CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8 PM

National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America makes its Carnegie Hall debut in an electrifying program that begins with Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, a great American work that pulses with fiery rhythms but also includes some of the most tender love music ever written. The orchestra is then joined by Gil Shaham for Britten's Violin Concerto, an intense and virtuosic work written on the eve of World War II. Samuel Adams's innovative style is on display in Radial Play, a new work commissioned by Carnegie Hall, and Mussorgsky's perennial favorite Pictures at an Exhibition concludes the program.
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The Program

LEONARD BERNSTEIN
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

About the Composer


Leonard Bernstein rocketed to fame when, as the New York Philharmonic's 25-year-old assistant conductor, he stepped in for an indisposed Bruno Walter to lead the orchestra in a nationally broadcast concert on November 14, 1943. The success of his jazzy musical On the Town the following year transformed him into a Broadway celebrity as well. By 1958, when Bernstein became the Philharmonic's first American-born music director, he was a household name throughout the United States and Europe. A musical magpie, he took compositional inspiration wherever he found it and took delight in knocking down cultural and stylistic barriers. In addition to four more Broadway shows, including West Side Story, he wrote three symphonies and a wide range of other music for the concert hall, as well as such hybrid works as the operetta Candide and the wildly eclectic Mass, a "theater piece" for singers, dancers, and instrumentalists.


About the Work


West Side Story
 is so familiar today that it's easy to forget how breathtakingly original it seemed when it opened on Broadway on September 26, 1957. Loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet,   the show projected the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers onto a street-gang rivalry between the all-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins combined elements of European opera, Latino music and dance, and American musical theater into what has been described as a "Broadway opera." When Bernstein asked the show's orchestrators, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal, to put together a symphonic suite in 1960, they jumped at the chance to revise the original small pit-orchestra scoring. "We were in ecstasy!" Ramin wrote. "Every orchestral color was ours for the asking; strings could be subdivided ad infinitum, percussion could be spread out among many players, winds and brass were expanded; and our only concern was whether the classically oriented symphonic player could handle the 'jazzier' elements of the score."      


A Closer Listen


The Symphonic Dances seamlessly stitch together nine numbers from West Side Story. Bernstein's music runs the gamut from Latin beats and popular song styles to jazzy dance rhythms and hints of early rock 'n' roll. By contemporary Broadway standards, the score was daringly dissonant; listen for the menacing tritone (the interval of an augmented fourth) that pervades the music of both Jets and Sharks in the Prologue. The raw kinetic energy of the opening number melts into the yearning strains of "Somewhere." That in turn fades out to the motif of a rising whole step, a basic building block of the ensuing Scherzo. This is followed by a pair of Latin dances—a fast, syncopated Mambo and a more relaxed Cha-Cha. The signature tritone recurs in the short "Meeting Scene" that leads to a coolly atonal fugal treatment of the Jets' ballet. The suite climaxes in the "Rumble"—in the original musical, the scene in which the rival gang leaders are killed—then segues to the tender Finale by way of newly composed flute solo.


—Harry Haskell

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

BENJAMIN BRITTEN
Violin Concerto, Op. 15

About the Composer


Despite his non-traditional views, Benjamin Britten—a professed pacifist, homosexual, and agnostic—paradoxically came to be widely regarded as the most quintessentially English composer since Henry Purcell. As a young man, he had little sympathy for the patriotic effusions of the older generation, preferring to align himself with mavericks like Frank Bridge, William Walton, and Lennox Berkeley. During the 1930s, work in a government film-production unit brought him into contact with left-wing writers and artists who shared his disdain for bourgeois convention. When his friends W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood moved to New York in 1938, Britten and his lover, tenor Peter Pears, quickly decided to join them. Returning to England in 1942, Britten initially made his mark in the field of opera. Peter Grimes, which crystallized his signature theme of the "deviant" individual in conflict with society, was the first of a series of masterpieces that revitalized British opera. In his last years, Britten turned increasingly inward, concentrating on the chamber music festival that he founded in Aldeburgh.


About the Work


Among the highlights of Britten's three productive years in North America are the folk operetta Paul Bunyan, the powerful Sinfonia da Requiem, the ever-popular Ceremony of Carols, and the somberly lyrical Violin Concerto. The last, begun in 1938 and completed in Canada in the summer and early fall of 1939, was born under the looming specter of World War II. In a letter to his publisher in England, the young composer boasted that the concerto was "without question my best piece. It is rather serious, I'm afraid—but it's got some tunes in it!" Spanish violinist Antonio Brosa premiered the work at Carnegie Hall on March 28, 1940, with John Barbirolli conducting the New York Philharmonic. The performance was widely and, for the most part favorably, reviewed. Britten, too, pronounced it a success, reporting that "John B. was very serious and took great pains over it-and the orchestra liked playing it a lot." 


A Closer Listen


Like Beethoven, Britten begins his only Violin Concerto with the soft beating of timpani. Soon picked up by the bassoon, its insistent five-note pattern rumbles beneath the solo violin's soaring cantilena. These contrasting ideas—one ominous and vaguely militaristic, the other lyrical and bittersweet—recur throughout the concerto and define its emotional terrain. As the Moderato con moto progresses, the violin part becomes steadily more angular and percussive. Although the first movement ends on an elegiac note, the martial atmosphere returns with a vengeance in the Vivace, a strutting, often savage scherzo characterized by pounding ostinato rhythms, spiky syncopations, and swooping glissandos. In the haunting cadenza, the violin recalls the drum-beat motif from the first movement then proceeds without pause to the majestic Passacaglia. The lyrical tune from the Moderato con moto comes back, this time set against a broad, slow-moving melody in the trombones. This stately theme, in various forms, runs throughout the finale in the manner of a ground bass, freeing the violinist to spin ever more elaborate, fanciful, and virtuosic webs of passagework.


—Harry Haskell

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

SAMUEL ADAMS
Radial Play

About the Composer


Widely acclaimed acoustic and electroacoustic composer Samuel Adams draws from his experiences in a diverse array of fields, including noise and electronic music, jazz, and field recording. He has received commissions from the San Francisco Symphony, New World Symphony, Ensemble ACJW, St. Lawrence String Quartet, and Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Adams's recent works include a violin concerto for Anthony Marwood, which received its premiere with the Berkeley Symphony in February 2014. In the spring of 2013, Mr. Adams was composer in residence at Spoleto Festival USA, where his String Quartet in Five Movements was premiered by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The work enjoyed further performances at Stanford University's new Bing Concert Hall in the fall. In April 2013, his Tension Studies were presented as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Brooklyn Festival and, in the following November, were released on post-classical duo The Living Earth Show's first full-length album, High Art.

This fall, Mr. Adams's Drift and Providence, a work co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and New World Symphony, will be featured as part of the San Francisco Symphony's national tour. The following January, he will continue his activities with the San Francisco Symphony, curating two evenings as part of the orchestra's new SoundBox series. Mr. Adams currently lives and works in Oakland, California.


In the Composer's Own Words


Radial Play is constructed of a series of contrapuntal "objects." Each contains a center pitch around which the rest of the music orbits. Over the course of the work's brief duration, these objects move, evolve, collide, split, expand, and contract. In the final moments of the work, the counterpoint extends itself to the thresholds of the orchestra's range, weakens itself, and quickly dissolves.

I would like to dedicate Radial Play to the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.


—Harry Haskell

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

MODEST MUSSORGSKY
Pictures at an Exhibition

About the Composer


As one of the group of Russian nationalist composers known as the "Mighty Handful," Modest Mussorgsky was in the vanguard of the movement to create a specifically Russian musical tradition in the mid-1800s. Neither by training nor by temperament was he fitted to join the ranks of the European-oriented musical establishment. A career civil servant, he gravitated instead toward men such as Alexander Borodin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov—largely self-taught composers who drew inspiration from Russian folklore and history and disparaged Western influences. Declaring that "my music must be an artistic reproduction of human speech in all its finest shades," Mussorgsky forged a powerfully expressive, proto-modernist musical language in works such as the orchestral tone poem Night on Bald Mountain and the opera Boris Godunov.


About the Work


Mussorgsky wrote Pictures at an Exhibition in June 1874, fresh from the hugely successful premiere of Boris Godunov at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. This popular suite of miniature tonal sketches commemorates an exhibition of drawings and watercolors by the composer's recently deceased friend Viktor Hartmann. Though originally composed for piano, Pictures is best known in the masterful symphonic transcription that Maurice Ravel made in 1922 (following the example of Rimsky-Korsakov, who had taken it upon himself to correct the "mistakes" in Mussorgsky's orchestrations before the work was published). Many pianists, however, have championed the original keyboard version, including Vladimir Horowitz, who couldn't resist adding a few "improvements" of his own to the score.


A Closer Listen


A majestically striding melody, which will recur throughout the work as both interlude and thematic motif, ushers the listener into the exhibition hall. The aura of nobility is soon spoiled by the grotesque antics of a clumsy gnome—the first of Mussorgsky's incisive musical pen-portraits. One-by-one, the vivid images pass before our eyes: a gloomy medieval castle; children gamboling in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris; a lumbering Polish oxcart; a scherzo-like vignette of chicks pecking at their eggshells; two Jewish men animatedly arguing and gesticulating; a bustling French marketplace; a ponderously chordal descent into Paris's subterranean catacombs; a witch's hut transformed into a strutting hen; and, in a resplendent climax, the hymn-like strains inspired by Hartmann's sketches for an imposing city gate at Kiev.


—Harry Haskell

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America Lead Sponsor: Bloomberg

Founder Patrons: Blavatnik Family Foundation; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Marina Kellen French and the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation; Robertson Foundation; Robert F. Smith; and Sarah Billinghurst Solomon and Howard Solomon.

Lead Donors: Ronald O. Perelman and Joan and Sanford I. Weill and the Weill Family Foundation.

Additional funding has been provided by the Blavatnik Family Foundation; Yoko Nagae Ceschina; The Rockefeller Foundation; The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation; and Ann Ziff.

Public support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Funding for the Carnegie Hall Live broadcast series is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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