Irreverent Reverence

Saturday, February 6, 2016 • 7:30 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)

Tickets available at the box office beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor
Adrian Steele, violin
Karina Brazas, soprano
Ryan Bede, baritone

Program

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80

Jean Sibelius (1865–1957)
Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 47 [first movement]

intermission

Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
Requiem in D minor, Op. 48

About the Concert

Johannes Brahms never attended college but was flattered by an honorary degree from the University of Breslau. His Academic Festival Overture was a light-hearted response (incorporating well-known student drinking songs) to the school’s shameless request for a musical “thank-you note.” Gabriel Fauré was employed as a church musician for more than 40 years (over half his lifetime), but viewed his work as an organist and choirmaster as a means to a paycheck rather than a spiritual calling. “My Requiem was composed for nothing … for fun, if I may be permitted to say so!” he wrote. “Perhaps instinctively I sought to break loose from convention. I’ve been accompanying burial services at the organ for so long now! I’ve had it up to here with all that. I wanted to do something else.”

Behind the Music

Get the inside scoop! Hosted by OSSCS music director Clinton Smith, “Behind the Music” explores who and what inspired composers to create. Enjoy a free, fun and informative half-hour session that includes an overview of the music, historical and cultural context for the works, and highlights to listen for during the performance. Begins at 6:30 p.m. (one hour prior to the performance) at First Free Methodist Church.

About the Soloists

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Violinist Adrian Steele, winner of the 2015–2016 OSSCS Concerto Competition, is a student of Ron Patterson, having previously studied with Mihoko Hirata and Tracy Helming. A sophomore at Garfield High School in Seattle, he is a member of Garfield’s Symphonic Orchestra and also pursues musical studies at the Seattle Conservatory of Music. Adrian has received awards at numerous festivals and competitions, most recently winning the 2015 Coeur d’Alene National Young Artists’ High School competition and the 2014 Seattle Young Artists’ Music Festival Concerto Competition. As a soloist, he has performed with several orchestras, including the Eastside Symphony, Philharmonia Northwest and Coeur d’Alene Symphony. Adrian has spent summers at the Bowdoin Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine, and the Music in the Mountains Conservatory in Durango, Colorado, and has participated in masterclasses with Ida Kavafian, Robert Lipsett, Cyrus Forough, Grigory Kalinovsky and Paul Kantor. In his free time, he enjoys playing soccer, hiking, busking at Pike Place Market and collecting vinyl records.

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Soprano Karina Brazas, described as “fiery and fetching” (Ladue News) and as performing with “sweetness, clarity, great beauty and innocence” (Broadway World) has been praised for her vocal beauty in opera, concert and oratorio work. The 2015–2016 season will see her debut with St. Louis’ Union Avenue Opera as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, in recital with conductor Hal France, and as soloist in Fauré’s Requiem with OSSCS and the St. Cloud Symphony. She made her main stage debut at Central City Opera as Kitty Hart in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and, as an apprentice artist, performed Susanna in a family performance of Le Nozze di Figaro and covered Liesl in The Sound of Music. The 2013–2014 season saw her singing Gretel in Hansel and Gretel with Opera Omaha and Rosina in The Barber of Seville with Opera for the Young. A 2013 district winner and 2014 regional finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Ms. Brazas has also been featured as soloist with the Lincoln Symphony, Coeur d’Alene Symphony and Washington-Idaho Symphony. Learn more: karinabrazas.com, @karinabrazas

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Baritone Ryan Bede returns to OSSCS after singing Duruflé’s Requiem and Handel’s Israel in Egypt last season. He recently premiered the role of the Land Speculator in Sarah Mattox’s Heart Mountain with Vespertine Opera and sang Count Almaviva in City Opera Bellevue’s inaugural production of Le nozze di Figaro. During the 2014–2015 season he also returned to Tacoma Opera, appearing as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte and Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette. He was a member of the vocal ensemble for Spectrum Dance Theater’s acclaimed production of Carmina Burana as well as Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with Early Music Vancouver and Pacific Musicworks. Engagements this season include a return to Coeur d’Alene Opera as Schaunard in La bohéme (after appearing last season as Sonora in La fanciulla del West), his Opera Idaho debut as Papageno, and a return to Tacoma Opera as Tiger Brown in Weill’s Threepenny Opera. After performing with the Everett Philharmonic last season, he returns for Rutter’s Mass of the Children with the Everett Chorale. Learn more: ryanbede.com, @operbariton82

Program Notes

Johannes Brahms
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80

Brahms was born in Hamburg on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna on April 3, 1897. He composed this overture at Bad Ischl, Austria during the summer of 1880 and conducted its first performance in Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland) on January 4, 1881. The score calls for pairs of woodwinds plus piccolo and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.

The following is adapted from notes George Shangrow wrote for a November 1996 Orchestra Seattle performance.

By the time Brahms was in his 40s, honors began to pour in from abroad, including the offer of an honorary doctorate from Cambridge in 1876—which the composer declined, due to his aversion to traveling across salt water. (He declined a second offer from the same institution in 1892!) Brahms did, however, accept such an honor from the University of Breslau in 1879 and, while he did not attend the ceremony hailing him as “first among contemporary masters of serious music,” he did eventually thank them with the slightly mocking Academic Festival Overture. Although Brahms never attended college, he had spent a month during 1853 socializing with his friend Joseph Joachim, then enrolled at the University of Göttingen, and he likely drew upon those happy memories to create what he called “a very jolly potpourri of student songs.”

Brahms premiered the work in early 1881 at the Konzerthaus in Breslau, somewhat to the consternation of the university officials—many an academic head was shaken as they watched the composer conducting his “tribute” to higher education. I am not convinced that the degree of concern of the use of “student beer-hall” songs in the overture was as much a slight as the academics did—after all, Brahms had previously written them to express his gratitude for the honor, saying that he wanted to come to Breslau for some “doctoral beer and skittles.”

The overture, which to me exemplifies Brahms’ command of and commitment to musical form, opens in the tavern with a tune intimately associated with beer mugs. Although this serves as the principal theme, constantly recurring, it does not hold the leading place in the overture, as the student songs that follow clearly outshine it. First comes the student hymn “Wir hatten gebauet ein stattliches Haus” (“We Have Built a Stately House”) played by the strings, then brass and woodwinds, after which—with full orchestra—the principal theme returns in altered form. Another student song appears in the second violins and violas: “Der Landesvater” (“The Father of Our Country”). Instead of a development section, Brahms takes a ribald turn with a fun orchestration (led by bassoons) of a song that ridicules freshmen: “Was kommt dort von der Höh’ ” (“What Comes from Afar,” known as The Fox-Ride). There is wonderful playing about with all these themes until finally the great medieval student song “Gaudeamus igitur” (“Therefore, Let Us Be Merry”) is shouted in an orchestral splendor and richness for which Brahms is so famous.

George Shangrow

Jean Sibelius
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

Sibelius was born in Tavestehus, Finland, on December 8, 1865, and died at Jävenpää on September 20, 1957. He began writing this concerto in September 1902, completing a preliminary version in early 1904 and conducting the premiere in Helsinki on February 8, 1904, with Victor Nováček as soloist. Sibelius then made extensive revisions to the concerto, which debuted in its final form in Berlin on October 19, 1905, with Karl Halíř as soloist and Richard Strauss conducting. The accompaniment uses pairs of woodwinds, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.

“Sibelius was not merely the most famous composer Finland ever produced,” writes Alex Ross in The Rest Is Noise, “but the country’s chief celebrity in any field.” The son of a Swedish-speaking doctor (who died of typhus before the boy reached age three), Sibelius learned Finnish in school, changing his given name of Janne to the French Jean.

At age 14 he began formal violin lessons, later writing, “the violin took me by storm, and for the next 10 years it was my dearest wish, my overriding ambition, to become a great virtuoso.” An ill-fated audition for the Vienna Philharmonic on January 9, 1891, put an end to that dream: “when he got back to his room Sibelius broke down and wept,” reported biographer Erik Tawaststjerna. “Afterwards he sat at the piano and began to practice his scales.”

Sibelius now focused wholeheartedly on composition. He would make a far greater contribution to the art of violin playing through his one and only concerto for the instrument than he could ever have hoped to do as a performer.

A decade later, after the success of his first two symphonies, Sibelius began to gather ideas for a violin concerto. German violinist Willy Burmester provided steady encouragement, declaring the piano score “magnificent!” Initially Burmester was to have played the premiere, but when Sibelius hastily rescheduled the first performance, the task fell to a far lesser violinist and the concert turned out to be something of a disaster.

Over the next year, Sibelius reworked the concerto, making significant structural changes (including the removal of a second cadenza near the end of the first movement) and revising the orchestration to improve balances between soloist and orchestra. Burmester, showing no ill feelings, offered to premiere the new version, but Sibelius bowed to pressure from his publisher to bestow that honor on the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. (Burmester then vowed he would never perform the work—and he never did.)

The October 1905 premiere of the concerto in its final form garnered a better reaction from critics, with one reviewer comparing Sibelius to “the Nordic winter landscape painters who through the distinctive interplay of white on white, secure rare, sometimes hypnotic and sometimes powerful, effects.” Composer Richard Strauss, who conducted that performance, later declared, “I know more about music than Sibelius, but he is the greater composer.”

Jeff Eldridge

Gabriel Fauré
Requiem in D minor, Op. 48

Fauré was born in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France on May 12, 1845, and died in Paris on November 4, 1924. He began composing his Requiem around 1886, premiering an early version on January 16, 1888, in Paris’ Church of La Madeleine. Subsequent concert performances at the same church in 1888 and 1893 expanded the orchestration and incorporated two new movements. On July 12, 1900, at the Trocadéro in Paris, Paul Taffanel conducted the first performance of a version for full orchestra. In addition to chorus and soprano and baritone soloists, the edition used this evening calls for 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, harp, organ and strings (with solo violin and divisi viola and cello sections).

“For me, art, and especially music, exist to elevate us as far as possible above everyday experience.” So said Gabriel Fauré, a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher who Aaron Copland called “the Brahms of France.” A handsome and personable “man of affairs” (called “the cat” by his friends), Fauré sported a prominent mustache and possessed a great gift for melody as well as a reputation as the finest of all composers of French songs. He was not overtly religious (even though much of his career centered around church music) and composed no solo organ music (despite being an excellent performer on that instrument).

The youngest of six children, Fauré learned to play the piano as a child, and was enrolled at the age of nine in the School for Religious and Classic Music in Paris—at which the eminent composer Camille Saint-Saëns taught piano, composition and “modern” music—to prepare for a church musician’s career. In 1866, after spending 11 years there and finding a lifelong friend and mentor in Saint-Saëns, Fauré became a church organist in Rennes. He fought in the Franco-Prussian War, was discharged following the siege of Paris, spent time as a refugee in Switzerland during 1871, and in the fall of that year was appointed assistant to organist-composer Charles-Marie Widor at the famous church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, becoming in 1874 the secretary of the Société Nationale de Musique, founded by Saint-Saëns for the promotion of French music.

At about that time, Fauré began to substitute as organist for Saint-Saëns at the Church of the Madeleine when the famous composer was on tour, becoming choirmaster there in 1877. To ease his pain and depression following the fracture of his engagement to the daughter of a prominent singer (initiated by the young lady for unrevealed reasons), the budding composer traveled, was thrilled at meeting Franz Liszt, and attracted attention with the first performance of his violin sonata.

Fauré married in 1883, but this union was not a happy one: a matchmaker supposedly suggested three names to him and he chose that of Marie Fremiet by pulling it from a hat! The two were affectionate but had little in common—Marie was not pleased by her husband’s absences, his aversion to domestic existence, and his active extramarital love life—so the two parted company after the birth of two sons, although they did write to one another. During the early 1890s, the composer had an affair with Emma Bardac, who eventually married Claude Debussy, and he dedicated the Dolly Suite of piano pieces to Emma’s daughter (thought by some to be Fauré’s). His next romantic relationship, with pianist Marguerite Hasselmans, was quite overt and lasted through the remainder of Fauré’s life.

His church duties at the Madeleine and private teaching provided Fauré with a living during this period, and he published songs and piano pieces and worked on a Requiem, the composition for which he is best known. Between 1892 and 1905, his circle of friends and supporters widened, he traveled frequently, and he wrote the well-known incidental music for the English premiere of Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1898 play Pélleas et Mélisande. In 1896, Fauré became professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire (of which he was appointed head in 1905, earning the epithet “Robespierre” due to his radical reforms) as well as chief organist at the Church of the Madeleine when his predecessor there, Théodore Dubois, assumed leadership of the Conservatoire.

Fauré’s reputation as a great composer of vocal, piano and chamber music and also as an outstanding teacher grew over the ensuing decade, but at about the time he was elected to the Institut de France (1909), his hearing began to deteriorate. The final years of his life were very creative and productive, but poor health and almost complete deafness caused his retirement from the Conservatoire in 1920. The Grande Croix of the Legion d’Honneur was bestowed upon him at a national celebration at the Sorbonne in 1922. Despite his failing health, he continued to teach and encourage promising students, among them Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger (one of the 20th century’s most famous composition instructors) until his death from pneumonia, brought on by years of heavy smoking.

Fauré wrote his Requiem “for the pleasure of it,” not for any particular person or occasion (although both of his parents died around the time of its composition). About it, the composer commented: “Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.'' He told an interviewer: “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above, rather than as a painful experience. The music of Gounod has been criticized for its overinclination toward human tenderness. But his nature predisposed him to feel this way: religious emotion took this form inside him. Is it not necessary to accept the artist's nature? As to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.”

The Requiem exists in three versions. The first, performed in 1888 at the funeral of architect Joseph Lesoufaché in the Church of the Madeleine (after which the priest told Fauré, “We don't need all these novelties: the Madeleine's repertoire is quite rich enough.”), had only five movements, scored for a choir of boys and men, a solo boy treble, organ and strings. Two years later, Fauré incorporated into the work his 1877 “Libera me” (originally for baritone soloist and organ) and his 1889 “Offertory,” enlarging the orchestra to include French horns, trumpets and bassoons. This incarnation of the Requiem (which you will hear this evening) debuted in January 1893 but disappeared until, during the late 1980s, English composer and conductor John Rutter unearthed, edited and performed it. A score for full orchestra, requested by Fauré’s publisher, materialized around 1900, possibly made by Fauré’s friend and best pupil, Jean Roger-Ducasse, or by someone working for the publisher (this version was performed at the composer’s funeral).

The Requiem’s Introit captures listeners’ attention with a startling unison orchestral D, after which the chorus enters softly and rests upon the text “Requiem aeternam.” “Light perpetual” dawns gloriously and then fades; tenors take up the prayer for everlasting rest, after which sopranos request that praise be offered in Sion, and all the voices then gather together. Choral voices open the Kyrie with the Introit’s central tenor melody; the cries of “Christe” diminish in intensity as they are repeated, and a murmured “Kyrie” closes the movement.

The Offertory features a canon between altos and tenors, who pray—one after the other—for the deliverance of the souls of the departed, ending their petitions together, finally joined by basses. After solo baritone asks, chant-like, that praise might accompany offerings and prayers, four-part imitative choral polyphony closes the movement as more fervent prayers for deliverance from eternal punishment are offered.

Sopranos begin the Sanctus simply and softly; men’s voices echo their rising and falling three-note melody against a background of ethereal, arpeggiated harp figurations while solo violin sings a sweet, supple countermelody. Grand chords and a triumphant fanfare lead men’s voices (and then the women’s) into praise of God in the highest, after which the harp arpeggios return, the violin melody ascends like incense, and the full chorus whispers “Sanctus.”

At the heart of the Requiem lies the gentle, soulful Pie Jesu, a solo soprano prayer for rest—eternal rest. A flowing orchestral passage opens the Agnus Dei and introduces a soaring tenor melody. The full chorus petitions the Lamb of God for rest in anxious, unsettled chords, after which the tenors intensify the prayer. “Light perpetural” shines from the six-part chorus, the Requiem’s opening request for everlasting rest returns in the chorus, and the orchestra closes the movement with the Agnus Dei’s brief opening melody.

The baritone soloist opens the Libera Me with a widely leaping melody that leads to homophonic expressions of fear by the chorus. The Day of Wrath blazes forth with brass and then dims into subdued prayers for rest and light, and the chorus repeats in unison the solo baritone’s music. The movement closes with soft pleas by the solo baritone and chorus for freedom from eternal death. At last, the departed are conducted by the sopranos into the shimmering orchestral light of paradise in the Requiem’s concluding movement. The soprano-angels lead the awed six-part chorus toward the sparkling Holy City of Jerusalem, whispering a prayer for eternal rest.

By Fauré’s time, the Gradual and Tract portions of the Mass were not set to music, and the Sequence (the long poem, “Dies Irae”) was also omitted from French Requiem settings. Fauré followed this practice in his Requiem, which (probably due tp its beauty and gentle, comforting character) has become perhaps the best-loved such work in the literature. Fauré’s masterpiece continues to enthrall and indeed to elevate those who hear it “above everyday experience.”

Lorelette Knowles