Events & Tickets
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 the natural ease of his conducting and the compelling insight of his musicianship, James Gaffigan continues to attract international attention and is considered by many to be the most outstanding young American conductor working today. In January 2010 he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and he recently concluded his tenure as Principal Guest Conductor of the Gurzenich Orchestra in Cologne.
In addition to these titled positions, Mr. Gaffigan is in high demand to work with the leading orchestras and opera houses throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In the United States, Mr. Gaffigan has guest conducted the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Minnesota orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago, Toronto, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, National, Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore, Vancouver, Milwaukee and New World symphonies, among others. His U.S. festival engagements include appearances at the Blossom, Aspen, Grand Teton and Grant Park festivals, as well as at the Hollywood Bowl and the Music Academy of the West.
Mr. Gaffigan’s international career launched when he was named a first prize winner at the 2004 Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition in Frankfurt, Germany. Since then he has appeared with prestigious orchestras such as the Munich, London and Rotterdam philharmonics, London Symphony, Dresden Staatskappelle, Deutsches Symphony Orchestra Berlin, Orchestre de Paris, Vienna Symphony, London and Czech philharmonics, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Tonhalle Orchestra and Camerata Salzburg, among others.
Highlights of his 2015-16 season include his debut with the New York Philharmonic and re-engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, both downtown and at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as with the Toronto, National, Dallas and New World symphonies. Internationally, in addition to his work with the Lucerne Symphony and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, he guest conducts the London Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra National de France, Sydney Symphony and Sãu Paulo Symphony Orchestra.
Equally at home in the opera house, Mr. Gaffigan made his Vienna State Opera debut in 2011-12 conducting La Bohème, was immediately invited back to conduct Don Giovanni the following season, and returned once again in the fall of 2015 for performances of The Marriage of Figaro. He made his professional opera debut at the Zurich Opera in June 2005 conducting La Bohème. In the summers of 2009 and 2010 he conducted performances of Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro at the Aspen Music Festival and made his debut at Glyndebourne sharing a production of Così fan tutte with the late Sir Charles Mackerras. Since then he has returned to Glyndebourne leading performances of Falstaff and a new production of La Cenerentola and led performances of The Marriage of Figaro with the Houston Grand Opera, Salome with the Hamburg Opera, Rigoletto with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and La Traviata with the Norwegian Opera. Future opera project include his debuts with the Bavarian State Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, Washington National Opera and the Santa Fe Opera.
Mr. Gaffigan’s first recording with the Lucerne Symphony for Harmonia Mundi, an all-Wolfgang Rihm disc, received critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, as did his second recording with Lucerne of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 and American Suite, also for Harmonia Mundi. He is in the process of recording the complete Prokofiev symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, and his most recent recording is the first Tchaikovsky and second Prokofiev piano concertos with Kirill Gerstein and the DSO Berlin for the Myrios label.
Born in New York City in 1979, Mr. Gaffigan attended the New England Conservatory of Music and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, where he earned his master of music degree in conducting. He was also chosen to study at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival and School and was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 2009 Mr. Gaffigan completed a three-year tenure as Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, where he assisted Michael Tilson Thomas, led subscription concerts and was Artistic Director of the orchestra’s Summer in the City festival. Prior to that appointment he was the Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra, where he worked under Music Director Franz Welser-Möst from 2003 through 2006.
Mr. Gaffigan resides in Lucerne with his wife and their children, Sofia and Liam.
Nicola Benedetti is one of the most sought-after violinists of her generation. Her ability to captivate audiences with her innate musicianship and dynamic presence, coupled with her wide appeal as a high-profile advocate for classical music, has made her one of the most influential classical artists today.
With concerto performances at the heart of her career, Ms. Benedetti is in high demand with major orchestras and conductors across the globe. This 2017-18 season she makes her debut with the Orchestre de Paris and collaborates with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, The Philadelphia Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Bremen Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, New World Symphony and Baltimore Symphony. She will also undertake a U.K. and North American tour with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Ms. Benedetti enjoys working with the highest level of orchestras, including the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, National Symphony, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Camerata Salzburg, Czech Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival.
In addition, Ms. Benedetti developed her own education and outreach initiative, The Benedetti Sessions, which gives hundreds of aspiring young string players the opportunity to rehearse, undertake and observe master classes culminating in a performance alongside Ms. Benedetti.
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 of the Shostakovich and Glazunov Violin Concertos has been met with critical acclaim. Her recording Homecoming; A Scottish Fantasy made her the first solo British violinist since the 1990s to enter the Top 20 of the Official U.K. Albums Chart.
Ms. Benedetti was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) at the 2013 New Year Honors, in recognition of her international music career and work with musical charities throughout the United Kingdom.
She plays the Gariel Stradivarius (1717), courtesy of Jonathan Moulds.