Pride & Prejudice: Notes from LGBTQ

Samuel Barber (1910-1981): First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12

Composers Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti first visited conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1933. There were other visits, during one of which Toscanini mentioned his desire to perform a work by Barber.

Four years later Toscanini was planning the first season of the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra. He asked Artur Rodzinski to recommend an American work to program. Rodzinski suggested something by Barber.

By spring, 1938 Barber sent Toscanini the First Essay for Orchestra, and also the Adagio for Strings, an arrangement of the first half of the second movement of his string quartet. Toscanini sent the scores back without comment. Barber assumed the great conductor didn’t like the works, and cast about for someone else to play them.

That summer Menotti visited Toscanini, who inquired why Barber was absent. Menotti replied that his friend was sick. “I don’t believe that,” said Toscanini. “He’s mad at me. Tell him not to be mad. I’m going to play one of his pieces, I’m going to play both.” The maestro had memorized the music. Toscanini and the NBC Orchestra introduced both works on November 5, 1938.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31

Britten wrote the Serenade in 1943 for his partner, tenor Peter Pears, and the twenty-two-year-old Dennis Brain. Brain was then principal horn player in the RAF Orchestra, which was playing Britten’s music on various radio programs.

The first performance of the Serenade took place at Wigmore Hall in London on October 15, 1943, with Pears and Brain as soloists and Walter Goehr conducting. William Glock recalled his predecessor as music critic for the Observer “being able to hear Brahms’s maturest works as they came out…. In Benjamin Britten we have at last a composer who offers us visions as great as these. His new Serenade…surpasses everything else of his in strength and feeling.”

~Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2018.

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962): blue cathedral

Born in Brooklyn, Higdon grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and Seymour, Tennessee, and now lives in Philadelphia, where she teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music. She won the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2010.

blue cathedral Blue…like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals…a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression…serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world. Blue represents all potential and the progression of journeys. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth. As I was writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky. Because the walls would be transparent, I saw the image of clouds and blueness permeating from the outside of this church. In my mind’s eye the listener would enter from the back of the sanctuary, floating along the corridor amongst giant crystal pillars, moving in a contemplative stance. The stained glass windows’ figures would start moving with song, singing a heavenly music. The listener would float down the aisle, slowly moving upward at first and then progressing at a quicker pace, rising towards an immense ceiling which would open to the sky…as this journey progressed, the speed of the traveler would increase, rushing forward and upward. I wanted to create the sensation of contemplation and quiet peace at the beginning, moving towards the feeling of celebration and ecstatic expansion of the soul, all the while singing along with that heavenly music.

These were my thoughts when The Curtis Institute of Music commissioned me to write a work to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Curtis is a house of knowledge–a place to reach towards that beautiful expression of the soul which comes through music. I began writing this piece at a unique juncture in my life and found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make in our lives, crossing paths with so many individuals singularly and collectively, learning and growing each step of the way. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the group…our inner travels and the places our souls carry us, the lessons we learn, and the growth we experience. In tribute to my brother, I feature solos for the clarinet (the instrument he played) and the flute (the instrument I play). Because I am the older sibling, it is the flute that appears first in this dialog. At the end of the work, the two instruments continue their dialogue, but it is the flute that drops out and the clarinet that continues on in the upward progressing journey.

This is a story that commemorates living and passing through places of knowledge and of sharing and of that song called life.

This work was commissioned and premiered in 2000 by the Curtis Institute of Music.

~ Notes by Jennifer Higdon

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921): Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22

Saint-Saëns had known Anton Rubinstein for ten years when, in 1868, Rubinstein began shifting his focus to conducting. “I haven’t conducted an orchestra in Paris yet,” he complained to Saint-Saëns. “Let’s put on a concerto that will give me an opportunity of taking the baton.” Saint-Saëns made inquiries and discovered that the Salle Pleyel would be free in three weeks. “Very well,” he said, “in those three weeks I’ll write a concerto for the occasion.”

The work was introduced on May 13, 1868, with Rubinstein conducting and Saint-Saëns as soloist. “Not having had the time to practice it sufficiently for performance,” said Saint-Saëns, “I played very badly, and except for the scherzo, which was an immediate success, it did not go well. The general opinion was that the first part lacked coherence and the finale was a complete failure.” Pianist Sigismond Stojowski once described the Concerto: “It begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach.”

~Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2018.

With The Right Music: A Song Cycle
Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne

World Premiere, Commissioned by Oakland Symphony

With The Right Music is about the experiences that shape who we are during our tumultuous and thrilling adolescent years.  It’s about a boy’s struggle, first to understand himself and then to gain the confidence to express the whole of who he is.  While self-discovery can be an ultimately positive journey, self-awareness brings with it self-consciousness, and knowing yourself is only truly valuable if it comes with self-acceptance.  Adam’s journey through the piece is aided by the experiences he has with Sarah, Jason and Dylan — three kids who, either intentionally or not, allow Adam to discover these different sides of himself, while also affecting the person who he will become.  While With The Right Music is intended as a universal coming of age story, it also is very specifically a gay story.  We’re thrilled, particularly in a political climate where difference is often attacked rather than celebrated, that there are places like the Oakland Symphony who will take an evening out of their season to celebrate the very specific challenges and triumphs of a particular community, because through the acknowledgment of our diversity, we also come to understand better our common humanity.

~ Notes by Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohn