≈ 1 hour and 30 minutes · No intermission
Violin, NAC Orchestra
Who doesn’t remember the first time they heard Barber’s Adagio for Strings, that paean to melancholy, a piece of music so powerful and arrestingly poignant that it only takes hearing the first few notes to immediately be in a place of stillness and contemplation? Well actually, I don’t. This was not a piece in my father’s record collection (Dad’s tastes ran more to Romantic composers’ violin repertoire because of his two fiddle-playing sons, and Cool-era jazz), and I still haven’t seen the film Platoon. And yet it seems like I’ve always known it, a piece that has been folded into the collective consciousness without becoming trite or tiresome.
Porgy and Bess is music I grew up with, not in its original operatic setting, but as jazz standards from my father’s aforementioned record collection, played by Miles Davis and Bill Evans, or sung by goddesses like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Jascha Heifetz gave every violinist the chance to “sing” music from Porgy and Bess with his transcriptions, and there are scores of arrangements for large instrument ensembles of every skill level. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you can certainly see how highly musicians think of this music when so many make it their own.
And a quick thought about Copland’s Rodeo. The musical language that has come to define what an American orchestral sound is – evoking images of expansive vistas, cowboys, and a rugged connection to the land – was created by a Jewish New Yorker. Certainly, there is more that connects humans than divides us.
Thank you for sharing this music with us tonight, for taking the time to savour these assorted sonic morsels, and have a happy Valentine’s Day.
“As a performer, having a composer write a piece especially for me is one of the most exciting honours I could ever receive. And unless you’re collaborating directly on the music, you really never know what you’re going to get! It’s a really special relationship of respect and trust, and there is nothing more thrilling than seeing the score for the first time… except maybe performing it for the first time! Even though Stewart and I have known each other since we were 13, and I’m familiar with his music, there is so much wonder and awe as I discover this incredible piece. Stewart has managed to include not only poignant emotional moments, haunting themes, and virtuosity, but also things that are really fun to play, that any cellist would love to sink their teeth (bow) into. This is only the beginning of the life of this piece, and I am completely thrilled to be sharing it for the first time with you.”
Last updated: February 13, 2020
Welcome to tonight’s concert! This Valentine’s Day, Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra, with host Marjolaine Lambert, present to you a program that includes a world premiere of Canadian composer Stewart Goodyear’s Cello Concerto, written specially for the soloist, the Orchestra’s Principal Cello, Rachel Mercer. It also includes some of the most beloved and enduringly popular works in American music. In each their own way, these pieces have come to define the “American sound” of orchestral music during the 20th century.
Leroy Anderson’s sentimental Serenata is a characteristic example of an American pops orchestra miniature, whereas the expressive lyricism of Samuel Barber’s Adagio bridges Old World and New World romanticism. A medley of highlights from George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess is a brilliant synthesis of concert music, African-American blues and jazz idioms, and his signature gift for song; by contrast, Aaron Copland’s Rodeo incorporates authentic cowboy tunes to give it a genuine folksy charm.
Whatever the style, what these works have in common is their universal audience appeal. It’s a remarkable quality by which they have completely transcended classical, popular, and jazz genres, and the mediums of live performance, recording, radio, TV and film. Enjoy!
Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley is a musicologist, active in the public sphere as a writer, speaker, and researcher. | Twitter @hanchanhartley
Born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., November 14, 1900
Died in North Tarrytown, New York, U.S., December 2, 1990
Aaron Copland created music in a style that is often regarded today as distinctly American. He often turned to, as inspiration and source material for his works, music such as the popular tunes of his youth, jazz music in New York and Paris during the 1920s, and the Anglo-American folk music being collected and published in the 1930s and 40s. Rodeo, a ballet he created in 1942 for Agnes de Mille and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, is one of his best-known works drawing on the latter.
The plot of Rodeo is a charming romantic comedy, set on an American ranch. A young cowgirl is in love with the head wrangler. Herself “a tomboy in jeans,” she tries to impress him by showing off her riding and roping skills, but he only fancies the rancher’s daughter. Finally, she decides on a change of image – for the Saturday hoedown, she dons a pretty dress, and wins the wrangler’s heart.
Tonight, you’ll hear music from the ballet distilled into four dance episodes, which follow the arc of the above plotline. Copland first evokes the rigours of American ranch life in “Buckaroo Holiday”, through two original themes: first, a descending scale, played exuberantly as the cowboys are riding bucking broncos; a calmer, more lyrical melody follows. Later, a solo trombone introduces an old cowboy song “If He’d be a Buckaroo by his Trade”, one of several folk tune quotations in Rodeo. In “Corral Nocturne”, the cowgirl reflects upon the day’s earlier chaos and her aching heart on a wistful melody in the wind section, against a background of open chords, which conjure up the expanse of the American outdoors.
“Saturday Night Waltz” begins with an introduction that sounds like the string section tuning as they prepare for the evening dance. The music then settles into a sentimental waltz, based on another cowboy tune, “Goodbye Old Paint”, during which the mood evolves, from tentative to warm and tender. Finally, the cowgirl gets her man, in the joyous “Hoe Down”, the most famous music of Rodeo.
The famous tune for Copland’s “Hoe Down” was not always as you heard it. Called “Bonaparte’s Retreat”, it was “normally done as a stately sort of march,” according to musician and writer Stephen Wade. In 1937, the Kentucky fiddler Bill Stepp put his own spin on it, transforming the tempo into one of a hoedown. His version was captured on tape by Alan Lomax as one of many field recordings of American folk song for the Library of Congress.
As Copland was working on Rodeo, he came across Stepp’s rendition of “Bonaparte’s Retreat” via a transcription by composer and American folk music specialist Ruth Crawford Seeger. He liked it so much that he incorporated it, nearly note for note, into his ballet. The popularity of Copland’s “Hoedown” made the Stepp version famous, and in 2013, Stepp’s recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame due to its importance in American music.
– Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley
Since its debut in 1969, the National Arts Centre Orchestra has been praised for the passion and clarity of its performances, its visionary educational programs, and its prominent role in nurturing Canadian creativity. Under the leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley, the Orchestra performs a full series of subscription concerts at the National Arts Centre each season, featuring world-class artists such as James Ehnes, Angela Hewitt, Joshua Bell, Xian Zhang, Gabriela Montero, Stewart Goodyear, Jan Lisiecki, and Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds.
Alexander Shelley began his tenure as Music Director in 2015, following Pinchas Zukerman’s 16 seasons at the helm. Principal Associate Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and former Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra (2009 - 2017), he has been in demand around the world, conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic, DSO Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, and Stockholm Philharmonic, among others, and maintains a regular relationship with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and the German National Youth Orchestra.
National and international tours have been a hallmark of the National Arts Centre Orchestra from the very beginning. The Orchestra has toured 95 times since its inauguration in 1969, visiting 120 cities in Canada, as well as 20 countries and 138 cities internationally. In recent years, the orchestra has undertaken performance and education tours across Canada, as well as the U.K. and China. In 2019, the Orchestra marked its 50th anniversary with a seven-city European tour that included performances and education events in England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, and that showcased the work of six Canadian composers.
The NAC Orchestra has recorded many of the more than 80 new works commissioned since its inception, for radio and on over 40 commercial recordings. These include Angela Hewitt’s 2015 JUNO Award-winning album of Mozart Piano Concertos; the groundbreaking Life Reflected, which includes My Name is Amanda Todd by Jocelyn Morlock, winner of the 2018 JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year; and from the 2019 JUNO nominated New Worlds, Ana Sokolović’s Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes, 2019 JUNO Winner for Classical Composition of the Year.
The NAC Orchestra reaches a national and international audience through touring, recordings, and extensive educational outreach. The Orchestra performed on Parliament Hill for the 2019 Canada Day noon concert in a live broadcast for CBC Television.