Storytelling at Carnegie Hall
Speaker 1: Where to?
Speaker 2: Carnegie Hall, please.
Speaker 3: Here are your ticket, enjoy the show.
Speaker 4: Your ticket, please. Follow me.
Jeff Spurgeon: On this season of Carnegie Hall Live, we're listening to highlights from the past 10 years of our concert broadcasts. I'm Jeff Spurgeon welcoming you to this episode devoted to music written in order to tell stories and paint pictures. Not all classical music does that. Lots of symphonies, chamber music, and solo instrumental pieces are what is called absolute music or abstract music. The music is in its own world. It doesn't refer to anything else.
Program music, on the other hand, does contain references to things in the world. The music isn't about just itself, it makes a picture, suggests an idea, tells a story. In music by Berlioz we're going to take you a wandering through mountains in Italy. In a work by Revueltas, we'll explore a clash of cultures in Mexico, and in poetry settings by Wolf, we'll experience spring, meet a sleepy elf, and feel the terror of fire.
Now to begin, some very familiar music from Gioacchino Rossini's opera about the legendary Swiss hero, William Tell, who refused to bow down to a foreign overlord. Shot an apple off his son's head to demonstrate his skill with a crossbow and inspired the Swiss people to rise up into a nation. That's the legend. Rossini's overture paints four distinct pictures. First sunrise, then a storm, then the calm after the cloudburst, and finally, a march of Victoria Swiss soldiers.
Although they aren't marching, they're galloping. No wonder the gallop became so famous in the 20th century as the radio and TV theme of the mass vigilante known as The Lone Ranger. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Here are conductor Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony with Rossini's William Tell overture a concert performance captured in Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Rossini: William Tell: Overture]
Jeff Spurgeon: There isn't an audience in the world that can resist the excitement of that famous music. That was Rossini's overture to his opera, William Tell, performed by Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony in 2018, and broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live. This program of performances chosen from 10 years of these broadcasts, celebrates music, composed to paint a picture or tell a story. Our next group of works comes from Austrian composer, Hugo Wolf.
When the Berliner Philharmoniker, as the orchestra likes to be called, and then music director, Sir Simon Rattle, came to Carnegie Hall in 2012, they brought Mahler and Bruckner symphonies, familiar works by Elgar and WC, and three unusual songs for orchestra and choir by Hugo Wolf, Frühlingschor, Spring Chorus, from an opera that Wolf left unfinished, Elfenlied, an elf song based on the Ye Spotted Snakes song in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a poem by Eduard Mörike, mysterious and fit for Halloween called, Der Feuerreiter, The Fire Rider. Sir Simon Rattle gave us a cliffs notes version of each of these musical stories.
Sir Simon Rattle: The Frühlingschor is a wonderful dancing celebration of the coming of spring, very simply, and because the music is not simple at all, the harmony is very strange and [unintelligible 00:15:29] as it so often with Wolf, but it's quite a simple idea. The Elfenlied is a real tiny gossamer web spun out of almost nothing with an ending that sounds like no other music except for [unintelligible 00:15:48] even though it's with such a tiny orchestra.
The Feuerreiter is a tale of woe and destruction, what happens to rural communities when fire hits, and who is the fire rider who comes on his boney mag and is a skeleton, and the skeleton is found burnt to pieces at the end. It's almost a cautionary tale for your kids. The pieces, it's 16 minutes, but when we performed them last week for the first time, it seemed like they'd gone by in 5. They are real little forgotten gems.
Jeff Spurgeon: Sir Simon Rattle, who now conducts soprano, Camilla Tilling, the Westminster Symphonic Choir, and the Berliner Philharmoniker, in three musical stories by Hugo Wolf. In a moment, the elf song and The Fire Rider, and first, the Spring Chorus, performed and broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Westminster Symphonic Choir and Camilla Tilling, sopranos Wolf: “Frühlingschor” from Manuel Venegas, Elfenlied, Der Feuerreiter]
Jeff Spurgeon: Three stories given musical life by composer, Hugo Wolf, performed by conductors, Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker along with soprano, Camilla Tilling, and the 140-voice Westminster Symphonic Choir of New Jersey. You heard the Spring Chorus from Wolf's unfinished opera, Manuel Venegas, an elves song based on a moment in Shakespeare's, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Fire Rider, strange, sinister, and singular tales spun by poet, Eduard Mörike.
This is a pandemic-year presentation of archival highlights from concert's first broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live. This program brings you music that tells stories and paints pictures. Now, if we've shaken off The Rire Rider, we are ready to go south of the border and back in time in a work by Mexican composer, Silvestre Revueltas. We're going to hear the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela and conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. The orchestra was founded in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu.
It comprises more than 200 young musicians, ages 18 to 28. Most of them were trained in the El Sistema music program in Venezuela, the countrywide initiative to give musical instruments and intensive training, free of charge, to impoverished children. It's been a model for music programs throughout the world. In their 2012 concert in Carnegie Hall, they brought works from Latin America, including La Noche de los Mayas, Night of the Mayas.
It's from a film score Revueltas wrote for a 1939 Mexican movie of that title. Revueltas wrote the score, but he died the year after the film came out. The concert work we are about to hear is an arrangement made a couple of decades later by Mexican conductor, José Limantour. Limantour added a big extended cadenza for the percussion section, and since then, other composers have written their own cadenzas.
The one in this performance is by Mexican composer and conductor, Enrique Diemecke. It includes a terrific xylophone solo, and 10 other percussionists as well play in this thing, doing some improvising along the way. The film shot on location in the Yucatán Peninsula tells the story of Mayan people and what happens to them when they meet a white explorer, drama and heartbreak, a Mexican tragedy of long, long ago.
The film hasn't had the same shelf life as this work, so let your mind make the images as you listen. The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, bring you Silvestre Revueltas' La Noche de los Mayas, in a performance from Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Revueltas: La Noche de los Mayas] [applause]
Jeff Spurgeon: A great applause for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Gustavo Dudamel after a 2012 performance in Carnegie Hall. 11 percussionists improvising in several places, even shouting and playing a conch shell. That was La Noche de los Mayas, The Night of the Mayas by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, originally a film score, but orchestrated as a concert suite in 1959, 20 years after the composer's death. This is a program of highlights from 10 years of concert broadcasts from Carnegie Hall. In just a moment, a trip to Italy. I'm Jeff Spurgeon, and this is Carnegie Hall Live.
We would prefer to be bringing you brand new music making from Carnegie Hall, but as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we still have great pleasure in listening again to some of the remarkable concerts we've had the privilege to bring you from Carnegie Hall Live. This program features music that paints pictures and tells stories. The next work we'll hear is by Hector Berlioz, Harold in Italy. It was inspired to some degree by a romantic epic poem by Lord Byron about a disillusioned young man traveling wearily through the world. Berlioz called the work a Symphony with Viola Obbligato, which most people would call a concerto, but Conductor John Eliot Gardiner says, it's really a tone poem, and it's really about Berlioz.
John Eliot Gardiner: It's Berlioz on his travels because he went to Rome, having at the fourth attempt, won the Prix de Rome, and he hated pretty well everything about Rome until he went jogging in the mountains, near Abruzzi mountains. Then he loved it because what for him was so exciting was the kind of folklore and the peasant musical instruments that he heard, the pifferari, which you hear in a third movement of Harold in Italy, almost like panpipes and oboes, very crude versions of oboes. For him, the Abruzzi mountains suggested the life of brigands and [unintelligible 01:07:24] who used to go everywhere with a couple of pistols in his belt. Didn't matter if he was going out for dinner party or if he was going to a concert, he always had his pistols with him. We don't know whether you have to use them, but he was a kind of would-be brigand.
Jeff Spurgeon: Sir John Eliot Gardiner on how much of Berlioz and how little of Byron there is in Harold in Italy. It's absolutely clear listening to Sir John Eliot how important it is that the audience, as well as the orchestra, really get to the heart of this music, really understand what it's about. Berlioz said he wanted to write a series of orchestral scenes in which the solo viola would be an active participant. In this performance, the viola, or rather the violist, Antoine Tamestit, is an active participant with the orchestra, not standing in front of it, but moving among the players roaming through the music stands while playing his part. Tamestit told us how he and Sir John Eliot came up with this idea.
Antoine Tamestit: The first meeting, he kind of went through the piece, and we talked about it, he explained it, and little by little staging ideas came to life. I was not so surprised at first because it was small things like playing near the harp, but then little by little, he took really more and more importance in the whole thing, and now with this tour, he took actually more importance every concert and he added new things.
He really reveals the secrets of this piece to somebody who doesn't know anything about music. You understand or you think you understand the storyline or where he's going, in which mountain, in which countryside landscape, who he's meeting, is it a flute player or a harp player or a horn player? Now, sometimes I think, "My God, what am I doing walking around playing at the same time, having to act at the same time," but it works if I concentrate on the music because that's what he explained to me. He explained every bar, every harmony. He's fantastic [unintelligible 01:09:27].
Jeff Spurgeon: Violist Antoine Tamestit, but for the next few minutes, you can call him Harold in Italy. Sir John Eliot Gardiner did, he called him Harold and Antoine, and Waldo because Sir John Eliot said, he didn't always know where Tamestit was wandering in the orchestra during a performance. Here is Hector Berlioz's Harold in Italy. Violist Antoine Tamestit and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner in a 2018 concert performance from Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Hector Berlioz: Harold in Italy] [applause]
Jeff Spurgeon: We just took a trip with composer Hector Berlioz and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Berlioz's Harold in Italy, inspired a little bit by a Lord Byron poem. Our conductor was the orchestra's founder, Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Our Harold was the viola soloist Antoine Tamestit, who performed while walking among the music stands and players on the stage of Carnegie Hall. This program is all musical storytelling and picture painting, and we have time for one more work.
In our 10 years of broadcasting this Carnegie Hall Live series, we've had the pleasure more than once of presenting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Founded in 1999 by Conductor Daniel Barenboim and Writer and Scholar Edward Said, the orchestra's mission is to bring musicians together from a variety of backgrounds throughout Europe and the Middle East to experience coexistence and to hear many voices in and out of music.
For the last piece on this program, we are going to hear Camille Saint-Saëns' The Swan, performed by the Orchestra and Soloist Kian Soltani, a cellist born in Austria to a family of Iranian musicians. The Swan is the most famous movement in Saint-Saëns' suite, Carnival of the Animals. It's also the only movement of the suite the composer allowed to be publicly performed during his lifetime. He thought the music might be perceived as frivolous and would hurt his reputation. Also, he made fun of other cocomposers' works in some of the suite, but not in The Swan. Here it is with Daniel Barenboim, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and Cellist Kian Soltani from Carnegie Hall Live.
MUSIC - Camille Saint-Saëns: The Swan
Jeff Spurgeon: A simple, beautiful picture inspired by an animal famed for its beauty. The Swan from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, performed by Cellist Kian Soltani, Conductor Daniel Barenboim, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. With great thanks to the staff of Carnegie Hall and the production team at WQXR, that concludes our special program of stories told and pictures painted in music. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. Thank you so much for listening. Carnegie Hall Live is a coproduction of Carnegie Hall and WQXR in New York.
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