American Composers Orchestra


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Sunday, NOVEMBER 1, 1998 at 3pm

Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Andrés Cárdenes, violin

ANTHONY M. KELLEY: The Breaks (World Premiere, ACO Commission)
DAVID STOCK: Violin Concerto (NY Premiere)
DAVID DIAMOND: Symphony No. 2

Pre-Concert talk with the composers at 1:45pm

FOR TICKETS CALL CarnegieCharge: 212-247-7800

Anthony KelleyThe Breaks:
Orchestral Homage to the American Maestros Morton, Armstrong, Ellington, and Gillespie
(World Premiere)

Born February 28, 1965 in Durham, North Carolina
Now living in Richmond, Virginia

Anthony M. Kelley is very much "in residence" in Richmond, Virginia. Now in the middle of a three-year appointment as the resident composer of the Richmond Symphony, Theatre IV, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Richmond, and the Richmond Public Library, he has become a familiar figure in that quiet southern city--almost as familiar as the late tennis great Arthur Ashe, whose statue now adorns Monument Avenue alongside those of military heroes of the Confederacy. When he is not sitting by the James River and thinking about music, Mr. Kelley told an interviewer for the local newspaper, he is taking visitors to see Ashe's statue.

A graduate of Duke University, where he studied with Robert Ward and Stephen Jaffe, Mr. Kelley is presently a doctoral candidate in composition at the University of California at Berkeley, where his teachers have included Olly Wilson and Jorge Liderman. His many scholarships and awards have included a Mary Duke Biddle Fellowship and the William Klenz Prize at Duke University, and the Charles Ives Scholarship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His composition Crosscurrents for string orchestra was selected at the 1993 Unisys African American Composers Forum for performances by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi and Leslie Dunner; in 1994, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed Crosscurrents at a concert celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Kelley has supplied the following comments on his composition The Breaks, which was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra with support from the Jerome Foundation, and which receives its world premiere tonight. He prefaces his own remarks with two quotations:

Invisibility, let me explain, gives one a slightly different sense of time; you're never quite on the beat. Sometimes you're ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around. That's what you hear vaguely in Louis' [Armstrong's] music
--Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1947)

Q: Sometimes there's a large separation in your music between what's going on in the treble register and bass register on the keyboard. Do you think that's what people mean by "space"? There are also times when you don't play at all.

A: Well, people have to call it something, but I still call it discipline. Philosophically I felt there are times when I should just lay out because I didn't think it was necessary for me to play.
--Pianist/composer Ahmad Jamal, interviewed by Len Lyons in The Great Jazz Pianists (1983)

Mr. Kelley continues:

As one of my homeboys once said to me, having the American Composers Orchestra commission a new piece for a performance in Carnegie Hall is certainly one of the big "breaks" in a composer's career. I'm extremely grateful to the ACO for this opportunity, and for their support and generosity in this endeavor.

But that's not where I got the title of the piece.

Instead, my title comes from observing that it's often the "breaks" which make American music so distinctly American.

This is, of course, especially true in jazz and popular music, wherein musical phrases often build themselves up to sudden, explosive accents, setting off sublime silences which must be either appreciated on their own, or filled with some sonic delicacies worthy of their momentary prominence. Not only do these breaks exist (often either as cadential preparations or stop-chorus structures), but they're also the moments most anticipated and savored by engaged listeners. Perhaps it's a reflection of deeper paradoxes in the American psyche--a mind-set which would rally up a set of highly complicated pitches and rhythms all for the sake of later appreciating certain silences that might fall between them.

I consider this piece to be a tribute to Morton, Armstrong, Ellington, and Gillespie because I have found their music (and that of other American greats like John Lewis and Ahmad Jamal) to be marvelous, fertile sources of inspiration for the material I wanted to address. And although the times--hence, the musical language--are sometimes dramatically different from the historical models I've chosen, your ears may find some common ground between my treatment of musical spaces and those set up so elegantly by our legendary American musical predecessors, whose mellifluous lacunae are often referred to simply as "The Breaks."

Violin ConcertoDavid Stock

Born June 3, 1939, in Pittsburgh
Now living in Pittsburgh

Speaking of "in residence" (see note above), David Stock was born in Pittsburgh, lives there still, and has put down deep musical roots in that city. He is the founder and conductor of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, a former composer-in-residence of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and Professor of Music at Duquesne University, where he conducts the Contemporary Ensemble. In 1992, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust bestowed on Mr. Stock the Creative Achievement Award for Outstanding Established Artist. (Presumably, the Trust also has an award for a Struggling Artist.) The Seattle Symphony briefly lured him away for a residency there, but this Steeler fan restored his civic credentials with Kickoff, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for that orchestra's 150th anniversary. Mr. Stock has even been a radio personality in Pittsburgh, hosting the weekly program "Da Capo" on WQED-FM. He has made many appearances as a guest conductor, served on judging panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and been on the receiving end of numerous grants and fellowships himself. Organizations and artists who have commissioned works from him include the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman.

Mr. Stock composed his Violin Concerto at the request of the Pittsburgh Symphony and its music director, Lorin Maazel, in honor of the orchestra's 100th anniversary. The score was finished on August 18, 1995, and performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony later that year. Mr. Maazel, no mean violinist himself, conducted the premiere, with Andres Cardenes taking the solo part.

Mr. Stock begins the work by setting up contrasts: contrasts between the rigorous, drum-driven march tempo and the wayward main theme introduced by high winds; and, within that theme, between the sharp, attention-getting upward leap and the cantabile descent that follows it. These two motives, plus a brief rising chromatic phrase, are all the materials Mr. Stock needs to create a compelling first movement, challenging for the soloist but devoid of empty display. With Stravinsky-like clarity, the solo violin and the orchestra develop the themes in dialogue with each other.

An otherworldly blend of harp, marimba and alto flute creates an antique atmosphere in the Intermezzo. The soloist steals in pianissimo with a long melody, and is eventually reinforced by the orchestral first violins. Later the solo violin gently recalls the first movement's leaping motive and develops it in dialogue with the cellos. The dynamics of this calm interlude rarely rise above piano.

Though titled "Perpetual Motion," the concerto's finale gains momentum gradually, like a locomotive. Sharp staccato chords lay down a beat; then, with a chirp of oboes here and a rat-a-tat rhythm there, the machine starts to move, until the entering soloist launches a torrent of fast sixteenth notes, which surges continually back and forth between the violin and various sections of the orchestra, often with machine-gun commentary from the snare drum. Bars of 3/4 are inserted now and then in the prevailing 2/4 meter, creating a giddy, careening effect. A fortissimo climax ushers in the march theme of the first movement as a respite from all the activity, but soon the machine is chugging into action again, sometimes softly, sometimes loudly, always inexorably to the last bar.

Symphony No. 2

Born July 9, 1915, in Rochester, New York
Now living in New York City

David DiamondDavid Diamond studied composition with two of this century's most noted teachers, Roger Sessions and Nadia Boulanger, and has himself been a distinguished member of the faculty at the Juilliard School since 1973. His own compositions, however, have had to wait a while to achieve full recognition. His firm allegiance to tonal harmony (though with a strong modal element) and to classical forms may have sounded old-fashioned to some listeners twenty years ago, but now they seem quite up-to-date. Mr. Diamond's music is presently being performed and recorded more often than ever before.

Mr. Diamond composed two symphonies as a student that he does not count among his mature works. During two periods of study in Paris in the late 1930s, the young composer was befriended by such luminaries as Milhaud, Stravinsky, and his idol, Ravel. Early works such as Psalm for orchestra and Elegy for brass, percussion and harps (on the death of Ravel) brought him recognition from such conductors as Pierre Monteux and Dmitri Mitropoulos. The latter introduced Mr. Diamond's Symphony No. 1 in Carnegie Hall in December 1941.

Of course, something else happened in December 1941, involving a U.S. naval base in Hawaii. The entry of this country into World War II had a galvanizing effect on society and on artists. Mr. Diamond is loath to bring in extramusical associations with his music, but at the very least his Symphony No. 2, with its contrasts between brooding meditation and fierce outbursts of energy, was appropriate music for those times.

A few years ago, Mr. Diamond told an interviewer:

I wrote the Second Symphony for Dmitri Mitropoulos, who had given a fine performance of my First Symphony. When I showed him the score of the Second he said, "You must have the [individual players'] parts extracted at once; I have a very fine copyist that I use for the Minneapolis Symphony." As the parts were readied, I asked Mitropoulos whether he was planning to perform the work. He then told me he thought he would not stay on in Minneapolis and had no idea where he would go. But he said, "Why don't you send it to Koussevitzky? That's a work for the Boston Symphony." I did so, and in no time, Koussevitzky sent me a telegram that there would be a reading of the work at Symphony Hall [in Boston]. When the reading was over, the orchestra applauded like crazy. Koussevitzky turned to me and said, "I will play!"

The symphony's premiere took place in Boston on October 22, 1944. Those present were probably aware of a resemblance between this work and others that Koussevitzky had recently introduced. The musical language, with its open fourths and fifths and fondness for soaring violin lines and rich brass, has much in common with the fervent style of American symphonies composed in the 1930s and '40s by Roy Harris, William Schuman, and Samuel Barber. But while those composers were open, even aggressive, in the way they expressed themselves, Diamond maintains a certain emotional distance and dignity, despite all the indications in this score of teneramente (tenderly) and espressivo. The music constantly evokes ancient musical styles, such as the fluid counterpoint of Palestrina in its first theme and medieval processionals in the second theme, which is marked poco Allegretto (the emphasis belongs on the poco). This calm, meditative mood and deep connection to old masters, expressed through the medium of the large symphony orchestra, are no doubt what prompted Arnold Schoenberg in 1949 to call Mr. Diamond "a new Bruckner." Listeners in 1998 may also be reminded of the broad symphonic meditations of Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt.

The second movement continues a tradition dating back at least to Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, that of following a weighty first movement with a scherzo that impudently parodies its themes. Again, the sassy sound of yawping brass and pummeling timpani is familiar from composers such as Schuman and Bernstein, and yet there is that Diamondesque enigma at the center of it all, which is only heightened by the pianissimo ending.

The scherzo clears the way for the symphony's most emotionally frank movement. The bassoon's part in the first bars, quoting the symphony's opening theme, is marked mesto (sad), and that indication could be applied to the entire movement, which maintains an elegiac tone throughout. There are no Mahlerian histrionics, just many colors of sadness--by turns dejected, warm, tender, nostalgic, and, in the movement's fugal climax, even urgent.

In keeping with this symphony's strategy of maximum possible contrast between movements, the finale shows that this "new Bruckner" can also whip up a hoedown. With an abundance of tunes in the pentatonic scale characteristic of folk music, one can almost see the cowboy boots kicking. There is a lyrical moment or two for strings, but mostly the composer occupies himself with keeping the themes flying around the orchestra with outstanding brilliance and wit. No wonder the players in Boston enjoyed tackling this music.

  Copyright c 1998 by David Wright

The American Composers Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director, Dennis Russell Davies, is the nation’s only orchestra dedicated exclusively to performing symphonic works by American composers. Through its concert series at Carnegie Hall, recordings, radio broadcasts, educational programs, new music reading sessions, and commissions, the ACO identifies today’s brightest emerging composers, champions this country’s prominent established composers as well as those lesser-known, and increases regional and national awareness of the infinite varieties—stylistic, geographic and ethnic—of American orchestral music. Since its founding in 1977, the Orchestra has programmed 400 works by 343 American composers, including 108 world premieres and 87 commissions, generating more new American symphonic works than any other orchestra. Recordings by ACO are available on ARGO, CRI, Point, MusicMasters, and New World Records.

Major support of the American Composers Orchestra is from Alliance Capital Management L.P., AT&T Foundation, Mr. Thomas Buckner, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Mr. Francis Goelet, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, JP Morgan & Co., and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. This concert is also made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional funding comes from Meet the Composer, Inc., with support from ASCAP, the Mary Flagler Cry Charitable Trust, JP Morgan & Co, and the Virgil Thompson Foundation.

Tickets for ACO’s Sunday, November 2, 1997 concert at Carnegie Hall are $40, $35, $20, $13 and $9 and are available through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800. The concert begins at 3 pm. A pre-concert talk with composers Frederic Rzewski, Robert DiDomenica, Ingram Marshall and ACO’s Artistic Advisor, Robert Beaser is free to ticket holders and begins 1:45 pm.

FOR TICKETS CALL CarnegieCharge: 212-247-7800


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