Winds, Brass & Percussion Spotlight
Joan Tower, born September 6, 1938 (New Rochelle, New York) is today one of the most successful and admired composers in America, though her creative skills, by her own admission, developed “slowly, quietly, and patiently.” From 1969 to 1984, she was the pianist of the Da Capo Chamber Players; her composing career took off only in 1981, with her first orchestral commission, the symphonic poem Sequoia. She has since written dozens of works, many of them commissioned, in many genres. (Vocal music excepted: she views herself as “a choreographer of sound” motivated by “structure” and “context”—words are irrelevant.)
Performers and audiences respond enthusiastically to the boldness and energy, the strong imagery and individual “personality” of Tower’s music, as well as its craftsmanship and novel structures. Her works are now prestigiously published and widely performed (not only in America), and many have been recorded, most notably on the Naxos label. She has received many awards and honours over the years, and has been the subject of television documentaries; in 1990, she became the first woman to receive the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, and in 1998, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Since 1972, she has taught at Bard College, near New York.
Tower’s five short Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman, composed between 1986 and 1993 and inspired by Aaron Copland’s beloved Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), are dedicated to “women who take risks and are adventurous in their actions and goals.” Only No. 4 is for full orchestra (the others are for brass ensembles with or without percussion); it was commissioned, with funding from AT&T, by the Kansas City Symphony, which gave the première on October 16, 1992. (Tower later renamed it simply For the Uncommon Woman.) The music is less self-consciously optimistic than Copland’s wartime original, more conflicted and dramatic—but equally impressive.
Tower’s Fanfares have been performed by more than five hundred ensembles, and all five appeared on a 1999 Koch International Classics CD, featuring the Colorado Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop.
From the Composer
“Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No. 1 was inspired by Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and employs, in fact, the same instrumentation. In addition, the original theme resembles the first theme in the Copland. It is dedicated to women who take risks and who are adventurous. Written under the Fanfare Project and commissioned by the Houston Symphony, the premiere performance was on January 10, 1987, with the Houston Symphony, Hans Vonk, conductor. This work is dedicated to the conductor Marin Alsop,” writes Tower.
Dvořák and Mozart shared an ease and naturalness of invention that allowed them to compose quickly and with little apparent effort. Both of them also enjoyed composing light music, without apology; their efforts in this direction show no falling-off in their lofty creative standards. Dvořák's lighter creations including dances, suites, bagatelles, rhapsodies, and serenades are delightful, unpretentious works. His original intention was to compose three serenades, but he only completed two; the third became the Czech Suite, Op. 39. All these works follow 18th-century models but their personalities are strongly infused with Dvořák Romantic, folk-flavoured style.
First came the Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22. Created in a 12-day spurt during May 1875, it is one of the earliest works by Dvořák to receive regular international performances. Its sunny nature reflects a recent upturn in his career; a grant from the Austrian government meant that at last he would have more time for composition.
The Serenade in D Minor for winds and strings was also written quickly, between January 4 and 18, 1878. The Slavonic Rhapsodies, Op. 45 and the first set of Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 followed soon afterwards. The freshness and exoticism of the dances won Dvořák his longed-for breakthrough to fame outside his homeland. The Serenade received its premiere at an all- Dvořák concert on November 17th in Prague; this occasion also marked Dvořák’s debut as a conductor. By the time it was published a year later, the composer attached a dedication to German music critic Louis Ehlert. His enthusiastic reviews of Dvořák’s music, beginning with the Slavonic dances, did much to stimulate its popularity.
Following the guidelines of 18th-century serenades designed to be performed outdoors, Dvořák scored the work for pairs of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, one contrabassoon, three horns, cello and double bass. Reviewing an early performance in Budapest, the critic of the newspaper Pester Lloyd wrote, "Only a master writes like this; only a poet by God's grace has such inspiration."
As in a typical Mozart serenade, it opens with a march; this one projects a certain stateliness of bearing but the tone is no more than mock-serious. Although Dvořák called the following movement a “Minuet,” it is much closer to a sousedská (“neighbours' dance), a gracious Bohemian waltz. Dvořák introduces another of his country's folk dances, the vivacious, cross-rhythmed furiant, as the central Trio section. Next comes a long-breathed romance, sweet-natured yet rising regularly to moments of passionate expression. A lively Finale closes the serenade, but not without a final bend of the knee to Classical tradition via a momentary recollection of the opening march.
Program note by Don Anderson
Alongside his many accomplishments as a composer, Steve Reich is living proof that a tremendous sense of variety is compatible with the minimalist aesthetic in music. The aptly named Music for Pieces of Wood, composed in 1973, presents a compelling case for how much musical material can be conjured from a basic combination of instruments. It is through this contrast between reactants and products that we can appreciate the composer’s comment: “This piece is one of the loudest I have ever composed, but uses no amplification whatsoever.”
The instruments in this case are five wood claves of various pitches (A, B, C#, D#, and D# an octave above), with each player arranged in an order specified by the composer. For Reich, the process by which musical elements are achieved is inseparable from the music itself. This mantra, finding minimalist expression in Clapping Music (1972), is further developed in the achievement and dissolution of synchronicity in Music for Pieces of Wood. The first point of contact—of a work which has been described as “pointillism in sound”—begins, on the claves with the highest pitch, as a rapidly oscillating metronome. It is to this quick pulse that the other four claves enter in canon. In the next approximately eleven minutes, there are about fifty rhythmic shifts across the five claves, at times shifting between 6/4 and 12/8 rhythms or 4/4 to 3/4 time (near the abrupt finale). An element of spontaneity and improvisation enters with Reich’s recommendation for performers to approximate the number of times bars are repeated, the result of which is variety in the lengths of performances.
Originally trained as a jazz drummer, to complement his B. A. in Philosophy, Reich went on to study composition with American composer Hall Overton and enrolled in Juilliard in 1958. With an emphasis on austerity, repetition, and variation, his style looked away from Western Classical tradition and towards the music of African, Asian, and Jewish traditions. Having turned 85 in October 2021, he is known as one of America’s greatest living composers, a bastion of originality and musical curiosity that achieved the ultimate mark of scholarly erudition: simplicity.
These days he maintains public activity mostly via his Twitter and Facebook accounts (through the proxy of his publisher), on which a steady stream of international orchestras, with programs featuring his works, is constantly flowing.
Program note by Michael Zarathus-Cook
Igor Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum, Russia, on June 17, 1882, and died in New York, New York, USA, on April 6, 1971. He composed the Symphonies of Wind Instruments in 1920. Serge Koussevitzky conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in the premiere, at the Queen’s Hall on June 10, 1921. It runs approximately 10 minutes in performance.
Stravinsky vaulted into the international spotlight when, on the evening of June 25, 1910, the first performance of his ballet The Firebird won a huge success at the Paris Opéra. He and the already eminent French composer Claude Debussy were introduced backstage that same night. The two musical giants remained friends for the eight remaining years of Debussy’s life. The depth of their mutual admiration may be measured by Debussy’s dedication of the third piece in his two-piano suite En blanc et noir (Black and White) to Stravinsky. Stravinsky returned the tribute by inscribing the cantata The King of the Stars to Debussy.
Debussy’s death in 1918, at just 56 years of age, moved Stravinsky deeply. Two years later, he accepted one of the 10 commissions that Henry Prunières, the editor of a Parisian magazine, La Revue musicale, gave out for brief compositions dedicated to Debussy’s memory. He sketched his contribution, a solemn chorale, in Carantec, a fishing village in the French province of Brittany. A piano reduction was published in the December 1920 issue of the magazine. By that time he had decided to make it the concluding section of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Working backwards from it, he had completed the full work in July, in Garches on the outskirts of Paris.
The London premiere in 1921 followed just three days after a highly successful concert performance of his thunderous ballet score The Rite of Spring. It appeared at the end of a lengthy, varied programme of Russian works. The repertoire ranged from the colourful folksiness of The Golden Cockerel by Stravinsky’s teacher, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, to the mystical, wild-eyed modernities of Aleksandr Scriabin’s Prometheus, the Poem of Fire.
Stravinsky’s work was met with a mixture of praise, laughter and hissing. Although he rose to acknowledge the applause, he was not at all satisfied with certain aspects of the performance, Koussevitzky’s conducting for one. In a letter to the newspaper Weekly Dispatch, he wrote, “The audience did not hiss enough. I make no reproach against the splendid musicians, but the score of my music was not crafted, and I myself did not know it was my own work. Will you allow me to say that there is no intention of jesting in it? On the contrary it is a composition which represents my most serious reflections and aims at the present time. The radical misunderstanding was that an attempt was made to impose an external pathos on the music.”
Recalling the occasion in his autobiographical Chronicle, he had further negative comments to make: “In the first place, it was badly situated in the programme. This music, composed for a score of wind instruments—an ensemble to which audiences were not accustomed at that time and whose sonority was bound to seem rather disappointing—was placed immediately after the pompous marches from The Golden Cockerel with their well-known orchestral brilliance. And this is what happened. As soon as the marches were finished, three quarters of the instrumentalists left their seats, and on the vast stage of the Queen’s Hall I saw my 20 players still in their places at the back of the platform at an enormous distance from the conductor. The sight was most peculiar. To see a conductor gesticulating in front of an empty space, with all the more effort because the players he was supposed to be conducting were so far off, was disturbing enough. To control a group of instruments at such a distance is an extremely difficult task. It was particularly so on this occasion because the character of my music needed the most delicate care if it was to reach and win the ear of the public.” He went on to describe the piece itself as “an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of homogeneous instruments.”
His use of the word symphony refers to its original meaning, a sounding together of instruments, rather than its later application to a large-scale work for orchestra. This fascinating composition appeared at a transitional moment in his career. It signalled clearly his move away from the colourful world of such early works as The Firebird and Pétrouchka, in which the warm, romantic sound of massed strings figured prominently. It initiated his entrée into the lean, tart world of neo-classicism, with its greater emphasis on the cooler, more abstract and less emotional sonorities of winds. The ballet Pulcinella, which he had begun before composing the Symphonies but did not complete until afterwards, solidified the shift.
As with The Firebird and Petrouchka, many of the thematic materials in the Symphonies are Russian folk themes: two popular songs, a pastoral melody and a “wild dance.” Stravinsky, however, presents them in an objective, stripped-down mosaic style much different from the earlier folkloristic works. The nature of the materials, with their modal harmonies, gives the work a distinctly archaic flavour. It sounds not unlike a medieval (or earlier) ceremony, perhaps, appropriately in regard to its connection with Debussy, a service for the dead.
Its communication of personal, and perhaps also religious feeling in an unsentimental way is entirely typical of Stravinsky. To quote author Richard Taruskin, “In the most literal and self-evident sense, it is a chant. And that is what could only have been expected from Stravinsky, the reinventor of rites. Not from him a spontaneous lament from the ephemeral heart. He could be counted on to make his beloved friend a properly liturgical obsequy.”
Program note by Don Anderson
“I have always considered myself a composer who tried to express the music of today with my own personal feelings. I'm more interested in the quality and expression of music than I am in novelty. Many composers think music is like the car business; every year there has to be a new model.” November 17, 1969. The Globe and Mail.
Precocious self-taught composer Oskar Morawetz was appointed assistant conductor of the Prague Opera at just 19. With the Nazi invasion of 1938, he fled Czechoslovakia in 1940 after several attempts to appeal the Canadian Immigration Department’s denial of his visa application. Within four years in Toronto, Morawetz—who would become the first composer to be awarded the Order of Ontario—completed his Bachelor of Music at the University of Toronto and began teaching music composition from 1946 until retirement in 1982. This background of fortitude and dexterous adjustment to life in a new country informed his tendency to integrate the old and new into his own polyphonic compositional style. In a century wherein composers brandished technique for technique’s sake, Morawetz allowed the emotional realm to hold the reins, coloured occasionally by a “vigorous Slavic temperament.”
When the TSO premiered his Sinfonietta for Strings in November 1969, Blaik Kirby of The Globe and Mail said the event was the launch of a de facto festival for the composer. As it happened, six cities were performing approximately a dozen works by Morawetz that month.
“It’s doubtful if another Canadian composer has ever had that happen,” Kirby observed. Indeed, Morawetz remains one of the most widely performed Canadian artists of the last 60 years. Part of his appeal is owed to an individuality in expression able to withstand the gale force of the various musical trends of the century. The result was an output equal parts prolific and dynamic—writing with one hand a Tribute to W. A. Mozart and, with the other, a Memorial to Martin Luther King.
Following the first prize award for his Piano Concerto in a Montreal Symphony Orchestra competition in 1962, Morawetz’s Sinfonia for Winds and Percussion premiered in 1966—under Zubin Mehta—and won the International Competition for Contemporary Music in the same year. The work has been lauded for its sharp contrasts in orchestral colours, a striking example of a unique style that was “Classical in format, Romantic in spirit, Impressionistic in coloring, and Modernistic in harmonic usage.”
Program note by Michael Zarathus-Cook
Gustavo Gimeno begins his first full season as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with the return to in-person performances in November, 2021. Maestro Gimeno has programmed a 2021/22 season that reflects his expansive artistic vision, intellectual curiosity, and sense of adventure, and will conduct eleven subscription programs.
He is known for his passion for exploring how well-known classical works contrast and illuminate repertoire across many musical genres and styles of diverse composers. He made his Canadian début with the TSO in February 2018, and returned in June 2019 to conduct the suite from Stravinsky's celebrated ballet The Firebird. In October 2019, he conducted Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé to critical acclaim, with the Toronto Star stating “Gimeno revealed himself to be a focused, meticulous leader whose main goal was to let the composer’s ideas speak clearly…. The Toronto Symphony will be in sure artistic hands for the foreseeable future.”
Gustavo Gimeno has been the Music Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (OPL) since 2015, appearing with the orchestra in many of the most prestigious concert halls throughout Europe. He is a much sought-after guest conductor worldwide, performing with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, and is regularly invited to the Concertgebouworkest. In the U.S, Gustavo has conducted with the National Symphony Orchestra Washington, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston and Chicago symphony orchestras, The Cleveland Orchestra, and many more. He is in demand as a conductor of opera, with past appearances at Liceu Opera Barcelona (Verdi’s Aida), Zurich Opera (Verdi’s Rigoletto), and Valencia Opera House (Bellini’s Norma), where he is scheduled to conduct Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel in 2022.
As part of his touring engagements, Gustavo has conducted alongside soloists Daniel Barenboim, Gautier Capuçon, Anja Harteros, Leonidas Kavakos, Bryn Terfel, Yuja Wang, and Frank Peter Zimmermann. A highlight has been performances of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos with Krystian Zimerman.
In 2020, Gimeno conducted the world premiere of Francisco Coll’s Violin Concerto, written for Patricia Kopatchinskaja and co-commissioned with NTR ZaterdagMatinee, London Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony and Bamberger Symphoniker. During 2021, Pentatone released a recording of the Violin Concerto with Kopatchinskaja, Gimeno and OPL as part of a Coll monograph. Gimeno’s catalogue on Pentatone with OPL also includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1 and Bruckner’s Symphony No.1, Ravel’s complete ballet music to Daphnis et Chloé, Mahler’s Symphony No.4, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle and César Franck’s Symphony in D minor.
Gustavo will make his debut with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony in 2021 and 2022.
Born in Valencia, Spain, Gustavo Gimeno began his international conducting career in 2012 as assistant to Mariss Jansons, while he was a member of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He also gained invaluable experience as assistant to Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado, who strongly supported and influenced him in many respects as a mentor.
For more detailed information, please visit Gustavo Gimeno’s website.
Gustavo Gimeno's appearances are generously supported by Susan Brenninkmeyer in memory of Hans Brenninkmeyer.
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