I Raise Up My Voice

Jessie Montgomery (b.1981): Banner

Born in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Montgomery received a Bachelor’s degree from the Juilliard School in Violin Performance in 2003. She joined Community MusicWorks in Providence, Rhode Island, and became a member of the Providence String Quartet. She was a founding member of PUBLIQuartet, and has performed in the Catalyst Quartet. She is currently touring with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. Since 1999, she has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which supports the accomplishments of young African-American and Latino string players. In 2012, she completed her graduate degree in Composition for Film and Multimedia at New York University.

In 2009 Montgomery was commissioned by the Providence String Quartet and Community MusicWorks to write Anthem: A tribute to the historical election of Barack Obama. “In that piece,” she says, “I wove together the theme from the Star Spangled Banner with the commonly named Black National Anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson (which coincidentally share the exact same phrase structure).

When the Sphinx Organization commissioned a new work, Montgomery responded with Banner, which was introduced in September, 2014 of that year at the New World Center in Miami. Montgomery calls the work “a tribute to the 200th Anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner…. Scored for solo string quartet and string orchestra, Banner is a rhapsody on the theme of the Star Spangled Banner. Drawing on musical and historical sources from various world anthems and patriotic songs, I’ve made an attempt to answer the question: ‘What does an anthem for the 21st century sound like in today’s multicultural environment?’ Banner picks up where Anthem left off by using a similar backbone source in its middle section, but expands further both in the amount of references and also in the role play of the string quartet as the individual voice working both with and against the larger community of the orchestra behind them…. The Star Spangled Banner is an ideal subject for exploration in contradictions. For most Americans the song represents a paradigm of liberty and solidarity against fierce odds, and for others it implies a contradiction between the ideals of freedom and the realities of injustice and oppression.”

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990): Songfest

Subtitled “A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra,” Songfest was originally commissioned for the American Bicentennial Year (1976). It wasn’t finished in time, so the world premiere took place on October 11, 1977 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Bernstein conducted the National Symphony Orchestra, with soloists Clamma Dale, soprano; Rosalind Elias, mezzo-soprano; Nancy Williams, mezzo-soprano; Neil Rosenshein, tenor; John Reardon, bass; and Donald Gramm, bass-baritone.

During the two years of its composition, Bernstein had considered a number of titles before settling on Songfest for the premiere. These included An American Songfest, Six Characters in Search of an Opera, Notes Toward an American Opera, The Glorious Fourth, Mortal Melodies, A Secular Service and Ballet for Voices, among others.

In his program note on the Bernstein website, Jack Gottlieb wrote that Bernstein’s purpose was “to draw a comprehensive picture of America’s artistic past, as seen in 1976 through the eyes of a contemporary artist. The composer has envisioned this picture through the words of 13 po­ets embracing 300 years of the country’s history. The subject matter of their poetry is the American artist’s experience as it relates to his or her crea­tivity, loves, marriages, or minority problems (blacks, women, homosexuals, expatriates) within a fundamentally Puritan society.

“The strongest binding musical force in the Cycle is that of unabashed eclecticism, freely reflecting the pluralistic nature of our most eclectic country. The composer believes that with the ever-increasing evidence of this unfettered approach to writing new music, typical of many other composers to­day, we are moving closer to defining ‘American music’. In a musical world that is becoming ever more international, the American composer–to the extent that his music can be differentiated as ‘American’–inevitably draws from his own in­ner sources, however diverse and numerous they may be.”

Louise Farrenc (1804–1875): Symphony No. 3 in G minor, Op. 36

Born in Paris, Jeanne-Louise Dumont married the flutist and music publisher Aristide Farrenc in 1821. She began piano lessons at the age of six. She later studied with Anton Reicha, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles. In 1842 she became the first woman professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory, a position she held for thirty years.

Farrenc’s first compositions, for solo piano, were issued by her husband’s company in the 1820s. She later shifted to chamber music: two piano quintets, a piano sextet, two piano trios, a nonet for winds and strings, two trios, and several instrumental sonatas. She wrote two concert overtures in 1834, which were performed in Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen. And in 1841, she composed the first of three symphonies. Her music had many admirers, including Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, Fromental Halévy, Hector Berlioz and Robert Schumann.  

Her Third Symphony was introduced at the Société des concerts du Conservatoire in 1849. Katy Hamilton detects the influence of Weber and Beethoven in it, especially in the first movement, and Mendelssohn and Schumann in the last movement. “The second movement,” she writes, “is a beautifully lyrical Andante; and this is followed by a dancing Scherzo, the music driven forward on insistent, bouncing eighth notes in the lower strings.”