Overture to The Flying Dutchman
Although the United States of Richard Wagner's time was a heyday
for home-grown talent and innovation—led by figures such as
Lincoln, Edison, Twain, and Longfellow—Americans were obsessed with
the music of a fiercely Germanic composer and his mythical tales of
old-world heroes. Wagner himself wasn't surprised that a country
"with no history behind it" would be receptive to his brash new
ideas and pioneering music, and he often talked about visiting or
even trying to work in the US.
Among the earliest of his champions in this country was Theodore
Thomas, who started conducting Wagner's music when it was brand
new—some three decades before he founded the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra. In fact, Thomas's debut concert as a symphonic
conductor, in New York City in 1862, opened with the American
premiere of The Flying Dutchman Overture that is
performed at this concert. Over the next few years, he introduced
some of Wagner's most important works to this country—the prelude
to Tristan and Isolde in 1866, less than a year after
the world premiere of the opera in Munich, and the
Meistersinger Overture seven months later.
When Thomas introduced Chicago Symphony audiences to the Overture
to The Flying Dutchman in 1892, the program book
summarized the opera's genesis and storyline:
Wagner read Heine's legend of "The Flying Dutchman," the unhappy
mariner, who after trying long in vain to pass the Cape of Good
Hope, had sworn not to desist if he had to sail on the ocean to
eternity. For his blasphemy he was condemned to the fate of the
Wandering Jew, his only hope of salvation lying in his release
through the devotion unto death of a woman, and to find such he is
allowed, every seven years, to go on shore. Senta finally proves
his saving angel, although at the cost of her life.
The Overture to The Flying Dutchman is based on two
themes-the Dutchman and his redemption-interwoven with musical
mottoes associated with the sailors and their lovers' spinning
wheels, and highlighted by a hair-raising forecast of one of
music's fiercest storms.
© 2012 Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Mason Bates first made a name for himself as a composer who
liked to incorporate electronics within orchestral music. That was
not really unexpected from someone who first heard an orchestra
listening to Pink Floyd and Moody Blues albums, and was taken by
the seamless fusion of orchestral and electronic elements. When
Bates started going to hear the Richmond Symphony in Virginia,
where he grew up, he began to develop an understanding of the
orchestra's place in history.
After a traditional musical upbringing in Richmond, which included
piano lessons and singing in the choir, Bates studied composition
and English literature in the Columbia-Juilliard joint program. He
worked with David Del Tredici and John Corigliano, and then moved
to the Bay Area in 2001 to enroll in the PhD program at Berkeley's
Center for New Music and Audio Technologies. His career, like his
music, is a singular mix of old-world establishment and New Age
culture: He has been lavished with big-league honors, from
institutions such as the American Academy in Rome, the American
Academy of Arts and Letters, and, most recently, the Heinz Award
from the Heinz Family Foundation. He also has spent many nights as
a DJ, spinning and mixing at dance clubs in San Francisco, New York
City, Berlin, and Rome.
Alternative Energy, which occupied Bates for much of 2011,
marks a new stage in his evolving—"and, perhaps, maturing," as he
says—approach to integrating electronics into the orchestra. "The
sounds coming from the speakers are as carefully crafted as the
sonorities in the orchestra," he says, "and the influences reach
far beyond techno." And the use of scrap metal in his large
percussion battery, as well as sound samples collected from a
particle accelerator at Fermilab outside Chicago, is merely part of
Bates's ongoing quest to expand-and refine-his vocabulary of sound.
Offsetting high-tech electronic sounds with old car parts fits
perfectly with the sense of passing time and changing worlds that
lies behind Alternative Energy. "The idea was that
each movement would be separated by a hundred years," Bates says,
"starting with old energy (the first movement uses scrap metal to
evoke a junkyard) and moving to new energy (the second movement
uses actual recordings from Fermilab to evoke a particle
Bates had been tossing around the ideas behind Alternative
Energy for a long time, but hearing Riccardo Muti's
performance of the Symphonie fantastique in Chicago last
season and getting to know his "unique understanding of dramatic
music" brought his "energy symphony" to life at last.
Alternative Energy is his first work written
expressly for the CSO and Riccardo Muti since Bates became one of
the Chicago Symphony's Mead Composers-in-Residence in 2010.
Mason Bates on Alternative Energy
Alternative Energy is an "energy symphony" spanning four
movements and hundreds of years. Beginning in a rustic Midwestern
junkyard in the late 19th century, the piece travels through ever
greater and more powerful forces of energy—a present-day particle
collider, a futuristic Chinese nuclear plant—until it reaches a
future Icelandic rain forest, where humanity's last inhabitants
seek a return to a simpler way of life.
The idée fixe that links these disparate worlds appears
early in Ford's Farm, 1896. This melody is heard on the
fiddle—conjuring a Henry Ford-like figure—and is accompanied by
junkyard percussion and a "phantom orchestra" that trails the
fiddler like ghosts. The accelerando cranking of a car motor
becomes a special motif in the piece, a kind of rhythmic embodiment
of ever more powerful energy. Indeed, this crank motif explodes in
the electronics in the second movement's present-day Chicago, where
we encounter actual recordings from the Fermilab particle collider.
Hip-hop beats, jazzy brass interjections, and joyous voltage surges
bring the movement to a clangorous finish.
Zoom a hundred years into the dark future of Xin Jian Province,
2112, where a great deal of the Chinese energy industry is based.
On an eerie wasteland, a lone flute sings a tragically distorted
version of the fiddle tune, dreaming of a forgotten natural world.
But a powerful industrial energy simmers to the surface, and over
the ensuing hardcore techno, wild orchestral splashes drive us to a
catastrophic meltdown. As the smoke clears, we find ourselves even
farther into the future: an Icelandic rain forest on a hotter
planet. Gentle, out-of-tune pizzicatos accompany our fiddler, who
returns over a woody percussion ensemble to make a quiet plea for
simpler times. The occasional song of future birds whips around us,
a naturalistic version of the crank motif. Distant tribal voices
call for the building of a fire-our first energy source.
© 2012 Chicago Symphony
Symphony in D Minor
César Franck first won acclaim as a child prodigy. In 1830, his
father enrolled him in the Liège Conservatory, and César made his
first tour as a virtuoso pianist at the age of 11. In 1835, he
moved to Paris for advanced study, and he walked off with many top
prizes. Franck next won fame as an organist and a composer of organ
music. Then, in middle age, he devoted himself to teaching; he came
into his own as a composer late in his career. His major works,
including this Symphony in D Minor, were all written between 1880
and 1890, the last decade of his life.
The D-Minor Symphony is the best known of Franck's orchestral
works. It has three movements, a formal layout that Franck used in
nearly all his major works. The entire score is saturated with the
main theme of the first movement, a three-note motif that echoes
the famous questioning motto of Beethoven's last string quartet—he
gave it the words Muss es sein? ("Must it be?"). The
opening movement follows the general guidelines of sonata form, but
it also ranges widely, reinventing and transforming its basic
thematic material as it goes.
The Allegretto is both a slow movement and scherzo rolled into one.
Its main melody, unfolded at a leisurely pace, is introduced by the
English horn. Muted strings suggest the spirit of a scherzo,
continuing and at the same time complementing what has gone
"The finale takes up all the themes again, as in [Beethoven's]
Ninth," Franck wrote. "They do not return as quotations, however; I
have elaborated them and given them the role of new elements." That
is the essence of the entire score-music continuously revisited,
transformed, and in the process reborn. "I risked a great deal,"
Franck said of his new symphony, "but the next time I shall risk
even more." Perhaps chastened by the cool reception the work
received, however, he wrote no more orchestral works. It was only
after his death that the D-Minor Symphony began to be played
more-eventually becoming the most popular work in Franck's small
but prime catalog.
© 2012 Chicago Symphony