Sunday, December 16, 2012 • 3:00 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church
Seattle Chamber Singers
Huw Edwards, conductor
Simone Porter, violin
Linda Tsatsanis, soprano
Stephen Wall, tenor
Ryan Bede, baritone
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Violin Concerto in F Minor (“Winter” from The Four Seasons), Op. 8, No. 4
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
Fantasia on Christmas Carols
arr. John Finnegan
About the Concert
Celebrate the season as we welcome another of our six candidates for OSSCS music director to the podium: Huw Edwards, currently music director of the Olympia Symphony and director of orchestral activities at the University of Puget Sound, and previously conductor of the Portland Columbia Orchestra and Seattle Youth Symphony. Local violin prodigy Simone Porter solos in Vivaldi’s “Winter” concerto from The Four Seasons, and we celebrate Beethoven’s birthday with a performance of his witty first symphony. After intermission, Christmas music from Bach (a cantata featuring material that would resurface in his B Minor Mass) and Vaughan Williams set the stage for a festive holiday sing-along.
About the Conductor
Guest conductor Huw Edwards is in his tenth season as music director of the Olympia Symphony Orchestra, where he is credited with greatly improving the quality of the orchestra, selecting challenging yet rewarding programs and being very active in the community. From 2000 to 2012, Mr. Edwards served as music director of the Portland Columbia Symphony, where he consistently received critical acclaim from audiences, guest soloists and the press for his intense performances and daring programming, including world premieres of commissioned works by several Pacific Northwest composers. He stepped down from this post in May 2012 to accept an appointment as director of orchestras at the University of Puget Sound.
From 2002 until 2005, Mr. Edwards was music director of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras and served as a faculty member at the Marrowstone Music Festival from 1998 to 2005. This followed seven seasons (1995–2002) as music director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, a tenure that included numerous innovations, a coveted ASCAP Award and landmark tours to Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
As a guest conductor, Mr. Edwards has performed with the Oregon Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Eugene Symphony and Yakima Symphony. Recent guest engagements have included the Salem Chamber Orchestra, a fourth appearance with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Northwest Mahler Festival Orchestra, and a return to the pit for a triple bill with Ballet Northwest.
Born in Wales, Mr. Edwards holds degrees from the University of Surrey and Southern Methodist University. He came to the Northwest from Chicago, where he was a lecturer and doctoral candidate at Northwestern University. His principal teachers have been Simon Johnson, Barry Wordsworth, Anshel Brusilow, Eduardo Mata and Victor Yampolsky.
About the Soloists
Violinist Simone Porter has been described by critics as “bold” (Seattle Times), “coolly virtuosic” (The Times) and “a consummate chamber musician” (The Telegraph), and has been recognized as an emerging artist who brings impassioned energy and integrity to her playing. Raised in Seattle, Ms. Porter began her violin studies at age three, studying with Margaret Pressley, before being admitted to the studio of the renowned pedagogue Robert Lipsett, with whom she studies at the Colburn Academy in Los Angeles.
Ms. Porter made her professional solo debut with the Seattle Symphony at age 10, made her European debut with England’s Northern Sinfonia two years later, and at age 13 debuted with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In May 2012, at age 15, she made her professional recital debut at the Miami International Piano Festival. She has also soloed with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, the Milton Keynes City Orchestra, the Olympia Symphony, Philharmonia Northwest, NewWest Symphony, Port Angeles Symphony and the Young Musician Foundation’s Debut Orchestra. She recently appeared with the Aspen Chamber Symphony conducted by Nicholas McGegan and performed a Paganini concerto with the Reno Philharmonic and the American Youth Symphony.
Simone Porter has twice been featured on the radio program From the Top, as well as on the Emmy Award–winning TV show From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, the most recent being selected as a 2011 Davidson Fellow Laureate, which carries with it a $50,000 scholarship. Ms. Porter is a member of the American Youth Symphony and plays on a 1742 Camillus Camilli violin on generous loan from The Mandell Collection of Southern California.
Soprano Linda Tsatsanis, a native of Canada, enjoys an active and diverse career, having been hailed as “ravishing” by The New York Times and possessing a voice with “crystalline purity” by The Seattle Times. Ms. Tsatsanis’ career spans the concert hall, opera stage, and performance in movies and television. She has appeared as soloist with Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Auburn Symphony, Orchestra Seattle and Pacific Baroque Orchestra and has made recent appearances at the Magnolia Baroque Festival as well as the Indianapolis, Boston and Bloomington Early Music Festivals. Gramophone described her solo album on the Origin Classical label, And I Remain: Three Love Stories, as a “seductive recital of the darker sides of 17th-century love.” She can also be heard on recordings on the CBC and Naxos labels. Learn more: lindatsatsanis.com
Tenor Stephen Wall has appeared frequently with Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers since 1985 and can be heard on the OSSCS recording of Handel’s Messiah conducted by George Shangrow. During that time he has also been featured in leading and supporting roles with Seattle Opera, in addition to roles with Portland Opera, Utah Festival Opera and Tacoma Opera, and appearances with the symphonies of Seattle, Vancouver, Spokane, Everett, Bellevue, Yakima, Pendleton, Great Falls and Sapporo (Japan). Mr. Wall has also served as the director for many musical theater productions in western Washington and maintains an active voice studio in Seattle.
Baritone Ryan Bede holds degrees in music from the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington. Favorite operatic roles include Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Schaunard in La bohème and Ben in Menotti’s The Telephone. He recently performed in Love’s Fool by Seattle-area composer Kam Morrill, and recent concert engagements include Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Magnificat and Fauré’s Requiem. Mr. Bede is a past participant of Tacoma Opera’s Next Generation Artist program and the Aspen Opera Theater Center. He teaches studio voice in the University of Puget Sound Community Music Department, serves as a music instructor at Mercer Island’s L’école franco-americaine, and is a recipient of the Singers Training Fund grant from the Seattle Opera Guild. Learn more: ryanbede.blogspot.com
“Winter” from The Four Seasons, Op. 8, No. 4
Vivaldi was born in Venice on March 4, 1678, and died in Vienna on July 28, 1741. He composed this concerto for solo violin and string orchestra (with continuo) sometime prior to its 1725 publication.
Vivaldi composed roughly 500 concertos for a wide array of instruments, including more than 200 for solo violin. These typically consisted of two fast movements in ritornello form (in which a recurring orchestral passage alternates with elaborate episodes featuring the solo instrument) surrounding a central slow movement (where the solo instrument is often supported only by continuo). Vivaldi published some of these concertos in groups of 12, calling the third such collection (his Op. 8) The Contest Between Harmony and Invention. The first four of these works each depict in music a sonnet (likely written by Vivaldi himself) about one of the seasons. The Four Seasons, as they have come to be known collectively, stand not only as Vivaldi’s most well-known works but among the most widely recognized and overwhelmingly popular of all Baroque compositions.
For the opening movement of his “Winter” concerto, Vivaldi evokes frigid temperatures with brittle dissonances and shivering with trills (also called “shakes”). Rapid violin phrases usher in a “terrible wind,” while repeated notes represent the stamping of feet and tremolos the chattering of teeth, as described in the first four lines of the sonnet:
Frozen and shivering in the icy snow.
In the strong blasts of a terrible wind
To run stamping one’s feet at every step
With one’s teeth chattering through the cold.
In the slow movement, pizzicato accompaniment conjures the sound of raindrops, while the warm solo writing evokes the respite of an indoor fire:
To spend the quiet and happy days by the fire
Whilst outside the rain soaks everyone.
The final movement opens with circuitous phrases that suggest sliding about on ice, with the writing becoming more and more dramatic as the ice begins to break apart. A descending scale indicates someone slipping and falling:
To walk on the ice with slow steps
And go carefully for fear of falling.
To go in haste, slide and fall down:
To go again on the ice and run,
Until the ice cracks and opens
To hear leaving their iron-gated house
Sirocco, Boreas and all the winds in battle:
This is winter, but it brings joy.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Beethoven was born in Bonn on December 16, 1770, and died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. He began work on his first symphony during 1799, completing it early the following year and conducting the premiere in Vienna on April 2, 1800. The score calls for pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, plus timpani and strings.
The first symphony of Beethoven straddles the divide between the Classical era, exemplified by Mozart and Haydn, and the Romantic period that Beethoven himself would help usher in two years later with his monumental third symphony (the “Eroica”). Beethoven had studied with Haydn during the early 1790s, and while their pupil-teacher relationship was a rocky one, it is a measure of Beethoven’s respect for Haydn’s music that the younger composer waited until he was nearly 30 to take up the two forms that Haydn had virtually defined: the symphony and the string quartet.
Although Beethoven had sketched some ideas for a symphony as early as 1795, he only set to work in earnest on what would be the first of his nine symphonies during the summer preceding his 29th birthday. The first performance took place the following April, at a concert that Beethoven organized for his own benefit, and which also included the premiere of his Septet (a work that would quickly achieve great popularity) as well as a Mozart symphony and two selections from Haydn’s The Creation. While the Viennese critics ignored the performance, a correspondent for a Leipzig newspaper termed it “truly the most interesting concert in a long time.”
The slow introduction to the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 opens with a dominant-seventh chord that resolves not to C major (the work’s “home” key) but to F major. This humorous gambit (which Haydn had employed in a string quartet, but never in a symphony) was the first of several devices that contemporary audiences would have found somewhat shocking. The ensuing Allegro con brio features the explosive accents, prominent wind writing (one critic complained that “it sounded more like a wind band than an orchestra”) and sudden dynamic shifts that would become hallmarks of Beethoven’s symphonic writing.
The second movement blends fugal writing with sonata form, opening in C major but shifting to C minor for the development—with an arresting detour to D♭ major. Beethoven calls the third movement a “minuet,” but while the 3/4 time signature and overall structure resembles the minuets-with-trio of Haydn and Mozart’s early symphonies, it is a scherzo in all but name. Haydn had written similar movements in his string quartets, but Beethoven brought them to the symphony and would explore ever more breakneck speeds with his ensuing entries in that genre.
The first movements of symphonies in Beethoven’s day often began with a slow introduction, but Beethoven again surprised his listeners by doing so in the opening of his finale, which begins with a fortissimo chord. Violins play three ascending scale tones, which Beethoven repeats, adding one additional note each time. Finally, the whole scale arrives in the lickety-split tempo that will carry listeners to end of the work. Some conductors in Beethoven’s time omitted the introduction, fearing that the audience might laugh out loud. Here again Beethoven brings to mind the humor evident in so many of Haydn’s symphonies, but in contrast to the refined wit of his onetime teacher, Beethoven’s humor is more often of the raucous, in-your-face variety. But the ascending scale is not merely a throwaway punchline: it recurs as an integral ingredient throughout the fourth movement, right up to the very end.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191
Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, on March 21, 1685, and died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750. He likely wrote this cantata for performance in Leipzig on Christmas Day during the period 1743–1746, but the exact circumstances surrounding its composition remain matters of conjecture. Bach employs soprano and tenor soloists, SSATB chorus, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani, strings and continuo.
J.S. Bach was 38 when, in 1723, he accepted the position of Cantor of St. Thomas’ Church in Leipzig. He was occupied by the cares of his large family and circle of friends, the tasks of a very busy professional life, and ongoing struggles with local officials who never recognized that they were dealing with perhaps the greatest musical genius ever born. He described himself as living “amidst continual vexation, envy, and persecution,” and yet he remained in Leipzig for the remaining 27 years of his life.
Bach intended this unusual sacred cantata (his only such work with a Latin text) for a Christmas Day performance, yet scholars remain uncertain about the reasons for its composition, the date and occasion on which it was first heard, and its relationship to the “Gloria” movement of a “Lutheran Missa” that Bach composed during 1733, probably for the Dresden court, and to the “Gloria” movement of his magnificent Mass in B Minor (1748–49). Some scholars think that the “Dresden Missa” might have been performed in Leipzig on April 21, 1733, to welcome Friedrich Augustus III when he arrived to accept the town’s oath of allegiance. Most experts, however, now believe that, when Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann assumed his new duties as organist of Dresden’s Sophienkirche in July 1733, Bach presented this “Dresden Missa” to the new Elector of Saxony and King of Poland as part of his application for an appointment at the Elector’s court in Dresden.
For the three movements of BWV 191, Bach “repurposed” the music of three sections of the “Gloria” movement of his “Dresden Missa.” The cantata was possibly written for a special service of thanksgiving held in the Paulinerkirche, the Leipzig university church, that celebrated, on Christmas Day of 1745, the signing in Dresden of a peace treaty that ended the second SilesianWar (during which Leipzig had been occupied by Prussian troops). It seems most likely that Bach later expanded this same music from the Dresden Missa’s “Gloria” into the “Gloria” of the Mass in B Minor.
In any event, BWV 191, as you will hear it today, is a truly “glorious” work with which to celebrate any occasion for rejoicing, secular or sacred. A surge of trumpets and drums introduces the cantata’s first movement, “Gloria in excelsis,” whose two sections form a great prelude and fugue. Douglas Cowling describes the scoring as the “traditional Big Bach Band expected for Christmas,” to which the energetic five-part chorus (such as Bach employs in the “Credo” of the Mass in B Minor and in the Magnificat) adds the sparkle of sopranos, who soar into “the highest” (a high B♮!) to proclaim God’s glory. This imitative “prelude,” an ebullient hymn of praise in triple meter, yields to the contrasting fugal 4/4 “Et in terra pax,” in which peace flows in running sixteenth notes from the darkened skies above Bethlehem and gently syncopated, recurring eighth-note figures rock the night-swaddled Earth to sleep after the heavens have been sundered by the angelic hosts’ astonishing announcement of the Christ child’s birth.
The second movement, “Gloria patri,” is a delightful imitative duet for tenor and soprano accompanied by a gracefully dancing flute playing a decorative sixteenth-note melody against muted violins and violas, and pizzicato cello and bass. (Might a “trinity” of significant musical lines bring to mind the Holy Trinity?) Bach also builds a tripartite A–B–A structure by repeating the movement’s instrumental introduction at the end.
In the cantata’s jubilant conclusion, “Sicut erat in principio,” which, like the first movement, takes the form of a prelude and five-part fugue, the full festival orchestra makes a triumphant return. Bach adds both new fanfarelike choral parts at the beginning of the “prelude” and independent flute parts to the corresponding “Cum sancto spiritu” section of the Dresden Missa’s “Gloria.” Throughout the movement—characterized by a driving rhythm and exuberantly tumbling sixteenth-note passages—the chorus sings the word “saeculorum” (“of the ages”) in sustained, “eternal” chords. The fugal episode, during which the trumpets largely remain silent, is divided into two sections by a brief flute-and-trumpet-bedecked orchestral interlude followed by a short homophonic choral passage. The fugue provides the chorus with a complex and vocally challenging subject and countersubject enhanced by the accompaniment of echoing flute and oboe figures. The glittering first trumpet adds its ecstatic joy to the final seven measures of the cantata, which ends somewhat abruptly as the angels suddenly leave the shepherds—and us—to ponder the miracle of the first Christmas night that opens earth to the wonders of the “ages of ages.”
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Vaughan Williams was born at Down Ampney, Gloustershire, England, on October 12, 1872, and died in London on August 26, 1958. He composed this work in 1912 for the Three Choirs Festival at Hereford Cathedral, where he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in the premiere on September 12 of that year. In addition to solo baritone and SATB chorus, the work calls for pairs of woodwinds, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, chimes, organ and strings.
One pervasive aspect of the “romanticism” of late 19th- and early 20th-century culture, particularly in England, was an intense interest in “folk arts,” including music, and this “meme” was transmitted to Ralph Vaughan Williams, among many other composers. Vaughan Williams had a special love for England’s folk carols, “poems for singing” that are descended from songs with a refrain and numerous verses that accompanied circular dances usually celebrating a religious festival. Writing in 1911 to his friend Cecil Sharp (1859–1924), a collector and editor of English folk song and dance to whom the Fantasia on Christmas Carols is dedicated, Vaughan Williams commented that there was “something remarkable and quite unlike anything else about them . I’ve always noticed what a peculiar atmosphere the major carol tunes have.”
Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols captures this atmosphere in a complex, fascinating and most memorable way. It consists of richly textured arrangements of three traditional English folk songs that lead the listener from the descent of darkness upon a sin-stained world to the desperately needed redemption of that world through the angel-enwreathed mystery that unfolded on Christmas and brings light and tidings of joy to all generations, new year by new year. The three carols are: “The Truth Sent from Above,” set to the tune “There Is a Fountain of Christ’s Blood” (whose text was traditionally sung at Christmas despite its references to the Crucifixion), collected in Kings Pyon, Herefordshire, in 1909, by Vaughan Williams and his friend Mrs. Ella Mary Leather; “Come All You Worthy Gentlemen,” from Somerset, collected by Cecil Sharp; and “On Christmas Night” (the “Sussex Carol”), collected by Vaughan Williams near Horsham, Sussex, in 1904.
Phrase-threads of these three carol tunes, together with some from other carols (including “The First Nowell,” “A Virgin Unspotted,” and the refrain “Love and joy come to you” from “The Wassail Bough”) are interwoven throughout the fabric of the frequently imitative accompanimental textures. The chorus provides four different tone colors as it sings the words, sings with closed lips, sings “Ah,” and sings with open lips but producing a short “u” sound as in the word “but.” Vaughan Williams’ masterful treatment of the carol melodies enhances their beauty, just as perfectly chosen accessories bring out the loveliness of a simple but exquisite evening gown.
A lone cello contemplates the last phrase of the Fantasia’s freely flowing first carol tune as the work begins, and soon relinquishes the haunting melody to the solo baritone, who is accompanied by a (mostly) humming chorus. Following several solo baritone verses and a four-part a cappella reminder by the chorus of God’s promise to redeem lost humanity through his Son and its reiteration by the strings and humming chorus, the solo cello closes this introductory (“A”) portion of the work with a remembrance of its initial meditation. The cello immediately gives place to the men of the chorus who invite, in unison and a strong duple meter, all worthy gentlemen to hear the Christmas story, and who bring tidings of joy as well as the entrance of the women’s voices to describe the Christ Child in the manger (the composition’s “B” section).
The orchestra now takes up the carol tune, its music punctuated by jubilant exclamations from the choir in unison, and while chorus and orchestra together send the joyful tidings soaring to the skies, snatches of “The First Nowell” float through the flutes and violins and fade into the distance before the solo baritone returns to sing, in a swaying 6/4 meter, of the news the angels brought on Christmas night (section “C”). Sopranos soon alternate their singing with the soloist’s, while the rest of the chorus adds their colors to the texture, and the exuberant bell-like ringing-out of Christmas exaltation, accomplished through the use of motives found near the end of this carol tune, reverberates throughout the firmament before it recedes as did the songs of the angels returning into Heaven.
With a change to duple meter for the Fantasia’s final section, the baritone sings, in long notes, the third verse of the second carol, “God bless the ruler of this house,” in alternation, first with the chorus’ altos and basses, and then with the sopranos and tenors, who present the text and music of the fourth verse of the third carol, “From out of darkness we have light,” and thus re-present the music of the “B” section of the work in combination with that of section “C” to balance the composition’s overall architecture (A–B–C–[B+C]). Swift, silvery fragments of “On Christmas Night,” “A Virgin Unspotted” and “The Wassail Bough” now dart through the rivers of orchestral elation between the phrases of the second carol’s third verse, here chanted by the choir in unison. The chorus echoes the wishes of “The Wassail Bough” for a happy new year and the baritone repeats them before the chorus closes the composition with a quiet Christmas-night prayer for everlasting joy and blessing in the last phrase of the “Sussex Carol.”