Performance Friday, December 16, 2011 | 7:30 PM

Ensemble ACJW

Featuring musicians of The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education

Zankel Hall
Back to Event Details
Print Program Notes

The Program

Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066

The first of Bach’s four orchestral suites was premiered by Collegium Musicum, a performing ensemble in Leipzig. This group was in many ways similar to Ensemble ACJW, being composed of young professional musicians who played regular concerts to promote music of the time. Collegium Musicum was founded by Georg Philipp Telemann and was later directed by Bach for 10 years during his tenure in Leipzig.

The majority of Bach’s instrumental suites were written for solo instruments—his most notable today are for cello and keyboard. The Baroque suite was a collection of dance movements unified by motive, harmony, and key; the dance movements were preceded by a prelude or overture. The orchestral suites, however, break from the typical formula of dances, and instead include uncommon dances like the forlane and passepied. The suites also showcase Bach’s masterful combination of the Italian and French music traditions: One can hear the French influence in the double-dotted rhythms, rapid scalar figures, and da-capo form, in which the opening is repeated after a contrasting middle section. 

All of Bach’s orchestral works use slightly differing instrumentation; in this piece, he uses two oboes, a bassoon, and strings with basso continuo. The reed instruments at times double the strings and at other times play independent melodies. The winds perform Bourrée II alone; this new sound color underscores the fact that this is the only movement written in the parallel minor. The strings form the backbone of the work, but they take on other roles, as well: In Gavotte II, the strings play a fanfare-like theme in unison to make up for the lack of brass in the ensemble.

—Shelley Monroe Huang

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

“Sta nell’Ircana” from Alcina

Alcina was composed and premiered while Handel was in residence at London’s Covent Garden, just a few years before he stopped writing operas in favor of oratorios. This opera was so popular, that there was a revival of the work just a year after its premiere. At this point in his career, Handel had the freedom to choose from a wider range of librettos; this explains why Alcina contains more supernatural elements than his earlier operas.

Alcina is about a sorceress who transforms her unfortunate captives into natural, immobile objects. Ruggiero (a male role sung by a mezzo-soprano) is the sorceress’s latest prisoner on a magical island—though under the spell of Alcina, he has yet to be transformed. After breaking away from her enchantment, Ruggiero abandons Alcina to return to his fiancée. Alcina pleads with to Ruggiero come back, but he instead breaks the urn that contains her power. “Sta nell’Ircana” is the final exuberant aria sung by Ruggiero that expresses the triumph of the heroic character. The energy and excitement of the aria is manifested in the fiery orchestration that features horns and quick, repeated notes in the strings. The aria’s da-capo form allows the singer to show off her vocal virtuosity during the heavily embellished second hearing of the opening material.

—Shelley Monroe Huang

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Sinfonia; “Agitata da due venti”; and “Ombre vane,” from Griselda, RV 718

Written near the end of his life, Vivaldi’s demanding and impressive opera Griselda is based on a popular 18th-century libretto derived from one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the opera, King Gualtiero tests his peasant wife Griselda to prove to his subjects that she is worthy of being queen. The king announces that their daughter Costanza—who was sent away after birth—was killed on his orders, and he now plans to marry another woman. Unbeknownst to Griselda, this new wife-to-be is actually Costanza. However, Costanza wants to marry Roberto, the younger brother of the prince who raised her.

The Sinfonia from Griselda serves to set up Vivaldi’s opera; this three-movement overture form was typical of Italian-Baroque opera writing. Until the end of the 18th century, sinfonias were often independently performed at concerts without any mention of the opera they came from, and eventually became what are known today as “symphonies.”

The most famous aria of the opera, “Agitata da due venti,” showcases the technical possibilities of the voice. Vivaldi’s demanding vocal writing requires the soloist to have complete control over her instrument when executing passages of fast tempos, large leaps, repeated notes, and high and low pitches. The orchestration expresses the agitation of the winds, waves, and sea through the strings’ passages of speed and repetition. In the aria “Ombre vane,” Costanza expresses the pain and sorrow she feels over being forced into a marriage and not being able to marry her true love. The dotted-note writing for the strings contrasts starkly against the long, smooth line of the voice. The singer is also required to produce a controlled and pure line that magnificently ascends to the top of her range.

—Shelley Monroe Huang

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé

After seeing a score of Igor Stravinsky’s Three Japanese Lyrics in 1913, Ravel was inspired by his friend’s choice of instrumentation—an extension of Schoenberg’s instrumentationfor Pierrot Lunaire. The resulting piece, Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, uses texts by one of Ravel’s favorite poets. Mallarmé’s work had inspired many compositions during this period, including Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Even though this piece is dedicated to its poet, Ravel also dedicated a movement to Stravinsky, Florent Schmitt, and Erik Satie, respectively.

The influence of Stravinsky and Schoenberg is heard in Ravel’s way of challenging tonality, especially in the first two movements: The large leaps in the beginning of the second movement are more characteristic of Schoenberg than Ravel. However, Ravel maintains his own distinct tone colors throughout the piece using his distinct orchestration techniques. For instance, the first minute of the work consists of placid, but energetic triadic writing in the string parts that allow the voice and other instruments to organically unfold out of the colorful atmosphere.

—Shelley Monroe Huang

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 38

After having enjoyed the experience of writing his first chamber symphony with such facility, Schoenberg immediately started working on his second in 1906. The same compositional ease, however, did not come to Schoenberg during the creation of Chamber Symphony No. 2. The piece’s final version was not completed until 1939, after Schoenberg’s third attempt to finish what he started. During this 33-year span, Schoenberg went through many changes in his compositional style. In the early 1900s, he wrote in the tonal late-Romantic tradition; his compositions abandoned centers of key starting around 1908. By 1923, he had created 12-tone serialism, but ultimately returned in varying degrees to tonality. This timespan also encompassed much personal turmoil: Living through both World War I and II, he was forced to flee from the Nazis in Europe to America.

The first movement of Chamber Symphony No. 2 was almost entirely composed during Schoenberg’s first attempt at the work from 1906 to 1908—only minor edits and 20 measures at the end were added later. However, the second movement was only half-completed by the time Schoenberg returned to the work in 1939. The listener can hear the range of styles as the work unfolds, but the consistent quality of the music keeps the piece unified. Schoenberg’s battle to complete this chamber symphony also involved his intention to include a melodrama third movement that was based on his own text Wendepunkt (Turning Point), following the soul through sadness to contentment, then to despair and sorrow. Schoenberg eventually scratched this third movement, leaving only silence.

—Shelley Monroe Huang

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Goldman Sachs Gives 48x37
Lead Support of The Academy is provided by Goldman Sachs Gives.

Major funding for The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education—has been provided by Susan and Edward C. Forst and Goldman Sachs Gives, The Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation, the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation, The Irving Harris Foundation, The Kovner Foundation, Martha and Bob Lipp, Judith and Burton Resnick, and the Susan and Elihu Rose Foundation.

Additional support has been provided by The Arnow Family Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Nicola Bulgari, The Edwin Caplin Foundation, the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Mrs. Nancy A. Marks, Mr. and Mrs. Lester S. Morse Jr., the Edward John Noble Foundation, The Joe Plumeri Foundation, and Suki Sandler.

Additional funding provided by Breguet, in partnership with Henry and Elizabeth Segerstrom.

The Academy is made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State.