Daybreak of Freedom

Sunday, November 9, 2014 • 3:00 p.m.
Seattle First Free Methodist Church

Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor
Vivian Phillips, narrator
Kimberly Giordano, soprano
Sarah Larsen, mezzo-soprano
Eric Neuville, tenor
Charles Robert Stephens, baritone

Program

Joseph Schwantner (*1943)
New Morning for the World (“Daybreak of Freedom”)

—intermission—

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125

About the Concert

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With the help of a narrator, Joseph Schwantner draws from Martin Luther King’s most influential speeches about racial inequality and the fight for justice and freedom for all. New Morning for the World is a powerful reminder that the battles King fought are far from over, and its massive orchestral journey illustrates that human progress involves many painful confrontations and resolutions, rather than a single, momentous victory. With the German Embassy and the German Consulate, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of another daybreak of freedom, the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Beethoven’s iconic Ninth Symphony stands as a testament to equality, brotherhood and universal joy for all, continuing to inspire and remind us 190 years later that freedom is beautiful—something we can never take for granted.

This performance to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is presented in partnership with the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany.

About the Soloists

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Seattle native Vivian Phillips has served the City of Seattle in a number of capacities throughout her professional career. An alum of Leadership Tomorrow and the Alki Foundation Political Involvement Institute, Ms. Phillips worked on the historic Paramount Theatre restoration, served as Mayor Paul Schell’s director of communications, led long-term sustainability planning for the iconic Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, and has served as an adjunct professor at Seattle University. Her work in the arts has ranged from theater producing and managing to producing and hosting media programs focused on arts. She has worked in locally produced theater and consulted for national touring companies. Ms. Phillips is member of the Seattle Arts Commission and presently serves as director of marketing and communications for Seattle Theatre Group, operators of three historic theaters and presenters of over 500 performing arts events annually. She regularly hosts and emcees programs and events, and has an impressive list of interviews to her credit. She has performed on stage and is the recipient of several awards for her excellence in leadership, community service and programs produced for municipal cable outlets.

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Soprano Kimberly Giordano, lauded for her “polished,” “sterling” and “honest performance” (The Seattle Times), delights audiences with her shimmering blend of elegance and emotion. Her operatic roles include Micaëla in Carmen, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Rose in Street Scene and Gretel in Hansel and Gretel. She has appeared with Aspen Opera Theater Center, Tacoma Opera, Lyric Opera Cleveland, Bellevue Opera, NOISE and Seattle Opera. Equally compelling on the concert stage, Ms. Giordano made her Carnegie Hall debut in Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem. A gifted performer of contemporary music, she sang the role of Kelly in the West Coast premiere of Black Water, by John Duffy and Joyce Carol Oates. Her 2014–2015 season includes a concert of Strauss repertoire at Western Washington University. Learn more: kimberlygiordano.com

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Mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen, praised as “sizzling,” “riveting” and possessing a “plummy, ripe mezzo,” debuted with Santa Fe Opera as Mercédès in Carmen at their 2014 summer festival. Upcoming engagements include Duruflé’s Requiem with OSSCS, La Muse/Nicklausse (cover) for Les contes d’Hoffmann with the Metropolitan Opera, and a return to Seattle Opera for her role debut as the composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. An alumna of the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program, Ms. Larsen returned to Seattle Opera for their 2013–2014 season as Maddalena in Rigoletto and the Secretary in The Consul. In May 2013, she premiered a new song cycle, Farewell, Auschwitz by Jake Heggie and Gene Sheer, with Music of Remembrance, a recording of which is now available on the Naxos label. Learn more: sarahlarsenmezzo.com

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Tenor Eric Neuville is a regular on the Seattle Opera stage, performing roles in Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte and Les contes d’Hoffmann. Upcoming roles include Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni with Vashon Opera, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte with Tacoma Opera, Don Jose in La tragédie de Carmen with the Washington Idaho Symphony, and Scaramuccio in Ariadne auf Naxos with Seattle Opera. A regular on concert stages, this season he sings Beethoven’s Ninth with the Seattle Symphony, Carmina Burana with the Austin Symphony and Messiah with the Washington Idaho Symphony. As a member of the Grammy-nominated ensemble Conspirare, Mr. Neuville has participated in recording projects for Harmonia Mundi and a nationally televised PBS special, Conspirare: A Company of Voices. Learn more: ericneuvilletenor.com

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Baritone Charles Robert Stephens has enjoyed a career spanning a wide variety of roles and styles in opera and concert music, with Opera News praising him for “committed characterization and a voice of considerable beauty.” 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. This season he appears with the Seattle Symphony, Portland Chamber Orchestra, Whatcom Chorale, Helena Symphony, Trinity Concerts Portland, Tacoma Opera and Bainbridge Chorale. Learn more: seidelartistsmgmt.com

Program Notes

Joseph Schwantner
New Morning for theWorld (“Daybreak of Freedom”)

Schwantner was born in Chicago on March 22, 1943. He composed New Morning for the World in 1982, funded by a grant from AT&T. David Effron conducted the Eastman Philharmonia with Willie Stargell as narrator in the world premiere on January 15, 1983, at the Kennedy Center. In addition to narrator, the work requires 4 flutes (two doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, a massive percussion battery, piano, celesta, harp and strings.

American composer Joseph Schwantner received his musical training in the Chicago area, studying guitar and tuba while in high school, and earning degrees from the American Conservatory and Northwestern University. After receiving a Ph.D. from Northwestern, he taught for a year each at Pacific Lutheran University and Ball State before joining the faculty of the Eastman School of Music.

As a teenager, he won a national award for Offbeat (an atonal work for jazz ensemble in 5/4 time), and in 1970 became the first recipient of the Charles Ives Scholarship. Schwantner’s early compositions, predominantly for chamber ensembles, employed twelve-tone techniques. His 1977 work for the Eastman Wind Ensemble, …and the mountains rising nowhere, combined tonal and serial writing (and quickly became recognized as a modern wind band masterpiece), while Aftertones of Infinity, one of his first major orchestral works, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

That same year, Robert Freeman, director of the Eastman School of Music, met Willie Stargell, first baseman and team captain for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who would win the 1979 World Series. Freeman subsequently invited Stargell to participate in a project that would honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. “I feel very honored and flattered to be part of this,” Stargell told The New York Times in July 1982. “Dr. King has meant everything to me. He was a great inspiration, standing for everything that is good in living. I’m happy that the project has been approved by Dr. King’s widow, Coretta.”

Freeman approached Schwantner to compose what was initially dubbed a “concerto” for speaker and orchestra. “I was excited by the opportunity to engage my work with the profound and deeply felt words of Dr. King,” the composer wrote in 2007, “a man of great dignity and courage whom I had long admired. The words that I selected…were garnered from a variety of Dr. King’s writings, addresses and speeches, and…bear witness to the power and nobility of Martin Luther King’s ideas, principles and beliefs.”

New Morning for the World, while immediately accessible, incorporates elements of minimalism into Schwantner’s personal harmonic language, with the use of unusual meters such as 11/8 and 11/16 helping to create an unsettling rhythmic landscape that evokes the turbulence of times during which King lived—and so tragically perished.

Jeff Eldridge

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125

Beethoven was baptized December 17, 1770, in Bonn, Germany, and died March 26, 1827, in Vienna, Austria. The first performance of this symphony took place on May 7, 1824, at Vienna’s Kärntnertor Theatre. In addition to SATB soloists and chorus, the score calls for for pairs of woodwinds (plus piccolo and contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion and strings.

“I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time…before writing them down,” wrote Ludwig van Beethoven around 1822. “Once I have grasped a theme I shall not forget it even years later. I change many things, discard others, and try again and again until I am satisfied; then, in my head [the work] rises, it grows, I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle…and only the labor of writing it down remains…. I turn my ideas into tones that resound, roar and rage, until at last they stand before me in the form of notes.”

The son of Johann van Beethoven, a tenor at the elector’s court and a competent teacher of violin and clavier, and Maria Magdalena, the widow of a valet, child prodigy Ludwig grew up amid destitution, discord and distress. His father was very demanding, became an alcoholic, and was dismissed from court service in 1789. Of Ludwig’s seven siblings, only two survived infancy. At age 11, the unhappy Ludwig was taken away from school to pursue musical studies exclusively. He learned to play the organ, piano, violin and viola, and began to compose. In 1784, he was appointed second organist in the electoral chapel in Bonn, where—for the next eight years—he was very active in the musical life of the city, his talents noticed by the musically discerning. He visited Vienna in 1787 and took some composition lessons from Mozart, but had to return home to manage household affairs when his mother died. He settled permanently in Vienna in 1792, when the elector fled Bonn as a revolutionary French army advanced.

In Vienna, Beethoven studied with Haydn (from whom he claimed to have learned nothing), Johann Albrechtsberger (whom Beethoven found overly strict) and Aloys Förster, a composer of string quartets, to whom he gave the most credit as a teacher. The young Beethoven survived financially by teaching and playing the piano at private music-meetings, where his dynamic, emotionally charged performances began to attract attention. He moved increasingly from a career as a virtuoso pianist toward one as a composer, writing piano concertos and sonatas, chamber works, and then symphonies. By 1800, his musical prestige considerable and his material fortunes blossoming, he became aware that his hearing was deteriorating: deafness soon threatened his musical life, as well as his social and personal life. He became increasingly morose, withdrawn and distrustful, contemplating suicide in 1802. He wrote that only art—and his belief that he had much of importance to express musically—withheld him from ending his wretched existence. He also wrote of his longing for a single day of joy: “O Providence—grant me some time a pure day of joy. For so long now the heartfelt echo of true joy has been strange to me. Oh when—oh when, oh Divine One—can I feel it again in the temple of nature and of mankind—Never? No—oh that would be too hard.”

Perhaps it was this unquenchable hope for joy that enabled Beethoven to survive his innumerable troubles, which included increasingly poor health (he suffered from asthma, lupus, eye disease, liver ailments, dropsy, fevers and pneumonia, in addition to his deafness), financial misfortune, political and social turbulence, and disappointment and tension in his personal life. Indeed, over the next quarter century he composed some of the most dramatic and passionate of all musical works, becoming a public figure in a way that no composer had before. When he died in Vienna in March of 1827, it is said that 10,000 people attended his funeral. Never beholden for his livelihood to the nobility, he helped to create a new musical age: that of the artist as hero who belongs to all humanity.

Beethoven’s final symphony, generally known as the “Choral Symphony,” is a work of monumental proportions. Its innovative musical syntax has influenced virtually every Western composer (particularly Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler) since its premiere. Performances of the work have also marked epochal public occasions: in 1989, students played its finale through loudspeakers in Tiananmen Square to inspire courage, and Leonard Bernstein led a performance in Berlin to celebrate the razing of the Berlin Wall, substituting the word Freiheit (“freedom”) for Freude (“joy”) in the text of the finale.

Before he left Bonn in 1792, Beethoven seems to have been contemplating a musical setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” (An die Freude), which, because of its expression of utopian ideals and its delirious praise of “joy,” had inspired the composer since his earliest years. In 1810, the outline of the chief melody appeared in the Op. 80 Choral Fantasy for piano, chorus and orchestra, in which a poem in praise of music forms the foundation of a brilliant choral finale.

Beethoven worked on the Ninth Symphony from 1822 to 1824, after he had become almost completely deaf and could hear his music only in his head. The melody to which he finally set portions of Schiller’s poem became one of the best-known and most dearly loved tunes of all time, a symbol of humanity’s desire for universal joy and fraternity.

The work is structured in the traditional four-movement design, but in size, scope, complexity and difficulty it goes far beyond all previous examples of the genre, stretching the symphonic framework nearly to the breaking point. It was first performed employing about 24 singers for each of the four choral parts. Some see in this symphony Beethoven’s continuing struggle to find his “day of joy,” and if he did not succeed in finding it for himself, he has undoubtedly led others to discover joy of their own. The work is, in any event, the magnificent culmination of his career as the symphonist whose works form the bridge between the Classical and Romantic musical periods. It shines as the prime example of Beethoven’s belief that music expresses—and is to be understood through—feelings.

The first two movements, with their persistent, powerful and percussive dotted rhythms, evince tension and conflict. The mystery and emptiness of the D-minor first movement’s opening chord seem to evoke desolation and despair, and the darkness is deepened by the descending minor melodic figures in the principal theme. But the mood lightens a little during the rest of the movement: its second theme is in the brighter B♭ major, and occasional melodic hints seem to anticipate the finale. A rapid, helter-skelter musical chase, which Beethoven spoke of in a sketch as “mere sport,” opens the second movement, also in D minor. This is followed by a gentler, major-key trio section, in which melodic foretastes of the finale again appear.

The contemplative third movement is also built on two contrasting themes, the first in B♭ and serenely song-like, the second in D and somewhat faster. The slow first theme is decorated with increasingly complex musical patternwork in its two variations and lengthy coda. Prior to each of the variations, the second, somewhat faster-moving theme appears, first in D and then in G, providing tonal contrast.

The gigantic choral finale begins with a furious orchestral expostulation, followed by a “rejection” of material from the first three movements, themes of which are quoted in turn. The “Freude” theme is then presented and given three variations before an even more dissonant outburst signals the entry of the voices. A solo baritone sings, “O friends, not these sounds! Rather, sing more pleasing songs, full of joy,” and soloist and chorus then join in the “Freude” theme. This is worked into a huge musical structure in which four soloists, chorus and orchestra combine in a virtual “symphony within a symphony,” with a grand “opening movement” in D, a brisk “Turkish march” in B♭ major and 6/8 time, a stately “slow movement” in G, and a “finale” that combines the “Freude” and “seid umschlungen” (“be embraced”) themes.

Many of the symphony’s early critics, especially in England, found the choral finale completely incomprehensible and incoherent, but the work nevertheless enjoyed a sensational reception. When the composer, who by this time was completely deaf, appeared to direct the premiere, he received five rounds of applause. Because Viennese concert etiquette prescribed three rounds only for royalty, Beethoven’s acclaim caused the police to attempt to curtail the overly enthusiastic outbursts. Although Beethoven presided from a conducting stand in front of the performers, the real direction of the performance was in the hands of the theater’s Kappellmeister, who had instructed the performers to pay no heed to Beethoven’s gestures, and of the orchestra’s concertmaster. It is said that, at the end of the performance, the applause was thunderous, and realizing that the composer could not hear the ovation, the singer Caroline Unger turned him to face the audience.

Following the concert, the exhausted composer fainted. He later made his way to the home of Anton Schindler, his friend and first biographer, and there, too drained to eat or drink, he fell asleep fully clothed and remained so until morning. The unkempt man with broad shoulders and a mass of unruly hair, who was poorly educated and ill-mannered, who clashed with himself and the world, did what his one-time hero, Napoleon, had tried but failed to do: Beethoven, through his musical talent and tenacity, conquered the world.

Lorelette Knowles