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The Season Premiere: Renée Fleming and the Oregon Symphony

Program Listing

Saturday, SEPTEMBER 24, 2022, 7:30 PM
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2022, 7:30 PM

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David Danzmayr, Conductor
Renée Fleming, Soprano
Rodney Gilfry, Baritone

Leonard Bernstein/orch. Peress

Overture to West Side Story

Kevin Puts

The Brightness of Light
Renée Fleming
First Correspondence
Renée Fleming
Rodney Gilfry
A Soul Like Yours
Rodney Gilfry
Renée Fleming
Rodney Gilfry
Georgia and Alfred (Orchestral Interlude No. 1) Violin
Renée Fleming
Rodney Gilfry
Renée Fleming
The Thing You Call Holy
Renée Fleming
Rodney Gilfry
The High Priestess of the Desert (Orchestral Interlude No. 2)
Renée Fleming
Summer Days
Renée Fleming

Edward Elgar

Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma Variations”
Enigma: Andante
“C.A.E.” — L’istesso tempo
“H.D.S. – P.” — Allegro
“R.B.T.” — Allegretto
“W.M.B.” — Allegro di molto
“R.P.A.” — Moderato
“Ysobel” — Andantino
“Troyte” — Presto
“W.N.” — Allegretto
“Nimrod” — Moderato
“Dorabella – Intermezzo” — Allegretto
“G.R.S.” — Allegro di molto
“B.G.N.” — Andante
“*** – Romanza” — Moderato
“E.D.U.” – Finale — Allegro



Conducted one hour before each performance, the Concert Conversation will feature Music Director David Danzmayr and a host of All Classical Portland.


Program Notes

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Leonard Bernstein

Overture to West Side Story (arr. Peress)

Work composed:  The musical West Side Story was written in 1957.
First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 2 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, keyboard, harp, and strings.
Estimated duration: 5 minutes

In 1957, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story transformed Shakespeare’s Verona into the gang-infested streets of New York City, and the young lovers into Tony and Maria, members of warring gangs of whites and Puerto Ricans. Bernstein’s groundbreaking musical, conceived with choreographer Jerome Robbins, fundamentally changed the nature of musical theater. Since its premiere, West Side Story has become synonymous with Bernstein’s vibrant, energetic style. The overture features a variety of excerpts from the show’s best-known songs: the Jets and Sharks fight theme, “Tonight,” “Maria,” and the toe-tapping excitement of the “Mambo.”


Kevin Puts
b. 1972

The Brightness of Light

Work composed: 2019
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: an earlier version was performed with Renée Fleming on September 23, 2018
Instrumentation: Solo soprano, solo baritone, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, chimes, Chinese cymbal, claves, bowed crotales, cymbals, glockenspiel, gongs, triangle, bowed vibraphone, xylophone, piano (doubling celesta), harp, and strings.
Estimated duration: 45 minutes

Winner of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his debut opera Silent Night, Kevin Puts’ works have been commissioned, performed, and recorded by leading ensembles and soloists throughout the world. Puts is currently a member of the composition department at the Peabody Institute and the Director of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute.

The Brightness of Light expands on Puts’ 2015 song cycle, Letters from Georgia, which was commissioned by Puts’ alma mater, the Eastman School of Music, and written for soprano Renée Fleming. The Oregon Symphony presented Letters from Georgia with Fleming in September 2018. 

Puts writes, “We wanted to focus on an iconic American woman ... and I happened on a quote by Georgia O’Keeffe: ‘My first memory is of the brightness of light, light all around.’ I could imagine this line sung right at the start. I learned that O’Keeffe had written thousands of letters over the course of her lifetime, many of them to Alfred Stieglitz, the renowned photographer and art curator who became her husband ... With intense emotion – and often humor – these letters chronicle O’Keeffe’s journey from a young artist enthralled by and indebted to the older Stieglitz to her complete immersion in the North American Southwest where she lived alone for many years, finding inspiration for her best-known works ...

“Having wholeheartedly embraced the role of O’Keeffe, Renée proposed expanding the work to include an equal part for Stieglitz. I welcomed this challenge of creating a larger work which would encompass their years both together and apart, from the first cautious exchanges between the two artists, through their impassioned and complicated relationship, to the years long after Stieglitz’ death, when I imagine O’Keeffe writing to him even still. By design, all the music from Letters found its way into The Brightness of Light. Ironically perhaps, it was the vivid, poetic language of these two artists best known for their visual art which I found most inspiring in the creation of these works.”


Sir Edward Elgar

Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma,” Op. 36

Work composed: October 21, 1898–Spring of 1899 and dedicated “to my friends pictured within.”
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: Guest conductor Christoph König led the Oregon Symphony on February 25–27, 2017.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, organ, and strings.
Estimated duration: 29 minutes

Edward Elgar’s Variations for Orchestra on an Original Theme, Op. 36, better known simply as the Enigma Variations, have delighted audiences since their premiere, and made Elgar an international star.

Regarding the theme of the enigma itself, Elgar wrote, “The enigma I will not explain – its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the apparent connection between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’ but is not played.”

The Enigma theme came to Elgar one evening in October of 1898, while he was improvising at the piano. He recalled, “Suddenly my wife interrupted by saying, ‘Edward, that’s a good tune.’ I awoke from the dream, ‘Eh! Tune, what tune?’ and she said, ‘Play it again, I like that tune.’ As he repeated it, he began to vary it, asking her, “Whom does that remind you of?” and the musical portraits of the “friends pictured within” were born.

In a letter to his friend and publisher August Johann Jaeger, Elgar wrote, “I have sketched a set of Variations on an original theme: the Variations have amused me because I’ve labeled ‘em with the nicknames of my particular friends ... that is to say, I’ve written the variations each one to represent the mood of the ‘party’ ... I’ve written what I think they would have written – if they were asses enough to compose – it’s a quaint idea and the result is amusing to those behind the scenes and won’t affect the hearer who ‘nose nuffin’.”

Elgar indicated with initials and a few names each person pictured in his music:

  1. C.A.E. – Caroline Alice Elgar, Elgar’s wife.

  2. H.D.S-P. – Hew David Steuart-Powell, an amateur pianist with whom Elgar played in chamber ensembles.

  3. R.B.T. – Richard Baxter Townshend, an eccentric scholar/author whose caricature of an old man is the subject of the variation.

  4. W.M.B. – William Meath Baker, the squire of Hasfield Court, whose habit of slamming doors upon exiting rooms is heard in this variation.

  5. R.P.A. – Richard Penrose Arnold, son of poet Matthew Arnold, known as a daydreamer.

  6. Ysobel – Isabel Fitton, an amateur violist.

  7. Troyte – Arthur Troyte Griffith, an artist and architect and a pianist of limited skill, hence the bombastic quality of his variation.

  8. W.N. – Winifred Norbury, secretary of the Worcestershire Philharmonic Society (this variation is actually a portrait of her stately house, the scene of numerous musical gatherings; it also captures her ready laugh).

  9. Nimrod – August Johannes Jaeger, a good friend and one of Elgar’s publishers at Novello (Nimrod is the biblical “mighty hunter,” a pun on “Jaeger,” German for “hunter.”) Elgar described the variation as an evocation of a conversation between the two men about Beethoven’s difficulties with his deafness. Jaeger’s mention of Beethoven was meant to encourage Elgar, despondent over his own struggles to gain recognition, to continue composing. Elgar wrote, “it will be noticed that the opening bars are made to suggest the slow movement of [Beethoven’s] Eighth Sonata (Pathétique).”

  10. Dorabella – Dora Penney (later the wife of Richard Powell) nicknamed “Dorabella” by Elgar, who borrowed the name from Mozart’s opera, Così fan tutte. She was a close friend of the Elgars’ and often sat at the piano turning pages for Elgar during performances.

  11. G.R.S. – George Robertson Sinclair, organist of Hereford and owner of a bulldog named Dan. The variation actually portrays Dan fetching and retrieving sticks from the Wye River.

  12. B.G.N. – Basil Nevinson, an amateur cellist who played with Elgar and Steuart-Powell.

  13. *** – Possibly Lady Mary Lygon, who traveled to Australia around the time Elgar composed her variation. In it he quotes from Mendelssohn’s Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage. This variation may also refer to Elgar’s former fiancée, Helen Jessie Weaver, who, by all accounts, broke his heart when she ended their engagement and emigrated to New Zealand.

  14. E.D.U. – Elgar. “Edoo” was Alice’s pet name for her husband, a variation of the French “Edouard.” His variation quotes from hers and from Jaeger’s, the two people who believed in his artistic promise and always supported him. 

© 2021 Elizabeth Schwartz