GRANT PARK ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS
Carlos Kalmar Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Christopher Bell Chorus Director
Friday, July 16, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
SIBELIUS SYMPHONY NO. 5
Grant Park Orchestra Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Masumi Per Rostad, viola
Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
The Great Lover
Lonely Town (Pas de deux)
Times Square: 1944
Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
...fair as the moon, bright as the sun
MASUMI PER ROSTAD
Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, op. 82
Tempo molto moderato; Allegro moderato - Presto
Andante mosso, quasi allegretto
Allegro molto; Misterioso
Major support for this concert is generously provided
by American Accents Series Sponsor AbelsonTaylor
and by William Blair, our 2021 Diverse American Voices Series Sponsor.
Special support for this concert is provided
by Colleen and Lloyd Fry and the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation.
Friday’s concert is being broadcast live on 98.7WFMT and streamed live at wfmt.com.
LEONARD BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
THREE DANCE EPISODES FROM ON THE TOWN (1944)
Scored for: piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, two horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano and strings
Performance time: 11 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: June 19, 1993, Kenneth Jean, conductor
Not long after his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic in November 1943, the 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein was approached by choreographer Jerome Robbins to write a ballet about sailors on leave in New York. This jazzy ballet, Fancy Free, premiered in April 1944 and helped to catapult Bernstein’s compositional career. Coming off the ballet’s success, Bernstein and Robbins decided to turn it into a full musical called On the Town. They enlisted the help of Bernstein’s young friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write the book and lyrics. In fact, Bernstein and Green worked on the musical together while they were both recuperating from surgery in the same hospital—Bernstein for a deviated septum and Green for a tonsillectomy. They would often erupt in laughter and song, much to the chagrin and amusement of the attending nurses.
On the Town, Bernstein’s first musical, retained only the basic plot of Fancy Free, centering on the amorous adventures of three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in New York City during World War II. The wartime romcom was an immediate success when it premiered in 1944, and MGM quickly bought the rights to make it into a movie starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, which was released in 1949. However, most of Bernstein’s original music was not retained in the film version.
Bernstein chose three of the dance episodes from On the Town to form an orchestral suite, which premiered in 1946. Dance was naturally a central part of the musical due to the collaboration with Robbins. Like all of Bernstein’s dance music, the dance music in On the Town rose to a level of orchestral complexity never before seen on Broadway. In fact, one Boston critic wrote shortly after the premiere that Bernstein’s music was “an energetic blend of Stravinsky and Gershwin,” while veteran theater director George Abbott jokingly called it “that Prokofiev stuff.”
The first dance episode is “The Great Lover.” In this scene, Gabey has fallen in love with a subway poster beauty queen dubbed “Miss Turnstiles.” In dogged pursuit of this idealized woman, Gabey falls asleep on the subway and dreams of sweeping her off her feet.
The music in this episode reflects both Gabey’s naiveté and determination. The second episode, “Lonely Town—Pas de Deux,” takes a more melancholic turn as Gabey watches a fellow sailor seduce then abandon a girl in Central Park. He laments that without love, New York is just a lonely town. The final episode, “Times Square—1944,” presents a panoramic view of a bustling Times Square as the sailors embark on their night of fun. The most famous tune from the musical, “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town,” makes a brief cameo in this exuberant scene. In this moment, the music captures not only the sailors’ joi de vivre, but also that of the young composer soaking up his meteoric rise to stardom.
MARGARET BROUWER (b. 1940)
CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA (2010)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds plus piccolo, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings and solo viola
Performance time: 25 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance
Margaret Brouwer’s Concerto for Viola & Orchestra was commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2010 and dedicated to and premiered by her friend, the longtime principal violist of the Dallas Symphony, Ellen Rose. Brouwer’s compositional style resists categorization—she responds to centuries of musical styles and traditions by combining contemporary frameworks such as twelve-tone rows with ancient sounds such as plainchant, and uses unique instrument combinations and extended techniques to find new colors and timbres within an orchestra. She uses all of these techniques in her Concerto for Viola & Orchestra to wonderful effect.
As a former professional violinist, Brouwer is especially sensitive to writing for the viola in her concerto. The viola is by nature a blending instrument. It serves as the backbone of the orchestra by marrying the brighter violins and the richer cellos. Consequently, it is difficult for the viola to stand out as a solo instrument if there is overly heavy orchestration. Brouwer manages to keep the viola soloist in the forefront by using sparser accompanimental textures during the softer moments, offsetting the rich, honey-hued sounds of the viola with a unique combination of harp, marimba, and vibraphone to produce a ringing quality the viola lacks.
The concerto follows the loose narrative of an individual’s emotional internal journey (embodied by the soloist). The name of the first movement, Caritas, comes from the Gregorian plainchant, Ubi caritas (Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est—Where charity and love are, God is there), the melody of which acts as both a musical and spiritual thread between each of the movements. The movement begins in a mood of questioning and anxiety. The viola soloist enters straight away, as the composer writes, “charged with intensity.” Underneath the turmoil of the viola, the orchestra creates an atmosphere of “blurred color” using fragments of the ancient chant. Eventually, the viola’s passionate mood is quelled by the calming influence of the orchestra and is transfigured into something more compassionate and peaceful. The first movement contains the widest variety of musical styles, biggest transformation in mood, and clearest statement of the Ubi caritas theme of the whole concerto. The second movement, “...fair as the moon, bright as the sun”, continues the concerto’s religious theme by quoting the biblical Song of Songs in its title. Brouwer calls it “simply a love song.” It exudes pleasure and warmth and suggests a pastoral scene with the opening musical instruction reading, “Like light wind through white clouds.” The third movement, “Blithesome Spirit,” is of a completely different affect. It is highly virtuosic for the soloist, full of difficult rhythms, changing meters, and extended techniques in rapid succession, lending the movement a buoyant and at times mischievous quality.
JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
SYMPHONY NO. 5 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, OP. 82 (1919)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings
Performance time: 30
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: August 20, 1975, Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Jean Sibelius was so beloved in his home country of Finland that the government declared his birthday a national holiday and commissioned him to write his Fifth Symphony to honor it. Sibelius conducted the premiere performance on his fiftieth birthday on December 8, 1915, to great acclaim. However, the ever-self-critical composer struggled in writing the symphony and continued to rework it in two major revisions over the course of five years.
Perhaps Sibelius struggled with this symphony so much because it came at a pivotal time for him. After the mixed reception to his more radically dissonant Fourth Symphony, Sibelius was in crisis over whether he should continue down the path of modernism
like many of his contemporaries or continue to explore the possibilities within late 19th-century Romanticism—a crisis that was intensified by the outbreak of World War I, ill health, and financial troubles. He ultimately decided to stick to his roots in the Fifth Symphony, but you can still hear shadows of the grinding dissonances of the Fourth Symphony throughout.
Sibelius was notoriously obsessed with what he called the “profound logic” of the symphony and the way motifs could evolve organically to form their structure. In 1914 he wrote, “I should like to compare the symphony to a river. It is born from various rivulets that seek each other, and in this way the river proceeds wide and powerful toward the sea.” In the Fifth Symphony, the first movement evolves out of the opening horn motif, the music flowing like a river, calmly one minute, then cascading over rapids the next. The most notable example of this organic quality is the transition between the moderato and the scherzo in the first movement. In the original version, these were two distinct movements, giving the symphony a traditional four-movement structure. In subsequent revisions, however, Sibelius wrote an ingenious bridge to connect the two in which the music gains speed almost imperceptibly as the horn motif is repeated, which seamlessly develops into the Allegro moderato.
The most famous motif of this symphony comes in the final movement. Sibelius often drew inspiration from nature (birdcalls, the buzzing of insects, the play of water), his connection with the Finnish landscape being integral to his identity. “Today at ten to eleven I saw sixteen swans,” he wrote in his diary in 1915. “One of my greatest experiences! Lord God, what beauty! They circled over me for a long time. Disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming silver ribbon.”This moment was the inspiration for what he would call the “Swan Hymn,” the swinging horn motif that evokes the graceful beating of the swans’ wings as the woodwinds’ countermelody suggests their call. But the gloriousness of this moment and the final iteration of the “Swan Hymn” are only so rewarding because of the dissonant struggles that precede them. Nonetheless, Sibelius claims a decisive victory with six perfunctory sledgehammer chords to draw the symphony to a stirring close.
©2021 Katherine Buzard