New Music at Hale’s Ales
Sunday, February 23, 2020 • 6:00 p.m.
Hale’s Brewery (4301 Leary Way NW, Seattle)
György Ligeti (1923–2006)
Six Bagatelles for wind quintet
York Bowen (1884–1961)
Fantasie Quartet for four violas, Op. 41, No. 1
String Quartet No. 3 (“Mishima”)
William C. White (*1983)
Quintet for oboe and strings, Op. 43 [first public performance]
About the Concert
Music by 20th-century greats György Ligeti, Philip Glass and York Bowen, plus a recent quintet for oboe and strings by OSSCS music director William White.
The $25 ticket price includes one glass of wine or beer, with gratuity included on all drink redemptions and purchases. Just 60 seats available: advance ticket purchase recommended.
György Ligeti was born in Transylvania and raised in Romania by Hungarian parents. He undertook musical studies in Budapest, graduating in 1949. His early works were influenced by the legendary Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. “About 1950 I realized that further development of the post-Bart ók style ... was not the way forward for me,” wrote Ligeti. “I was 27 years old and living in Budapest, completely isolated from all the ideas, trends and techniques of composition which developed in Western Europe ... . In 1951, I started to experiment with simple structures of rhythm and sound in order ... to build up a new music from nothing. I asked myself: ‘What can I do with a single note? What can I do with its octave? What with one interval? What with two intervals? What with definite rhythmic relationships which could form the foundation of a whole based on rhythm and interval?’ In this way several small pieces were composed, chiefly for piano.”
These small piano pieces included a set of 11 titled Musica ricercata, a ricercar being “an elaborate instrumental composition in fugal or canonic style, typically of the 16th to 18th centuries.” The first employed only two notes (A and D) over several octaves, the next three notes, and so on until the final movement used all 12 tones in the chromatic scale. At the behest of flutist Zoltán Jeney and the Budapest Wind Quintet, Ligeti selected six of these pieces and transcribed them for wind instruments. The political climate made the performance of such experimental music not without risk. When Jeney and his colleagues gave the first performance in 1956, they omitted the final movement due to its “dense chromaticism and frenzied expression.” The Stockholm Philharmonic Wind Quintet gave the first complete performance on October 6, 1969.
The first, fourth and sixth movements are indeed frenzied with occasional strident dissonances, while exhibiting the obvious influence of Hungarian folk music. The second and fifth are slower and more somber in character, the latter being a memorial to Bartók. The third floats high-register legato phrases over a repeated septuplet pattern and calls for the use of mutes by the horn as well as the bassoon.
York Bowen made his debut as a piano soloist at age eight, began attending the Royal Academy of Music at 14, and was only 19 when Henry Wood premiered one of his
tone poems at a Promenade Concert. A violist as well as a concert pianist, Bowen produced a number of compositions featuring solo viola, written at the urging of Lionel Tertis, a viola professor at the RAM. These include two sonatas, a concerto and the viola quartet heard this evening.
In the first decade of the 20th century, works with the title “Fantasy” (or “Phantasy” or “Fantasie”) were all the rage in England due to a composition contest begun by William Walter Cobbett in 1905. Composed in 1907, this viola quartet received its premiere on March 3, 1908, by Tertis and three of his students (among them, Eric Coates, later a famed composer of “light music”). A review of a 1972 performance celebrating Tertis’ 96th birthday stated: “The bass line cannot descend farther than C below middle C, but the limitation is barely perceived, so rich and multifarious are the textures available. This is a finely imagined movement in several sections, often twilit and nostalgic (with a touch of modality that doffs the cap to Debussy’s quartet).”
Philip Glass is the dean of American minimalist composers, although Glass himself prefers the description “music with repetitive structures.” His catalog includes 25 operas, 12 symphonies, numerous concertos and three dozen film soundtracks, beginning with his landmark score for the experimental Koyaanisqatsi in 1983. Two years later, Glass scored his first narrative film, director Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, based on the life and works of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.
Mishima combined dramatizations of the author’s novels with episodes from his life shot in color (for action taking place in 1970) and black-and-white (for flashbacks). Glass utilized a full orchestra for the literary dramatizations, strings and percussion for the realistic episodes, and string quartet for the flashbacks. The Kronos Quartet recorded the latter selections for the film’s soundtrack. “At the time of writing the film music,” says Glass, “I anticipated the string quartet section would be extracted from the film score and made into a concert piece in its own right.”
William White composed his quintet for oboe and strings during July and August of 2019 in Interlochen, Michigan, and Seattle. It had its first performance in Duxbury, Massachusetts, on December 21 of that year, at a private party celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of George and Linda Sjöberg, who commissioned it for that occasion.
“First Sight” is “a sonata-form movement in which the first and second themes are meant to reflect George and Linda, respectively. It begins with a bold and Beethovenian statement, a theme dominated by strings. The second theme is a long melody for the oboe, demure but romantic. The development section is a dramatic working-out of the first theme, which finds its way back to a recapitulation of the opening material. This is followed by a bluesy coda.”
“Slow Dance” begins with “an introductory theme for violin, viola and cello, followed by a jazz ballad for English horn. The interior section is a solo for the bass, followed by a second statement of the ballad theme, with a few ornaments and variations, along the lines of an improvisation.”
“Wedding Day” begins with “church bells ringing out, then opens onto a festive dance scene, makes an allusion to Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ sonata (a piece I had in mind since the first sketches) and then gives the strings brass-like fanfares, which will become a central motif. The fiddle launches into a country reel (a variation on the ‘George’ theme from the first movement), but the music eventually finds its way back to the romantic ‘Linda’ theme. After that, the dance tune returns, as do the fanfares and the church bells from the opening of the movement. Underneath these, the bass intones an ‘Amen’ cadence as the music winds down. There’s one final surprise, though, a virtuosic coda based on the reel, leading to a an energetic conclusion.”