Performance Sunday, February 5, 2012 | 3 PM

The Carmina Burana Choral Project

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
A choir of New York City students joins conductor David Robertson and the Orchestra of St. Luke's for a definitive performance of Orff's Carmina Burana. In addition, three high school–aged composers have been selected to write new works for chorus and orchestra based on the musical themes of Carmina Burana. These new works will be premiered on the first half of the program.
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The Program

“Dies irae”

About the Composer

Gabe Smallwood, 14, is a pianist, horn player, and professional organist who began composing at the age of nine. Since then, without any formal compositional training, he has written a vast collection of music, including masses, cantatas, and chorale preludes to concertos, partitas, and sonatas. His music is influenced greatly by the works of Bach, who is also his greatest inspiration. Since Gabe was three, he has enjoyed studying piano with various teachers, including Kathy Henderson and Dr. Paolo Gualdi. He is currently a freshman at Wilson High School in Florence, South Carolina, where he is a student in the International Baccalaureate program.

Gabe has played French horn with the Florence Youth Symphony Orchestra for the past three years. He has served as the organist at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church since August 2010, and is an active member of the American Guild of Organists. This past summer, Gabe had the privilege of attending the South Carolina Governor’s School
for the Arts and Humanities Discovery Program, where he studied piano with Dr. Stephen Taylor.

In the Composer’s Own Words

The Dies irae is an apocalyptic poem whose text and theme have been favored by composers since the time it was written by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century. Many inspirations for this setting of the Dies irae come from the sequences found in the requiems of composers such as Mozart, Fauré, and Verdi. An early plan for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana even included a version of the Dies irae. With my composition, I wish to communicate to the audience how sudden “the Last Judgment” could happen, what its affects are, and give insight on many of the different perspectives of this final day on earth.



© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

“A Man’s Life”

About the Composer

Thomas Reeves was born in Japan in 1994 and moved to New York in 2002. He began studying piano at the age of five and composing at the age of seven with Dr. Vivian Fung and Dr. Manuel Sosa. He currently studies composition with Dr. Ira Taxin and piano with Dr. Ernest Barretta at The Juilliard School, Pre-College division.

Thomas has written more than 50 works for piano, chamber ensemble, voice, and orchestra. He has earned numerous composition awards, including five ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards and five NYSSMA composition prizes (2006–2010). Thomas’s works have been performed at New York’s Steinway Hall, NPR’s From the Top, the Austrian Cultural Forum, Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music (by the Biava Quartet with Derek Bermel), and the Kennedy Center. He also performed his own Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra. In 2008, a six-movement work was commissioned and performed by the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, the Peabody Children’s Chorus, and the Peabody Violin Choir.

A senior at the Dalton School, Thomas lives in Manhattan. He enjoys mathematics, board games, and swimming in his spare time.

In the Composer’s Own Words

As I was searching in a bookstore for a text for my piece, I came across a translation of the Kokin Wakashū, or Kokinshū for short. Roughly translated as “Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times,” the Kokin Wakashū, compiled circa 905, was the first imperial anthology of Japanese poetry. From this collection, I set to music a cycle of three poems that flow together and deal with fate, the subject of the famous “O Fortuna” that bookends Carmina Burana. Unlike Orff’s piece, however, “A Man’s Life” is an acceptance of fate, rather than a complaint.



© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

“Thus It Was”

About the Composer

An avid pianist, vocalist, flautist, and cellist, Anthony Constantino is a 17-year-old junior at University High School in Tucson, Arizona. He has sung and traveled with the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus since 2003, and has also conducted various pieces in concert, including selections from Holst’s The Planets. For the past two years, Anthony has been the first-chair bass in Arizona’s Southern Central Regional Choir and was ranked within the top basses of the 2010 and 2011 Arizona all-state choirs.

Anthony discovered composition in sixth grade. Since then, he has studied composition with Robert McClure, Ilona Gay, and Dr. Alex Shawn. He is a third-year student of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Young Composers Project, where he composed two pieces for full orchestra. Anthony also studies piano with Dr. Kim Hayashi, cello with Mary Beth Tyndall, and is self-taught on the flute. In 2010, he joined the Arizona Repertory Singers, a professional choir in Tucson, who commissioned him to write a choral piece “Beauty Has the Coldest Heart.” Last summer, he spent five weeks studying composition, voice, and piano with Matthew Barnson and David Ludwig at the Rocky Ridge Music Center in the Colorado. His biggest influences are Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, and Bartók.

In the Composer’s Own Words

Inspired by Carmina Burana’s theme of the mysteries of human existence, “Thus It Was” outlines the long and ever-changing path that everyone must follow. The poem, written by Dag Hammarskjöld, is a statement confirming the human necessity to strive for a goal, even if it is not yet known what that goal might be. “Thus It Was” begins with a single note, crescendos to a climax, and ends on a single tone: “A clear pure note / In the silence.” Composed in the Rocky Mountains, it strives to portray the fervent romanticism within human yearning for both knowledge and understanding.



© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Carmina Burana

Music as Primitive Ritual

Few works in Western music make a greater virtue of simplicity than Carl Orff’s 1935 neo-Medieval “secular cantata” Carmina Burana. The spellbinding opening, a pair of invocations to “Fortune, Empress of the World,” hurls the listener immediately into a primeval world of sound where harmony, melody, counterpoint, development—all the basics of what we conventionally regard as Western musical tradition—are reduced to the most rudimentary levels. What is important—front and center—is rhythm.

Like the Medieval bards he invokes (and the ancient ones they invoked), Orff regarded rhythm as supreme, a life force to which all other musical elements subordinate. His theory of music flowed from his method of teaching music to children, which involved having them play increasingly elaborate patterns with percussion instruments before learning anything about reading or writing music. To Orff, music was a primitive, ecstatic, creative act—a life-giving ritual rather than a formal “performance.” And rhythm was its fundamental expression.

Freelance Hedonism

Orff’s text, drawn from a collection of 200 13th-century Latin poems by a group of vagabonds called the Goliards, was ideal for his purposes. Composed by minstrels, de-frocked monks, and other species of roving, freelance hedonists, these remarkable lyrics are a mixture of paganism, Christianity, and parodies of both. Mixing the sacred and profane—drinking songs and religious chants, seduction lyrics and hymns to the Virgin—in a manner that may seem peculiar to us but was utterly routine in the medieval world, they express an uninhibited joy in the sensualities of life, circumscribed only for Fortune and Fate—the forces which open and conclude Orff’s cantata.

Out with the Modern, In with the New

Carmina Burana
, the first and most famous in a trilogy of related works, was Orff’s radical antidote to what he thought was the increasingly convoluted complexity of German music, whether Wagnerian, serial, neo-Baroque, or otherwise. Orff’s solution was to go all the way, to simplify everything in the most basic manner, using folk sources close to the people and eschewing the “advances” of modern harmony. (Copland was about to launch a similar aesthetic in America, but without going nearly so far.) Indeed, Orff destroyed many of his pre-Carmina pieces after the work’s 1937 Frankfurt premiere, judging them to be too lush and complicated. Only pieces supporting his vision of music as barbaric ritual were deemed acceptable post-Carmina.

Now we know that Carmina Baruna was ahead of its time. Beginning in the 1970s, many composers (Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Jacques Hétu, Arvo Pärt) began complaining about the excessive complexity of contemporary music and resorting to simplified methods that were often centered on repetitive harmonic patterns, ostinatos, and simple triadic harmonies—much as Orff did in Carmina. Once again, composers became eager to address a large audience by using folk or nationalistic sources. Orff himself was shrewdly aware of the oddly contemporary quality of his old-fashioned material. “I am often asked,” he once said, “why I nearly always select old material, fairy tales, and legends for my works. Because I do not feel them as old.”

Still, Orff couldn’t completely get away from what his colleagues were doing. Like Varèse, Bartók, and other more complex and challenging composers, he uses a huge percussion battery: glockenspiels, castanets, wood blocks, tam tam, tambourine, and other exotic noise-makers. These are delightfully in keeping with medieval musical practice as well as Orff’s rhythmic emphasis. (Orff’s splashy string effects are another matter.) And certain sections (“Circa mea pectora,” for example) have ostinato patterns reminiscent of Stravinsky, especially the Symphony of Psalms.

Carmina nonetheless has an utterly distinctive sound based on visceral, ecstatic colors and effects. Its hypnotic sensuality and rhythmic excitement give it a consistent character, even though each of its 24 settings has a different ensemble of singers and instruments, though all communicate an intimate understanding of the relationship between orchestra and human voice as well as an irresistible zest for life.

A Controversial Popularity

Carmina Burana does have its dark side. It was composed in Germany during the height of the Nazi war machine by a composer who (unlike Hindemith and Weill) stayed in Germany. Many continue to see its simplicity, worship of the past, renunciation of complexity, and back-to-Nature primitivism fitting all too comfortably with fascist ideology.

On the other hand, if we permitted ourselves to enjoy only politically correct art, we would have incredibly narrow options. We would need to eliminate Wagner for his racism (Cosima and Richard both), not to mention T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence. H. L. Mencken, and numerous others whose political and racial views were less enlightened than their art.

For better and worse, Carmina continues to be singularly popular, especially for a cantata, its populist resonance far exceeding anything Orff could have imagined. As this concert illustrates, it continues to inspire classical composers, but it is also endlessly regurgitated in commercials and movies. Hollywood fantasy and action films are particularly egregious, recycling pseudo-Carmina bombast with depressing regularity.

Orff, of course, is no more responsible for this than Strauss was for gushy 1950s Hollywood music or Puccini for British mega-musicals. When Carmina Burana is performed live, especially in a venue like Carnegie Hall, Orff’s vision of a “total theater” of the senses is still as fresh and vital as it was 70 years ago.


—Jack Sullivan



© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

The Carmina Burana Choral Project is generously underwritten by Martha and Bob Lipp.

Made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts.

The Carmina Burana Choral Project is also made possible, in part, by an endowment fund for choral music established by S. Donald Sussman in memory of Judith Arron and Robert Shaw.