Independence Day Salute
GRANT PARK ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS
Carlos Kalmar Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Christopher Bell Chorus Director
Friday, July 2, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 3, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. Jay Pritzker Pavilion
INDEPENDENCE DAY SALUTE
Grant Park Orchestra
Carlos Kalmar Conductor
Christopher Bell Conductor
Eleanor Kahn Stage Design
Summon the Heroes
Overture to Treemonisha
arr. Robert Lowden
Armed Forces Salute
Florence Price/arr. William Grant Still
Dances in the Canebrakes
Leonard Bernstein/arr. Jack Mason
Selections from West Side Story
Colonel Bogey March
STEVE SMITH, GUEST CONDUCTOR
Lyric for Strings
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
1812 Overture, op.49
John Philip Sousa
Stars and Stripes Forever
This concert is supported by Jim and Ginger Meyer and presented with generous support from American Accents Series Sponsor AbelsonTaylor
The Friday concert is being broadcast live on 98.7WFMT and streamed live at wfmt.com.
JOHN WILLIAMS (B. 1932)
SUMMON THE HEROES (1996)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
Performance time: 6 minutes.
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: July 3, 2003, with Christopher Bell, conductor
Try muting your television and watching the opening of any Star Wars film—absent the peal of brass instruments—you instantly grasp the primacy of John Williams’s music. It's the difference between intense exhilaration and 'meh.' He doesn’t just compose to complement storytelling, he makes you feel it. He put terror into an empty seascape (Jaws). He made you believe that children could fly (ET and Harry Potter) and transformed a nerdy archeology professor into a swashbuckler (Indiana Jones). Winner of 25 Grammy Awards, 5 Academy Awards and an astonishing 52 Academy Award nominations, Williams is among the most recognizable composers ever. He wrote Summon the Heroes for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta Georgia.
John Williams was born in Flushing, Queens, New York City and attended North Hollywood High School in Los Angeles. He went on to study at UCLA and at the Juilliard School. He has worked as a conductor, jazz pianist and trombone player. As a classical composer, he continues to write new works for a variety of ensembles.
SCOTT JOPLIN (C. 1868-1917)
OVERTURE TO TREEMONISHA (1946)
Scored for: is scored for single woodwinds and brass, one percussionist, piano, and strings
Performance time: 8 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: This is the first Festival performance of the Overture to Treemonisha
Scott Joplin is known as the King of Ragtime, an early 20th-century musical genre that combined the harmonies of European art music with the syncopated and accented rhythms and aesthetics of African-American music. Performed primarily on piano and through song, ragtime is a distinctly American music, born in the generation after slavery and evolved and popularized by Black musicians with Scott Joplin at the forefront.
Scott Joplin was born in 1867 or 1868 in what is now known as Texarkana. As one of six children, Joplin was among the first generation of Black people born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Both of his parents were musical; while enslaved, his father, Giles Joplin, played violin during parties in the “Big House”. His mother, Florence, sang and played banjo while encouraging her son’s musical study. Working as a domestic, she would labor for free in exchange for Joplin’s use of the piano in the homes of her employers. By the time he was a teenager, Joplin decided to take his music on the road and support himself playing ragtime tunes in cities such as St. Louis, Chicago, and eventually New York.
In 1899, Scott Joplin received his big break after his “Maple Leaf Rag” was published, which remains to this day one of his most popular compositions along with “The Entertainer”. (If you’re unsure if you’ve ever heard the music of Scott Joplin, it’s possible that you’ve heard it as one of the infamous ice cream truck songs.) The publishing industry was eager to capitalize on the popularity of ragtime, which spread throughout the US and eventually Europe.
As popular as ragtime was, there was a widespread opinion that it was a low class, vulgar music—entertainment for saloons and cabarets. It was important to Joplin to be understood as a more serious composer, and so he set out to write Treemonisha, one of America’s early operas. Completed in 1911, it received one showing in 1915, and would not be performed again for another sixty years.
The Overture to Treemonisha sits firmly in the tradition of the opera overture, a musical introduction to the opera that is filled with lyrical sections and drama that ends with
a grand finale in preparation for the curtain to rise. While Joplin desired to expand his identity as a composer, the Overture to Treemonisha, as well as the opera, is firmly rooted in the ragtime style.
©2021 Danielle Taylor
FLORENCE B. PRICE (1887-1953)
DANCES IN THE CANEBRAKES (1953)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds plus piccolo and bass clarinet, three horns, three trumpets, two trombones, timpani, percussion, harp and strings
Performance time: 9 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: July 11, 2014,
Mei Ann Chen, conductor
Florence B. Price was a Black woman. She was a pianist, organist, and educator. She was also one of America’s earliest symphonic composers. Price’s significance comes not only from her catalogue of sublime compositions (totaling over three hundred), ranging from art songs and piano sonatas to symphonies. Her significance is both rooted in and amplified by the fact that she, along with William Grant Still, Scott Joplin, and other Black composers, were the pioneers of American classical music—birthing new sound worlds where European art music traditions were infused with the rich culture of African-American musical expression, mainly Negro Spirituals.
Florence Beatrice Price was born to a prominent family in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1887 two decades after the end of the Civil War and the written abolition of slavery. Price’s family, like millions of others, dreamed and worked for better opportunities for their children.
Her mother taught her piano. By age 5, Florence had given her first recital, and by age 11, had published the first of what would be many piano works. At only 15 years old, Florence B. Price packed her bags and moved to Boston to pursue her musical studies at the New England Conservatory—one of few colleges that allowed Black students to enroll at the time. Though her degrees were in Organ Performance and Piano Pedagogy, it was during her years at NEC that Florence also began her formal studies in composition.
After graduating in 1907, Price spent several years teaching music in various colleges and eventually settled in Little Rock where she married and gave birth to two children. In 1927, during what is now referred to as the Great Migration, Florence B. Price’s family, like millions of others in the previous and following decades, fled the increasing violence of the Jim Crow south to create a new life in a big city that was experiencing its own Black Renaissance—the city of Chicago.
During her years in Chicago, Florence B. Price composed many works including art songs, string quartets, violin concertos, piano works and symphonies, as well as arrangements
In 1933, her Symphony in E minor was premiered by the Chicago Symphony, making her the first Black woman to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra. She was deeply embedded and celebrated in this cultural Renaissance that included Black classical music, growing friendships with her former student, pianist and composer Margaret Bonds, composer and fellow Arkansas-native William Grant Still, singer Marian Anderson, and more.
In 1953, the year of her sudden passing, Florence Price composed Dances in the Canebrakes, a three-movement suite for piano, posthumously arranged for orchestra by William Grant Still. (Canebrakes were areas overgrown with one species of plant. In the South, canebrakes were associated with fertile lands, and were cleared to allow for the planting of cotton fields.) The first movement, Nimble Feet, is written with a melody and rhythmic motion reminiscent of ragtime, while the Silk Hat and Walking Cane may refer to the cakewalk—an elaborate pre-civil war dance created by enslaved people on plantations. For Cakewalks, the participants usually wore formal attire, demonstrating elaborate dances that often mimicked the mannerisms and attitudes of white people. Cakewalks also served as entertainment and were judged by plantation owners (enslavers). At the end of the contest, the winner received a cake. Tropical Noon is the final movement, a sweet and nostalgic conclusion to the short suite.
©2021 Danielle Taylor
LEONARD BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
WEST SIDE STORY (SELECTIONS ARR. BY JACK MASON)(1957)
Scored for: pairs of woodwinds plus piccolo and English horn, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, harp and strings
Performance time: 8 minutes
Performance history: this is the first Festival performance of Jack Mason’s arrangement of selections from West Side Story
In 1957, Leonard Bernstein, renowned composer, conductor, and pianist, completed West Side Story, a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The musical was set in the 1950s with the conflict and (doomed love story) hinging upon two rival gangs on the Upper West Side of New York: the Sharks (a Puerto Rican gang) and the Jets (an “American” gang). The musical was a Broadway sensation, and in 1961, was released as a full feature film. West Side Story remains a musical and cultural landmark.
©2021 Danielle Taylor
GEORGE WALKER (1922-2018)
LYRIC FOR STRINGS (1946)
Scored for: string orchestra Performance time: 6 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance
George Theophilus Walker was one of the great American composers of the 20th century with a career that spanned almost seven decades and more than 90 published compositions, including concertos, sonatas, quartets, vocal, and orchestral works. One of Walker’s later compositions, Lilacs, earned the composer the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1996, making him the first African American to receive the award. As an undeniable trailblazer, he was a man of many firsts: The first Black student to graduate from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, the first Black instrumentalist to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first Black person to graduate with a Doctorate from the Eastman School of Music, and so on.
Yet these firsts did not guarantee that George Walker’s breadth of exquisite artistic contributions to the Classical music canon would be duly acknowledged and celebrated, and most importantly performed on stages in the US and beyond with any consistency. This begs the question, what does it mean to break a barrier? Can artists, in any field at any time, truly break a barrier that they did not create? Or can they only crack its surface? Regardless of any answer, one place of no barriers was the artistry and imagination of George T. Walker.
Walker began studying the piano at five years old in his hometown of Washington, D.C. By the time he graduated high school at 14, he had decided to become a concert pianist—a steadfast dream during an era when opportunities and access for Black musicians in the broader classical field and society were severely restricted, regardless of quality, talent, or artistry.
Determined to become a solo pianist, Walker went on to study piano at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Decades later, his equally gifted younger sister, pianist Frances Walker-Slocum, would hold a position on the piano faculty at Oberlin Conservatory. After graduating with honors from there, George Walker enrolled at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in 1945.
Despite Walker’s education at the finest conservatories in the country, and a European tour in 1954, he found that growing a career as an African American concert pianist difficult. In an 1982 interview with The New York Times, he said “those successes were meaningless because without the sustained effect of follow-up concerts my career had no momentum. And because I was black, I couldn’t get either major or minor dates.”
But there remained another outlet for Walker’s musical prowess. “I had so much energy,” he recalled, “that I wanted to do something else after spending hours practicing at the keyboard!” And so, Walker also studied composition at Curtis.
In 1946, he began composing his first string quartet. As he was working on the second movement, he received news of his grandmother’s passing. The second movement was completed with the title “Lament”, and was revised for string orchestra in 1990 under the title Lyric for Strings.
In this piece, Walker creates an experience of intimate tenderness. The emotional arc of the piece is reverent and expansive with moments of hope in the midst of mourning.
©2021 Danielle Taylor
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
1812 OVERTURE (1880)
Scored for: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings
Performance time: 16 minutes
First Grant Park Orchestra performance: July 4, 1935,
Eric De Lamarter, conductor
Tchaikovsky is one of the most celebrated Russian composers of the 19th century. As the prolific composer of works ranging from songs and concertos to symphonies, his two ballets, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker are among his most recognizable and performed works. The central love theme from his Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture is frequently quoted in romantic scenes in films.
Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was commissioned to celebrate the completion of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, built in commemoration of Russia’s victory over Napoleon’s army in 1812. Composed in the span of a week in October 1880, the overture is a musical, grandiose depiction of the 1812 battle between French and Russian forces, and ultimately Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.
The piece is an all out spectacle. The conflict is written into the music with the tension between Russian hymns and folksongs and the melody of “La Marseillaise” (the French National Anthem), written between Tchaikovsky’s dramatic thematic material, growing in intensity throughout the piece. At the climax, the original score features live cannon blasts followed by the ecstatic ringing of bells to the tune of the Imperial National Anthem, leading toward a thrilling, victorious ending. This action packed piece and the victorious finale makes it an Independence Day favorite.
©2021 Danielle Taylor