This Suite is taken from the ballet Billy the Kid written for the American Ballet Caravan at the suggestion of its director Lincoln Kirstein and based on a story by Eugene Loring. The following is a quotation from an article by Aaron Copland, Notes on a Cowboy Ballet.
The ballet begins and ends on the open prairie. The first scene is a street in a frontier town. Cowboys saunter into town, some on horseback, others on foot with their lassos; some Mexican women do a jarabe, which is interrupted by a fight between two drunks. Attracted by the gathering crowd, Billy is seen for the first time, a boy of twelve, with his mother. The brawl turns ugly, guns are drawn, and in some unaccountable way, Billy’s mother is killed. Without an instant’s hesitation, in cold fury, Billy draws a knife from a cowhand’s sheath and stabs his mother’s slayers. His short but famous career has begun. In swift succession we see episodes in Billy’s later life—at night, under the stars, in a quiet card game with his outlaw friends, hunted by a posse led by his former friend Pat Garrett, in a gun battle. A drunken celebration takes place when he is captured. Billy makes one of his legendary escapes from prison. Tired and worn out in the desert, Billy rests with his girl. Finally the posse catches up with him.
John Cheever (1912-1982) was one of the most important American short fiction writers of the 20th century. Sometimes called “the Chekhov of the suburbs,” his stories are mostly set in the Upper East side and the New York suburbs. His themes focus on the duality of human nature, often expressed as the disparity between a character’s decorous social persona and inner corruption. A compilation of his short stories, The Stories Of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its first paperback edition won a 1981 National Book Award. —from Wikipedia
In 1979 Jonathan Tunick was engaged by WNET to compose the music for a series of television dramas based on Cheever’s short stories. The composer has adapted some of his music from the series into a suite for full orchestra entitled “Cheever Country“, in three movements:
I. The Five Forty-Eight: A commuter train en route from Grand Central Station to the suburbs.
II. Amy’s Theme: Amy, an eight-year-old girl, attempts to discourage her parents’ excessive drinking by pouring their liquor down the drain. A succession of housekeepers are blamed for this and fired, until Amy is revealed as the culprit. Realizing the pain they are causing their daughter, Amy’s parents resolve to seek treatment.
III. Shady Hill Sequence: A theme and variations describing a suburban town, superficially idyllic but with an undertone of decadence.
“Thinking like a mountain” is a term coined by Aldo Leopold in his influential book A Sand County Almanac. In the section entitled “Sketches Here and There” Leopold discusses the thought process as a holistic view on where one stands in the entire ecosystem.
The essay “Thinking Like A Mountain” crystallizes Aldo Leopold’s philosophy about the balance of nature and our ethical relationship towards its preservation. It is the personal confession of one who momentarily upset that balance and whose remorse became the catalyst which prompted him to become a leader in the environmental movement.
In setting this powerful essay, I wanted to paint a portrait of the mountain. I was fascinated by the overlapping life cycles of the many elements which shared the mountain’s space, from the slow progression of the rocks to the flickering instant of the insects. They simultaneously inhabited the same world and I saw a parallel in the music, where multiple tempos and melodic lines can co-exist. Rather than illustrating the literal sound effects of nature, this music seeks to give voice to an inner natural order built on the primary elements of acoustics as described by Pythagoras. At this level, mathematics and the natural order have much in common with the structure of mountains. This composition was commissioned by a consortium including Explore Park in Virginia, The Billings Symphony in Montana, The Elgin Symphony in Illinois and the Shanghai Symphony in China.
A Little Night Music, suggested by Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night, is a romantic and sophisticated musical comedy, one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular works. Swimming in a giddy atmosphere of romance, mystery and the waltz, there is no better example of its author’s penchant for an erudite, whimsical and knowing chuckle at the human condition.
In 2015 Jonathan Tunick created an orchestral suite from the score for a Sondheim Celebration concert at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. This performance marks the work’s New York premiere.
The songs included are: Night Waltz; Now/Later/Soon; You Must Meet my Wife; In Praise of Women; A Weekend in the Country; Send in the Clowns; Night Waltz (reprise).
The “Reformation” is one of Mendelssohn’s most programmatic works. As befits its title, the symphony’s first and last movements each contain elements of religious struggle and triumph. Though catalogued as Mendelssohn’s fifth symphony, it is actually his second “full” symphony, written in 1829-30, just three years after Beethoven’s death.
He originally composed his “church symphony” to be played at the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (which defined the doctrines of the Lutheran Church). For various reasons, however, his new symphony was not chosen for that occasion. Mendelssohn then sought out other venues for it to be performed, and it was eventually performed in Berlin and played at a rehearsal in Paris. Unfortunately, it was not favorably received by critics or musicians, even after Mendelssohn made revisions to it in 1832. He finally “shelved” the symphony for the remainder of his life, refusing to let others see it, and even contemplated destroying it. The symphony was finally published in 1868, over 20 years after his untimely death. Since four other Mendelssohn symphonies had already been published, this one was presented as his “Fifth” Symphony. Since then, it has made its way into the standard symphonic repertoire, albeit in Mendelssohn’s “revised” 1832 version. The version we’re performing today is the original 1829 version, which notably includes a rarely-performed Recitative movement before the Finale.
While written in Mendelssohn’s unique style, the “Reformation” contains references to other composers, including Mozart (opening theme based on four-note “Jupiter Symphony” theme); Bach (fugal and counterpoint sections in the fourth movement); and most interestingly, Beethoven – in the choice of key (D minor/Major), the use of a recitative before the last movement, and a last movement based on a hymn or song (all possibly hearkening back to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony).
The first movement opens in an “antique” polyphonic style reminiscent of Catholic Church ceremony, interrupted increasingly by strident brasses and woodwinds (possibly showing the Catholic order being challenged by the new Protestant movement). At the end of the opening Andante, Mendelssohn has the strings softly playing the “Dresden Amen” — a rising six-note theme. The fiery Allegro which follows is full of musical struggle and combat, with violent string passages met with wind outbursts based on a two-note theme (also derived from the “Dresden Amen”). The second movement is a carefree scherzo, with a singing trio section featuring oboes and strings. The intense third movement is an orchestral “song without words” featuring strings, oboes and bassoons, in turns introspective and impassioned. The Recitative, prominently featuring a solo flute and wind choirs, follows without a break. It leads directly into the choral finale based on the Lutheran hymn “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our God). The opening chorale is introduced by solo flute and woodwind choir. Mendelssohn develops the movement into increasingly faster variations, complete with Bachian counterpoint in the strings. He overlays passages from the chorale in the middle of the movement, and uses it again in the coda as an exclamation point to end the symphony in dramatic fashion.
A prominent Soviet and Armenian composer, Alexander Arutiunian fused Russian and Armenian musical traditions to form his own unique style. His compositions range from his “Motherland Cantata” (for which he won the Stalin prize in 1948) to his violin concerto (Armenia-88) in homage to a devastating earthquake.
He also wrote a series of well-regarded brass and woodwind concertos. Of these, the trumpet concerto, composed in 1950, is one of his best-known works and a staple of the trumpet solo literature. It is composed in seven sections played without a break. A dramatic improvisatory prelude transitions to a spritely allegro energico; slower introspective sections are interspersed with a periodic return to the “energico” theme. A brilliant cadenza and coda end the concerto with a flourish.
Brahms composed his violin concerto in the last half 1878, close on the heels of his second symphony. He worked on it closely with the Hungarian violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim (in fact, Joachim also wrote the cadenza most often heard in contemporary performances).
While originally conceived in four movements, this concerto has three — an opening Allego non troppo, a middle movement Adagio, and the final Allegro giocoso. It is practically symphonic in scope, with alternating passages by the orchestra and soloist designed to fully explore the rich thematic material.
The first movement opens with a lengthy orchestral exposition which contains most of the thematic material used by both the soloist and orchestra — a calm rising and falling triad (faintly reminiscent of the second symphony); an intense rising chromatic passage played in unison; a mysterious and soft descending three-note pattern; and an agitated and jagged dotted-note passage setting up the first entrance of the solo violin. The violin picks up on these themes and expands them, both in fiery passagework and lush melodies. The lengthy cadenza is a masterwork by Joachim, a tour-de-force of virtuosity and melody.
The second movement Adagio begins with a hushed wind choir, featuring a notable oboe solo, which is echoed by the solo violin. After an impassioned development, the opening theme returns with a violin obbligato on top of the original wind theme. The last movement is a gypsy-like rondo, ending with the theme restated as a march.