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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Program Listing

Saturday, June 11, 2022, 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, June 12, 2022, 2 PM
MONDAY, June 13, 2022, 7:30 PM

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David Danzmayr, Conductor
Georgia Jarman, Soprano
Siena Licht Miller, Mezzo-soprano
Joshua Dennis, Tenor
Reginald Smith, Jr., Baritone
Oregon Repertory Singers
Portland State University Chamber Choir

Gabriela Lena Frank

Pachamama Meets an Ode (West Coast premiere)
Oregon Repertory Singers
Portland State University Chamber Choir

Alban Berg

Seven Early Songs
Night
Song Amid the Reeds
The Nightingale
Crowned in a Dream
Indoors
Ode to Love
Summer Days
Georgia Jarmin
INTERMISSION

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, “Choral”
Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
Molto vivace
Adagio molto e cantabile
Presto - Allegro assai - Allegro assai vivace
Oregon Repertory Singers
Portland State University Chamber Choir
Georgia Jarmin
Siena Licht Miller
Joshua Dennis
Reginald Smith, Jr.

 

CONCERT CONVERSATION

Conducted one hour before each performance, the Concert Conversation will feature David Danzmayr, Music Director and Robert McBride, Host. Visit orsymphony.org/conversations to watch the video on demand.

 

Program Notes

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Gabriela Lena Frank
b. 1972

Pachamama Meets an Ode (West Coast premiere)

Work composed: 2019. Co-commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Uppsala Kammerorkester. “This work is dedicated to my niece and nephew, Camila and Alexander Frank, who shall inherit the earth.”
First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: SATB chorus, 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, marimba, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, triangle, tubular bells, xylophone, and strings
Estimated duration: 11 minutes

One of the most sought-after American composers working today, Gabriela Lena Frank is also a member of the Oregon Symphony’s Creative Alliance. Born to a mother of Peruvian Chinese and indigenous indio ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Frank’s music is a passionately unique exploration of her multicultural heritage. The Oregon Symphony performed her Elegía Andina in October 2021, and has presented several of her other works in previous seasons.

Pachamama Meets an Ode charts new creative territory for Frank: her first musical exploration of the links between her cultural interests and the ravages of global climate change. “Climate change is a scary concept because you must be intimate with the grief of knowing we’ve done this to ourselves,” she explains. “We have a moral duty to embrace it.”

“‘Pachamama’ is the way we describe Mother Earth in Spanish-speaking Latin America,” Frank continues. “She can be a female deity of fertility, or something more abstract.” When Frank accepted the commission for Pachamama, she was asked to compose a work in response to Beethoven’s First and Ninth Symphonies, using an orchestra similar in size to Beethoven’s. “Pachamama is a conceptual meeting between Beethoven and the Cusco School of painters,” says Frank. “They were indigenous painters conscripted into evangelical service to paint bible scenes and convert Peruvians to Christianity.”

Although the painters were instructed to create European scenes, they often inserted native animals and plants from Peru in their paintings as an act of subtle rebellion. In her own program notes, Frank elaborates: “In … Pachamama, Beethoven is treated to a scene of an indigenous painter plying his trade in a Spanish church with Moorish (Mudéjar) arches constructed on the remains of a demolished Inca temple. The painter hides spirits from bygone native cultures (Chavín… Moche… Huarí) amidst European figurines, equipping them with protective natural talismans (huacas) and friendly fauna. He is readying his subjects for their journeys, as paintings, into lands violently transformed by colonization.”

Beethoven lived during the Industrial Revolution, which upended the lives and lifestyles of Europeans and indigenous peoples around the world whose lands were exploited for European gain. “The Industrial Revolution was fueled by the simultaneous colonizing of Latin America, Africa, and Asia,” Frank explains. “In this fantasy, Beethoven meets one of these painters, whose land is changing in order to fuel European lifestyles and appetites,” Frank continues. “Today we see the consequences of that. The native flowers and animals are now extinct, and Pachamama asks, ‘How did we get here?’ It is a long trail, one that is wrapped up in intercultural relationships across the planet.”

Frank describes Pachamama as “a mix of a requiem and an opera … There are solos for different sections and solo instruments, while the choir narrates the story.” Frank uses indigenous musical techniques, including humming and surging to the ends of phrases, in the manner of a crescendo. The text of her poem is written in English, Spanish, and Peruvian Quechua.

“In our modern day global climate crisis, lands are increasingly fallow, polluted rivers astonishingly burst into flames, and animals (such as the amanto fish, the puna grebe duck, and the viscacha chinchilla rodent) disappear into extinction,” Frank writes. “Gifts from the past – especially odes – must be looked at with new and searching eyes.”

 

Alban Berg
1885-1935

Seven Early Songs

Work composed: Between 1905 and July 1908, originally for medium voice and piano; Berg later revised and arranged them for high voice and orchestra in 1928. Dedicated to “meiner Helene,” Berg’s wife, Helene Nahowski.
First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: solo soprano, 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, trumpet, 2 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, celesta, harp, and strings.
Estimated duration: 15 minutes

When Alban Berg began studying music with Arnold Schoenberg, the 19-year-old civil servant had already composed more than 80 lieder, although his prior musical training had been spotty. Berg learned piano as a child, and later pursued musical studies on his own during his chaotic teenage years (Alban’s father died when he was 15; two years later, Berg fathered a child with a housemaid in his family’s employ). Berg spent seven years with Schoenberg, from 1904–1911; in the first three years he learned music theory and counterpoint, and spent the last four years on his own compositions.

Berg’s youthful affinity for songs and lyrical melodies remained a central component of all his subsequent music. Although he incorporated much of his teacher’s austere aesthetic regarding dodecaphonic (12-tone) writing, Berg’s music retains an emotional core. Musical notes were not simply abstract building blocks for Berg; no matter how far he wanders from tonality, his music conveys a lush, expansive sound world suggestive of Richard Strauss’ operas and love poems. This is particularly true of Berg’s songs, whose passionate lyrics are taken from poems by several of Germany’s most prominent early 20th-century poets.

The Seven Early Songs were inspired by Helene Nahowski, a renowned singer whom Berg first met in 1906; they married in 1911. Berg interprets the words of all seven songs with an opulence that also conveys intimacy, like a lover whispering to their beloved. The orchestra accompaniment is understated and atmospheric, lending color and depth to specific words without overpowering the solo voice.

 

Ludwig Van Beethoven
1770–1827

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral”

Work composed: Beethoven made preliminary sketches in 1817–18, but most of the music was composed between 1822–24. Beethoven finished his Ninth Symphony in February 1824 and dedicated it to King Frederick William III of Prussia.
Oregon Symphony performance history: Last subscription performances, Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony on February 9–11, 2013
Instrumentation: soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, four-part mixed chorus, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings.
Estimated duration: 70 minutes

The Ninth Symphony extends far beyond the realm of the concert hall and has permeated Western culture on many levels, including socio-political and commercial arenas. The music of the Ninth, particularly the “Ode to Joy” melody, is so familiar to us that it has almost lost its unique character and taken on the quality of folk music; that is, it has shed its “composed” identity (a melody written by Ludwig van Beethoven), and simply exists within the communal ear of our collective consciousness.

While some classical works are inextricably linked to the time in which they were written, Beethoven’s profound musical statements about freedom, equality, and humanity resonate just as powerfully today as they did at the Ninth’s premiere 200 years ago. This was evident to the entire world when Leonard Bernstein conducted an international assembly of instrumentalists and singers in a historic performance of Beethoven’s Ninth at East Berlin’s Schauspielhaus (now Konzerthaus) on December 22, 1989, three days after the fall of the Berlin Wall. To emphasize the historic event, Bernstein substituted the word “freedom” for “joy” in the famous lyrics by poet Friedrich Schiller in the final movement. The performance aired on worldwide television, and attracted more than 200 million viewers.

By 1822, Beethoven had become completely deaf and was emotionally isolated. Five years earlier, when he was 47, Beethoven wrote in his journal, “Before my departure for the Elysian fields I must leave behind me what the Eternal Spirit has infused into my soul and bids me complete.” Alone and embittered, Beethoven focused almost exclusively on his musical legacy.

The lofty salute to the human spirit expressed in Schiller’s poem An die Freude (To Joy) had resonated with Beethoven for many years; in 1790 he set a few lines in a cantata written to commemorate the death of Emperor Leopold II; he also included portions of Schiller’s poem in his opera Fidelio. “The search for a way to express joy,” as Beethoven described it, was the subject of his final symphony. To that end, Beethoven edited and arranged Schiller’s lines to suit his musical and dramatic needs, using a melody from the Choral Fantasy he had written 20 years earlier.

The symphony opens with the strings sounding a series of hollow open chords, neither major or minor, which are harmonically ambiguous – what key is this? The fifths build into a massive statement featuring a weighty dotted rhythmic theme. The power and intensity of this movement foreshadows the finale.

As was his wont, Beethoven broke with symphonic convention by writing a second-movement scherzo. The music bursts forth with dramatic string octaves and pounding timpani. The main theme, a contrapuntal fugue, gives way to a demure wind melody. Underneath its playful simplicity, the barely contained agitation of the scherzo pulses in the strings, like a racehorse pawing at the starting gate.

In a symphony synonymous with innovation, Beethoven’s most significant departure from convention is the inclusion, for the first time, of a chorus and vocal soloists in a formerly exclusively instrumental genre. The cellos and basses play an instrumental recitative, later sung by the baritone, which is followed by the unaccompanied “Joy” melody. The baritone soloist introduces Schiller’s poem with words of Beethoven’s: “O friends, not these tones; instead, let us strike up more pleasing and joyful ones.” The chorus repeats the last four lines of each stanza as a refrain, followed by the vocal quartet. A famous interlude, the Turkish March, follows (this music was considered “Turkish” because of the inclusion of the triangle, cymbals and bass drum, exotic additions to the orchestra of Beethoven’s time). After a number of variations, the chorus returns with a monumental concluding double fugue. 

 

© 2021 Elizabeth Schwartz

Elizabeth Schwartz is a freelance writer, musician, and music historian based in Portland. In addition to annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony, Chamber Music Northwest, and other arts organizations around the country, she has contributed to the nationally syndicated radio program “Performance Today,” produced by American Public Media. www.classicalmusicprogramnotes.com