Britt Orchestra Spectacular: Closing Night

Sunday, August 13, 8 p.m. • 2017


GEORGE GERSHWIN – An American in Paris
TEDDY ABRAMS – Unified Field
SERGEI PROKOFIEV – Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major

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

Symphonic Celebration
Program: Britt Orchestra Spectacular - Closing Night

George Gershwin – An American in Paris
Teddy Abrams – Unified Field
Sergei Prokofiev – Symphony No. 5 in Bb Major

George Gershwin (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937)
An American in Paris (1928)

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 saxophones (alto, tenor, baritone), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celeste and strings.

Gershwin’s musical career began as a song demonstrator for a publishing company based out of Detroit. He would perform songs on piano to help sell new sheet music to clients, making about $15 per week. He had published an original song by the time he was 17, and began working on Broadway around 1920. Growing up in New York helped to kindle a lifelong interest in jazz, an interest Gershwin would pursue as he became a more serious composer. His first successes in the merger of classical and jazz idioms came with Rhapsody in Blue and his Concerto in F, both for piano and orchestra.

In pursuit of further musical training in a more “classical” setting, Gershwin left for Paris, hoping to study with some of the great French teachers, such as Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel. Both teachers rejected his request to study with them, with Ravel saying, “Why become a second-rate Ravel when you're already a first-rate Gershwin?” While he was in Paris, he began work on An American in Paris,

Gershwin provides this note about the piece:

“The opening gay section is followed by a rich blues with a strong rhythmic undercurrent. Our American… perhaps after strolling into a café and having a couple of drinks, has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness. The harmony here is both more intense and simpler than in the preceding pages. This blues rises to a climax, followed by a coda in which the spirit of the music returns to the vivacity and bubbling exuberance of the opening part with its impression of Paris. Apparently the homesick American, having left the café and reached the open air, has disowned his spell of the blues and once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life. At the conclusion, the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant.”

Furthermore, Gershwin designed something of a complete program for the piece, as follows:

“You are to imagine an American visiting Paris, swinging down the Champs-Elysées on a mild, sunny morning in May or June. Being what he is, he starts without preliminaries and is off at full speed at once to the tune of The First Walking Theme, a straightforward diatonic air designed to convey the impression of Gallic freedom and gaiety. French taxicabs seem to amuse him particularly, a fact that the orchestra points out in brief episodes introducing four real Paris taxi horns.

“Having safely eluded the taxis, our American strolls on through the medium of The Second Walking Theme, which is announced by the clarinet in French with a strong American accent. Both themes are now discussed at some length by the instruments, until our tourist happens to pass a church, or perhaps the Grand Palais. “At this point, the American’s itinerary becomes somewhat obscured. It may that he continues down the Champs-Elysées, and that when The Third Walking Theme makes its eventual appearance our American has crossed the Seine and is somewhere on the Left Bank. Certainly it is distinctly less Gallic than its predecessors, speaking American with a French intonation as befits that region of the city where so many Americans foregather. The end of this section is couched in terms so unmistakably, albeit, pleasantly blurred as to suggest that the American is on a terrasse of a café exploring the mysteries of Anise de Lozo.

“And now the orchestra introduces an unhallowed episode. Suffice it to say that a solo violin approaches our hero (in the soprano register) and addresses him in the most charming broken English. This one-sided conversation continues for some little time. Of course, one hastens to add, it is possible that the whole episode is simply a musical transition. This may well be true, for otherwise it is difficult to believe what ensues: our hero becomes homesick. He has the blues; and if the behavior of the solo trumpet be any criterion, he has them very thoroughly.

“However, nostalgia is not a fatal disease. Just in the nick of time the compassionate orchestra rushes another theme to the rescue, two trumpets performing the ceremony of introduction. It is apparent that our hero must have met a compatriot; for this last theme is a noisy, cheerful, self-confident Charleston, without a drop of Gallic blood in its veins. A voluble, gusty, wise-cracking orchestra proceeds to demonstrate at some length that it’s always fair weather when two Americans get together, no matter where. Walking Theme Number Two enters soon thereafter, enthusiastically abetted by Number Three. Paris isn’t such a bad place after all: as a matter of fact, it’s a grand place! Nice weather, nothing to do until tomorrow, nice girls. The blues return but mitigated by the Second Walking Theme — a happy reminiscence rather than a homesick yearning — and the orchestra, in a riotous finale, decides to make a night of it. It will be great to get home; but meanwhile, this is Paris!”

Teddy Abrams (born May 6, 1987)
Unified Field (2016)

Instrumentation: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, electric keyboard, guitar, electric bass, and strings.

As a conductor/musician/composer, Teddy Abrams has explored many genres but had not specifically composed for dance. After meeting with the Louisville Ballet’s Artistic Director Robert Curran and resident choreographer Adam Hougland to discuss the Louisville Orchestra’s Spring (2016) Collaboration, Teddy set to work on composing a new piece specifically for this ballet: “I wasn’t given any specific parameters; it’s not based on an already existing story like Petrouchka. I looked at this piece as a musical composition that would be choreographed; rather like much of Balanchine’s works were choreographed to already existing pieces like Chopin. So I created a “mini” symphony with a nod to the sonata da chiesa form. The opening movement is almost an Impressionist/ post-Romantic style mash-up and introduces all the themes that will be heard throughout the piece. The second movement is a scherzo followed by the third movement passacaglia (this includes a six-part canon). The final movement has a bluegrass feel to it. While I wasn’t inhibited by the idea of composing music for dancers, I did think about repetition both rhythmic and thematic as a way to ground the music for the dancers. I also had to think about the tempos in my head being actualized for dancers. Once the tempos are set, the choreography is created to those exact tempos, so I can’t change them once we get into rehearsals. And I also wanted to make sure the tempos were realistic for movement.”

~ Program notes by Deanna R. Hoying, Director of Education, Louisville Orchestra

Sergei Prokofiev (April 27, 1891 - March 5 1953)
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major (op. 100, 1944)

Allegro marcato
Allegro giocoso

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, harp, and strings.

"In the Fifth Symphony I wanted to sing the praises of the free and happy man — his strength, his generosity and the purity of his soul. I cannot say I chose this theme; it was born in me and had to express itself." -Prokofiev

Life was good for Sergei Prokofiev around the composition of his Fifth Symphony. His recent marriage to his second wife, his place as one of the great Soviet composers, and his country’s successes in World War II had him feeling quite contented with life. Though no particular program is ascribed to the work, it was clearly influenced by geopolitical circumstances at the time, as the Allies were bearing down on fascism from all sides.

The work certainly carries an optimistic tone from the get-go, with a heroic and dashing theme featured throughout the first movement. Publically, Prokofiev referred to “a symphony of the greatness of the human spirit, a song of praise of free and happy mankind,” but as with all composers active in Soviet Russia, this could easily have been a veiled attempt to keep his critics at bay.  After all, Prokofiev would eventually be denounced via the Zhdanov decree, but that was four years down the road. Ultimately, with the premiere of the Fifth Symphony, Prokofiev likely achieved his greatest celebrity, as the work was accepted both within Russia and abroad in the United States as a celebratory gesture of the defeat of fascism. Prokofiev even had to delay the start of the premiere due to nearby celebratory artillery fire from the Russian army.

This Symphony is likely the best example of all of Prokofiev’s interesting compositional quirks. The work includes some of Prokofiev’s most expansive and singable melodies, both in the first and third movements. We also get a taste of his sarcasm and wit in some of the woodwind writing throughout the second and fourth movements. We hear some of the modernist composer’s taste for dissonance in the third movement, and yet we also hear his interest in neoclassicism in the formal and harmonic construction of the opening and closing movements. Above all, the Fifth Symphony is Prokofiev at his finest, at the height of his powers and confidence, and a rousing and fitting close to the 2017 Britt Orchestra season.

Pre-concert music: Sebastian Chang

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

Pre-concert talk: Host Eric Teel interviews Teddy Abrams

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