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Program Notes for Valentine's Day 2021 Concert

Suites for All!
Saturday, February 13, 2021, 3 p.m.
Robins Theatre, 160 East Market Street, Warren. 
By Michael Gelfand, Guest Conductor

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Prelude from Holberg Suite, Op. 40

    Edvard Grieg is considered Norway's leading composer of the Romantic period. He had a particular fondness for fellow countryman Ludvig Holberg (1664 – 1754), composer, poet, playwright, satirist and author. Grieg was commissioned to write this piece for a Jubilee 200th birthday celebration for Holberg in 1884. Originally presented as a suite for piano, it was later transcribed for string orchestra. The WPO performs the first of the five movements, the energetic Prelude, the others being the introspective Sarabande, the polite Gavotte, a stately Air, and the finale, a boisterous Rigaudon. Grieg’s most famous compositions include his Piano Concerto in a minor and Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, which includes his exciting In The Hall of the Mountain King.

Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Méditation from Thaïs

    Baltimore Classical program annotators, Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn, offer their insightful comments about this piece: "Massenet composed Thaïs in 1894 and revised it extensively four years later. The opera is based on a well-known novel by Anatole France, who updated the historical Thaïs (a courtesan in the court of Alexander the Great) by some 600 years into the exotic setting of Coptic (early Christian) Egypt. The former sinner Anthanaël, now an ascetic hermit living in the desert, attempts to reform the courtesan Thaïs whom he once desired. Despite his success, he finds that he is still in love with her. The Méditation, one of the repertoire's great violin solos, is an entr’acte between Acta II and III, representing Thaïs’s spiritual awakening. It has been transcribed for every instrument and instrumental combination imaginable."

Nino Rota (1911-1979)
Love Theme from The Godfather
Arranged by Longfield


    Nino Rota was an extraordinarily prolific Italian composer, especially of music for the movies. He wrote over 150 scores for Italian and international productions collaborating with Fellini, Castelli, Visconti, Zeffirelli, Coppola and others. Vocalist Andy Williams had the highest-charting rendition of this with the title Speak Softly Love. As for the success of the Godfather movies and this music, the rest, as they say, is history!

Josef Suk (1874-1935)
​Andante con moto from Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 6

​    Josef Suk was a Czech violinist and composer whose greatest musical influence was his teacher, Antonin Dvořák. Suk's marriage to Dvořák's daughter Otylie in 1898 marked some of the happiest times in his life and music. Orchestral music was Suk's forte and his Serenade for String Orchestra is a wonderful example. His music was noticed by Brahms, Mahler and Alban Berg. Tragically, Antonin died in 1904 and shortly thereafter Otylie in 1905 of heart failure. Suk composed the Asrael Symphony (1905–1906) in memory of Antonín and Otylie.

    Josef Suk's music is passionate, moving, spirited and energetic.


Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Salute d' Amore

    This enchanting piece was originally for violin and piano and has a meaningful story attached to it. Elgar completed this composition in 1888, soon after he had taken on a young piano student named Caroline Alice Roberts. Their relationship evolved into something more meaningful, and they were married the following year in London. Elgar dedicated this piece to "à Carice," an affectionate combination of her name Caroline Alice. His addition of the subtitle Liebesgruss ("Love's Greeting") is a delicate acknowledgment of her fluency in the German language. This is one of Elgar's most beautifully expressive and popular pieces, and is indeed their love song.
 
    Many people don't realize that Elgar's most famous piece of music is very familiar to them. What is this piece of music that is so well known? I'll give you a one word hint: "graduation." You got it! Ninety-nine percent of time the music played while graduates are walking up to get their diplomas is Edward Elgar's distinguished Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, which is also called Land of Hope and Glory. Elgar wrote many more well-known pieces: Enigma Variations, two symphonies, concertos for violin and cello, and an oratorio, to name a few.

Carlos Gardel (1890-1935)
​Por Una Cabeza

    Carlos Gardel was a French Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor and perhaps one of the most prominent figures in the history of the tango! He was famous for his baritone voice and his dramatic flair for phrasing. He and lyricist/collaborator Alredo Le Pera wrote a number of classic tangos. Por Una Cabeza achieved international fame when it was used in the 1992 movie, Scent of a Woman, starring Al Pacino, who as blind and cantankerous retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, dramatically danced this tango with Donna, a beautiful young woman waiting for her date. Pacino won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance and the film was nominated for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. The film also won three major awards at the Golden Globes: Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Motion Picture – Drama.  Sadly, Gardel died in an airplane crash at the height of his career at age 45.

 

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
​Clair de Lune

    Debussy was one of the most famous Impressionistic composers. Clair de Lune, "English Moonlight," a poem written by French poet Paul Verlaine in 1869, was the inspiration for the third and most famous movement of Debussy's Suite bergamasque for piano. There are many words to describe Clair de Lune including expressive, quiet, peaceful, gentle, sad, moving, etc. Here is a portion of Verlaine's poem:

While singing in a minor key
Of victorious love, and the pleasant life
They seem not to believe in their own happiness
And their song blends with the light of the moon,

With the sad and beautiful light of the moon,
Which sets the birds in the trees dreaming,
And makes the fountains sob with ecstasy,
The slender water streams among the marble statues.

John Milford Rutter (b. 1945)
​Suite for String Orchestra
    A - Roving     O Waly, Waly     Dashing Away

From Pepper Music we have this apt description:

    "In the tradition of Britten, Holst, and Vaughan Williams before him, British composer John Rutter has composed a wonderful work for strings based on the rich legacy of folk music of the British Isles. World renowned for his choral music, John Rutter's work for strings has become a modern classic. This work is based on four folk songs: They Are A-Roving; I Have a Bonnet Trimmed with Blue; O Waly Waly (The Water Is Wide) and Dashing Away."
 
    A – Roving tells the cautionary tale of a sailor who had an encounter with a maiden who took advantage of his money, ending with the exclamation of "I'll go no more a-roving!"
    O Waly, Waly, being less jovial than A – Roving and more sedate and perhaps bittersweet, laments the loss of true love over the inevitable passing of time.
    Dashing Away describes a young man admiring his sweetheart who works busily at her chores as she is "dashing away" with her different tasks.
 
    A bit of trivia: Rutter's fourth movement of this Suite was used in the historical drama television series Downton Abbey.

Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Lorenz Hart (1895-1943)
My Funny Valentine
Arranged by Custer


    This show tune from the 1937 Rodgers & Hart musical Babes in Arms was introduced by the former child star Mitzi Green. It became a popular jazz standard, appearing on over 1,300 albums performed by over 600 artists including Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

John Nicholson Ireland (1879-1962)
A Download Suite
Arranged by Geoffrey Bush
    ​Prelude    Minuet


    John Ireland was an English composer and teacher of music, and the majority of his music consists of piano miniatures and songs with piano. A Downland Suite is a 1932 composition for brass band in four movements that was arranged for string orchestra. The Prelude has contrasting solo and orchestral tutti passages. The Minuet has been described as bucolic, relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life.   
 

Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899)
​Roses From the South

    What is it that makes Johann Strauss' waltzes so irresistible? Melody? Harmony? Rhythm?
 
    Many think it is his melding of these elements that resulted in music that ennobles or lends greater dignity to dance music! Some have even referred to him as a "symphonic poet!" When we listen to his Blue Danube Waltz, we are bathed in the sounds of a masterpiece of romantic tone painting. Strauss wrote over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century! It is no wonder that he was known as the "Waltz King!" Some of his other famous works include the Emperor Waltz, Tales from the Vienna Woods, Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, and of course among his operettas, Die Fledermaus (the Bat) and Der Zigeunerbaron (the Gypsy Baron) are best known.

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