Program notes for SASO’s October 2015 concerts

Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo García was one of the most important representatives of the Mexican nationalist movement in classical music, along with fellow composers Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez. His Huapango is an original composition inspired by the popular music of the Mexican state of Veracruz, including the songs El Siquisiri, El Balajú and El Gavilancito. The title Huapango refers to a folk dance and music style originating in northeast Mexico. In Moncayo’s piece, a driving 6/8 rhythm predominates, except for a brief central section where the atmosphere becomes more languid.

Pianist and composer Amanda Harberg received her bachelor and master degrees in music from the Juilliard School, where she studied with Stephen Albert, Robert Beaser and David Diamond, and where she was awarded the Peter Mennin Prize for outstanding accomplishment. Her music is described as “truly beautiful” and “hauntingly moving” and engages listeners both emotionally and intellectually. A native of Philadelphia, Harberg lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Her catalog of compositions includes works for solo piano and other solo instruments, works for chamber ensembles, and several orchestral compositions.

About the Elegy for Viola and String Orchestra, the composer writes: “Elegy began as a prayer. The initial musical ideas came to me when I found out that my beloved piano teacher, Marina Grin, was terminally ill. But the full realization of the piece only emerged spontaneously after I learned of her passing. Elegy is dedicated to the memory of Marina Grin, who first showed me how to live a life in music. Originally for viola and piano, Elegy was arranged for viola and string orchestra for violist Brett Deubner.” Plaintive viola tones over a gently pulsating accompaniment create a generally serene mood, but the underlying metrical pattern is irregular, which creates a slight sense of unease.

About the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra , which was also written for Brett Deubner, the composer writes: “The first movement is a meditation on flight. The two trumpets that introduce the work evoke a pair of eagles perched high in the trees; then the wind of an orchestral arpeggio carries us to the viola soloist, who introduces the main soaring theme of the movement. A dance-like middle section, full of playful acrobatics and interactions between the viola and the orchestra, comes to a climax as the main soaring melody re-enters, this time in sweeping counterpoint with the secondary dance-like theme. The cadenza develops the opening theme and resolves with the eagles quickly and powerfully racing up into the sky. The second movement is a meditation on the fragility of life. It opens with a viola rising gently out of simple harp arpeggios. The piece flows seamlessly from beginning to end, with one long rising and falling line, which is articulated through the rich sound of the viola, punctuated periodically by gentle orchestral responses. The movement arcs twice, with the viola working its way up to its highest register in pleading gestures, and then falling away to a place of peaceful surrender. The third movement is about celebration. A steady rhythmic groove propels this movement. Low string pizzicati quietly emerge as the last chord of the Aria fades away. Snake-like woodwinds have a prominent role in this movement and they enter mysteriously in the orchestral introduction, which gradually builds, heralding the entrance of the viola’s driving and syncopated main theme. A brass chorale evolves from the first four notes of the viola’s initial statement, and then transitions into a lush, expressive secondary theme, set against a backdrop of shimmering strings. The movement is full of energetic dialogue and exchanges between the orchestra and the viola soloist. In the finale the two principal themes are tossed back and forth, finally uniting joyfully in the coda.”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote some of the most popular and famous classical music of all time. His emotionally powerful compositions blend western European and Russian musical styles, and show his gift for writing unforgettable melodies. The Symphony No. 6 was the last that he completed, and he conducted the first performance only nine days before he died at the age of 53. The subtitle Pathétique should not be translated as “pathetic” in the sense of arousing pity, but rather as “passionate” or “emotional.” Even so, there is no escaping a sense of anguish and maybe even despair, particularly in the wrenching last movement, which at the end dies away to nothing in the cellos and basses. But on the way to that ending, there is much beautiful and uplifting music, including a perfectly natural sounding waltz that is actually written in 5/4 time (second movement) and a thrilling and triumphant march (end of third movement). This symphony has been the subject of much debate concerning a possible hidden message or program. Some have seen it as a suicide note, but good evidence argues against this. A more likely interpretation is that in his sixth symphony, as in the preceding two symphonies, Tchaikovsky grapples with the power of fate in life and death.

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