Britt Orchestra: Expeditions of Reflection

Saturday, August 12, 8 p.m. • 2017

PROGRAM: EXPEDITIONS OF REFLECTION - Measha Brueggergosman, soprano

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY – Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathétique)
MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS – Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind

TICKETS: Reserved $49 | Lawn $25 | Child/Student Lawn $10 
GATES OPEN: @ 5:45 Early Entry | 6:00 General Public
PRE-CONCERT TALK: 7:00 p.m. in the Performance Garden

Expeditions of Reflection
Program: Expeditions of Reflection - Measha Brueggergosman, soprano

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathétique)
Michael Tilson Thomas – Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind

More program information will be included here soon!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (April 25, 1840 - October 25, 1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathetique, op. 74, 1893)

Adagio – Allegro non troppo – Andante
Allegro con grazia
Allegro molto vivace
Finale: Adagio lamentoso

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.

“...I definitely consider it the very best, and especially, the most sincere of all my works. I love it as I have never loved any one of my other musical offspring.” Tchaikovsky wrote this of his Sixth Symphony to his beloved nephew, Vladimir Davidov (otherwise know as Bob). Those are strong words coming from a composer who had written so many genius works up to that point in his life. The choice of the word “sincere” is quite telling here, for there is a great deal of speculation as to what the Pathetique symphony depicts, given Tchaikovsky’s use of a program in other symphonies (the Fourth and the Manfred Symphonies come to mind). But what could that program be for his Sixth and final symphony? Tchaikovsky would never be forthcoming about the topic, even in private letters. He wrote to his nephew Bob in the year before completing the work, “Whilst on my travels, I had an idea for another symphony, a programme symphony this time; but the programme will be left as an enigma - let people guess it for themselves…” All of this begs the question: what is the story behind Tchaikovsky’s Sixth?

Around 1892, Tchaikovsky had drafts and sketches for a symphony. Among the sketches, Tchaikovsky wrote, “The underlying essence… of the symphony is Life. First part - all impulsive passion, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short (the Finale death - result of collapse). Second part love; third disappointments; fourth ends dying away (also short).” This so-called Life symphony was never completed, but parts of it were reworked for Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto. Some surmise that the Pathetique symphony inherited this program, as there are certainly resemblances, but a close analysis doesn’t quite hold up. Others point to the subtitle - Pathetique - as a guide for understanding Tchaikovsky’s muse. Perhaps he is referencing the Beethoven piano sonata of the same name? Doesn’t seem like much of an enigma.

Still others point to the letter quoted at the beginning, and the dedication of the work to his nephew, as the most telling aspect of what this hidden program could be. Given that Tchaikovsky had grown infatuated with his nephew Bob, many view the Pathetique as an attempt to grapple with homosexuality in a time and place that was very oppressive to such a lifestyle. The word ‘pathetique’ in the context of Russian culture had a meaning closer to ‘impassioned suffering’ than any literal translation. Tchaikovsky, it seems, had fallen hopelessly in love with his nephew, a doubly forbidden love that may have led to depression, and a need to work out his feelings through music.

Following the somewhat lukewarm response to the premiere of this work on October 16, 1893, Tchaikovsky wrote to his publisher, “’s not that people don’t like it but they are somewhat puzzled by it.” Which shouldn’t be entirely surprising, given the secrecy surrounding the work. A mere six days after the premiere, Tchaikovsky fell ill with cholera, and died within three days in St. Petersburg. Some scholars theorize that Tchaikovsky’s death was not due to contracted cholera, but was a forced suicide, after his homosexuality became known to a powerful group that would not abide such scandalous behavior. There is no way to prove this theory, but it is a compelling one, given the circumstances around Tchaikovsky’s last days.

The work itself is a powerful, intense journey. The first movement, laden with a nervous energy, includes a wonderful melody as the second theme, a reworking of a theme from Bizet’s Carmen (which Tchaikovsky admired greatly). The second movement is certainly a lilting waltz, but not the sort of waltz you might expect. A normal waltz has three beats per measure, whereas Tchaikovsky’s waltz here is scored with five beats per measure. Only a master like Tchaikovsky could make an uneven meter sound so dance-like. A flashy march occupies the third movement, punctuated by fiery outbursts in the orchestra. The finale seems to alternate between hope and despair, with a repeated major-key melody that, after several repetitions, begins to feel a bit desperate. As the final movement rolls on, despair seems to take over, and slowly but surely, the music dies away, seemingly foreshadowing Tchaikovsky’s impending death.

Following his death, a repeat performance of the Sixth was staged in memory of Tchaikovsky. This time, the audience was enthralled with the work, as they listened closely for any hint of Tchaikovsky’s frame of mind so close to his passing. Was the work a suicide note of sorts? Or are people ascribing meaning to something that just isn’t there? We’ll never know for sure, but we can at least enjoy the beauty and wonder Tchaikovsky created for us.

Michael Tilson Thomas (born December 21, 1944)
Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind (2016-17)

Soprano soloist and two mezzo-soprano back up singers, with chamber orchestra and bar band.

Chamber orchestra - 1 flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute), 1 oboe (doubling English horn), 1 clarinet, 1 bass clarinet, 1 bassoon, 1 horn, 1 trumpet, 1 bass trombone, 3 percussionists, piano, celeste, and strings (3 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, and 1 bass).

Bar band - alto saxophone, tenor and baritone saxophone (1 player), trumpet, trombone, electric keyboard, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass, and drum set

The following notes are by the composer himself:

“In my early college years I began, on my own, to explore the work of American poets that had been introduced to us in high school. It was exciting, and even shocking, to discover the range, power and real messages of these writers. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were the most life changing. But William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, and e.e. cummings were not far behind.

Carl Sandburg was also one of them. I read his collection Smoke and Steel and reveled in the images of speed, power and outcry that were there. One of the poems, “Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind,” immediately grabbed my attention. It seemed like a kind of honky-tonk “Ozymandias”—a mixture of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Vachel Lindsay.

In 1976 I got the idea of setting the poem and did a rough improvised version that I played from time to time for friends. In 2003, spending the summer in Santa Fe, I looked over the old sketches and brought them into a more continuous form. In 2016, during a two-month composing break, I completed the composition. Vocally, the piece is inspired by Sarah Vaughan, Leontyne Price, James Brown, and Igor Stravinsky—all artists I had the pleasure of knowing. In 2015, I realized that the piece might be perfect for the remarkable performing artist Measha Brueggergosman. We looked it over together and both felt that was so. From there the process was deciding which keys would be best for the text and expression, as well as how the voice would interact with the backup singers and the mixture of acoustic and electric instruments.

Playthings verges back and forth in time and in style. The same materials are taken up by a chamber orchestra and a bar band that develop the material in their own ways. The chamber orchestra is around twenty musicians, the bar band consists of two saxes, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, trumpet, trombone, synth and drums. The realization of the score for both classical and pop musicians was a challenge and I’m grateful to Bruce Coughlin for his assistance in helping me find idiomatic solutions in organizing the first workshop of the piece.”

-Michael Tilson Thomas

Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind by Carl Sandburg

The past is a bucket of ashes.


The woman named Tomorrow  

sits with a hairpin in her teeth  

and takes her time  

and does her hair the way she wants it  

and fastens at last the last braid and coil

and puts the hairpin where it belongs  

and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?  

My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.  

What of it? Let the dead be dead.  


The doors were cedar

and the panels strips of gold  

and the girls were golden girls  

and the panels read and the girls chanted:  

 We are the greatest city,  

 the greatest nation:

 nothing like us ever was.  

The doors are twisted on broken hinges.  

Sheets of rain swish through on the wind  

 where the golden girls ran and the panels read:  

 We are the greatest city,

 the greatest nation,  

 nothing like us ever was.  


It has happened before.  

Strong men put up a city and got  

 a nation together,

And paid singers to sing and women  

 to warble: We are the greatest city,  

   the greatest nation,  

   nothing like us ever was.  

And while the singers sang

and the strong men listened  

and paid the singers well  

and felt good about it all,  

 there were rats and lizards who listened  

 … and the only listeners left now

 … are … the rats … and the lizards.  

And there are black crows  

crying, "Caw, caw,"  

bringing mud and sticks  

building a nest

over the words carved  

on the doors where the panels were cedar  

and the strips on the panels were gold  

and the golden girls came singing:  

 We are the greatest city,

 the greatest nation:  

 nothing like us ever was.  

 The only singers now are crows crying, "Caw, caw,"  

And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.  

And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards.


The feet of the rats  

scribble on the door sills;  

the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints  

chatter the pedigrees of the rats  

and babble of the blood

and gabble of the breed  

of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers  

of the rats.    

And the wind shifts  

and the dust on a door sill shifts

and even the writing of the rat footprints  

tells us nothing, nothing at all  

about the greatest city, the greatest nation  

where the strong men listened  

and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.

Guest Artist: Measha Brueggergosman, soprano

Measha Brueggergosman

Motivated and hungry for new experiences, Ms. Brueggergosman's career effortlessly embraces the broadest array of performance platforms and musical styles and genres.
On the opera stage, her recent highlights include Giulietta and Antonia Les contes d’Hoffmann, Elettra Idomeneo, Madame Lidoine Dialogues des Carmélites, Jenny in Weill's Mahagonny, Emilia Marty Věc Makropulos, Hannah in Miroslav Srnka's Make No Noise, and Sister Rose in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking while on the concert platform she has worked with the San Francisco Symphony and New World Symphony Orchestras and conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Michael Tilson Thomas, Franz Welser-Möst, Sir Andrew Davis, Gustavo Dudamel and Daniel Harding.

Measha began her career predominantly committed to the art of the song recital and has presented innovative programs at Carnegie Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center, London’s Wigmore Hall, both the Konzerthaus and Musikverein in Vienna, Madrid's Teatro Real, as well as at the Schwarzenberg, Edinburgh, Verbier and Bergen Festivals with celebrated collaborative pianists Justus Zeyen, Roger Vignoles, Julius Drake, and Simon Lepper.

Her forthcoming highlights include her Australian debut at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and in recital at the Sydney Opera House, a return to the Teatro Real, Madrid and to the Barbican, London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the RoyalLiverpool Philharmonic, and Vasily Petrenko.

Her first recording for Deutsche Grammophon, Surprise, includes works by Schoenberg, Satie andBolcom and is one of the most highly regarded debut albums of recent years. Her subsequent disc Night and Dreams, which features songs by Mozart, Brahms, Strauss, Schubert, Debussy, Duparc andFauré won several awards and her recording of the Wesendonck Lieder with Franz Welser-Möst andthe Cleveland Orchestra earned her a Grammy nomination.

Off the stage, Measha is just as active: autumn 2017 sees the release of her memoir (published byHarperCollins); she appears regularly on primetime TV (most recently advocating on behalf of contemporary Canadian literature); and leading Canadian children across the country in song, in celebration of the nationwide campaign for music education.

Measha Brueggergosman champions the education and involvement of new audiences and holdsseveral honorary doctorates and ambassadorial titles with international charities.

Visit these sites for more information on Measha Brueggergosman:


Pre-concert music: Greyson Boydstun (marimba)

Begins in the Britt Performance Garden at 6:00 p.m.

Pre-concert talk: Host Eric Teel interviews Measha Brueggergosman

Begins in the Britt Performance Garden at 7:00 p.m.