Performance Friday, February 22, 2013 | 8 PM

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Renowned for his interpretations of Ravel's music, Jean-Yves Thibaudet joins The Philadelphia Orchestra for the composer’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G Major. The evening also features Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, which infamously caused riots in 1913 for its explosive, driving rhythms; today, it is one of Stravinsky’s most celebrated and frequently performed works, its influence heard in everything from modern classical works to film soundtracks.

The contemporary work on this program is part of My Time, My Music.
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The Program

Concertino Cusqueño

Gabriela Lena Frank is a brilliant, genial composer whose beautiful music appeals to a wide audience. She was born in Berkeley, California, in 1972. Her father, a Mark Twain scholar, instilled in her a love of literature and the vernacular, while her mother, an artist, surrounded their precocious daughter with a collection of fascinating visual stimuli. At age three, she began to play the piano, picking out notes from Peruvian folk music heard on her parents' stereo. Like Clara Schumann, Frank did not begin to speak until she was five or six years old. She soon embarked on a journey to craft an aural response to her rich cultural Latin American, Lithuanian, and Chinese heritage, even adding folk-music tunes to traditional Classical sonatinas.

During her last year in high school, Frank came to the decision to devote her life to composition, following her passion to Rice University, where she received a firm foundation in what she calls "old school" music making. Subsequently, at the University of Michigan under the tutelage of William Bolcom, among many others, she worked to make "old school" music new by nurturing her predilection for folk genres and enriching her music with allusions to literary and visual sources.

Frank has composed in a wide range of musical genres, from string quartets to piano works to pieces for orchestra. She bestows on each a poetic title, which she calls "the hardest part." Like Gustav Mahler and others preceding her, she debates the amount of information she wishes her audience to know about a piece before it is heard. She has won numerous awards, including a Latin Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for Inca Dances (2009), a piece for guitar and string quartet, and a prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship.

Music That "speaks to a Lot of People"

Frank possesses a unique ability to capture sound in its original environment, as one might recognize the wind through chimes. While traveling in South America, she gathered cultural treasures that deeply inform her music. Visuals can "enhance composition and performance," she says, and her music is a loving scrapbook of Latin rhythms, syncopation, displaced accents, and colorful instrumentation. Like Leonard Bernstein, whose music she has quoted in her compositions, Frank hopes that her music "speaks to a lot of people."

The composer explains that her 12-minute Concertino Cusqueño, commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra and premiered in October 2012 for the arrival of Yannick Nézet-Séguin as music director, exudes a festive sonority and was written to "sound classical," have clear form, and challenge the orchestra and audience she so admires.

A Closer Listen

The composer has provided the following description of Concertino Cusqueño.

Concertino Cusqueño
, written in celebration of the fine players of The Philadelphia Orchestra on the eve of Yannick Nézet-Séguin's inaugural season as music director, finds inspiration in two unlikely bedfellows: Peruvian culture and British composer Benjamin Britten. As a daughter of a Peruvian immigrant, I've long been fascinated by my multicultural heritage and have been blessed to find Western classical music to be a hospitable playpen for my wayward explorations. In doing so, I've looked to composers such as Alberto Ginastera from Argentina, Béla Bartók from Hungary, Chou Wen-chung from China, and my own teacher, William Bolcom, from the US as heroes: To me, these gentlemen are the very definition of "cultural witnesses," as they illuminate new connections between seemingly disparate idioms of every hue imaginable.

To this list, I add Britten, whom I admire inordinately. I wish I could have met him, worked up the nerve to show him my own music, invited him to travel to beautiful Peru with me … I would have shared chicha morada (purple corn drink) with him, taken him to a zampoña panpipe instrument-making shop, set him loose in a mercado (market) streaming with immigrant chinos and the native indio descendants of the Incas. I would have loved showing him the port towns exporting anchoveta (anchovies), the serranos (highlands) exporting potatoes, and the selvas (jungles) exporting sugar. And I know Britten would have been fascinated by the rich mythology enervating the literature and music of this small Andean nation, so deeply similar to the plots of his many operas, among other works.

Concertino Cusqueño welds together two brief musical ideas: the first few notes of a religious tune, "Ccollanan María," from Cusco (the original capital of the Inca empire Tawantinsuyu, and a major tourist draw today) with the simple timpani motif from the opening bars of the first movement of Britten's elegant Violin Concerto. I am able to spin an entire one-movement work from these two ideas, designating a prominent role to the four string principal players (with a healthy nod to the piccolo / bass clarinet duo and, yes, the timpanist). In this way, while imagining Britten in Cusco, I can also indulge my own enjoyment of personalizing the symphonic sound by allowing individuals from the ensemble to shine.

It is with further joy that I dedicate this piece to my nephew, Alexander Michael Frank, born in Philadelphia on February 25, 2011.

Eleonora M. Beck



Program notes © 2013. All rights reserved.

Program notes may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association and/or Eleanora Beck.

Piano Concerto in G Major

When Maurice Ravel embarked upon his American tour of 1928, his earlier battles for recognition in a hostile Paris were a distant memory. He was a celebrity. "As soon as we arrived in the harbor, a swarm of journalists and cartoonists invaded the boat with cameras," he wrote to his brother upon arriving in New York. "In the hotel, the telephone didn't stop ringing. Every minute they would bring me baskets of flowers and of the most delicious fruits in the world. Rehearsals, teams of journalists relieving one another every hour, letters, invitations, receptions. In the evening, relaxation: dance halls, theaters, gigantic movie houses, etc." Doubtless, Ravel heard a wonderful mix of contemporary jazz and big-band music during these excursions into New York's night life, and it left its mark-as did the music of Gershwin.

Inspired by Jazz

The tour, during which Ravel conducted his own music and performed on piano, was also an unprecedented artistic success. Upon returning to France, he immediately began work on the Piano Concerto in G Major, the first ideas for which were conceived in America. His progress was interrupted by an additional commission from Paul Wittgenstein, the one-armed Viennese pianist, for a concerto for the left hand. So during the next two years, Ravel wrote two concertos side by side; both are permeated by the rhythms, harmonies, and textures of 1920s jazz. "Each movement of my new concerto has some jazz in it," he said in February 1932 of the G-Major Concerto. "I frankly admit that I am an admirer of jazz, and I think it is bound to influence modern music. It is not just a passing phase, but it has come to stay. Jazz is thrilling and inspiring; I spend many hours listening to it in nightclubs and on the radio."

The lightheartedness of the G-Major Concerto was designed as a sort of foil to the more serious Left-Hand Concerto, as well as to excessively serious concertos in general. "I set out with the old notion that a concerto should be a diversion," Ravel later said of the G-major work. "Brahms's principle of a symphonic concerto was wrong; the critic was right who said that Brahms had written a concerto 'against' rather than 'for' the piano." His goal here, as he himself stated, was virtuosity without profundity.

He originally intended the concerto as a pianistic display piece for himself, in fact for yet another projected concert tour. But by the time he had completed the arduous, two-year project in 1931, he had grown so ill that pianist Marguerite Long was enlisted to perform the demanding solo part. (He did, however, conduct the performance.) After the successful Paris premiere in January 1932, he and Long took the work on an extended tour of 20 European cities. The reception was enormous; in a number of cities, the audiences demanded a repeat of the propulsive and jazzy final movement.

The presence of jazz elements in the Concerto in G Major has, however, tended to obscure a view of the work's debt to tradition and to formal models-and of its meticulous craftsmanship. The first movement, for example, is one of the composer's most sharply etched "Classical" forms, dazzling in its sheer sonic excitement, yet consistently satisfying in its remarkable logic and symmetry. Ravel was a diligent composer and a perfectionist; the almost unparalleled "polish" of his scores was the result of meticulous care heaped upon every measure of music. He thought nothing of spending two years on a piece.

A Closer Listen

A crack of a whip and a Basque folk tune in the piccolo begin the opening Allegramente; the piano's first solo might remind some of Rhapsody in Blue, as will, perhaps, the bluesy clarinet theme that follows. The movement's pyrotechnics culminate in a twittering, cascading cadenza. The second movement (Adagio assai) is a rare treat in the 20th-century repertoire: a truly lyrical, tonal slow movement with the integrity required by the most rigorous of modernists. It is like Chopin viewed through a Stravinskian lens; its out-of-step triple meter continues to "fool the ear" throughout. The Presto finale is a perpetuum mobile movement that brings the work to a jaunty, inspired close.

Paul J. Horsley



Program notes © 2013. All rights reserved.

Program notes may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association and/or Eleanora Beck.


The Rite of Spring

Music connected with dance has long held a special place in French culture, at least as far back as the age of Louis XIV, and there was an explosion of major full-length scores during the 19th century in Paris. Some favorites were written by now generally forgotten figures, such as Adolphe Adam (Giselle, 1841) and his pupil Léo Delibes (Coppélia, 1870, and Sylvia, 1876). These composers inspired the supreme ballet music of the century, that written by Tchaikovsky, the great Russian. With his Swan Lake (1875-1876), Sleeping Beauty (1888-1889), and The Nutcracker (1892), ballet found its musical master.

Back to Paris

In the first decade of the 20th century, however, magnificent dance returned to Paris when the legendary impresario Sergei Diaghilev started exporting Russian culture. He began in 1906 with the visual arts, presented symphonic music the next year, then opera, and added ballet in 1909. The offerings of his Ballets Russes proved to be especially popular, despite grumbling that the productions did not seem Russian enough for some Parisians. Music historian Richard Taruskin has remarked on the paradox:

The Russian ballet, originally a French import and proud of its stylistic heritage, now had to become stylistically "Russian" so as to justify its exportation back to France. Diaghilev's solution was to commission, expressly for presentation in France in 1910, something without precedent in Russia: a ballet on a Russian folk subject, and with music cast in a conspicuously exotic "Russian" style. He cast about for a composer willing to come up with so weird a thing.

Stravinsky and the Ballets Russes

Diaghilev had some difficulty finding that composer. After being refused by several others, he engaged the 27-year-old Igor Stravinsky, who achieved great success with The Firebird in 1910. His second ballet, Petrushka, followed the next season. And then came the real shocker that made music history: The Rite of Spring, the premiere centennial of which is celebrated this May.

The Russian artist and archaeologist Nikolai Roerich, a specialist in Slavic history and folklore, devised the scenario for the Rite together with Stravinsky, eventually creating the sets and costumes. Subtitled "Pictures of Pagan Russia," the ballet offers ritual dances that culminate in the sacrifice of the "chosen one" in order "to propitiate the god of spring." Stravinsky composed the music between September 1911 and March 1913, after which the work went into an unusually protracted period of rehearsals. There were a large number for the orchestra, many more for the dancers, and then a handful with all the forces together. The final dress rehearsal on May 28, 1913-the day before the premiere-was presented before a large audience and attended by various critics. All seemed to go smoothly.

A Riotous Premiere

An announcement in the newspaper Le Figaro on the day of the premiere promised

the strongly stylized characteristic attitudes of the Slavic race with an awareness of the beauty of the prehistoric period. The prodigious Russian dancers were the only ones capable of expressing these stammerings of a semi-savage humanity, of composing these frenetic human clusters wrenched incessantly by the most astonishing polyrhythm ever to come to the mind of a musician. There is truly a new thrill which will surely raise passionate discussions, but which will leave all true artists with an unforgettable impression.

Diaghilev undoubtedly devised the premiere to be a big event. Ticket prices at the newly built Théâtre des Champs-Élysées were doubled and the cultural elite of Paris showed up. The program opened with a beloved classic: Les Sylphides, orchestrations of piano works by Chopin. What exactly happened next, however, is not entirely clear. Conflicting accounts quickly emerged, sometimes put forth by people who were not even in attendance. From the very beginning of The Rite of Spring, there was laughter and an uproar among the audience, but whether this was principally in response to the music or to the dancing is still debated. It seems the latter. One critic observed that "past the prelude, the crowd simply stopped listening to the music so that they might better amuse themselves with the choreography." That choreography was by the 23-year-old dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, who had presented a provocative staging of Debussy's Jeux with the company just two weeks earlier. Although the music was inaudible at times through the din, conductor Pierre Monteux pressed on and saw the 30-minute ballet through to the end. The evening was not yet over. After intermission came two more audience favorites: Weber's The Specter of the Rose and Borodin's Polovtsian Dances.

Five more performances of The Rite of Spring were given over the next two weeks, and then the company took the ballet on tour. Within the year, the work was triumphantly presented as a concert piece, again with Monteux conducting, and ever since the concert hall has been its principal home. Yet it is well worth remembering that this extraordinary composition, which some commentators herald as the advent of modern music, was originally a theatrical piece-a collaborative effort that forged the talents of Stravinsky, Roerich, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Monteux, and a large ensemble of musicians and dancers.

A Closer Listen

The Rite of Spring calls for an enormous orchestra deployed to spectacular effect. The ballet is in two tableaux-"The Adoration of the Earth" and "The Sacrifice"-each of which has an introductory section, a series of dances, and a concluding ritual. The opening minutes of the piece give an idea of Stravinsky's innovative style. A solo bassoon, playing at an unusually high register, intones a melancholy melody. This is the first of at least nine folk melodies that the composer adapted for the piece, though he later denied doing so (except for this opening tune).

Some order eventually emerges out of chaos as the "The Auguries of Spring" roar out massive string chords punctuated by eight French horns. In the following dances, unexpected and complicated metrical innovations emerge. At various points in the piece, Stravinsky changes the meter every measure, a daunting challenge for the orchestra in 1913 that now seems second nature to many professional musicians. If Arnold Schoenberg had famously "liberated the dissonance" a few years earlier, Stravinsky now seems to liberate rhythm and meter.

Although the scenario changed over the course of composition, a basic "Argument" was printed in the program at the premiere, which read as follows:

First Act: The Adoration of the Earth. Spring. The Earth is covered with flowers. The Earth is covered with grass. A great joy reigns on the Earth. Mankind delivers itself up to the dance and seeks to know the future by following the rites. The eldest of the Sages himself takes part in the Glorification of Spring. He is led forward to unite himself with the abundant and superb Earth. Everyone stamps the Earth ecstatically.

Second Part: The Sacrifice. After the day. After midnight. On the hills are the consecrated stones. The adolescents play the mystic games and see the Great Way. They glorify, they proclaim Her who has been designated to be delivered to the God. The ancestors are invoked, venerated witnesses. And the wise Ancestors of Mankind contemplate the sacrifice. This is the way to sacrifice Iarilo the magnificent, the flamboyant.

Christopher H. Gibbs


Program notes © 2013. All rights reserved.

Program notes may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association and/or Eleanora Beck.

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Sponsored by Breguet, Exclusive Timepiece of Carnegie Hall
The Trustees of Carnegie Hall gratefully acknowledge the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Erik Kahn in support of the 2012-2013 season.
This performance is part of The Philadelphia Orchestra, and Philadelphia Too.

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