Events & Tickets
New World Center, Michael Tilson Thomas Performance Hall
Uncover a vast and wondrous heartland, as James Gaffigan, Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony, leads a classic American masterpiece. Aaron Copland’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring unfolds with a triumphant treatment of the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts.” Vibrant Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti makes her NWS debut with Karol Szymanowski’s dazzling Second Concerto. Unique in form, spirit and color, the work synthesizes soaring, Romantic euphoria with fiery Polish folk tunes. Jean Sibelius, who famously called his symphonies “inner confessions,” confronts his fear of death in his Fourth Symphony. A reflection of his anguished mind, contemporaries called it “the boldest work that has yet been written.”
Citi Pre-Concert Chat on Saturday, December 2: Join NWS Fellows for a free Pre-Concert Chat in SoundScape Park! These half-hour chats begin one hour prior to the performance. There will not be a pre-concert chat on Sunday, December 3.
Approx. Duration: 36 minutes
Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63
Tempo molto moderato, quasi adagio
Allegro molto vivace
Il tempo largo
Approx. Duration: 20 minutes
Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61
Approx. Duration: 23 minutes
Suite from Appalachian Spring
(1943-44; 1945 orchestration)
Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63
Approximate duration: 36 minutes
During the long gestation of the Fourth Symphony, Jean Sibelius battled through debts, disruptions and crippling self-doubts, all to complete a work that his loyal Finnish audience barely applauded at its premiere.
How did a national hero reach such a juncture? For one, he was no longer the young man who composed two breakout symphonies, the patriotic tone poem Finlandia and other scores that gave voice to a people yearning for autonomy and national identity. If anything, Sibelius’ reputation as Finland’s great nationalist composer was an impediment to his real goal: to take his place among the elite composers of continental Europe. While working on the Fourth Symphony, he watched as younger, splashier composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg dominated the critical discourse; meanwhile Sibelius was no closer to joining the lofty ranks of Strauss, Debussy and Mahler.
Marginalized by the outside world, Sibelius accepted and even cultivated a lonely, cloistered identity. He had already moved away from Helsinki to a rural estate in 1904, a change intended to regulate his reckless drinking and spending. A health scare in 1908 convinced him to give up drinking and smoking (at least for a while), but his composing still suffered under the emotional strain of unserviceable debts, lingering fears of death, and constant insecurities about his music and its public reputation.
The work that emerged from this tormented phase of self-appraisal marked a pivotal change in Sibelius’ style. Defying an artistic climate that favored expressionist extremes, the Fourth Symphony presented its arguments in direct, naked and uncompromising tones without the slightest hint of hyperbole or sensationalism. As Sibelius wrote in a letter, the Symphony stood “as a protest against present-day music. It has nothing, absolutely nothing of the circus about it.”
The Symphony’s first movement is uncharacteristically slow, and the musical development is unfailingly patient, beginning with a solo cello melody that orients the key center of A minor against a deep, conflicted oscillation.
The second movement is a light and breezy Scherzo. A particular melodic interval that stands out is the pungent augmented fourth, or “tritone,” as heard in an early volley between oboe and violins.
This interval shapes elements of all four movements, serving as a fingerprint of sorts for the entire Fourth Symphony. It takes on a more menacing character with new material that dominates the latter portion of the second movement—a sound that helps explain why musicians of earlier eras called this pitch combination “the devil in music.”
The slow third movement begins introspectively, as if musing over melodic contours remembered from moments earlier. Here, though, that disturbing interval of the augmented fourth expands ever so slightly to form a perfect fifth.
Sonorities built from stable, peaceful fifths counteract the disorienting flights into less stable territory.
Within this ever-unpredictable Symphony, the finale takes the most confounding route of all. One moment it twinkles with a Haydnesque humor driven by crunching collisions, and then the next it seems headed for Beethovenian heroism. The glockenspiel, holding firm on its four-note motive, seems determined to find the bright side.
And yet, once a climax arrives, the musical thoughts seem to shatter, trailing off in a series of disjointed utterances and echoes. This work that Sibelius once called a “psychological symphony” dissipates into a lonely inner state, a condition that reflected his outer world all too honestly.
History and analysis of the Fourth Symphony from the comprehensive Sibelius site
Chapter on the Fourth Symphony by Sibelius biographer Erik Tawaststjerna
Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61
Approximate duration: 20 minutes
Karol Szymanowski was born into a Polish family living under Russian rule in Ukraine, where his earliest musical education took place at a local school run by his relatives. He moved to Warsaw in 1901 to study at the Warsaw Music Institute, and it was there that he met the composers with whom he formed the Young Poland in Music group. His earliest works borrowed heavily from the Germanic tradition of Wagner and Strauss, and he came to realize—like Chopin had 80 years earlier—that he needed to move beyond provincial Warsaw to further his craft.
Szymanowski relocated to Vienna in 1911, and he traveled widely in 1914, soaking up colorful inspiration in Sicily and North Africa. He also spent time in Paris that year, and the new impressionistic influence of Debussy and Ravel freed Szymanowski’s music from its German trappings. He spent the war years isolated at his family home, composing such breakthrough works as his Third Symphony and First Violin Concerto, both from 1916.
Szymanowski was dismissed from his position as Director of the Warsaw Conservatory in 1932, and his health and finances suffered in his final years. The Second Violin Concerto that he wrote in 1932-33 turned out to be one of his last compositions. He dedicated the score to his friend and champion Paweł Kochański, the violinist who commissioned it and played the debut performance in Warsaw in October of 1933. Explaining how he came to draft the entire score in just four weeks, Szymanowski wrote, “Paweł provoked and simply squeezed out of me a whole violin concerto.” Kochański died soon after from liver cancer, dealing yet another blow that contributed to Szymanowski’s decline.
The Second Violin Concerto flows in one interconnected movement, much of it informed by a unifying motive played at the outset by the violin. The essential fragment is the rising interval of a minor third, traced by the violin’s first two notes.
Like his contemporary Béla Bartók, Szymanowski mined local folk traditions for inspiration in his concert works. The Concerto’s first main theme has a rustic, modal quality to it, a feature that becomes even more apparent when the violin engages in double-stops (two simultaneous notes) and other signatures of folk fiddling.
A solo cadenza written by Kochański divides the concerto’s two main sections. The persistent double-stops further elaborate the folk-like material while showing off the violinist’s prowess with this challenging, multiphonic technique.
The cadenza emerges into a dancing, scherzo-like passage. The prominent motive of four notes rapidly swooping upward takes on special importance for the remainder of the work, later anchoring its final moments.
Throughout the Concerto, themes organically return and evolve. This process reaches its apex in the final minutes, when a new presentation of the first theme morphs again into fiddle-like double stops, followed by a final appearance of the joyous swoops.
Description of the Second Violin Concerto from Polish Szymanowski site
Preface (in German and English) to a new edition of the score
Suite from Appalachian Spring
(1943-44; 1945 orchestration)
Approximate duration: 23 minutes
After studying in France for three years, Aaron Copland returned to the United States with a stark and spiky musical language steeped in Parisian influences. He moved away from those European conventions in the early 1930s, and he soon found his authentic American voice through explorations of local folk music. A campy orchestra work from 1936, El Salón México, brought Copland his first broad success. Two major ballets set in the American West followed: Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942). Copland further refined his American style, musically and culturally, in two orchestral works from 1942, Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man.
Copland began his crowning work of Americana in 1943, when the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham asked him to compose the score for a ballet commissioned and funded by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Copland kept Graham’s style in mind: he saw “something prim and restrained, simple yet strong about her, which one tends to think of as American.” He worked under the title Ballet for Martha until not long before the premiere, when Graham suggested Appalachian Spring, borrowing the phrase from Hart Crane’s poem “The Bridge.”
Appalachian Spring debuted on October 30, 1944, in Washington, D.C. The limited dimensions of the Library of Congress’ 500-seat auditorium dictated a small ensemble, and Copland’s original ballet score used just 13 instruments. In 1945 Copland created a concert suite scored for full orchestra, omitting a few sequences from the ballet, which quickly entered the symphonic repertoire. Appalachian Spring earned Copland the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, cementing his reputation as the leading composer of his generation.
The wonder of Appalachian Spring is how it achieves so much using such simple and familiar musical ingredients. The first section, case in point, assembles its hazy wash of consonant sonorities by enunciating plain triads and the resonant intervals of fourths and fifths.
The following section energizes similarly basic materials—octave leaps, triadic intervals and descending major scales—into spry dance music. The scoring emphasizes crisp and brilliant colors, including piano and xylophone, solo woodwinds and flecks of pizzicato from the strings.
The famous section that follows, starting with a theme in the clarinet, presents the tune of Simple Gifts, a Shaker dance song written in 1848 by Joseph Brackett. The humble melody fits seamlessly into the homespun, diatonic language of Copland’s score, and its increasingly grand variations rise to a transcendental climax.
A prayer-like chorale serves as a final coda.
Online score, with conductor’s markings by Leonard Bernstein
Recording of Copland leading a rehearsal of Appalachian Spring
The story of a modern effort to orchestrate the portions Copland removed from the Appalachian Spring Suite.
-- Copyright © 2017 Aaron Grad
Aaron Grad is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Seattle. Besides providing program notes for the New World Symphony, he has been the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s program annotator since 2005 and also contributes notes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Seattle Symphony.
Hailed for his natural ease and compelling musicianship, James Gaffigan is considered one of the most outstanding American conductors working today. He has attracted international attention for his prowess both as a conductor of opera and symphony orchestras.
James Gaffigan is Chief Conductor of the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also Music Director Designate of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra. Since becoming Chief Conductor in Lucerne nine seasons ago, he has made a significant impact on the orchestra’s profile, both at home and abroad, thanks to their successful concerts, international tours and recordings.
Gaffigan is in high demand working with leading orchestras and opera companies throughout North America, Europe and Asia. The 2020/21 season features debuts with the Paris Opera and Philharmonia Orchestra of London plus returns to the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra in D.C. and Bayerische Staatsoper. He leads his final season as Chief Conductor in Lucerne that commences with a South American tour and culminates in an Asia tour with Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist.
Recent symphonic highlights include appearances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Orchestre de Paris, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Staatskapelle Dresden, Vienna Symphony, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, Tokyo Metropolitan and Seoul Philharmonic.
In North America, Gaffigan works with top orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
A regular at the Metropolitan Opera and Bayerische Staatsoper, Gaffigan is equally at home in the opera house and conducts at the Zürich Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, Staatsoper Hamburg, Dutch National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Santa Fe Opera.
James Gaffigan was First Prize winner of the 2004 Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition. In 2009, he completed a three-year tenure as Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, a position created for him by Michael Tilson Thomas. Prior to that, he was Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, where he worked with Music Director Franz Welser Möst.
Passionate about music education and a product of the New York City public school system, James Gaffigan grew up in Staten Island and studied at the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art before pursuing his conducting studies.
Nicola Benedetti is one of the most sought-after violinists of her generation. Her ability to captivate audiences with her innate musicianship and spirited presence, coupled with her wide appeal as a high-profile advocate for classical music, has made her one of the most influential classical artists of today.
With concerto performances at the heart of her career, Ms. Benedetti is in much demand with major orchestras and conductors across the globe. Conductors with whom she has worked include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jiří Bělohlávek, Stéphane Denève, Christoph Eschenbach, James Gaffigan, Hans Graf, Valery Gergiev, Alan Gilbert, Jakub Hrusa, Kirill Karabits, Andrew Litton, Kristjan Järvi, Vladimir Jurowski, Cristian Măcelaru, Zubin Mehta, Andrea Marcon, Peter Oundjian, Vasily Petrenko, Donald Runnicles, Thomas Søndergård, Krzysztof Urbanski, Juraj Valcua, Edo de Waart, Pinchas Zukerman and Jaap van Zweden.
Ms. Benedetti enjoys working with the highest level of orchestras including collaborations with the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Camerata Salzburg, Czech Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony and Chicago Symphony.
In the 2019-20 season, Ms. Benedetti makes her debut with the Wiener Symphoniker and undergoes a tour of Asia with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Robin Ticciati. She will also reunite with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and embark on a tour with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra led by Thomas Søndergård. She performs the Marsalis Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and James Gaffigan and with Cristian Măcelaru—first with the Gothenburg Symphony and then again with the Orchestre de Paris. She will come together again with Karina Canellakis with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Similarly, she joins Michael Tilson Thomas for concerts with the London Symphony and then again with the New World Symphony.
Winner of Best Female Artist at both 2012 and 2013 Classical BRIT Awards, Ms. Benedetti records exclusively for Decca (Universal Music). Her most recent recording features premiere recordings of two works written especially for her by jazz musician Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto in D and Fiddle Dance Suite for Solo Violin.
Ms. Benedetti was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2019 New Year Honors List, awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2017 as the youngest ever recipient, and was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2013 in recognition of her international music career and work with musical charities throughout the U.K. In addition, she has received eight honorary degrees to date.
Ms. Benedetti plays the Gariel Stradivarius (1717), courtesy of Jonathan Moulds.