2011–2012 Season

Pulcinella

  • November 13, 2011

  • Sunday | 3:00 PM
  • First Free Methodist Church
  • Joseph Pollard White, conductor
  • Nick Masters, double bass
  • Catherine Haight, soprano
  • Kathryn Weld, alto
  • Dustin Kaspar, tenor
  • Charles Robert Stephens, bass
Georg Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
Concerto Grosso in G Major, Op. 6, No. 1
Johann Baptist Waṅhal (1739–1813)
Double Bass Concerto in D Major
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
Mass in G Minor
—Intermission—
Eric Whitacre (*1970)
Five Hebrew Love Songs
Huntley Beyer (*1947)
Short Stories world premiere
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
Suite from Pulcinella

The second concert of the 2011–2012 OSSCS season features two masterpieces from the early 1920s selected by guest conductor Joseph Pollard White. Both works draw upon music of centuries past: Ralph Vaughan Williams sought inspiration from English Renaissance choral music for his a cappella Mass in G Minor, while Igor Stravinsky based the music in his Pulcinella Suite on compositions attributed (at the time) to Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Pergolesi.

Double bass soloist Nick Masters, winner of the 2011 Seattle University Concerto Competition, joins Mr. White and Orchestra Seattle for a selection from a concerto by Johann Baptist Waṅhal, a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn. Rounding out this eclectic program: a Handel concerto grosso; Five Hebrew Love Songs, an enchanting work for soprano, violin and piano by American composer Eric Whitacre; and the world premiere of Short Stories, a wind quintet by Northwest composer Huntley Beyer.

About the Conductor

Joseph Pollard White, a native of New York, studied as an undergraduate at the Eastman School of Music, where his teachers included violist Heidi Castleman, violinist Isador Saslav, orchestral conductors David Effron and Taavo Virkhaus, and choral conductor Robert DeCormier. He earned his Master of Music in Viola Performance at the Indiana University School of Music, where he studied with Georges Janzer. After advanced training in conducting as a student of Charles Bruck at the Pierre Monteux School in Hancock, Maine, he completed his Doctor of Musical Arts in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Washington as a student of Robert Feist.

As conductor and violist, Mr. White has performed across the United States and Europe, including the Spoleto Festival, Virginia Opera, Bronx Opera, Connecticut Philharmonic, Pittsburgh String Consort, Swiss Radio Orchestra of Lugano, Switzerland, and the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic of Zlín, Czech Republic. A longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, he has worked with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Seattle Chamber Players and Northwest Mahler Festival, and served as music director of the Rainier Symphony and Civic Light Opera.

In addition to the concert stage and orchestra pit, Mr. White has worked extensively in the recording field, especially in music for films. Recent projects have included School for Scoundrels, One Hour Photo, Bring it On, Air Bud, La Doña Barbara and the Academy Award–nominated documentary Legacy. Mr. White is also active as a composer. Recent projects include a concerto for oboe d’amore, several pieces for string orchestra and music for the play Actus Fidei by Steven Breese, written for the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebrations.

Joseph Pollard White has previously taught at Northern Kentucky University, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.

About the Soloists

Double bassist Nick Masters has served as a principal in the Western Washington University Symphony and as a member of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Seattle and Texas Festival Orchestra. He currently studies with Joseph Kaufman at Seattle University, where he placed third in that school’s 2010 Concerto Competition and took first prize in the 2011 competition, resulting in his solo appearance this afternoon. He previously studied with Ben Musa at WWU and has performed in master classes for Jeff Bradetich, Max Dimoff and Jordan Anderson.

Soprano Catherine Haight is well known to Seattle audiences for her performances of Baroque music. She is an accomplished performer of the oratorio repertoire, including all of the major works of Handel and Bach. Ms. Haight has been a guest soloist with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in their acclaimed production of Carmina Burana; her recordings include Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang with Philharmonia Northwest, Orff’s Carmina Burana with Seattle Choral Company and Handel’s Messiah with OSSCS.

Mezzo-soprano Kathryn Weld has performed extensively throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. Her expertise extends from Baroque ornamentation to bel canto opera, from Mahler song cycles to world premieres of contemporary works. She has made two solo appearances with the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Charles Dutoit (de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat) and Kurt Masur (Grieg’s Peer Gynt). She made her Carnegie Hall debut to critical acclaim in a performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor with Musica Sacra.

Tenor Dustin Kaspar began his Northwest performing career in 2002 in the Seattle Chamber Singers, shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelors in Music Education. Since 2004, he has been heard in the chorus and as a soloist with The Esoterics, Seattle Bach Choir, Cascadian Chorale, Northwest Opera in Schools Etc. (NOISE) and East Shore Unitarian Church Choir. Mr. Kaspar is currently a regular chorister with Seattle Opera and studies with Stephen Wall.

Baritone Charles Robert Stephens has enjoyed a career spanning a wide variety of roles and styles in opera and concert music. At New York City Opera, he sang the role of Prof. Friedrich Bhaer in the New York premiere of Mark Adamo’s Little Women, and was hailed by The New York Times as a “baritone of smooth distinction.” He has sung on numerous occasions at Carnegie Hall in a variety of roles with Opera Orchestra of New York, the Oratorio Society of New York, the Masterworks Chorus and Musica Sacra, as well as with ensembles throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Program Notes

Georg Frideric Handel
Concerto Grosso in G Major, Op. 6, No. 1 (HWV 319)

Handel was born in Halle, Germany, on February 23, 1685, and died in London on April 14, 1759. He composed the 12 concerti of his Op. 6 in a single burst of energy during the fall of 1739. Handel completed work on this G major concerto on September 29, scoring it for a concertino group (two violins and cello), string orchestra and continuo.

At the end of his life, the Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli prepared his classic set of 12 concerti grossi for publication; they appeared in 1714, shortly after Corelli’s death, as his Op. 6. Each of these works was scored for strings, with solo parts for two violins and a cello. In 1739, Handel implicitly paid tribute to Corelli with his own great set of 12 concerti, also Op. 6. While Corelli refined his concerti through years of performances, Handel produced his set in about five weeks: either Handel’s muse was particularly strong, or his creditors especially anxious to be paid!

Handel was able to work so quickly in part because he recycled several of the concerto movements from compositions for other forces (and in some cases from music by other composers). The musical material for the opening movement of HWV 319, for example, reportedly came from an overture Handel wrote—and discarded—for his opera Imeneo, which he had begun in 1738 but did not complete until 1740. Handel’s publisher sold the set of 12 concerti by subscription for a fee of two guineas, attracting over 100 interested musicians and members of the aristocracy.

Following Corelli’s example, Handel employed a concertino group of two violins and a cello in the bulk of his own Op. 6 set (the one exception being the seventh concerto). While most of the works in Op. 6 alternate fast and slow movements, the first concerto differs in that it contains but a single true slow movement bookended by pairs of faster ones. The brief, stately opening (marked A tempo giusto—“in strict time”) leads without pause to a livelier Allegro. About the central Adagio Handel biographer Charles Burney wrote: “[W]hile the two trebles are singing in the style of vocal duets of the time, where these parts, though not in regular fugue, abound in imitations of the fugue kind; the [bass], with a boldness and character peculiar to Handel, supports with learning and ingenuity the subject of the two first bars, either direct or inverted, throughout the movement, in a clear, distinct and marked manner.” The fourth movement provides another example of fugal writing while the concluding Gigue—a spirited dance in 6/8 time—recalls the spirit of the Corelli works that inspired Handel.

Johann Baptist Waṅhal
Double Bass Concerto in D Major

Waṅhal was born in Nechanicz, Bohemia, on May 12, 1739, and died in Vienna on August 20, 1813. His concerto for double bass calls for an orchestra consisting of strings plus pairs of oboes and horns.

Although most modern references render his surname “Vanhal,” Paul Robley Bryan’s authoritative reference work about this musician of Bohemian heritage asserts that the composer himself used the spelling “Waṅhal” during his lifetime. Born into indentured servitude, Waṅhal relocated from Bohemia to Vienna at age 20, where he earned enough money to purchase his freedom. Over the next two decades he became known as a symphonist, churning out more than 75 symphonies—all before 1780, when changes in the musical tastes of the Viennese aristocracy prompted him to concentrate on other forms.

Waṅhal also produced dozens of string quartets, concertos and keyboard sonatas, plus a significant amount of religious music—despite the fact that he never held a church post. Mozart famously performed one of Waṅhal’s many violin concertos, and later played in a string quartet with Waṅhal as the cellist (Haydn and Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf were the other two members). While most of Waṅhal’s concerti were for violin and keyboard, he also produced several for other instruments, including one for two bassoons—and at least one concerto for double bass.

Johann Mathias Sperger (1750–1812), a Viennese double bass virtuoso and a composer of some renown (including 18 concerti for his own instrument), inspired a number of musicians, among them Dittersdorf, to write solo works for him. Waṅhal likely composed his D major concerto for Sperger around 1780, although little evidence of this exists other than the fact that the only surviving copy of the work surfaced in Sperger’s library.

The instrument Sperger played is unlike the modern double bass you will see played this afternoon: it sported five strings instead of four, tuned to the pitches F♮–A–D–F♯–A. Furthermore, Sperger often tuned his instrument up a half-step, so that the work sounded in E♭ rather than D major. The opening movement of Waṅhal’s concerto, which we hear this afternoon, lies firmly in the Classical-era concerto tradition, and affords the soloist opportunities to display flashy technique as well as lyrical expresssiveness.

Jeff Eldridge

Ralph Vaughan Williams
Mass in G Minor

Vaughan Williams was born at Down Ampney, Gloustershire, England, on October 12, 1872, and died on August 26, 1958, in London. He composed this work for a cappella double chorus with SATB vocal soloists during 1920 and 1921. Joseph Lewis conducted the City of Birmingham Choir in the work’s first performance at Birmingham Town Hall on December 6, 1922.

“There is no reason why an atheist could not write a good mass,” Ralph Vaughan Williams once observed. Indeed, according to Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer’s second wife, artistic collaborator and biographer, “He was an atheist during his…years at Charterhouse and at Cambridge, though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism: he was never a professing Christian.” The composer— son of an Anglican clergyman and great-nephew of Charles Darwin—did, however, retain a profound affection for the Church of England and its music as lying at the heart of the country’s spiritual and artistic heritage. His harrowing experiences as a stretcher-bearer during World War I might have attracted him more strongly to the spiritual texts on which he based a number of the works he wrote following the conflict.

In contrast with the sacred music of the German-influenced English composers of the late 19th century, Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor was the first substantial a cappella setting of the Latin mass text since pre-Reformation times to display the unique, essentially “English” sound that today’s listeners so readily recognize. The work’s notable features include: liquescent, plainsong-inspired melodic lines (take, for example, the opening phrase of the Kyrie); Renaissance-style imitative polyphony; parallel voice movement and “false relations” (a kind of dissonance in which a pitch in one part is rapidly followed in another part by the same pitch altered by a half-step, as at “Benedicimus te” in the Gloria); iridescent modal harmonies (such as those at the ethereal opening of the Sanctus, characteristic of both Tudor music and the folk songs that Vaughan Williams collected and transcribed); and constantly shifting, kaleidoscopic sonorities.

Vaughan Williams dedicated the Mass to the Whitsuntide Singers at Thaxted in north Essex and their conductor Gustav Holst, the noted English composer whose friendship Vaughan Williams valued highly. The premiere, however, occurred at a concert in Birmingham, even though Vaughan Williams had envisioned it for use in a worship setting. The first liturgical performance took place at Westminster Cathedral on March 12, 1923, conducted by Sir Richard R. Terry, a preeminent organist and choirmaster largely responsible for the resurrection of English sacred choral music of the Tudor period (1485–1600). Terry, thrilled with Vaughan Williams’ composition, wrote to the composer: “I’m quite sincere when I say that it is the work one has all along been waiting for. In your individual and modern idiom you have really captured the old liturgical spirit and atmosphere.”

Listen for the compelling textual illuminations (of such phrases as “et in terra pax” in the Gloria and “et homo factus est” in the Credo), as well as for the “early English” characteristics of the Mass mentioned above. Then let the work lift your heart into the shimmering, timeless world Vaughan Williams creates by blending elements of the 16th and 20th centuries that transport listeners of all ages.

Lorelette Knowles

Eric Whitacre
Five Hebrew Love Songs

Eric Whitacre was born January 2, 1970, in Reno, Nevada, and currently lives in Los Angeles. He composed this song cycle for soprano, violin and piano (with the vocalist also playing tambourine) in 1996, later rescoring it several times for various choral and instrumental forces.

Over the past decade, American composer Eric Whitacre has achieved widespread success with numerous works for choral groups and wind ensembles, ranging from the sublime (Lux Aurumque) to the outrageous (Gawd$illa Eats Las Vegas). Whitacre’s music has appeared on more than 40 recordings, which the composer has effectively marketed using such online venues as MySpace. In 2009, he launched a “Virtual Choir” project on YouTube. About Five Hebrew Love Songs, Whitacre writes:

In the spring of 1996, my great friend and brilliant violinist Friedemann Eichhorn invited me and my girlfriend-at-the-time Hila Plitmann (a soprano) to give a concert with him in his home city of Speyer, Germany. We had all met that year as students at the Juilliard School, and were inseparable. Because we were appearing as a band of traveling musicians, “Friedy” asked me to write a set of troubadour songs for piano, violin and soprano. I asked Hila (who was born and raised in Jerusalem) to write me a few “postcards” in her native tongue, and a few days later she presented me with these exquisite and delicate Hebrew poems. I set them while we vacationed in a small skiing village in the Swiss Alps, and we performed them for the first time a week later in Speyer.

Each of the songs captures a moment that Hila and I shared together. Kalá kallá (which means “light bride”) was a pun I came up with when she was first teaching me Hebrew. The bells at the beginning of Éyze shéleg! are the exact pitches that awakened us each morning in Germany as they rang from a nearby cathedral. These songs are profoundly personal for me, born entirely out of my new love for this soprano, poet, and now my beautiful wife, Hila Plitmann.

Huntley Beyer
Short Stories

Huntley Beyer was born November 17, 1947, growing up in New Jersey; he currently resides in Redmond. His wind quintet (for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon) receives its premiere this afternoon.

Composer Huntley Beyer met OSSCS founder George Shangrow in 1969 in the classroom of harpsichordist Sylvia Kind at the University of Washington. He later played oboe in Orchestra Seattle for 15 years. Under Shangrow’s direction, OSSCS premiered numerous Beyer compositions, including three of his four symphonies, the powerful St. Mark Passion, Songs of Illumination and the song cyle The Turns of a Girl. About Short Stories, the composer writes:

There are three things I like about the short story. One is that a tale is told. Things happen. A character undergoes development. The second is that sometimes a closing image or idea suggests a different way to view what has happened. The third is that they are short, which means an idea does not have to undergo any “tedious development” as sometimes happens in longer forms. I am playing with these three characteristics in this piece.

In the first movement, the opening idea is like someone taking a peaceful walk. A sad, bluesy thought (in the clarinet) comes into the mind, threatening to ruin the walk, or to make it a sad one. Then, a bird-like idea pops in (either a bird, or a different, free, almost happy idea). Gradually the mournful thought follows the free bird, and so the blues disappear.

The second movement is a sequence of various fun rhythms. My image was of a bunch of old Model T cars getting together for a race. At first they just putt around together, showing off their different engine sounds, and then things get a little rowdy and there’s a horn blast. The cars slowly get ready, then take off. The third movement is mostly a pretty tune, but near the end things get a little faster and then the bird from the first movement flaps in.

The fourth movement starts with a dense cluster, and is more of a color or texture than a tune. Then, the bassoon and horn play a bossa nova dance idea under that same coloristic sound, giving it a different interpretation, or changing the whole picture or image. At the end, the bassoon takes the bossa idea and just goes off alone, happily bopping away, as if the character were simply playing at a dance, and is now going home. She is a happy character. Finally, “synapse detour” is a basic rondo, but at the end two other familiar ideas hop in for a fun ending.

Igor Stravinsky
Suite from Pulcinella

Stravinsky was born born at Oranienbaum, near St. Petersburg, on June 17, 1882, and died in New York on April 6, 1971. He began work on his ballet Pulcinella during the summer of 1919 and completed it on April 20, 1920, with the premiere given by the Ballets Russes on May 15 at the Paris Opera. Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony in the first performance of the concert suite on December 22, 1922. The suite calls for pairs of flutes (with one doubling piccolo), oboes, bassoons and horns, trumpet, trombone and orchestral strings (including five solo players).

In 1917 Sergei Diaghilev—the famed impresario of the Ballets Russes—successfully staged The Good-Humoured Ladies, set to keyboard works of Domenico Scarlatti as orchestrated by Italian composer Vincenzo Tommasini. Two years later, Diaghilev turned to Ottorino Respighi to arrange music of Gioachino Rossini for a similar stage work, La Boutique fantasque, and in 1920 he approached Manuel de Falla (with whom he had collaborated on The Three-Cornered Hat), to adapt music for a third such ballet, this time drawing upon compositions of Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736). Preoccupied with another project, the Spanish composer declined, so Diaghilev turned to fellow Russian Igor Stravinsky, who had exploded onto the scene a decade earlier in three collaborations with the Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.

Surprisingly, Stravinsky exhibited interest in the project, even though he “wasn’t in the least excited” by the few Pergolesi compositions he had heard previously. But when Diaghilev supplied him with various musical selections (which the impresario claimed had come from Italy, but actually derived from manuscripts in the British Library), Stravinsky “fell in love,” perhaps because much of the music—unbeknowst to him or anyone else at the time— was mostly the work of composers other than Pergolesi.

For the ballet’s story, Diaghilev chose an episode from a book of stories concerning Pulcinella, a traditional comic hero of the Neapolitan commedia dell’arte. The plot involves Pulcinella—with whom various young women are in love—switching places with a double to avoid being killed by the girls’ suitors, who then dress up as Pulcinella and present themselves to their sweethearts. Pulcinella arrives on the scene and arranges marriages for all involved—including himself. Léonide Massine choreographed the work, based on sketches in dance manuals from the 17th and 18th centuries, with sets designed by Pablo Picasso.

Recent musicological research has shown that much of the music Stravinsky selected for use in the ballet—including the familiar opening movement and the work’s jubilant finale—derived from trio sonatas by a little-known Italian composer, Domenico Gallo (1730–c. 1738). Two movements came from keyboard works of Carlo Ignazio Monza (?–1739), while a Tarantella—the first number Stravinsky tackled—came from a Concerto Armonico by Dutch nobleman Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692–1766). Stravinsky also drew upon excerpts from operas and cantatas, including the ballet’s second number (Serenata), a tenor aria from Pergolesi’s 1735 opera Il Flaminio; for these, he retained the original texts (in spite of the fact they had nothing to do with the ballet’s story) and employed three singers, in addition to a Mozart-sized chamber orchestra.

Stravinsky left the source material largely untouched, superimposing new harmonic elements on top of existing melodic lines, while occasionally elongating or shortening phrases. Although the use of concertino string solos recalls the practice of Baroque composers such as Handel and Corelli, Stravinsky’s ingenious orchestration utilizes all manner of instrumental effects—from string harmonics to trombone glissandi—unthinkable during the 18th century.

Not long after the work’s premiere, Stravinsky extracted a concert suite, using the ballet’s first five and last five numbers along with the Tarantella, and excising all but two vocal numbers, which he recast in purely instrumental form. (He later arranged many of the same selections for violin and piano, and for cello piano, each of which he dubbed Suite Italienne.) In the years that followed Pulcinella, Stravinsky made increasing use of Baroque and Classical forms in many of his compositions, including the Octet for Wind Instruments, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto and Symphony in C.

Jeff Eldridge