2014–15 Season Opening Night
Carmina Burana sets the tone for a sensational season. This monumental work for chorus and orchestra features poetry that celebrates life’s playful pleasures, while its music thrills with earth-shaking sound. Music Director Jacques Lacombe revisits the piece that introduced him to NJSO audiences!
JACQUES LACOMBE conductor
ALINE KUTAN soprano
JEAN-FRANCIS MONVOISIN tenor
JONATHAN BEYER baritone
WESTMINSTER SYMPHONIC CHOIR Joe Miller, director
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Groups of 10 or more save! Click here for more information.
OPENING NIGHT CELEBRATION GALA
Celebrate a spectacular opening night on October 10
Enjoy a pre-concert cocktail party with bountiful hors d’oeuvres and beverages. A magnificent dinner follows the performance, with opportunities to meet and mingle with Music Director Jacques Lacombe, musicians from the Orchestra and other special guests.
Add gala event tickets to your Friday subscription, or exchange a subscription ticket from another night to celebrate:
Gala Cocktail Party Ticket: Pre-concert party and complimentary parking.
Subscriber add-on price: $200 per person (includes a tax-deductible contribution of $125)
Gala Dinner Ticket: Pre-concert party, post-concert dinner and complimentary parking.
Subscriber add-on price: $700 per person (includes a tax-deductible contribution of $500)
To purchase Gala event tickets, contact Alice Golembo, Senior Director of Special Events, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973.735.1729.
Gala cocktail and dinner ticket prices above do not include a ticket to the concert.
The October 11 concert is sponsored by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2014
In recent years, Music Director Jacques Lacombe has launched the NJSO season with a major choral work. For these opening concerts, he gives us a bonus—not only Carl Orff’s thrilling Carmina Burana, but also Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes for orchestra, whose finale incorporates a sultry, wordless women’s chorus.
The program begins with George Antheil’s McKonkey’s Ferry, an overture that has long been on Lacombe’s wish list to perform. “This was the right year, when we are celebrating New Jersey’s 350th anniversary,” he says. “When I first came to the NJSO, I was unaware that Antheil was from New Jersey, but I did know that he was a unique figure among American composers. His music spans diverse styles in a very personal way.”
Lacombe points out that McKonkey’s Ferry has military accents that are appropriate to its Revolutionary War subject matter. “Antheil balances them with lyrical moments and some Hollywood elements reminiscent of his film music. It’s a nice mixture,” says Lacombe. And, of course, its performance is part of the NJSO’s New Jersey Roots Project.
Carmina Burana was the first piece that Lacombe conducted with the NJSO; thus, it holds a special place in his heart. He is equally happy to return to the Debussy, which the Orchestra has not performed in more than 30 years. “Nocturnes is a remarkable piece that is almost visual. In ‘Nuages,’ you can practically see the passing of the clouds, like a painting. In the last movement, ‘Sirènes,’ he uses the women’s chorus almost like another orchestral instrument, another texture. I’m surprised it is not performed more often!”
ANTHEIL: McKonkey’s Ferry
Born: July 8, 1900, in Trenton, New Jersey
Died: February 12, 1959, in New York, New York
World premiere: December 12, 1948, in Washington D.C. Hans Kindler conducted the National Symphony Orchestra.
NJSO premiere: 1950–51 season; Samuel Antek conducted.
Duration: 9 minutes
Anyone who writes an autobiography entitled Bad Boy of Music has an attitude. George Antheil was a rule-breaker, and he was one of America’s first proponents of machine-age music. He gained notoriety in Berlin and Paris in the early 1920s with experimental, anti-romantic music, boldly embracing new ideas. No other American composer received such widespread attention in Europe in the 1920s. Antheil’s wide social circle included Stravinsky and Picasso, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Erik Satie and the violinist Olga Rudge, for whom he composed several sonatas.
Antheil returned to the United States in 1933—initially to New York, then Hollywood. In the 1940s he became keenly interested in Shostakovich’s music and veered back toward a neo-romantic aesthetic in his own works.
The next 10 years were the most productive of his career, yielding his Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, a violin concerto, two orchestral serenades and a series of concert overtures based on American topics. Some of the overtures are pops-flavored (Hot-Time Dance and Accordion Dance), while others suggest landscape (Over the Plains and Autumn Song). At least two are distinctly patriotic: Water Music for Fourth of July Evening and McKonkey’s Ferry.
This overture was inspired by a pivotal event early in the American Revolution. On Christmas night, 1776, the eve of the Battle of Trenton, General George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey. Washington and his aides took refreshment at McKonkey’s Ferry Inn, planning their encounter with the British the next day.
Antheil establishes a military march rhythm at the outset, using a strong rhythmic profile to suggest the resolve of Washington and his troops. During the quiet sections, we can imagine the stealth of moving an army at night. The steady rhythm suggests determination, while violent outbursts hint at the battle that lies ahead. This is definitely warlike music.
Like Antheil’s symphonies of the 1940s, McKonkey’s Ferry is neoclassical and reminiscent of Shostakovich in its musical language. Nevertheless, the pacing and sturdy melodic ideas have strong American backbone.
Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, castanets, harp and strings.
DEBUSSY: Nocturnes for Orchestra and Women’s Chorus
Born: August 22, 1862, in St-Germain-en-Laye, France
Died: March 25, 1918, in Paris
Composed: 1897–99; revised 1900–01.
World premiere: December 9, 1900, in Paris. Camille Chevillard conducted the first two movements with the Lamoureux Orchestra (no women’s chorus was available). Nocturnes was first performed in its entirety on October 27, 1901.
NJSO premiere: “Nuages” and “Fêtes” in 1938–39 season; Rene Pollain conducted. Entire work in 1978–79 season with the Summit Chorale; Thomas Michalak conducted.
Duration: 25 minutes.
Nocturnes is one of Debussy’s earliest orchestral compositions to secure a niche in the repertoire. The three-movement work underwent several incarnations before emerging as the music we know today. Composed in the late 1890s, it dates from a turbulent and financially trying period in the young composer’s life, before he had established himself as a major figure in French music. From a biographical standpoint, Nocturnes is associated with the years of Debussy’s courtship of his first wife, Rosalie (Lili) Texier, whom he married in Paris on October 19, 1899. Musically, however, the three movements owe their initial genesis to the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe.
Debussy’s original intent was to compose a work for violin and orchestra, with Ysaÿe as soloist. The earliest pre-echo of Nocturnes is from 1892, in a version called Trois scènes au crépuscule (Three scenes at dusk). In 1894, he abandoned that title, and much of the earlier music, in favor of the more abstract Nocturnes, with solo violin. By 1897 he had abandoned that conception as well, in favor of a purely orchestral composition. Still, Nocturnes continued to give him trouble, and he did not complete the score until 1899.
As Debussy’s relationship with Lili Texier intensified, Camille Chevillard conducted the first two movements on December 9, 1900, at a Concert Lamoureux. (“Sirènes” could not be performed because no women’s chorus was available.) Critical reception was mixed, but an historic and insightful review by the composer Paul Dukas memorializes the occasion. Debussy had to wait ten months before he heard the entire work, again on the same concert series. By then, he was wrapped up in preparations for the première of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra. To supplement his income, he had also begun to write music criticism for the Revue blanche. The orchestral works for which he is justly celebrated, La Mer (1903–05), Images (1906–09) and the ballet Jeux (1912–13) followed steadily thereon.
His letters to friends reveal the origins of its three mysterious, irresistible movements. Debussy told Henri Lerolle that walks in the Bois de Boulogne had been the impetus for “Fêtes.”
It is the Bois de Boulogne. A retreat with torches, evening, in the woods. … I have seen from afar, through the trees, lights approaching and the crowd running toward the path where the procession is going to pass. Then the horsemen of the Garde Républicaine, resplendent, their arms and helmets lit by the torches, and the bugles sounding their fanfare. After, all that fades and grows distant.
Later, he specifically linked it to the Impressionist movement in art:
The title Nocturnes is to be interpreted here in a general and, more particularly, in a decorative sense. Therefore, it is not meant to designate the usual form of the nocturne, but rather all the various impressions and the special effects of light that the word suggests. “Nuages” renders the immutable aspect of the sky and the slow, solemn motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with white. “Fêtes” gives us the vibrating, dancing rhythm of the atmosphere with sudden flashes of light. There is also the episode of the procession (a dazzling fantastic vision) which passes through the festive scene and becomes merged in it. But the background remains persistently the same: the festival with its blending of music and luminous dust participating in the cosmic rhythm. “Sirènes” depicts the sea and its countless rhythms and presently, among the waves silvered by the moonlight, the mysterious song of the Sirens as they laugh and pass on.
“Nuages” is music of contemplation, introspection and deep thought. The mood is passive and private. “Fêtes” is public, active music, implying involvement in the celebration. “Sirènes” returns to the private sector. The Sirens were seductresses, and Debussy’s ravishing music lifts us effortlessly into an intoxicated state of complete surrender. A master of effective understatement, he understood that dramatic power did not necessarily require fanfare and volume.
The incorporation of women’s chorus is associated in our century with Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé and Holst’s The Planets. Both those works postdate Debussy’s Nocturnes by a dozen years or more. There is actually precedent in Debussy’s own music in his earlier orchestral suite Printemps (1887).
Instrumentation: Debussy scored the first two movements for three flutes (third doubling on piccolo), two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, snare drum, two harps and strings. The finale adds women’s chorus.
ORFF: Carmina Burana
Born: July 10, 1895, in Munich, Germany
Died: March 29, 1982, in Munich
World premiere: June 8, 1937, in a staged production at the Frankfurt Opera; Bertil Wetzelsberger conducted.
NJSO premiere: Summer 1968 during the premiere season of the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel; Henry Lewis conducted.
Duration: 60 minutes
Carmina Burana catapulted Carl Orff to international fame in 1937. It has remained in the standard repertoire ever since. The work remains his crowning achievement as a composer; his other stage and choral compositions are curiosities—infrequently recorded and rarely performed. His most enduring legacy other than Carmina Burana is the educational materials he developed for schoolchildren.
An ancient manuscript: the sacred and the profane
Orff took his texts from a manuscript discovered at Benedictbeuern Monastery in the Bavarian Alps. Dating from the 11th through 13th centuries, the poems are in medieval German, Latin and old French. They deal with love, religion and moral issues, the worldly and the metaphysical. Their style ranges from naïve to vulgar, from cynical to philosophical.
Authors of wide educational and cultural backgrounds contributed to the compilation. The texts are highly dramatic.
Like Janáček, Orff was a late bloomer as a composer. He studied at Munich’s Akademie der Tonkunst. For many years he worked as a theatrical rehearsal pianist, thereby learning the mechanics of drama. In the 1920s, he adapted several works by Monteverdi for the stage. He later directed the Munich Bach Society. Through these experiences, he cultivated his strong interest in early music.
Reconciling old and new
In the early 1930s, Orff became acquainted with the Benedictbeuern manuscript. Its medieval languages fascinated him. So did the beautifully illuminated cover, depicting a wheel of fortune. Its musical manifestation was the massive hymn to Fortune that frames Carmina Burana. The texts warranted treatment consistent not only with the medieval poems but also with the vocabulary of 20th-century music. He bypassed the French texts in favor of those in German and Latin. Orff sought to echo the simple and naïve style of the poems; thus, Carmina Burana contains primarily strophic songs with little or no variation in verses. His melodies are diatonic and frequently scalar, a couple strongly flavored by Gregorian chant.
His rhythm, by contrast, is enormously complex. Vibrant, driven and atavistic, the primitive pulsation unites medieval peasantry with sophisticated effects available from a bevy of modern instruments. An expanded percussion section provides much of the vivid color so essential to Carmina’s impact. Orff’s two orchestral pianos flavor some choruses (“Ecce gratum”) and dominate the musical fabric in others (“Veni, veni, venias”).
The big picture: a journey from spring to the tavern to love
Carmina divides into three principal segments, bookended by “Fortune, Empress of the World” and its famous “O Fortuna” chorus. The first section, “Spring,” is a celebration of youth and the promise of the season. It introduces the theme of love and the eternal games played by young people seeking to attract one another.
Part II, “In Taberna” (“In the Tavern”), belongs to the men: the tortured hypocrite with craven heart (baritone solo); the swan roasting on the spit, lamenting his former domain as he contemplates being devoured by the hungry men who fill the tavern (tenor solo and men’s chorus); the corrupt abbot who—among other vices—drinks (baritone and men’s chorus) and finally “In Taberna,” one of the great drinking choruses.
In Part III, “The Court of Love,” Orff presents a mini-drama of contemplated love, indecision (“In trutina,” soprano solo), seduction, and the joy of ultimate surrender to passion (“Dulcissime,” soprano solo). Following the exultant “Blanziflor et Helena” hymn, his repetition of the “O Fortuna” chorus reminds us that all human happiness is transitory.
For the full text of Carmina Burana, click here (classical.net).
Throughout Carmina Burana, Orff’s vocal tessitura is abnormally high. We notice this characteristic more in the melismatic solo numbers, particularly those for soprano and tenor. But the soloists never obscure the prominent role of the chorus, which is central to the work’s narrative, sensual and musical power.
Instrumentation: three flutes (second and third doubling piccolo), three oboes (third doubling English horn), three clarinets (second doubling bass clarinet, third doubling E-flat clarinet), two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, xylophone, castanets, ratchet, sigh-bells, triangle, crotales, cymbals, tam tam, chimes, tambourine, bass drum, three glockenspiels, suspended cymbals, two snare drums, two sets of timpani, two pianos, celeste, strings, soprano, tenor and baritone soloists and mixed chorus.