Monthly Archives: February 2015

“Nobilmente” Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

“Nobilmente” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, March 8, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

 “Nobility of spirit has more to do with simplicity than ostentation, wisdom rather than wealth, commitment rather than ambition” ~ Riccardo Muti

 Johannes Brahms ~

Hungarian Dances No. 1, G minor

Symphony No. 4, op. 98, E minor

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a German composer whose prolific output included works for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, opera and song.  Considered both a traditionalist and an innovator, he is viewed as an inspiration for a generation of composers. Though known for the composition of large, complex musical structures, some of Brahms’ most popular works were small-scale, in which some critics felt he was “at his best.” Among the most cherished of these lighter compositions are the Hungarian Dances, the first of which is on our program tonight. Of his twenty-one Dances, the No. 1 in G minor is one of only four for which Brahms himself wrote the orchestral arrangements. It has been said these dances were influential in the development of Ragtime – see if you can hear the beginnings of Scott Joplin dancing around within the gorgeous folk melodies.

Symphony No. 4 in E minor premiered in 1885 with Brahms himself on the podium.  He was the first great composer who was also a musicologist and the depth of his scholarship is evident in this, his final symphony, clearly grounded in the classical past, with a soaring sound of something individualistic – new, but not pandering to trends of the time. Brahms is said to have resisted the pressure to either conform or rebel – he just ‘did his own thing’.  It seems that restriction of form liberated Brahms, allowing him to plunge deeply into his own imagination and expressiveness.

Opening with a two-note phrase, which then develops in the strings, then winds, the first movement blossoms with a modern lyric melody that carries us into the composer’s personal world – his story and how he intends to tell it.  He paints a picture of regret, of loss and longing, which soon accelerates and propels us on a ride we didn’t expect, to a hair-raising ending.  The second movement is a response to the first, offering us comfort ~ within the human heart lie all answers.  In the scherzo, we find a brief respite of humor, but it is short-lived.  The finale is stunning in Brahms’ personal statement of pessimism and apprehension. He offers us no trite happy ending; rather he reminds us that life itself is a work of art, a never-ending drama.

Claude Debussy ~

Prelude a “L’apres-midi d’un faune”

French composer Achille-Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) was one of the great composers of the Impressionist era, producing an impressive body of work including orchestral, piano, vocal, chamber, ballet and opera. He enjoyed a wide circle of artistic acquaintances that influenced his work including composers such as Liszt, Massenet, Satie, and Chausson. Perhaps surprisingly, Wagner also had a lasting impact on Debussy who admired the German composer’s sensuousness, mastery of form and striking harmonies.

Personally, Debussy was somewhat of an enigma to others, which he must have known.  In a moment of self-awareness, he once remarked: “I am too enamored of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas”.  His personal life was turbulent – illicit affairs, an unfortunate marriage, scandal, and then finally a beloved daughter who inspired him late in his life. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) is a symphonic poem for orchestra, inspired by the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé.  Opening with a flute solo that is one of the most famous passages in the orchestral repertoire, it tells the story of a faun, a mythical creature that is half-man, half-goat and his pursuit of two beautiful nymphs. Debussy’s sensuous composition is a perfect match for the imagery of Mallarmés poem.

Johann Strauss, Jr. ~

Die Fledermaus: Overture

Born in 1825, the “Waltz King” composed over 500 dances, several operettas and ballets.  His composer father was adamant that his son avoid the life of a musician, but the boy’s mission was clear and as a young boy, he began studying violin in secret (for which he was severely punished). By his mid-twenties, he was on his way to becoming one of the most popular waltz composers of the era. He and his orchestra toured extensively through Austria-Hungary, Poland, Germany and, eventually Russia and the U.S.  Brahms was a personal friend who,  when asked by a fan for an autograph, rather than inscribing the paper with a few measures of his best-known music (which was customary), inscribed a few measures from the Blue Danube and wrote beneath it: “Unfortunately NOT by Johannes Brahms.”  Richard Strauss referred to him as “the laughing genius of Vienna”.  At the time of his death at the age of 73, he was working on a new ballet.

Tonight we experience Strauss in a celebration of beauty, art and laughter- the Overture for the opera Die Fledermaus, a farcical comedy evoking the gaiety and romance of a Viennese Ball.  It was first performed in New York in 1874 and has become one of the brightest stars in the operetta repertoire. It was a favorite of the great U.S. soprano Beverly Sills who performed the role of Adele in her farewell performance with the Boston Opera Company.

Gustav Mahler ~

Symphony No. 1: Blumine

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) was a late-Romantic German composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation.  Since composing was a part-time activity, Mahler’s body of work is relatively small, consisting of large symphonic orchestral and choral scores, which gained wide recognition only after long periods of neglect, including a ban on his music during the Nazi era.

Mahler expressed the belief that, “The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything”.  In keeping with the philosophy, his trademark scope of moods, accomplished by amazing orchestration, continually juxtapose absurdity with majesty, farce with tragedy – the vicissitudes of being alive!

Blumine (“flower”) is the title of a rejected second movement of Mahler’s first symphony. After being ‘lost’ for over 70 years, the piece was rediscovered in 1966 and reintroduced by Benjamin Britten a year later.  The composition is believed to have been written for the object of Mahler’s affection at the time.  A lyrical piece with a lovely trumpet solo, its style is consistent with the composer’s early works, while foretelling the distinctive style of his later compositions.


Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry


“Appassionato” Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Program Notes


“Appassionato ” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, February 22, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

“I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.” – Aldous Huxley


Howard Hanson ~ Symphony No. 5, op. 43

 Howard Harold Hanson, born in 1896, was an American composerconductor, educator, and champion of American classical music.  As director for 40 years of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York, he was responsible for the development of the school’s quality and reputation, as well as myriad opportunities for commissioning and performing American music. Hanson estimated that more than 2000 works by over 500 American composers were premiered during his tenure at the Eastman School.

Also of particular interest is the school’s flourishing Community School, which is committed to the musical education and enrichment of regional residents of all ages, a vision and commitment shared by our own Maestro and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

Testimony to Hanson’s stature in the music community is the fact that a theme from this work is performed at the conclusion of all concerts at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts, conducted by a student concertmaster after the feature conductor has left the stage.  Traditionally, no applause follows its performance.

Hanson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony # 4, but is best known for Symphony #2, which was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He also composed what may be considered the first fully American opera, Merry Mount, written by an American composer and librettist, based on an American story, and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1934. The Opera received fifty curtain calls at this performance, a record that still stands.

He proposed to his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Nelson, via the composition of Serenade for Flute, Harp and Strings when he could not find spoken words for his feelings.  They married in 1946 and he left her a widow in 1981.

The audience may recall that Maestro Ponti brought us Hanson’s Symphony #2 at last season’s finale concert.  On tonight’s program is the composer’s Symphony #5, a single movement symphony. Composed in 1955, it is quite different from the lush romantic quality and themes of his earlier works.  Based on the Resurrection according to the Gospel of John, this work is passionate in its religious piety, perhaps, once again, expressing the composer’s depth of feeling through his music when there were no words.


Heitor Villa-Lobos ~ Concerto Guitar & Small Orchestra

 Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887 and was exposed early to music and literature by his father, whose frequent musical gatherings at home provided a fertile environment for the boy.  When his father died suddenly, the young Villa-Lobos earned a living for his family by playing in cinema and theatre orchestras. As a youth, he continued his ‘street’ training by absorbing indigenous musical influences and playing with many local bands. In his mid-twenties, he embarked on his career as a composer, and soon his works also reflected the influence of his widely expanding circle of European artists and musicians.  The Parisian magazine Le Monde Musical remarked of the composer’s work: “…it is…an art to which we must now give a new name”.

His bask in European acceptance and approval was disrupted one year later due to political upheaval in Brazil.  Unable to travel abroad, he remained in his native country for several years navigating his musical career through tumultuous national and international times. With the culmination of WWII and the ability to travel freely, he found himself in demand throughout Europe and the U.S., receiving huge commissions, including his Symphony # 11 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  In the last decade of his life, he was characteristically prolific, despite declining health. He died in 1959 and his funeral was the final major civic event in Rio before the capital was transferred to Brasilia. If you would like to know more about the composer, the film Villa-Lobos: A Life of Passion was released in 2000 and is available to view via

This concert provides us a second visit with Villa-Lobos, who has been described as “the single most significant creative figure in 20th century Brazilian art music”. Last season we were thrilled by the brilliance of his Harmonica Concerto, with the astonishing Robert Bonfiglio as guest soloist and tonight we welcome the classical guitar artistry of Gerardo Perez Capdevila as soloist in the Concerto for Classical Guitar and Small Orchestra, written in 1951 and dedicated it to Andres Segovia.


Sergei Rachmaninoff ~ Symphonic Dances, Op. 45

Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was considered one of the finest pianists of his day and was one of the last great Romantic composers in Russian Classical music, as well as among the last of old Russian aristocracy. Influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, he developed his own personal style of melody, expressiveness and use of rich orchestral colors and a childhood infused with Russian Orthodox teaching permeated many of his compositions.

Young Sergei studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory, composed several small works and then, in his mid-twenties, premiered his First Symphony.  It was severely critiqued, sending the composer into a deep depression, slowly recovering his confidence sufficiently to write again a decade later.  In 1901 he premiered his Piano Concerto #2 in C minor, Op. 18, with himself as soloist.  It was enthusiastically received and Rachmaninoff was launched into a successful upturn, making his first tour of the U.S. for which he composed the Piano Concerto #3, Op. 30. During this period, he turned down many offers to remain in the U.S., but he was unwilling to leave his homeland. Then, in 1917, the Russian Revolution meant the end of Russia as he knew it, and he left home in an open sleigh with a few belongings and some music. A year later, he was back in the U.S., where he played 40 concerts within 4 months, signed a contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company and bought a house.  He made a living by touring and performing, but in the next 25 years, he completed only six compositions.  In leaving Russia, he also left his inspiration.  He was homesick. Eventually he built a summer home in Switzerland that reminded him of his old family estate.  It was here he composed the luscious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3 and Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, his last completed work and the one that is on our program tonight.

It is said that this work ‘summarizes’ Rachmaninoff’s compositional output.  In it, his nostalgia for the Russia he had known and no longer existed is evident.  The opening motif is a nod to Rimsky-Korsakov, whose music was the only work by another composer that he had taken with him when he left Russia. In the first dance, he echoes the opening theme of his anguished First Symphony, which was derived from Russian Church Music. The second dance is often called “Dusk”, and the finale quotes the Dies Irae and chant “Blessed be the Lord” from his All-Night Vigil, which expresses the victory of Resurrection.  He wrote the word “Hallelujah” at this place in the score.


Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry


Sheet Music

Looking for a piece of music I sang a long time ago.  I can visualize it – a copy of a copy from a book of Operatic Duets I studied in New York back in the 70s.  I never – well, hardly ever – throw away sheet music.  It is here, somewhere.  And I need to put eyes on it to see the notes, the range, the possibility of singing it again, decades later, with a new friend who also studied the piece – perhaps that long ago, perhaps not.  It is a favorite of both of ours.  So, I search.

When I packed all my sheet music to bring to Florida, I just emptied the cabinet and put everything into boxes, without sorting at all – no catalogue, no categories, no labels.  Just a very large pile of sheet music.  And, when I emptied the boxes, I just stacked everything in a new cabinet – with similar abandon.  So, tonight, it is ‘needle in a haystack’ time.  It’s here.  Somewhere.

I begin. One drawer at a time.  The first is a real hodgepodge – popular tunes from the 60s.  Sheets of nothing but lyrics and chords from my guitar days. Playlists for gigs, small concerts.  Excel spreadsheets listing repertoire… order by type of music – uptempo, ballad, classic rock, standards, indications of voices needed to perform – SATB, SSA, solo alto, solo soprano, bass, tenor.

Church music – from my growing up church in Massachusetts, to St. Bartholomew’s on Park Avenue, to Don Hermance’s choir in Scituate in the relatively recent past.  Alice Blue Gown, one of my first solos in Junior High School – I wore a pretty blue dress Mother had made.  She’d sent me on my way with her standard wish “Sing pretty!” as she did for every concert, every show.

An entire drawer is my childhood.  Music my Gram played on her upright piano, while my musical family all stood around and sang.  By the time I was 10, I knew all the words to Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, Over There, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.  From another world, they’re all still with me, along with Mother’s piano music, her name written across the top in her perfect artistic pen.  She has been gone over 40 years, but I can hear the sounds of Claire de Lune, punctuated by the click-click-click of her long manicured nails as clearly as if she were sitting at my piano here in this room.

There is something holy about these pieces of paper, a few with small tears, most completely intact.  One by one I finger them, put them in fresh folders and put them back, where they will stay – probably until I fly away somewhere to sing them again with Mother and my Gram.

Music books are elsewhere – on their own shelves because of their size. Opera and musical vocal scores, collections of The Eagles, The Beatles, Elvis, Streisand, and thematic collections like The Most Beautiful Songs Ever Written – given to me by Doug, who helped me start our singing group Mixed Company back in Massachusetts.  He was a fabulous bass with exquisite taste in music and a great work ethic. I loved singing with him. We once performed a duet arrangement combining My Funny Valentine and How Do You Keep the Music Playing – so touching, heartbreaking.  Years later – not too many, but enough for me to have grown very attached to him and to have sung together many, many times – Doug died and I was asked to speak of him at his memorial service.  I began by saying “How do you keep the music playing?”  – a question I asked myself in the face of such profound loss.

There’s a lot of Mixed Company music here.  All songs we personally chose, learned, tried to make our own, performed and loved.  There are one or two I’ve sung since, but never as a group, only alone and, when I do, I hear the rest of the parts, the other voices of my friends, singing with me. The group tried to survive after Doug left us, but in the end, it morphed into something entirely different, which was a good thing.  We couldn’t resurrect what was gone forever.

A new drawer. I don’t know why I’ve kept all this wonderful Opera and Art Song music – the work I did with my voice teachers in New York, Sam Sakarian and Cesare Longo.  Hours. Weeks. Years. Italian, French, German, dictionaries my constant companions, attempting to divine the true poetry the librettist had in mind.  Unending scales and vocal practices, all in the effort to even the tone throughout my range, to produce a sound pleasing to the ear, able to be heard at the back of the hall, to create an artistic environment, to give listeners an experience that might leave them in love with Shubert or Mozart.  I still have the music, even though I let go of the dream to sing in the opera. Still, even though I don’t sing like that any more and am most comfortable in a good ensemble or choir, I adore the rehearsal process – the work – even more than the performance itself.

And here it is!  Lakme, the flower duet!  My memory served me – it is a copy of a copy of music from an old book.  Probably purchased at Patelson’s on the West Side, because that’s where everyone went for their music in New York in those days.  I will make a copy for my friend, perhaps enlarge it so we have a chance at the French!  I hope we are able to sing this together.  It would be wonderful. I’m glad I hadn’t thrown it away.  Any of it.  This music has been the best part of my life.  Through everything else that happened and didn’t happen.  The music has never stopped playing.

Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

Read about historic Patelson’s music and its painful closing in 2009.