Concert Program for September 23 and 24, 2011

David Robertson, conductor Orli Shaham, piano

STEVEN MACKEY
(b. 1956)

Stumble to Grace (2011)—World Premiere

Stage 1— Stage 2— Stage 3— Stage 4— Stage 5 and Epilogue Orli Shaham, piano Intermission

MAHLER (1860-1911)

Langsam. Schleppend; Im Anfang sehr gemächlich Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen Stürmisch bewegt

Symphony No. 1 in D major (1884-88)

David Robertson is the Beofor Music Director and Conductor. Orli Shaham is the Sid and Jean Grossman Guest Artist. The concert of Friday, September 23, is underwritten in part by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Jack Bodine. The concert of Saturday, September 24, is underwritten in part by a generous gift from the Essman Family Charitable Foundation. These concerts are part of the Wells Fargo Advisors Series.

David Robertson Beofor Music Director and Conductor A consummate musician, masterful programmer, and dynamic presence, David Robertson has established himself as one of today’s most sought-after American conductors. A passionate and compelling communicator with an extensive knowledge of orchestral and operatic repertoire, he has forged close relationships with major orchestras around the world through his exhilarating music-making and stimulating ideas. In fall 2011, Robertson embarks on his seventh season as Music Director of the 132-year-old St. Louis Symphony, while continuing as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a post he has held since 2005. Following summer appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Santa Fe Opera, Aspen Music Festival and School nationally, and at the Lucerne Festival and BBC Proms abroad. Season highlights with the St. Louis Symphony include this weekend’s world premiere of Steven Mackey’s piano concerto, Stumble to Grace, a St. Louis Symphony cocommission, and the orchestra’s eighth consecutive appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Robertson’s guest engagements in the U.S. include performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Ensemble ACJW, and the New York Philharmonic, where Robertson is a regular guest conductor. In May 2012, Robertson returns to the Metropolitan Opera to conduct Britten’s Billy Budd with Nathan Gunn and James Morris in the leading roles. Internationally, guest engagements include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, where Robertson appears regularly, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, as part of Music Viva, and several concerts with the BBC Symphony. In addition to his fresh interpretations of traditional repertoire, this season Robertson conducts world premieres of Graham Fitkin’s Cello Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and cellist Yo-Yo Ma; John Cage’s Eighty with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Providence, a newly commissioned work by Dutch composer Klaas de Vries, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; and new works by Yann Robin and Michael Jarrell with the New York Philharmonic. A champion of young musicians, Robertson has devoted time to working with students and young artists throughout his career. On February 5, 2012, he conducts the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a chorus of New York City students in the Carmina Burana Choral Project at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium. The program will include Orff’s cantata, as well as new works written by three high school-aged composers based on musical themes of Carmina burana.

Michael TaMMaro

Orli Shaham Sid and Jean Grossman Guest Artist A consummate musician recognized for her grace, subtlety and vitality, Orli Shaham has established an impressive international reputation as one of today’s most gifted pianists. Hailed by critics on four continents, Shaham is in demand for her prodigious skills and admired for her interpretations of both standard and modern repertoire. Shaham has performed with the Boston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia orchestras, the Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, and Utah symphonies, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Filarmonica della Scala, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Stockholm Philharmonic, Bilbao Symphony, Orchestra della Toscana, Orchestre National de Lyon, Taiwan Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the Malaysian Philharmonic. A frequent guest at summer festivals, she has performed at Tanglewood, Ravinia, Verbier, Mostly Mozart, Aspen, Caramoor, Spoleto, Bravo Vail, and Music Academy of the West. Highlights of Shaham’s international performance schedule in 201112 include this week’s world premiere of the piano concerto written for her by the acclaimed American composer Steven Mackey. Subsequent performances of the concerto are with the L.A. Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, and Sydney Symphony. Shaham’s 2011-12 season also includes a return engagement with the Seattle Symphony in which Shaham performs Mozart’s Concerto K. 466, conducted by David Robertson. Shaham continues her role as curator and performer in the Pacific Symphony’s chamber music series in Costa Mesa, California. And this season, Shaham begins a new role as host of the public radio series America’s Music Festivals, a two-hour weekly program broadcast on more than 100 stations. Shaham was recognized early for her prodigious talents. She received her first scholarship for musical study from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation at age five to study with Luisa Yoffe at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. By age seven, she traveled to New York with her family to begin study with Nancy Stessin, and became a scholarship student of Herbert Stessin at The Juilliard School a year later. She has also won the Gilmore Young Artist Award and the Avery Fisher Career Grant, two prestigious prizes given to further the development of outstanding talent. In addition to her musical education, Shaham holds a degree in history from Columbia University. Shaham lives in New York and St. Louis with her husband, conductor David Robertson, college-age stepsons Peter and Jonathan, and pre-school twins Nathan and Alex. Orli Shaham most recently performed with the St. Louis Symphony in October 2010.

chrisTian sTeiner

Music as Narrative
BY PAUL SCHIAVO

Ideas at Play

Narrative clearly seems one of the things we humans innately desire. To put it another way, we love to be told stories. For the most part, literature and drama fulfill that desire. But sometimes music also aspires to narrative, to telling us stories of sorts. This is true not only of opera and ballet scores but even of some orchestral concert music. Relating a story through music alone poses particular challenges to a composer. Nearly any tale entails protagonists, locations, and actions—that is, particular people, places, and events—but there is nothing in music that inherently signifies a man or child, a house or field, a journey or a kiss. Even so, composers have often attempted to impart narratives, or “programs,” through their music, amplifying the emotional contours of the story they mean to impart, using suggestive figuration, or both. The two pieces we hear are, in many respects, quite dissimilar. One is a newly composed piano concerto by one of the most imaginative composers of our time, the other a 19th-century symphony in the Romantic heroic tradition. Yet each, in its own way, constitutes a musical narrative. In Steven Mackey’s Stumble to Grace, the solo piano part progresses from simple, awkward gestures to complex virtuosity, an evolution, the composer explains, that mirrors the struggles and eventual mastery of a child learning to walk and navigate his environment. Gustav Mahler once intimated that his Symphony No. 1 conveys the allegorical journey of a Romantic protagonist, though there is evidence that the music also carries autobiographical meaning. All this raises the question of how literally and specifically do these pieces embody the stories associated with them. There is no clear and correct answer. Certainly a narrative element can enhance the impact of a piece of music. Yet it is possible to enjoy even explicitly programmatic compositions simply for their musical elements, the details of melody, harmony, instrumental color, and sonic texture. In this regard, it might be well to consider the words of Mahler, who once asserted: “There exists no modern music which hasn’t its inner program. But no music is worth anything when the listener must be instructed as to what is experienced in it.”

Steven Mackey Stumble to Grace
Born: Frankfurt, Germany, February 14, 1956 Now resides: Princeton, New Jersey First performance: This piece receives its world premiere at this weekend’s St. Louis Symphony concerts Scoring: Solo piano and an orchestra of piccolo and two flutes, three oboes; two clarinets, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet; three bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and a large percussion battery, celesta, harp, and strings Performance time: Approximately 25 minutes

In Context 2011 Massive popular uprisings shake Arab world; U.S. narrowly escapes default on its loan obligations; final Harry Potter movie concludes most profitable film franchise in history “Journey metaphors are often aptly applied to my music,” observes composer Steven Mackey. He adds that one of his creative goals “is a desire for transformation, for a sense that something—the material, me, the listener—is changed by the journey.” Steven Mackey This seems appropriate, for Mackey himself has been on a long life-transforming journey, one that has brought him to the front ranks of today’s creative musicians. The starting point for Mackey’s odyssey hardly foretold the direction it ultimately would take. The composer’s first musical passion was playing electric guitar in rock bands in northern California, where he grew up. Skiing and tennis were competing enthusiasms. He discovered classical music only as a university undergraduate in a survey-of-music-history class. The effect was immediate and profound. Mackey declared a major in music and began composing. He went on to graduate study, eventually completing a doctoral degree at Brandeis University. Mackey’s compositions soon attracted performers devoted to new music, and in 1985 he was hired to teach at Princeton University. That institution was formerly a bastion of the most arcane tendencies in latemodernist composition. Mackey, however, writes lively, original pieces that are as engaging as they are unique. He has no use for the esoteric cerebration of an earlier generation of composers. “I aspire,” he asserts, “to maintain contact with the fundamental human urges that brought music into being— singing, dancing, and the search for transcendence (praying)—with terse melodies, rhythms that come from the body, and evocative textures.” The piece we hear now, Stumble to Grace, is a concerto for piano and orchestra written expressly for Orli Shaham. Its composition was commissioned jointly by the St. Louis Symphony, the New Jersey Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and it receives its inaugural performances here this weekend. The Music Stumble To Grace unfolds as a continuous span of music, but with five sections, which Mackey calls “Stages.” The composer has generously provided the following remarks about the work:

Jane richey

Mackey There is a narrative running through Stumble to Grace that reflects its title. The piano is all thumbs (literally and metaphorically) as it stumbles in its first entrance, playing naïve and awkward plinks and plunks. By Stage 5 the piano plays sophisticated, virtuosic and, at times, graceful contrapuntal music—a fugue, in fact. The intervening music reflects various stages of progress and regress in the physical and spiritual evolution of the piano. The piano is particularly suited to such a narrative. On one hand, it is one of the most difficult and complex instruments to play because of its polyphonic capabilities; on the other hand, it is perhaps the easiest instrument to play, in that there is no practice required to sound a tone decently, unlike most other instruments of the orchestra. The inspiration for this narrative came from observing my now twoand-a-half-year-old toddler learning to become human. I began thinking about the piece when he was first experimenting with perambulation; now, a year later, there is a confident lilt to his step. More generally, I wanted to open my compositional process to incorporate some of the whimsy and exuberance that he brings to his exploration of the world. Among his first phrases was “this, there” spoken as he tried to insert a square peg into a round hole. A preoccupation with one’s children is common to most new parents, but this seemed a particularly appropriate source of metaphor for a piece written for Orli Shaham. She and her conductor husband, David Robertson, have twins less than a year older than my son, and we’ve had play dates and shared observations about new parenthood. They were very supportive when my boy was born two months premature and spent six weeks in the NICU, and I often think of them and that time as I watch him bound around the house now. The knowledge that the soloist and conductor for the premiere performances are a married couple had its own influence on the work. In Stage 5, the piano fugue is structured in a complicated meter with odd numbers of eighth-notes. Writing the music entirely in the meter of the piano part would handicap the orchestra’s ability to comment freely and independently, since it would be all they could do to hang on. Writing it in a meter comfortable for the orchestra means that the soloist has to get used to playing her part against seemingly contradictory gestures from the conductor, but Orli and David should have a chance to practice these passages together before the orchestra shows up. Stumble to Grace, like all my music, is about, but not like, the music I love. Although the piano concerto as a genre reached its zenith in the mid-late 19th century, the pianistic influences of which I am consciously aware in Stumble to Grace are not from that repertory. Rather, the rich complexity of Rosalyn Turek playing Bach fugues, the crystalline sound and clarity of line in Mozart’s Piano Concertos, the quasi-orchestral effects in Debussy’s Piano Preludes, the beguiling awkwardness in the improvisations of Thelonius Monk, and the ebullient rhythmic textures of Vince Giraldi (music from “Charlie Brown”) were in my ear.

Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 1 in D major
Born: Kalište, Bohemia, July 7, 1860 Died: Vienna, May 18, 1911 First performance: November 20, 1889, in Budapest; Mahler, an outstanding conductor as well as a composer, directed the orchestra STL Symphony premiere: December 7, 1946, Vladimir Golschmann conducting Most recent STL Symphony performance: February 9, 2007, Pinchas Steinberg conducting Scoring: Four flutes and two piccolos, four oboes and English horn; four clarinets, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet; three bassoons and contrabassoon, seven horns, five trumpets, four trombones, tuba, timpani and other percussion, harp, and strings Performance time: Approximately 54 minutes

In Context 1884-88 Chancellor Bismarck leads German colonial expansion in Africa; Impressionist painters such as Monet and van Gogh at work in France; Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 premieres Mahler was still in his twenties when he completed his Symphony No. 1 in an intense burst of creativity during the early part of 1888. It is striking that this early work reveals so many of the traits that distinguish Mahler’s symphonic output as a whole. We find here the novel orchestration Mahler the composer used with such mastery throughout his career, especially when evoking a haunting, macabre atmosphere. The references to “everyday music”—bugle calls, bird songs, dance tunes, and the like—which contribute so much to the character of Mahler’s style, are also very much part of this First Symphony. And the composer initiated here the practice of using his own songs as a source of melodic material, a procedure he continued through his next four symphonies. Finally, Mahler conceived this symphony, like so much of his music, as an autobiographical work. This last point is confirmed by the designation “Titan,” for which the symphony is also known, and the programmatic scenario Mahler attached to the work. The symphony’s title is derived from a novel of the same name by the early Romantic author Jean Paul Richter. Its protagonist, a passionate, dream-driven man of the type so frequently extolled by the early Romantic poets, captured the composer’s imagination, and there is reason to believe that Mahler regarded himself as the “Titan” of the symphony’s title. He once said of his first two symphonies: “My whole life is contained in them; I have set down in them all my experience.” Not content merely to fix an emblematic title to his score, Mahler also provided early listeners with a written program, a quasi-dramatic scenario, explaining the work. According to this document, the first movement represents “Spring—the awakening of nature at dawn.” In the ensuing scherzo, Mahler’s hero sets out “Under full sail,” as the movement’s heading tells us. The third movement finds him “shipwrecked,” and a participant in a “huntsman’s funeral.” The finale recounts his progress “dall’ Inferno al Paradiso” (“From Hell to Heaven”).

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Mahler

Mahler later withdrew this program and had harsh words for those who tried to interpret his works too literally. But his attitude toward the concept of program music remained complex and ambiguous. He was an innately dramatic musician, but a musician first and foremost. The Music Regardless of our consideration of Mahler’s program for the symphony, the opening measures stand as one of the most beautiful passages of nature music ever composed. Against a background of sustained notes in the strings—so high, so deep, so still—we hear the first rustling sounds of dawn: distant bugle fanfares, the call of a cuckoo. That last motif at length magically transforms itself into the first notes of the principal theme as the movement truly gets under way. (What we have heard so far is an introductory paragraph, something found in many symphonic opening movements.) This long and flowing melody derives from the second of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, composed several years previously. Of course, its function in the symphony as thematic material to be explored and developed assures that it is handled quite differently than in the song. The second movement is a robust scherzo with a gentle, nostalgic “trio,” or contrasting central episode. It is followed by a startling slow movement. Mahler declared that this music was suggested by an illustration in a children’s book that depicted a dead hunter being borne to his grave by a procession of forest animals. The music begins with the mournful tone of a single muted bass playing a melody that sounds like a mournful variant of the children’s song “Frère Jacques.” Other instruments soon take up the tune, which evolves into an eerie funeral march. The fantastic atmosphere is relieved during the lyrical central episode, whose melody comes from another song in the Wayfarer cycle. Mahler described the opening of the finale as “the cry of a wounded heart,” and it is a disturbing outburst indeed. The music that follows draws on the opening movement for much of its thematic material and juxtaposes strains of violence and despair with others of soaring triumph. The symphony’s majestic final measures leave no doubt as to the outcome of their struggle.

Program notes © 2011 by Paul Schiavo

The St. Louis Symphony has invited four writers to produce program notes this season. The first, Paul Schiavo, is no stranger to fans at Powell Hall, since he has been the Symphony’s program annotator for many seasons.

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