Program Notes: Concert 1

Tonight’s concert begins in the France of Louis XV, travels to mid-20th century Peru, stops in a Blues club in New York, and ends in 18th century Austria. 

Jean-Marie Leclair trained early as a dancer, violinist and composer.  As a young man he divided his time between Paris and Turin, studying extensively and absorbing Italian musical language.  He returned to France having merged French and Italian styles into his own unique approach.  A contemporary poet noted: “Leclair is the first composer who, imitating nothing, has created something fine and new, something that is distinctively his own.”

From 1733 until his death in 1764 he held secure and important positions in a succession of royal courts.  Although he composed many ballets and operas, he is mostly known for the sonatas, trios and concerti he composed for the violin.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Five Dances of Chambi is inspired by the extensive photographic legacy of Martin Chambi (1891-1973), who spent his life chronicling the lives of ordinary Peruvians.  The movements of this work are her musical representations of five specific photographs.

  1. Harawi de Quispe is based on “Portrait of Miguel Quispe, Cuzco, Peru, c. 1926.” Nicknamed “El Inca” for hiking the mountains barefoot, Miguel Quispe was famous for his nonviolent organizations that protested the deplorable economic conditions of Indians. He is photographed in profile, the lines of his face and Inca outfit quietly brilliant.
  2. Diablicos Puneños is inspired by the photo “Danzarin de la Diablada, 1925,” which features a single dancer from the southern Peruvian region of Puno who is dressed as a devil.
  3. P’asña Marcha is based on “The P’asña Marcha, Cuzco, Peru, 1940.”  This photo shows women performing intricate dances while balancing large poles on their hands in a game testing their skill.
  4. Adoración para Angelitos is a piano solo and a setting of a Peruvian nursery rhyme based on the photo “Dead Child Displayed for the Mourners, Cuzco, Peru, 1920s,” a photograph of a deceased child laid out on a bed among flowers and candles, ready for burial.
  5. Harawi de Chambi is based on a self-portrait of Chambi that struck the composer for its similarity in form and power to the photo of Miguel Quispe.  The music from the first movement is brought back and woven together with new material inspired by the folk-influenced music of Bela Bartok.

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was named after the Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in composition from the Manhattan School of Music.  He went on to study conducting and was one of the cofounders of the Symphony of the New World, a fully integrated orchestra that was created in 1964 before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and performed its first concert in Carnegie Hall three months before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Perkinson’s career included serving as music director of the Alvin Ailey Dance company, arranging music for Max Roach, Marvin Gaye and Harry Belafonte, composing film scores and writing a large number of classical works.  Blue/s Forms is a fusing of classical violin virtuosity and a deep reflection of Black experience.

Haydn’s String Quartet, Opus 76, No. 3, commonly known as the “Emperor”, is one of his boldest and brightest.  After two triumphant tours to London, Haydn returned to Austria and settled in Vienna.  In 1797, with Napoleon’s forces threatening the Austrian Empire, Haydn suggested to friend within the Imperial Court that it might be good for Austria to have a national anthem to stir patriotic fervor the way he had observed “God Save the King” did in England.  He subsequently wrote the music, which endures as the German national anthem and has been used for Christian and Masonic hymns.  It was an instant hit with the public.  It was also a particular favorite of Hayden’s.  That same year he used it as the centerpiece for his Emperor String Quartet.

The first movement is both elegant and rollicking and has a little Hungarian hurdy-gurdy music thrown in.  The second movement features a series of unaltered repetitions of Haydn’s hymn passed through each instrument with variations in the accompaniment.  Following a conventional minuet movement, the Finale explodes in the key of C minor.  Bursts of angry chords, driving scale and arpeggio flourishes, and whispered melodies propel the music to a final coda in C major.  It is as though the sun has just reemerged after a fierce storm.