Devil May Care

Sunday, May 22, 2016 • 3:00 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)

Tickets will be available at the door, beginning at 2:00 p.m.

Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor and piano

Program

Edward Elgar (1857–1934)
Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488

intermission

Kai-Young Chan (*1989)
Seeking, Searching (world premiere)

Edward Elgar
From the Bavarian Highlands, Op. 27

About the Concert

When his publisher declared the Serenade for Strings “practically unsaleable,” Edward Elgar offered it to another firm—it would become one of Elgar’s most successful works, as well as one of his personal favorites. Mozart led a troubled and all-too-brief life, but in Vienna over a particularly happy and productive six months, he composed The Marriage of Figaro as well as three of his most brilliant piano concertos. Music director Clinton Smith will play Mozart’s K. 488, conducting from the keyboard. Do you recall a fabulous vacation you took with someone you love? Elgar’s From the Bavarian Highlands depicts the picturesque countryside he and his wife visited while on a vacation together. She wrote the words, he wrote the music. Life is good.

Behind the Music

Get the inside scoop! Hosted by OSSCS music director Clinton Smith, “Behind the Music” explores who and what inspired composers to create. Enjoy a free, fun and informative half-hour session that includes an overview of the music, historical and cultural context for the works, and highlights to listen for during the performance. Begins at 2:00 p.m. (one hour prior to the performance) at First Free Methodist Church.

About the Featured Composer

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Kai-Young Chan, winner of the 2015–2016 OSSCS Composer Competition, seeks to assimilate various Asian cultural traditions into his output from concert works to film scores. His music has been performed across the continents by the Pittsburgh Symphony, Curtis Symphony, PRISM Quartet, Dolce Suono Ensemble, North/South Consonance, ensemble chromoson (Austria), International Ensemble Modern Academy (Germany), Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes and Hong Kong New Ensemble, among other prominent performers. His works appear on Ablaze Records and PARMA Recordings, with scores published by Edition Peters (London)and Central Conservatory of Music Press (Beijing). Mr. Chan’s music has been featured in New Music Gathering at the Peabody Conservatory, two editions of ISCM World Music Days, International Rostrum of Composers, International Forum of New Music Manuel Enriquez, Risuonanze Festival, International en Ferienkurse Darmstadt, Chinese Composers’ Festival and Musicarama. A Benjamin Franklin Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, he studied composition with Jay Reise, James Primosch and Anna Weesner. He earned his Master of Music in composition at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he received his Bachelor of Arts with first-class honors. As an erhu performer, he has given lecture-demonstrations and recorded works by living composers. Learn more: chankaiyoung.com

Program Notes

Edward Elgar
Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20

Edward William Elgar was born June 2, 1857, in Broadheath, Worcestershire, England, and died in Worcester on February 23, 1934. The composer led a private performance of this serenade with the Worcester Ladies’ Orchestral Class in 1892, but the work is most likely a revision of Elgar’s earlier Three Pieces for String Orchestra (“Spring Song,” “Elegy” and “Finale”), which date from 1888. The first public performance of the Serenade for Strings took place in Antwerp, Belgium on July 23, 1896.

The following is adapted from notes George Shangrow wrote for a November 1999 Orchestra Seattle performance of this work.

Formal composition came late to Elgar. Although as a boy he was exposed to music at every turn—his father was an amateur violinist and pianist as well as a church organist—Edward received little formal training. His boyhood fascination with music, the sounds of nature and the musical immersion from living over the Elgar Bros. Music Shop inspired him to constantly sketch out musical ideas which later became the foundations for most, if not all, of his mature works.

His first “public” compositions came forth during his early thirties—the Serenade was composed when he was 35 and was present to his wife, Alice, as a gift on their third wedding anniversary. The string writing in the Serenade is rich in texture in the grand English style. The inner parts (second violin and viola) are often divided into two or more parts, allowing for a luscious harmonic language. The outer movements, with their compound-meter insistence, are really a frame for the gorgeous Larghetto, which—to my ears—stands as one of the most beautiful slow movements in the literature. Surely this was the true anniversary gift! Just toward the end of the finale, Elgar brings back the main tune from the first movement, taking this jewel of a work to a tender E-major final chord.

George Shangrow

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488

Joannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756, and died on December 5, 1791, in Vienna. He started calling himself “Wolfgango Amadeo” around 1770 and “Wolfgang Amadè” in 1777. Mozart completed this concerto on March 2, 1786, in Vienna, where he likely gave the premiere soon after. In addition to solo piano, the score calls for one flute, pairs of clarinets, bassoons and horns, plus the usual complement of strings.

The Köchel catalog of Mozart’s works assigns numbers to 27 piano concertos, although the first four (plus three unnumbered ones, K. 107) are arrangements of music by other composers. Mozart composed his first real concerto at 17 and another five (including one for three pianos and another for two pianos) by age 21.

In 1781, Mozart moved from Salzburg to Vienna, where he quickly became recognized as the finest keyboard artist in the city. Around the latter part of 1782 he composed a group of three concertos (K. 413–415) that he characterized as “a happy medium between too hard and too easy … connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction, but they are written so that the non-connoisseurs cannot fail to be pleased even if they don’t know why.”

This description readily applies to many of the next 12 concertos, which he created during a remarkably productive and relatively happy period—coinciding with the height of his popularity in Vienna—between early 1784 and December 1786. (He would compose only two more keyboard concertos before his untimely death at age 35.) Of this miraculous dozen, three arrived while Mozart was occupied with the opera The Marriage of Figaro. He listed an E♭-major concerto (K. 482) in his catalog on December 16, 1785, dashed off a one-act opera (The Impresario, K. 486) in early 1786, completed an A-major piano concerto (K. 488) by March 2, and entered a C-minor concerto (K. 491) into his catalog a mere three weeks later.

Each of these three concertos replaces oboes in the orchestra with clarinets, but K. 488 dispenses with the trumpets and drums used in the other two works, affording it a chamber-music quality that easily lends itself to a performance conducted from the keyboard (as Clinton Smith does this afternoon, playing Mozart’s original cadenzas in the outer movements).

The most remarkable facet of the opening movement’s exposition is how closely Mozart (never one to shy away from breaking rules) adheres to the principles of sonata-allegro form. The orchestra states five themes, after which the solo piano restates and elaborates on them. But at this point, notes Donald Francis Tovey, “things begin to happen which cannot be found in any other concerto.” Instead of working out the themes of the exposition, Mozart introduces an entirely new theme where the development should begin, working with this new material until the recapitulation, where “the old themes return with complete freshness.”

Mozart marks the central movement—a 6/8 sicilianoAdagio (rather than Andante or Larghetto like most of his other piano concerto slow movements) and it is the only one of his compositions cast in the key of F♯ minor. It is here that Tovey most clearly detects the influence of Mozart’s operatic writing: “One of the most superb vocal gestures of the 18th-century singer was the display of an unerring aim in skips from one extreme of the voice to the other,” and while such melodic jumps pose “not the slightest difficulty” on the piano, “the whole point of the phrase is that the skip is conceived as an enormous change of vocal register.”

In the rondo finale, Mozart unleashes at least 10 distinct themes, his spirited writing providing opportunities for brilliant passagework from the woodwinds of the orchestra as well as the keyboard soloist.

Jeff Eldridge

Kai-Young Chan
Seeking, Searching

Chan was born in Hong Kong in 1989. This work, the winning entry in the 2015–2016 OSSCS Composer Competition, receives its world premiere this afternoon.

Seeking, Searching was inspired by the lyric poem Sheng Sheng Man by Song Dynasty Chinese poet Li Ching-Chao (1084–1155). The melodic materials are crafted in way so that the lyrics could be sung in Cantonese, a Chinese language with much resemblance to the language in use during the time the poem was written. The music unfolds rhapsodically and follows the form of the poem, with two main sections. The opening motive is reiterated in changing harmonic and textural contexts as a binding force. The emotional charge is gradually built up and released according to the text, and paintings of bird songs, rain and flying remnant petals can be heard through the music, finally arriving at the most emotionally intense section filled with chromaticism brought about by heterophonic counterpoint, typical in folk Chinese music, expressing the aching melancholy of the vain of searching for a lost loved one.

Kai-Young Chan

Edward Elgar
From the Bavarian Highlands, Op. 27

In addition to SATB chorus, the work requires pairs of woodwinds (including a piccolo), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.

In the autumn of 1894, Edward and Alice Elgar spent some delightful weeks in the Bavarian highlands, mostly at Garmisch, admiring the scenery during their walks, sampling the fare and enjoying the traditional folksongs and dances at the local Bierstuben (pubs). As a “souvenir” of this happy holiday, Edward set to music six poems that Alice had written in the spirit and style of Bavarian folksongs. These charming pieces captured, as a notebook of verbal sketches or a set of poetic “postcards,” some of the scenes and activities that the Elgars had loved. Each poem serves as a memento of a place that was near the neighboring villages of Garmisch and Partenkirchen, and thus their subtitles relate to these favorite spots, not necessarily to the themes of the poems.

Elgar completed the generally romantic, thematically interrelated songs in April 1895 with piano accompaniment, orchestrating them early the next year. Novello rejected them for publication as unsaleable in any form, so the persistent Elgar had them published by Joseph Williams & Co., dedicating the work to Mr. and Mrs. Slingsby Bethell, proprietors of the guesthouse in which the Elgars stayed during their holiday.

Sir George Grove described the music of Elgar's songs as “so pert and spirited and tuneful,” and this is certainly true of “The Dance,” in which echoes of the Bavarian Schuhplattler can be detected. Written in a swaying triple meter, its subtitle points to “Sonnenbichl,” a village north of Garmisch where Elgar enjoyed the beer. The women issue an invitation to down some “bright brown ale” and join the dancing; the men joyfully accept!

“False Love” is a triple-metered memento of Wamberg, a small town west of Garmisch, that paints a painful betrayal in gently plaintive colors. In the lovely “Lullaby,” begun by the altos after a long instrumental introduction, a mother dreams wistfully of dancing but continues to watch over her son. A reminiscence of Hammersbach, located south of Garmisch, it features a comfortingly rocking triple meter. The hymn-like “Aspiration,” in 4/4 time, provides a glimpse of the snow-swathed pilgrims' chapel of St. Anton, not far from Partenkirchen. A downward-drifting line for the sopranos and altos opens this song, with the men soon joining in, falling snowflakes sifting earthward through the accompaniment.

A song in a lilting triple meter that features the men of the chorus, “On the Alm” bears the subtitle “True Love (Hoch Alp).” An “alm” is a mountain meadow in which cattle were grazed during the summer; a young girl who tended the cattle occupied a hut nearby. Wordless women's voices echo among the hills in response to the lover eagerly ascending the mountain to meet his “maiden dear;” his alpine greeting calls can be heard in the orchestra. A helter-skelter, scampering accompaniment urges on the exuberant competitors in “The Marksmen,” subtitled “Bei Murnau,” the longest and most complex of the songs. Written in a quick triple meter, this “finale” features a grand, expansive, English-anthem–like passage at its center that reappears near the ebullient ending of the “song exultant.”

Lorelette Knowles