’s adjutant travels to Siberia—using a three-horse sleigh known as a “troika”—to free Kizhe from prison. Upon arrival he imbibes large quantities of vodka, so on the return journey he and a similarly inebriated colleague sing a raucous duet accompanied by balalaika and the bells on the troika. In the suite, solo baritone sings the infectious melody, with piano, harp and pizzicato strings imitating a balalaika.
“Kizhe’s Burial” combines two extended cues from late in the film as the funeral procession for the now-deceased soldier passes by the tsar’s palace. Kizhe’s theme features prominently, while material from “Romance” and “Kizhe’s Wedding” returns as the mourners recall happy events from Kizhe’s life. The music fades away as the cortège proceeds into the distance, and the suite—like the film—closes with a reprise of the opening cornet solo.
Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor
Borodin was born November 12, 1833, in St. Petersburg and died there on February 27, 1887. He began composing his opera Prince Igor in 1869 and continued working on it until his death. The Polovtsian Dances date from the summer of 1875 and received their first performance on March 11, 1879, in St. Petersburg. In addition to chorus, the dances call for pairs of woodwinds (plus piccolo and English horn), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion, harp and strings.
The illegitimate son of a Russian nobleman, Alexander Borodin studied music from an early age, but took his formal academic training in the sciences. He earned a doctorate in chemistry and became a medical doctor, although he never practiced, focusing on a career as a research chemist. Borodin did important work in that field, counting among his colleagues Dmitri Mendeleev.
Throughout his life Borodin composed during his spare time, often setting aside works unfinished at the end of a vacation period. Despite these frequent interruptions, he managed to produce several contributions to the standard repertoire, including the 1880 tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia, three symphonies and a pair of string quartets.
In 1869 Borodin began work on an opera that would occupy him intermittently for the remaining two decades of his life. Based on a narrative called The Saga of Igor’s Army by his friend Vasily Stasov, the opera told the story of Prince Igor, whose city, Puitvil, was overrun in the year 1185 by the Polovtsi, a Mongol-like nomadic tribe led by Khan Kontchak.
The end of the opera’s second act consists of a ballet sequence in which the male and female slaves of the Polovtsi dance to entertain Igor (held captive by the Polovtsi) and the Khan. These “Polovtsian Dances” were first performed separately, at the behest of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who prodded Borodin along by assisting with the orchestration.
The dances achieved their first great success independent of the opera when Michael Fokine choreographed them for the Ballets Russes in 1909. The exotic melody of the first dance ascended to even greater popularity when the creators of the Broadway musical Kismet adapted it as the song “Stranger in Paradise.”
Suite from The Firebird
Stravinsky was born June 17, 1882, in Oranienbaum (near St. Petersburg), and died April 6, 1971, in New York City. He composed The Firebird during 1909 and 1910. After the ballet’s premiere in Paris on June 25, 1910, he fashioned three suites from the score, the second of which—dating from 1919—calls for pairs of woodwinds (with one flute doubling piccolo and one oboe doubling English horn), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, percussion, piano, harp and strings.
After the successful 1909 debut of his Ballets Russes that included a production set to Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, impresario Sergei Diaghilev sought to create an all-new ballet based on Russian fairy tales for the following season. Anatoly Liadov initially signed on as the composer, but was unable to meet the deadline, so Diaghilev turned to a virtually unknown 27-year-old named Igor Stravinsky. His music for The Firebird became an instant success and his next two ballets for Diaghilev—Petrushka and The Rite of Spring—would change the course of music history.
The Firebird concerns Ivan, a young prince who—with the help of a fairy known as the Firebird—rescues a princess from the clutches of Kashchei, a green-taloned ogre. Stravinsky arranged three different suites from his Firebird score, with the second of these being the most often performed. It opens quietly with music from the lowest strings as Ivan wanders through a forest at night, becoming more animated as Ivan enters Kashchei’s garden and encounters the Firebird, whose flight is mirrored by acrobatics from solo woodwinds. A group of captive princesses enchant Ivan as they dance a “Khorovod” (circle dance). Kashchei and his demons arrive on the scene with their “Infernal Dance,” which unleashes a brutal orchestral fury. The Firebird returns to lull the monsters to sleep with a touching “Berceuse,” introduced by bassoon. A noble horn solo opens the finale, leading to a jubilant conclusion as the princesses regain their freedom and Ivan weds his beloved.