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Debussy’s La Mer

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Details

Date:
November 12
Time:
7:30 pm EST

Venue

Morris Performing Arts Center
211 N. Michigan Street
South Bend, IN 46601 United States
Phone:
(574) 235-9190

Set sail on a musical journey with the Symphony as they travel across the water with works from Wagner, Dr. Marvin Curtis and Bryan Edington, Smetana, and Debussy.   

Wagner
Overture to The Flying Dutchman

Curtis and Edington
St. Joseph River Suite

Smetana
The Moldau

Debussy
La Mer

I.  De l’aube a midi sur la mer
II.  Jeux des vagues
III.  Dialogue du vent et de la mer

Overture to The Flying Dutchman

RICHARD WAGNER

Born: 1813, Leipzig

Died: 1883, Venice

AT A GLANCE
Composed: 1841
Duration: 11 minutes

The Story

In the concert hall, we are never far from the influence of Richard Wagner. But we are often far from his music. Wagner’s revolutionary works are his operas – indeed, with just a few exceptions, operas comprise his entire output as a composer – and they are difficult to excerpt. Though they contain gorgeous orchestral passages aplenty, the music is “durchkomponiert” (through-composed), flowing without convenient interruptions. Free-standing arias and orchestral interludes are rare. That leaves us with the Siegfried Idyll, a chamber composition not originally intended for public performance, and the magnificent overtures and preludes that precede his operas.

Wagner had not yet completed his third opera, Rienzi, when he was inspired to compose The Flying Dutchman. These are considered early works, when the aesthetic concept that underpins his operas – the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art that seamlessly unifies the visual arts, poetry, drama, dance movement, and music – was still taking shape. But Wagner was already writing his own librettos. He based Rienzi on the kind of turgid, complex, Italian-based historical novel that was typical of grand-opera plots of the day. But The Flying Dutchman shows him moving toward his more mature artistic concerns, taking a traditional Germanic folk tale and raising it to a high level of artistic refinement. What was once a haunting, atmospheric yarn that might have been spun around a campfire was transmuted to a compelling, fully wrought music-drama of redemption through love.

Wagner was seeking to transform classical music generally and German opera in particular. He viewed himself – not without justification – as the genius chosen for this task. He had adopted the grandiose lifestyle he deemed appropriate for himself and his wife Minna, but the public and the artistic establishment had not yet caught up with his own view of his greatness. This left his personal affairs in turmoil while he composed Rienzi, with creditors on his heels and artistic projects in collapse. It was during this period that the idea for The Flying Dutchman came to him on a trip through the Norwegian fjords. As he described it:

“The voyage through the Norwegian reefs made a wonderful impression on my imagination; the legend of The Flying Dutchman, which the sailors verified, took on a distinctive, strange coloring that only my sea adventures could have given it.”

Fueled by these accounts and by a somewhat satirical version rendered by Heinrich Heine, Wagner produced a full draft of the story on in May 1840. Originally envisioned as a one-act opera, The Flying Dutchman premiered in 1843 in a form more closely resembling full-blown grand opera in three acts.


The St. Joseph River Suite 

DR. MARVIN V. Curtis
& BRYAN Edington 
CURTIS
Born: February 12,1951, Chicago, Illinois

Edington Born: July 2, 1952,  Kalamazoo, Michigan

At a Glance
Composed: 2021
Duration: 9 minutes

The Story

Commissioned by WNIT Public Television for Michiana, The St. Joseph River Suite is a compilation of five of the thirteen themes created by Dr. Marvin V. Curtis and Bryan Edington for the documentary, Here, Now, and Forever… The St. Joseph River Story.  The suite features the various themes of the film including the main “River Theme” created by Bryan Edington. It corresponds to a nine minute silent video production from the actual hour long film.


The Moldau

BEDŘICH SMETANA

Born: March 2, 1824, Litomyšl, Czechia

Died: May 12, 1884, Prague, Czechia


At a Glance
Composed: 1874
Duration: 10 minutes

The Story

Bedřich Smetana was a prodigy, turning heads as a promising pianist by the time he was six and confounding his early teachers by always seeming to be a step ahead of them. He managed to get himself transferred briefly to a high school in Prague, where he immersed himself in as much music as he could, composed a string quartet for friends to play, and marveled at a piano recital Liszt performed when passing through on an 1840 tour.

By the time he graduated from the school, Smetana had achieved considerable musical prowess; but he also knew that his native musical talent left technical gaps that only rigorous training could fill. He returned to Prague, spent three years as live-in piano teacher for a wealthy family, and used his earnings to finance further study of harmony, counterpoint, and composition. By 1851, thanks to a kind word from Liszt, Smetana saw one of his compositions accepted by a publisher. Finally, he had hope of being a professional composer. But times were difficult. Civil war had broken out in many areas of the Habsburg Empire, including Bohemia, and Smetana found himself stirred to political activism. The installation of a repressive regime played a part in his decision to leave Bohemia in 1856 to seek opportunities in Sweden. He remained there five years, but success eluded him. When he returned to Prague, in 1862, he set about promoting his work in a more consistent way, and within a few years he occupied a prominent place in the Czech musical world, as a conductor, a critic, and, increasingly, a composer. In 1866, he was named principal conductor of the Provisional Theater, where he built an orchestra that included among its ranks the violist – and fledgling composer – Antonín Dvořák.

In 1874, he began losing his hearing, and within a few months he grew substantially deaf. An immediate upshot was that he had to curtail his conducting activities, and in a letter that September he informed the Provisional Theatre’s management of what was happening: “It was in July…that I noticed that in one of my ears the notes in the higher octaves were pitched differently than in the other and that at times I had a tingling feeling in my ears and heard a noise as though I was standing by a mighty waterfall. My condition changed continuously up to the end of July when it became a permanent state of affairs and it was accompanied by spells of giddiness so that I staggered to and fro and could walk straight only with the greatest concentration.” In August, he began to experience aural hallucinations and then, he reported to his devoted friend Josef Srb-Debrnov, “on the 20th of October I lost my hearing completely.”

The composer penned brief commentaries to explain the specific content of each of the six tone poems of Má Vlast, probably in May 1879. The points of his description are reinforced by still shorter “chapter headings” in the score. He begins: “The composition depicts the course of the river, from its beginning where two brooks, one cold, the other warm, join a stream…” The two flutes introduce an ascending motif, interweaving as they bubble up, accompanied by plucked violins and harp. The clarinets add their voices, but descending, rather in mirror image to the flutes, thus expressing the opposites of the cold brook and the warm one. Finally, violins, oboes, and bassoons sing out the broad “Vltava” theme itself, surging majestically. It sounds quite like a folk tune, and indeed Czech words from another folk song were later grafted on to make it, effectively, a “new” folk song in its own right. The melody is adapted from a folk source, but not a Czech one; it appeared in a collection of Swedish folk songs assembled in the early nineteenth century. (Smetana likely became acquainted with the song during his time living in Sweden.)

“Vltava swirls through the Saint John Rapids and flows in a broad stream toward Prague.” There, indeed, is the Moldau theme resurgent (in the violins and oboes at first and eventually the whole orchestra), spiky as it crashes through the rapids and finally achieving grand magnificence. “It passes the Vyšehrad” – the promontory castle on the city’s outskirts, a site of historical importance to the Czechs – “and disappears majestically into the distance, where it joins the Elbe.” The texture thins, eventually diminishing to just the violins, rising in an arpeggio, smorzando (“dying away”) – and, with two fortissimo (very loud) chords from the full orchestra, we have reached our terminus.


La Mer

CLAUDE DEBUSSY 

Born: August 22, 1862,
Saint Germain-en-Laye, Départment
of Seine-et-Oise, France

Died: March 25, 1918, Paris

At A GLANCE

Composed: Begun in the summer of 1903, completed in March 1905. Debussy continued to make revisions for many years afterwards. Debussy dedicated La Mer to his publisher, Jacques Durand.

Premiered: October 15, 1905. Camille Chevillard conducted the Lamoureux Orchestra, in Paris.

Duration: 23 minutes

THE STORY

Pierre Boulez has written that, among Debussy’s symphonic works, La Mer “best fulfills the conditions of the genre in the most usual sense of the term, especially if one considers the effective coda of the last movement, which carries to its maximum the rhetoric of ‘the culminating point,’ a rhetoric practically lacking in all his other orchestral pieces.”

The subtle orchestral Images and the elusive-allusive Jeux were still in the future when La Mer was introduced; even so, on the basis of the Debussy they already knew, Parisian critics in 1905 seemed to have a clear sense that this new score was somehow different. Some who had been among the composer’s most dedicated allies were now among the most disappointed of observers, specifically because La Mer moved so decisively away from the mist-washed, unmuscular delicacy that had been so valued by the Debussyists. Gaston Carraud, for example, writing in La Liberté, notes that “the rich wealth of sounds that interprets this vision [of the sea] with such accuracy and intensity, flows on without any unexpected jolts, its brilliance is less restrained, its scintillations are less mysterious. It is certainly genuine Debussy – that is to say, the most precious and the most subtle expression of our art – but it almost suggests the possibility that some day we may have an Americanized Debussy.” 

Debussy all his life maintained a nearly total silence about his childhood. (At the time of the birth of Achille-Claude, Manuel-Achille Debussy and his wife ran a small ceramics store, the father soon changing to a job with the Fives-Lille‑Railway Company, which entailed moving the family to Clichy, a suburb of Paris). He did, however, make occasional and affectionate references to summer weeks spent at the beaches of Cannes. He learned then to love the sea, and no one who knows Debussy’s music need be told that what he loved particularly was its unpredictability, its ever‑changing nature. His parents at some point conceived the notion that he ought to be a sailor, but his vocation was determined when a Mme. Mauté de Fleurville, a lady with fascinating connections (she had been a pupil of Chopin), discovered his musical gift.

Thirty years elapsed between those inspiring lessons and the first sketches for La Mer. It is, however, always a surprise to recall that La Mer was only the composer’s seventh major orchestral score, so brilliantly assured is it, so possessive in ways that sometimes make it seem that Debussy invented the modern orchestra.

As we gradually learn to discern objects in near darkness, so we learn to hear motion in the stillness of Debussy’s dawn. Thematic fragments detach themselves from the surrounding texture until at last a clear sense of motion, of rhythmic pattern, is established. Debussy is most evocative in the wonderful theme for cellos, its pattern of swell and retreat echoed subtly in the timpani and horns. It even looks like a wave on the page – so much, in fact, like the wave in the painting by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai that Debussy asked his publisher to put a detail from that painting on the cover of his score.

The sketch of the “Play of the Waves”  is scherzo and intermezzo in this not-quite-symphony, an interlude of lighter weight and less dense musical facture between the passions and storms, the awesome concentration of the first and third movements. The dialogue in the finale is often tempestuous. Exhibiting that new preoccupation with firm and perceptible formal design, Debussy ties the triumphant peroration to the last bars of the opening movement, the journey from dawn to noon.

David Lockington began his career as a cellist and was the Principal with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain for two years. After completing his bachelor of arts degree at the University of Cambridge where he was a choral scholar, Lockington came to the United States on a scholarship to Yale University where he received his master’s degree in cello performance and studied conducting with Otto Werner Mueller. He was a member of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and served as assistant principal cellist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra for three years before turning to conducting. Over the past thirty years, David Lockington has developed an impressive conducting career in the United States. A native of Great Britain, he served as the Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony from January 1999 to May 2015, and is currently the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate. He has held the position of Music Director with the Modesto Symphony since May 2007 and in March 2013, Lockington was appointed Music Director of the Pasadena Symphony. He has a close relationship with the Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias in Spain, where he was the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor from 2012 through 2016, and in the 2015-16 season was named one of three Artistic Partners with the Northwest Sinfonietta in Tacoma, Washington.

In addition to his current posts, since his arrival to the United States in 1978, Lockington has held positions with several other American orchestras, including serving as Assistant Conductor of the Denver Symphony Orchestra and Opera Colorado, and Assistant and Associate Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In May 1993, he accepted the position of Music Director of the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, he assumed the title of Music Director of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra in September 1995, and was Music Director of the Long Island Philharmonic for the 1996-97 through 1999-2000 seasons.

Lockington’s guest conducting engagements include appearances with the Saint Louis, Houston, Detroit, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, Oregon and Phoenix symphonies; the Rochester and Louisiana Philharmonics; and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall. Internationally, he has conducted the Northern Sinfonia in Great Britain, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the China Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra in Beijing and Taiwan, and led the English Chamber Orchestra on a tour in Asia.

Recent and upcoming guest conducting engagements include appearances with the New Jersey, Indianapolis, Utah, Pacific, Colorado, Nashville, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Stamford, Tucson and Kansas City symphonies, the Florida and Louisville Orchestras, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and the Buffalo, Calgary and Oklahoma Philharmonics. Lockington’s summer festival activities include appearances at the Grand Teton, Colorado Music, Interlochen, Chautauqua, and Eastern Music festivals.

Meet the musicians here!

The Symphony thanks Jack M, Champaigne for their support of the Masterworks Series. Jordan Lexus of Mishawaka proudly supports the 90th Season Guest Artists.

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