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“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 imbd.com.

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




“Gustoso ” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, January 25, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

“All that is important in this one moment is movement.  Make the moment important, vital, and worth living.  Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” – Martha Graham, Choreographer

Kenneth Fuchs, Discover the Wild

 Fuchs is a contemporary American composer, born in 1956, who received his B.A. in Music from the University of Miami, and went on to complete his masters and doctorate work at Juilliard. His compositions include works for orchestra, band, chorus, and various chamber ensembles. A cursory survey of his compositions is impressive, but my interest was piqued by those whose inspiration came from literature – including novels and poetry by John Updike, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Yeats.  A particularly notable work is his transcendent composition Falling Man, based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, evoking the very personal tragedies that unfolded in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster.

Tonight’s offering is Discover the Wild, a bright, engaging opening which expands to a beautiful, lyrical, almost cinemagraphic romantic second theme. The third section weaves the first themes with a fresh approach and ends with a light, optimistic finish. Notice the variety of percussion instruments and textures throughout.

Though this composer and his music may be new for many in our audience, there is a comfortable familiarity to our ears with influences of Copland, and other popular contemporary American composers. Don’t be surprised if you hear passages that bring to mind one of your favorites!

Manuel de Falla, El sombrero de tres picos Ste. No. 1 & 2

Born in Cadiz, Spain in 1876, Manuel de Falla is the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century. This reputation is largely attributed to two Iberian ballet scores: El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician), which includes the popular “Ritual Fire Dance”, and El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) which he wrote for the Ballet Russes.

With regional success in his early career in Madrid, particularly for Andalusian Flamenco, de Falla moved in 1907 to Paris, where he lived for seven years and discovered the world of French composers Debussy and Ravel. The profound influence of these years inspired his first piano pieces and songs, and gained him status among international Impressionist composers. His exposure to Stravinsky during this time also inspired the incorporation of neoclassic style in later compositions. De Falla is still considered ‘hard to classify’ as either Impressionist or Neo-Classic.

Formally retired in 1926, having produced a relatively small body of highly regarded work, de Falla was able to remain apolitical during the Spanish Civil War, living in Granada and continuing to work at a lesser pace. Following Franco’s victory in 1939, de Falla moved to Argentina, where he taught, worked on his pet project Atlantica, adamantly refused requests to return to Spain and died in 1946.

On tonight’s program, we are treated to two Suites from El sombrero de tres picos.  Based on a novella, which involves a powerful magistrate who has a lustful eye for a humble miller’s wife, the story is a humorous tale of flirtation, disguise, reconciliation and comeuppance. The Spanish–inflected music is filled with colorful folk tunes, sultry Latin attitudes, sharp Spanish rhythms, fanfares, birdcalls, soaring string melodies – all designed to tell the story in dance.

Aram Khachaturian, Spartacus, Ste. No.2

Born to poor Armenian parents in Tbillsi, Georgia, June 6, 1903, Khachaturian showed early musical prodigy that eventually opened the doors to the Moscow Conservatory, an introduction to Sergei Prokofiev and the beginning of a prolific career. Though his brightest talent was expressed in symphonic composition, he also made significant contributions to the ballet, dramatic plays and films. The composer was among those who walked the fine line of approval and critique from the Stalin regime. Ironically, his first ballet Happiness was reworked during World War II as the patriotic ballet Gayaneh, with its famous “Sabre Dance.”

In 1954, Khachaturian wrote the ballet music for Spartacus, loosely telling the story of the slave uprising against the Romans and its heroic leader. It was staged three times before the 1968 version secured its place as one of the composer’s greatest popular works and one of the best ballets of the 20th century. The sweeping, lush main theme is familiar and beloved.

Joseph-Maurice Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe, Suite #2

Ravel was born in 1875 in the Basque town of Ciborne, France, near the Spanish border, and his mother had grown up in Madrid. Though his family moved to France when he was an infant, the Spanish influence in his music is apparent. Ravel was among the most prominent French composers considered Impressionist, a style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term is also applied to the compositions of Debussy, DuParc, de Falla in Spain and John Ireland in England, and is linked to the art of Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. True in both the art and music worlds, Impressionism is evocative of moods, atmospheres and feelings – one could say that the music ‘sounds like’ the art and the art ‘looks like the music”.

Ravel is known particularly for his melodies, masterful orchestration, rich harmonies and inventive instrumental effects.  Perhaps best known of his compositions is Bolero, originally composed for ballet, which the composer described as “a piece for orchestra without music” and is instantly recognizable by its incessant theme, which is repeated throughout the piece and intentionally is never ‘developed’.

The Greek tale of Daphnis and Chloe involves a boy and a girl who are abandoned by their parents and raised by shepherds. The two meet and gradually fall in love as they grow up. After various trials, the two are reunited with their families and married to each other. This popular story was the main source for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and inspired many musical compositions.

Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe was commissioned in the early 1900s by the Ballet Russes and its wildly successful impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Igor Stravinsky called the work “one of the most beautiful products of all French Music”. Tonight we will hear Suite #2 from the ballet, which Ravel remarked was his ‘most important score’. This is a work of lush harmonies typical of the Impressionist style.  Listen for the familiar strains borrowed for the writing of  “You can see forever” from the musical On a Clear Day.

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













Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, January 11, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

 George Gershwin, Cuban Overture

“True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time.  My people are Americans and my time is today.” – George Gershwin

Gershwin was born in Brooklyn NY in 1898, the second son of Russian immigrants. When he was 12, his parents bought a piano for his older brother Ira, but it was George who showed the greater musical talent. As a high school ‘drop-out’, Gershwin went to work as a “song plugger”, demonstrating new sheet music for prospective buyers on Tin Pan Alley. At 17, he cut his first piano rolls and began to compose songs.  At 19, he got a job as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway, and quickly became a Broadway composer.  His big break was Swanee, which he wrote with Irving Caesar and which was recorded by Al Jolson. Swanee was the biggest song hit of the composer’s entire career. By his mid 20’s George and his brother Ira became a team and produced the Broadway Musical hit LADY BE GOOD, and went on to write the scores of some of Broadway’s most successful musicals of the day. Their political satire OF THEE I SING was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Price for drama.

In 1924, Gershwin composed RHAPSODY IN BLUE, which introduced his hallmark style of integrating jazz elements with classical structure and established his credentials as a serious composer.

His subsequent CONCERTO IN F brought him to Europe and into the company of several prominent European classical composers; this exposure led to his first large-scale piece without piano, the tone poem An American in Paris, a commission for the New York Philharmonic.  In 1935, the Gershwin brothers opened their “American folk opera” PORGY AND BESS on Broadway, which ran 124 performances and never recouped its investment.  A year later, the pair settled into the Hollywood scene and wrote the songs for SHALL WE DANCE, A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS and THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES.

George Gershwin died at the tender age of 38, following surgery for a brain tumor. His abbreviated life was consumed with music. Perhaps due to an awareness of his lack of formal musical training, he never stopped studying theory, composition, conducting and orchestration. He did enjoy his hobby of painting and his later works are well-regarded in the world of art. Despite his elegant social demeanor and popularity, he spent his time at parties seated at the piano and he never married.

Tonight’s performance of Gershwin’s CUBAN OVERTURE, originally entitled RUMBA, is a symphonic overture – or tone poem. It was composed in 1932, after a two-week holiday in Havanna from which the composer returned with rhythms in his head and Cuban percussion instruments under his arm.

The work represents a giant leap forward in the composer’s symphonic music, in its harmonic sophistication and orchestration. The overture is dominated by Caribbean rhythms and Cuban native percussion instruments, which he noted should be ‘set right in front of the conductor’s stand’. Rich, exciting, and complex, the work’s main theme was influenced by a then current hit “Échale Salsita” and, as the composer intended, “embodies the essence of Cuban dance”.

The work premiered on August 16, 1932, at the first all-Gershwin concert at New York’s Lewisohn Stadium before an enthusiastic crowd of almost 18,000 people, with 5,000 turned away. It was a huge success, with audiences and critics alike. About the performance, Gershwin wrote, “It was, I really believe, the most exciting night I have ever had!”

Tonight we will hear what the excitement was all about!

Leonard Bernstein, WEST SIDE STORY Symphonic Dances

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Bernstein

The New York Times called Leonard Bernstein “Music’s Monarch…one of the most prodigally talented and successful musicians in American History.”  Born August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts to Russian Jewish immigrants, Bernstein fell in love with the piano as a child, earning his own money to pay for lessons. He showed such passion and aptitude, his father was moved to support his desire for a life in music. He attended Boston Latin School, was a graduate of Harvard in 1939, studied at Tanglewood under Serge Koussevitsky, and returned less than a decade later to become head of its orchestral and conducting departments. He was Music Director of the NYC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, where he led more concerts than any previous conductor and, among other endeavors, ran his renowned Young People’s Concerts.

Bernstein’s compositions span works for the concert hall, Broadway stage, ballet, opera and film. Among his long list of honors, he received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1985. He was a strong advocate for American composers, a humanitarian, philanthropist and active, outspoken advocate for world peace. Also an author, his book “The Joy of Music” is a must read for any music lover.

Fragile health since childhood in no way inhibited the Music Monarch’s ambition, commitment and productivity. Performing almost to the end, he died at the of 72 of a heart attack caused by progressive lung failure.

Leonard Bernstein’s astounding career can hardly be touched in a few hundred words. It is worthwhile for any appreciator to explore his contributions to the American music landscape.

West Side Story

A contemporary telling of Shakespeare’s ROMEO and JULIET, set in New York City during a time of gang rivalry, WEST SIDE STORY was a whole new thing on the Broadway scene in 1957 – revolutionary, different in style and content, pushing the boundaries of musicals to a new art form and setting a new standard for musical theatre. Original and innovative as it was then, the music, Latin rhythms, fantastic innovative dance, romance and drama that is WEST SIDE STORY has become indelibly woven into our culture.

Bernstein’s melodies, Steven Sondheim’s lyrics, Jerome Robbins’ choreography and Arthur Laurents’ book– the cohesive amalgamation that we have come to love and revere – was a collaboration hard-won. It took years to manifest, the concept shelved, resurrected – again and again – finally finding its way to Tony and Maria, the Sharks and the Jets. It was Hal Prince who picked up the gauntlet, ignoring the naysayers in his decision to produce WEST SIDE STORY, after others had shied away and strongly urged him to do the same.

Bernstein himself said, “Everyone told us that it was an impossible project … the score was too rangy for pop music … and who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage… then we had the really tough problem of casting it, because the actors had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers!”

Despite the formidable odds, the team persisted. The pre-Broadway run in Washington, D.C. was a critical and commercial success, followed by moving to New York, where it won several Tony Awards, ran for 732 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre, went on tour, then returned to Winter Garden in 1960 for another 253 performances. The film version in 1961 brought the masterpiece to people who had never seen a live Broadway production and won 10 Academy Awards.

Tonight’s performance is a suite of orchestral music from the show that was prepared by Maestro Bernstein in 1961. We will hear strains of the Rumble, Mambo, Cool, Maria, Somewhere, and other familiar melodies that evoke the thrill of the entire theatrical experience. It is truly wonderful!

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


The Art


In our small circle of acquaintances here in Southwest Florida, we are rather myopic.  Everywhere we go, it seems that retailers, restaurants, cultural events are hyperaware of our demographic category: retirees who have money to spend and time up for grabs.

I love this.  I get special rates and discounts.  I get to hear the soundtrack of my life piped through every loudspeaker in every public space.  Shop people are extremely accepting of me carrying my little dog in places I would not be able to take her, if I were back up north.  There are folks ready to help me if I happen to need a bag toted out to my car.  There are about a million things to do each day – classes to take, art shows, festivals, gallery walks, bike trails, boats to ride on, great fishing, gorgeous beaches, nature parks.  Oh yes.  It is pretty darned special for those of us who have worked hard all our adult lives and are lapping up all the goodies available to fill our days in relative comfort and fulfillment.

What we do not see much of is KIDS.  Honestly, I had heard years ago that there just weren’t that many KIDS around here.  Seemed true.  I didn’t see them…..at least, in any number.

Then.  My love of music and devotion to our wonderful Charlotte Symphony Orchestra opened a door to a world I didn’t know existed.  Because our new Maestro – Raffaele Ponti – made it clear from the get-go that he wanted an educational initiative, this year the CSO created an outreach program aimed at school age children and I asked “Can I help?”  Hint:  do NOT ask that question in Punta Gorda unless you are prepared to dive in!

Now, during “Symphony Week” – the week before the monthly CSO concert – I have the privilege of accompanying Maestro Ponti to two elementary schools where he works with the teachers to conduct a music/art class.  He introduces the music, talks a bit about the composer and invites the kids to create art while they listen to the music.  He’s been using Beethoven’s Fifth and Stravinsky’s Firebird to prepare them for the special Youth Concert in May, when those works will be performed.  The music begins with a resounding DA DA DA DAAAAA.  Dot Dot Dot Line.  Ah, Beethoven!  And the kids begin to draw, paint, mark, dab, whatever they have for tools on the blank paper in front of them.  It’s crazy good!  Everyone is exhilarated.

Then, on Saturday, during the rehearsal for this week’s concert, there are kids who participate in  what we call “Musical Chairs” – they sit in an instrumental section of their interest while the Maestro works the rehearsal.  What a trip!  Sitting on the stage with professional musicians, a brilliant conductor – as music is brought from practice to performance level.  I would have LOVED that when I was a kid.

So, back to the premise that there are no (few) kids in our area.  There are THOUSANDS!!!  The public school system boasts music and art programs and teachers (wow, are they dedicated) who show up every day to open up the world for their charges.   Now, I have the opportunity to share in their experience and have my own world broadened in the deal.  That’s what I call a win/win.

Click the link below to see a video of our Friday morning classes with Maestro.


Maestro school visitswith the kidsmaestroCSO rehearsal