CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Thursday, April 25, 2013 | 7:30 PM

American Soundscapes

Zankel Hall
Guided by composer John Adams and conductor David Robertson, talented young conductors take the podium to lead a handpicked ensemble of dynamic young instrumentalists in this final concert featuring landmark American works of the 20th and 21st centuries.
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The Program

CHARLES IVES
Three Places in New England

About the Composer


Charles Ives is one of the most important and original—and perhaps most misunderstood—American composers. Though he studied composition formally and had a 14-year career as a professional organist, Ives was an insurance salesman by vocation and was thus incorrectly thought of by many as an amateur. His music interweaves American and European musical traditions with innovations in harmony (especially bitonality), rhythm, and structure. His music distinctly reflects his time, but was simultaneously far ahead of it. His seemingly chaotic scores were often thought to be disorganized and radical, resulting in few performances during his lifetime. There were several champions of Ives's music, however, such as composers Lou Harrison and Henry Cowell, and conductor Nicolas Slonimsky, who were crucial for bringing Ives's music to the fore. In 1947, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony No. 3, bringing with it international renown, new audiences, and new champions. By the time of his death, Ives had risen to eminence, and his works are now among the most revered in the American canon.


About the Work


Three Places in New England was among the first of Ives's major works to appear in performance and publication. Like his other compositions of this time, it is highly complex, integrating many different musical styles, layering multiple melodies, and famously quoting previously written musical material. Designated by Ives as his "First Orchestral Set," the work was originally conceived for large orchestra. In order to arrange its first performance, Ives re-scored the piece for chamber orchestra.


A Closer Listen


One of Ives's most often performed works, Three Places in New England depicts American lifestyle and patriotism during the early 20th century. Each of its three movements is named for a place in New England, and their respective moods reflect Ives's own response to these sites. The movements are ordered slow-fast-slow, as Ives often preferred instead of the typical fast-slow-fast, and from longest to shortest.

The first movement, "The 'St. Gaudens' in Boston Common" is a tribute to the Civil War monument honoring Colonel Robert Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th (the first regiment in the Union Army comprised of African-American soldiers). In this brooding movement, Ives paraphrases ragtime, slave plantation songs, and Civil War tunes, weaving snippets of melodies from "Old Black Joe," "Marching Through Georgia," "The Battle Cry of Freedom," and "Massa's in de Cold Ground" over the pulsing timpani. Ives wrote, "The movement ends as if it were a memory fading from consciousness."

"Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut" was inspired by a Revolutionary War memorial park named for General Israel Putnam. The movement is rollicking and upbeat, meant to recreate the experience of a young Ives at a Fourth of July celebration as he imagines the activities of the Revolutionary Army. The image of a marching band comes to mind, as the strains of "Yankee Doodle," "Bringing in the Sheaves," and "Semper fidelis" emerge through the texture.

"The Housatonic at Stockbridge" returns to the somberness of the opening. This haunting movement is evocative of a Sunday morning walk taken with the newlywed Mrs. Ives (as well as a poem of the same name by Robert Underwood Johnson), which Ives wrote was "something that one would always remember."

Throughout the work, listeners can latch onto the recognizable melodies; amidst the tone clusters, avant-garde chromaticism, and masses of sound, they serve as accessible reference points from which to enter Ives's world.


—Dr. ToniMarie Marchioni

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

JOHN ADAMS
Shaker Loops

About the Work


Shaker Loops had its start as a string quartet under the title Wavemaker. Its governing principle was the repetitive, oscillating patterns best known from the music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Following the work's premiere, which John Adams wrote, "crashed and burned," he decided to expand the orchestration to add more acoustical power and to impose a large-scale structure that would allow more variety and emotional range. The result was the four-movement, septet version of Shaker Loops. It is considered the composer's first masterpiece and a turning point in his output, representing a return to tonality and pure instrumental writing.


A Closer Listen


The work's title is evocative on several levels. Loops is taken from the era of taped music, where small bits of pre-recorded tape could be attached end-to-end in order to repeat melodic or rhythmic patterns over and over. The Shaker aspect has a double meaning. Musically, a "shake" suggests either a fast trill between two notes or a tremolo with the bow on a string instrument. Religiously, it references the Shaker sect, suggested by Adams's own childhood memories growing up close to a colony in New Hampshire.

Adams explains, "Although, as has since been pointed out to me, the term Shaker itself is derogatory, it nevertheless summons up the vision of these otherwise pious and industrious souls caught up in the ecstatic frenzy of a dance that culminated in an epiphany of physical and spiritual transcendence. This dynamic, almost electrically charged element, so out of place in the orderly mechanistic universe of Minimalism, gave the music its raison d'être and ultimately led to the full realization of the piece."

The piece is divided into four sections, and though they blend together, they are distinctly characterized by a different style of string playing. The first and last movements are focused on "shaking" (the fast tremelos on the strings), the second movement features slow glissandos amidst a barely moving pool of sound, and the third is devoted to lyrical melodies. All four sections are tightly governed by the length of the looping fragments, creating a constantly shifting ebb and flow among the ensemble.


—Dr. ToniMarie Marchioni

 

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

ANDREW NORMAN
Try

About the Composer


A composer of mainly chamber and orchestral music, Andrew Norman has recently established himself as one of the most compelling voices of his generation. Born in the Midwest and raised in Central California, his musical studies began on the piano and viola before attending the University of Southern California and Yale School of Music. He has recently received commissions from the Los Angeles and Royal Liverpool philharmonics, Minnesota Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival and School, the foundation of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Calder Quartet, pianist Jeremy Denk, and Ensemble ACJW. He is currently composer-in-residence for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and he was recently named a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his string trio The Companion Guide to Rome.

As an architectural enthusiast, Norman often writes music that is inspired by forms and textures he encounters visually. His music uses eclectic combinations of instrumental sounds and a diverse set of notational practices. He currently lives in Brooklyn.


About the Work


Try is inspired by Norman's quest for perfection. As a trial-and-error composer, he calls himself an "incurable reviser." When his creativity stopped in its tracks from the desire to write a perfect piece for his Los Angeles Philharmonic commission, Norman finally set his sights on honoring the adventurous spirit of the orchestra and embracing the risks and rewards implicit in the piece's title.

He writes about Try:

The piece I ended up writing is a lot like me. It's messy, and fragmented, and it certainly doesn't get things right on the first try. It does things over and over, trying them out in as many different ways as it can. It circles back on itself again and again in search of any idea that will stick, that will lead it forward to something new. And, at long last, after 10 minutes of increasingly frantic trying, it finds one small, unlikely bit of musical material it likes enough to repeat and polish and hone until it finally (fingers crossed) gets it right.

Beginning on a soft C-sharp in the piano, Try is presented in a series of musical blocks, each repeating in slightly different rhythms or orchestrations, eventually breaking down, restructuring, and repeating until the next fragment. The insistent nature of the piece, combined with its daring extended techniques for the instrumentalists, brings about a dizzying array of sonorities and feverish energy. After many ensemble attempts, the piano finally finds the "right notes," and the piece ends as it began, on a quiet C-sharp.


—Dr. ToniMarie Marchioni

 

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

MICHAEL GORDON
Yo Shakespeare

About the Composer


American composer and keyboardist Michael Gordon was raised in Nicaragua until returning to Miami Beach at age eight. An alumus of New York University and Yale University, his teachers have included Edward Troupin and Martin Bresnick. With fellow composers David Lang and Julia Wolfe (who is also his wife), Gordon co-founded New York's Bang on a Can Festival in 1987, which has since become an important showcase for post-minimalist music. He has been at the center of the New York-based movement known as "Totalism," an all-encompassing compositional style sometimes referred to as "post-classical music," defined by popular influences, post-minimalist harmonies, and complex rhythmic structures; it has mass appeal on a visceral level, but is sophisticated in a way that also attracts the serious listener.

An outgrowth of his experience with rock bands in New York City, Gordon's bold style has roots in minimalist principles, while embracing dissonance, intricate rhythmic relationships, and modality. His music often includes fast changes in tempo and the use of acoustic instruments to create rock-inspired pulsing energy.


About the Work


Considered by Gordon to be his breakthrough work because of its rhythmic ingenuity (specifically, the development of the split triplet), Yo Shakespeare is the layering of three dance rhythms occurring simultaneously—as if, the composer explains, there are "three salsa bands playing simultaneously, at different but related speeds."

The 13 musicians are divided into three groups, each with its own unique meter and rhythmic profile. The result is a dense contrapuntal cloud, constantly confusing the "real" pulse. These intricately constructed polyrhythms create an exuberant and driving effect that makes you want to move.

Gordon explains the derivation of the work's title:

I have a friend from high school who can't really get into my sort of music. When he calls me he greets me on the phone with, 'Yo Shakespeare.' I think he tags on the Shakespeare reference because Shakespeare is simply the only cultural figure that he is aware of at all. I think this maybe says something about American culture in general.


—Dr. ToniMarie Marchioni

 

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Professional Training Workshops are made possible, in part, by Mr. and Mrs. Nicola Bulgari and The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.
This performance is part of Now Arriving.

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