About the concert for the RI Philharmonic Orchestra’s TACO Classical with conductor Anu Tali and violinist Jennifer Koh, Saturday, Sept. 22
Open Rehearsal is on Friday, Sept. 21
***At a Glance ***
Pictures at an Exhibition
TACO Classical Concert
Saturday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m.
The VETS, One Avenue of the Arts, Providence
Anu Tali, guest conductor
Jennifer Koh, violin
BACH/STOKOWSKI: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
TORKE: Bright Blue Music
MUSSORGSKY/RAVEL: Pictures at an Exhibition
GLASS: Violin Concerto No.1
Friday, Sept. 21, at 5:30 p.m.
Stories behind the music
J.S. Bach (1685–1750)/Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977)
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
Audacious performances: To music lovers of the first 50 years of this century, Leopold Stokowski was a household name. The English-born conductor had, quite simply, revolutionized concert life in the United States. During his tenure as conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1912-1938), he developed the “Philadelphia sound” and introduced audiences to an adventurous repertory.
Innovative orchestral transcriptions: He developed masterworks from other repertories, most notably J.S. Bach’s organ pieces, which took on novel sounds by donning orchestral clothing. This music riveted general audiences, while several influential purists scoffed at the romantic emotion of the arrangements. Yet, as one musician has put it, “What he did was to bring out, in a way that nobody else has, the essential mysticism and the romanticism of Bach, which is undeniable.”
Listen for this: The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was one of the earliest transcriptions, first presented in 1927. It became world-famous when Stokowski conducted it in the opening scene of Walt Disney’s film Fantasia (1940), visually enhanced by stunning abstract graphics. In 1938, he had commented:
The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is like a vast upheaval of Nature. It gives the impression of great white thunderclouds—like those that float so often over the valley of the Seine—or the towering majesty of the Himalayas. The Fugue is set in the frame of the Toccata, which comes before and after. This work is one of Bach’s supreme inspirations—the final cadence is like massive Doric columns of white marble.
Philip Glass (1937- )
Violin Concerto No.1
Eclectic approach: Music with popular touches is the hallmark of Philip Glass. Appealing equally to fans of rock, jazz and classical music, Glass is the ultimate “crossover” composer. This has been the case since 1965, when he developed a new musical vision while working on a film score with sitar player Ravi Shankar. From that point, his music focused on small ensembles of amplified flutes and saxophones, electronic organs and synthesizers. Glass’s style became associated with a new trend in American music called Minimalism.
Transformed opera: His first opera, Einstein on the Beach (1976), featured a violinist in the title role rather than a singer.
Listen for this: The middle movement begins with oscillating pulsations in the strings, morphing subtly into something new in preparation for the soloist. The violin enters with its simple melody. That melody repeats 13 times with some variants, tapering off until it ends abruptly. Most of the final movement proceeds Glass-like, growing out of new repetitive ideas. However, its last section is a series of slow, high reminiscences of the earlier movements, a most satisfying gesture to end the work.
Michael Torke (1961- )
Bright Blue Music
Interesting syntheses: Michael Torke’s music explores a unique fusion of classical idioms with jazz, rock ’n’ roll and other American popular styles. The extent to which he employs any of these varies with the work. He composed The Yellow Pages in 1984 for chamber ensemble, his first piece to refer to color. Then, in 1985, Torke came into the public eye with a series of “color” works for orchestra. The first of these was Ecstatic Orange, which was soon choreographed by Peter Martins for the New York City Ballet. The same year saw the composition of a sequel, Bright Blue Music.
In his own words: Torke wrote the following regarding Bright Blue Music:
Inspired by Wittgenstein’s idea that meaning is not in words themselves but in the grammar of words used, I conceived of a parallel in musical terms: harmonies in themselves do not contain any meaning, rather, musical meaning results only in the way harmonies are used. Harmonic language is then, in a sense, inconsequential. If the choice of harmony is arbitrary, why not then use tonic and dominant chords—the simplest, most direct, and, for me, the most pleasurable? Once this decision was made and put in the back of my mind, an unexpected freedom of expression followed. With the simplest means, my musical emotions and impulses were free to guide me. The feeling of working was exuberant; I would leave my outdoor studio, and the trees and bushes seemed to dance, and the sky seemed a bright blue.
Listen for this: Torke said, “The key of the piece, D major (from which there is no true modulation), has been the color blue for me since I was five-years-old. Bright Blue Music continues the compositional development of my past two pieces, but does so with a new-found freedom and lyricism, and a new language: tonality.”
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)/Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Pictures at an Exhibition
Fabulous pairing: It is difficult to conceive that the piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition written in 1874 by Mussorgsky, had to wait until after the composer’s death to be published. Maurice Ravel’s brilliant orchestration, which immediately became part of the standard repertoire, was suggested by Serge Koussevitzky, then a popular conductor in Paris. Ravel took the suggestion and made what many consider the most exemplary orchestration of a piano work ever. Koussevitzky premiered the piece in 1923.
An expression of sorrow: The origin of Pictures at an Exhibition goes back to 1873. That year saw the death of Victor Hartmann, architect and artist, who was a close friend of Mussorgsky’s. The composer expressed his sorrow at the loss to Russian critic Vladimir Stassov, who had first introduced them. The following year Stassov helped to arrange an exhibition of 400 of Hartmann’s watercolors and drawings in St. Petersburg.
Listen for this: From the collection, Mussorgsky chose 11 works on which to build his suite, introducing some of the movements with a recurring “promenade” theme. The Promenade, as explained by Stassov, represents the composer “walking now right, now left, now as an idle person, now urged to go near a picture; at times his joyous appearance is dampened as he thinks in sadness of his departed friend. . . .” Toward the end of the section, Mussorgsky suggests the witch flying. When she lands, it is squarely on the downbeat of the final section: The Great Gate of Kiev. This was Hartmann’s design for an ancient-style gate, complete with decorative cupola and a triumphal procession marching through the arches (represented by the Promenade theme). The full mass of Ravel’s orchestra (including chimes) comes together here to give Pictures at an Exhibition a majestic conclusion.
Tickets start at $15 (including all fees), and can be purchased online at tickets.riphil.org, in person from the RI Philharmonic Orchestra Box Office in East Providence, or by phone 401.248.7000 (Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.). On day of concerts only, tickets are also available at The VETS Box Office (Friday, 3:30 p.m.–showtime; Saturday, 4 p.m.-showtime). Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.