Oregon Symphony


Concert Information

Colin Currie

Saturday, October 22, 2016, 7:30 pm
Sunday, October 23, 2016, 2 pm
Monday, October 24, 2016, 7:30 pm

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Colin Currie, percussion



Ein Heldenleben
(played without pauses)
  • The Hero
  • The Hero’s Adversaries
  • The Hero’s Companion
  • The Hero’s Battlefield
  • The Hero’s Works of Peace
  • The Hero’s Retirement from the World
    and the Fulfillment of His Life

This concert will be recorded for future CD release.

THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Robert McBride, host for the stations of All Classical Portland. You can also enjoy the Concert Conversation in the comfort of your own home. Visit AllClassical.org to watch the video on demand.


Vital Stats

Composer: Born February 15, 1949, Baltimore, MD.

Work composed: Rouse finished writing Supplica on September 2, 2013. It was jointly commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

World premiere: Juraj Valčuha led the Pittsburgh Symphony in the first performance on April 4, 2014, in Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh.

Instrumentation: 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, harp, and strings.

Estimated duration: 10 minutes

“His music is relevant, visceral, moving, and thrilling—music that can change people, music that makes time stop; it is, pure and simple, great art.” —Marin Alsop

Pulitzer prize-winning composer Christopher Rouse is considered one of the most important and talented American composers working today. Currently a member of the composition faculty at Juilliard, Rouse recently completed a three-year composer residency with the New York Philharmonic.

In an interview, Rouse once stated, “I’m interested in writing music that grips people and that won’t let them go. That’s why I never have movement breaks, in pieces with multiple movements; I always keep the music going, because I don’t want to let them go. But the first thing I need to do is get their attention and then, I hope, take them on a journey in sound that they find is emotionally appealing to them, or at least meaningful.”

If you have heard Rouse’s music before, you may be surprised by tonight’s selection, Supplica. This work reveals an intimate glimpse into a distinctly different facet of Rouse the composer. It features a strippeddown orchestra, absent winds and the huge percussion battery often present in Rouse’s orchestral music. In the above quote, Rouse talks about capturing the audience’s attention with the opening notes. With his more extroverted pieces, Rouse accomplishes this through extremes of volume, assertive rhythms featuring percussion and brass, and abrupt, almost violent juxtapositions.

Supplica departs from this approach; instead, Rouse draws us in through introspection and reflection, using hushed dynamics and slow-moving harmonies. In his own program notes, Rouse’s remarks about the genesis of Supplica are deliberately opaque: “The title means, perhaps unsurprisingly, “supplication” in Italian,” he writes. “There is no doubt in my mind that this work has a strong relationship to my Fourth Symphony, completed earlier in 2013 … Both were works I felt an inner compulsion to write, but both also possess meanings for me that must remain personal. This certainly does not mean that either piece is intended to be ‘impersonal’—rather that what I hope will be heard as both an intimate and an impassioned communication in sound must mean to each listener what it will, without further intercession or guidance from me.”

Switch for Solo Percussion and Orchestra

Vital Stats

Composer: Born October 31, 1979, Grand Rapids, MI.

Work composed: 2014–15. Commissioned by the Utah Symphony and the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation. Dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky.

World premiere: Thierry Fischer led the Utah Symphony with percussionist Colin Currie on November 6, 2015, at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, UT.

First Oregon Symphony performance.


Solo percussion: Almglocken, bass drum, 2 bongos, 3 small Chinese Opera gongs, 2 congas, cymbals (various), kick drum, snare drum,
3 tam-tams, 5 temple blocks, 4 tin cans, 4 tom-toms, 7 tuned gongs, 2 triangles, vibraphone, 4 woodblocks.

Orchestra: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn,
3 clarinets (one doubling E-flat clarinet), 3 bassoons, 4 horns,
3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, 2 bongos, 2
congas, crotales, cymbals (various), glockenspiel, guiro, kick drum, log drum, 4 pieces of wood, ratchet, slapstick, 5 temple blocks, tam-tam, 4 tom-toms, vibraphone, washboard, 3 wood blocks, piano, harp, and strings.

Estimated duration: 25 minutes

Andrew Norman’s music often takes inspiration from architectural
music draws on an eclectic mix of instrumental sounds and notational practices, and it has been cited in The New York Times for its “daring juxtapositions and dazzling colors” and in the L.A. Times for its “Chaplinesque” wit. Norman is currently composer-in-residence with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“During rehearsals for the premiere performances of Switch, Colin Currie gave me an amazing metaphor for the piece,” Norman remarked in an interview. “He said that playing Switch feels like being trapped (in the best possible way) inside a giant pinball machine. It’s an apt image for so many reasons. It conveys the crazy tone and hyperkinetic pace at which events in the piece unfold. It also suggests some thing of the way sounds and musical ideas (and indeed Colin himself) are constantly bouncing around, careening off into unexpected places.”

In his official notes printed in the score, Norman writes, “Switch is a game of control. Each percussion instrument (both in front of and behind the orchestra) is a switch that controls other instruments in specific ways, making them play louder or softer, higher or lower, freezing them in place and setting them in motion again. The soloist, dropped into this complex contraction of causes and effects like the unwitting protagonist of a video game, must figure out the rules of this universe on the fly, all while trying to avoid the rewindinducing missteps that prevent progress from one side of the stage to the other.

“Instead of being broken into traditional movements, Switch exists as a system of different ‘channels,’ each with its own unique sound world, that are flipped between by the playful (and devious) snaps of the channel-surfing slapsticks at the back of the stage.”

Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40

Vital Stats

Composer: Born June 11, 1864, Munich; died September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Work composed: 1897–98.

World premiere: Strauss conducted the premiere of Ein Heldenleben on March 3, 1899, at the Frankfurt Museum.

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 4 flutes, 4 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets, (one doubling E-flat clarinet), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 piccolo trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, tenor tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, small military drum, tenor drum, 2 harps, and strings.

Estimated duration: 40 minutes

Anyone who writes a piece of music titled A Hero’s Life and places himself in the role of the hero is asking for trouble. So it was with Richard Strauss and his tone poem Ein Heldenleben. When Strauss conducted the first performance, in the spring of 1899, critics denounced him as a monumental egotist.

But, in actuality, how autobiographical was this tone poem? A letter Strauss wrote to his publisher in 1898, while he was in the midst of writing Ein Heldenleben, provides insight into his thinking: “Since Beethoven’s Eroica is so extremely unpopular with our conductors and hence rarely performed, I am filling a desperate need by composing a tone poem of substantial length entitled Hero’s Life … with lots of horn sound, since horns are, after all, the thing for heroism.” A staggering number of people, including Strauss’ musical critics, completely missed the blatant sarcasm in these much-quoted words.

The Hero of Ein Heldenleben, an allegory of The Artist, battles the provincial philistinism of both critics and narrow-minded audiences. (Strauss characterized his own critics as “cheeky uneducated laymen who pronounce judgments on the most sublime works of art as if they were equal to their creators.”) After the premiere, a delighted Strauss wrote to his father that the critics “spat poison and gall, mainly because they thought from the analyses that the nasty description of the ‘Moaners and Adversar ies’ was aimed at them.”

Ein Heldenleben is in six parts; in the first, we are introduced to the Hero (intrepid, assertive string theme). In The Hero’s Adversaries (music critics), chattering winds squeal and babble over the ominous murmurings of strings and brasses. The Hero’s Companion was modeled on Strauss’ wife Pauline de Ahna, an accomplished soprano. Her theme, played by solo violin, veers from coquettish to capricious. The unaccompanied violin executes ever more complicated and daring phrases, which alternates with brief comments from the orchestra. This becomes a romantic tableau of operatic proportions, but the music critics return at the close to wreck the tender moment. On The Hero’s Battlefield, an offstage fanfare summons the Hero to battle his adversaries. The strident calls of the brasses and winds, accompanied by the snare drum, depict the epic fight in a cascade of brilliant colors and descriptive sounds. Eventually, the Hero triumphs, and the eight horns announce his victory. In The Hero’s Works of Peace, Strauss’ Hero reflects on his many accomplishments; in this movement, Strauss quotes extensively from his own music. Strauss quotes a long passage from his Don Quixote to usher in the final movement, The Hero’s Retirement from the World and the Fulfillment of His Life. Here the Hero recalls his angry bouts with critics (snarling brasses and agitated strings). His wife (solo violin) returns, and the two engage in a tender duet for violin and solo horn. The Hero’s majestic theme sounds one last time, a fitting peroration to a colorful, ambitious life.

© 2016 Elizabeth Schwartz

Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz

Elizabeth Schwartz is a writer and musician based in the Portland area. She provides notes for several organizations, including the Oregon Symphony, Portland Piano International and the Oregon Bach Festival, among others, and has also contributed to NPR’s “Performance Today,” (now heard on American Public Media). Ms. Schwartz also co-hosts the Portland Jewish Hour, heard Sundays at 10 am on KBOO 90.7 fm. classicalmusicprogramnotes.com.

Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons

Andrew Norman–Switch for Solo Percussion and Orchestra
Colin Currie, Percussion
Thierry Fischer–Utah Symphony Orchestra
Reference 719

Richard Strauss–Ein Heldenleben
Fritz Reiner–Chicago Symphony Orchestra
RCA Victor Living Stereo 61389 OR

Rudolf Kempe–Dresden Staatskapelle
2-Warner Classics 6783122

These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.