Britt Orchestra: Appalachian Spring

Saturday, August 4 • 7:30 p.m.

NOTICE: Due to wildfire smoke, this Britt Orchestra concert has been moved to the North Medford High School auditorium. For more information, see the press announcement here. For arrival and parking directions check out this map of North Medford High
Also, due to the change of venue, the program for this concert has changed from the original program. Click here for full details on the program changes.

AARON COPLAND: Appalachian Spring: Suite

TICKETS: General Admission (Lawn) $20 | Child/Student (Lawn) $10 
DOORS OPEN: @ 6:30 General Public

Note: Edgar Meyer will not be performing at this concert as previously listed due to unexpected surgery.

Edgar Meyer



AARON COPLAND - Appalachian Spring: Suite

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Overture to Egmont, op. 84

Instrumentation: two flutes (one doubles piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe completed his play Egmont in 1788. The story is of the Dutch Count of Egmont’s struggle against the Spanish invasion of the Netherlands in the 1550s. As the Spanish Duke of Alba encroached on Dutch territory, Egmont refused to yield his kingdom, nor his own liberty, which ultimately led to his execution in 1567. Overall, the play depicts the subjugation of the Dutch at the hands of the Spaniards, portraying the plight of the oppressed, and the inevitable call for revolution, led by none other than Egmont himself, whose death served as one of many catalysts for the Dutch War of Indepence.

In 1809, the Burgtheater in Vienna had plans for a revival of Goethe’s Egmont, and wished to commission new incidental music for the play. Conveniently, a very skilled composer happened to live in Vienna, and the subject matter of the play was in his wheelhouse. Beethoven enthusiastically accepted the commission, not only because he was a huge admirer of Goethe’s work, but also because of his humanism, and belief in freedom and the dignity of men.

In addition to the overture we’ll hear tonight, Beethoven also composed nine other sections of incidental music for the play. Though the rest of music is not often performed, the overture is a part of the standard orchestral repertoire, and serves as a shining example of Beethoven’s middle period. It bears some resemblance to other middle period works, such as the fifth and sixth symphonies, and wonderfully encapsulates the story of Egmont in a tidy ten minutes of well-wrought music. We’d expect nothing less from the great master!

Tonight’s performance will be conducted by the 2018 Britt Composer/Conductor Fellow, Christopher Cerrone. This unique fellowship gives composers the opportunity to learn conducting from Maestro Abrams, and to conduct a professional orchestra in a performance setting, both rare opportunities for composers today. Britt will also commission a new work by Cerrone for the 2019 season, continuing Britt’s commitment to create new music for new audiences. Stay tuned for details of the new work Cerrone will compose for Britt’s next season.

Christopher Cerrone (1984)

Will There Be Singing

Instrumentation: piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.

The following notes were provided by the composer:
“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”

— Bertolt Brecht “Motto to the ‘Svendborg Poems’ ” [Motto der ‘Svendborger Gedichte’] (1939)

Writing about Will There Be Singing has proved to be harder than I imagined. I have never been interested in making political music. While I admire those who do, my favorite music doesn’t try to tell its audience how to think—instead, it helps us become deeper and more sensitive humans by inspiring empathy in listening. Yet I was inescapably shaken by the American election in 2016 and its attendant instability and acrimony. As I began writing a piece for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in early 2017, the world seemed to seep into my piece in a different way. That doesn’t make it an analogy, or program music—but it’s a reflection of a composer’s psyche in uncertain times.

Will There Be Singing opens with tense and edgy music, not quite even, not quite predictable: two sharp chords oscillating between the percussion and harp. Fluttering gestures in the strings emerge, dancing around these chords, but the music remains in nervous anticipation, repeating the two opening chords again and again. Finally, new elements gradually emerge: a pulsating, out-of-tune unison between the clarinet and flute, more fluttering from the strings and finally the whole orchestra in deep, sustained resonance.

As the work proceeds it suddenly shifts, as if in a dream, indecisive before finally settling into a dark and lugubrious march—low brassy chords and distant timpani pulsating reluctantly forward. The harmony is simple (still those two chords), but a melody explodes from it—a dramatic, intense, and terrifying climax.

Emerging from this terror, a solo harp plays a variation of the anxious opening music. It’s not quite hopeful, but it’s not hopeless. The instruments that I most associate with song (oboes and trumpets) lead this simple, upward-moving melody as whole orchestra joins together and almost bursts apart. When I was writing, the very act of composing, of making music in dark times, felt as if it inspired a kind of singing—joy in creation that couldn’t be repressed.

— Notes: Mark Knippel

Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Appalachian Spring

Instrumentation: two flutes (one doubles piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, timpani, harp, piano, and strings.

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!
-excerpt from The Bridge by Hart Crane, and inspiration for the title of Copland’s work.

Aaron Copland’s seminal work was originally commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge on behalf of famed choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. The original version, Ballet for Martha, was scored for only 13 instruments, and was later converted to a full orchestral suite that is performed without the choreography. “Appalachian Spring” is set in a western Pennsylvania community in the early 19th century. Most of the scenario revolves around the courtship and wedding of a young couple.

Following are excerpts from letters between Martha Graham (MG), Aaron Copland (AC), Elizabeth Sprauge Coolidge (EC), and Harold Spivake (HS), who worked at Coolidge’s foundation that facilitated the commission. The letters provide a fascinating look at how the piece was created, with two of America’s most prominent artists corresponding via snail mail. The full text of these letters can be found on the Library of Congress’s website. The excerpts below are used with permission by Martha Graham Resources, a division of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.

July 7, 1942; MG to AC: Here I am again. I am sending you a script to look at if you have a moment. I do this without knowing how tied up you are but trusting to luck. Of course when you read it you may not be drawn to the script either. But at least I am taking a chance.

July 31, 1942; AC to EC: Thank you for your letter and for the offer of a commission for a Martha Graham dance score. I am, in principle, happy to accept. I have been an admirer of Miss Graham’s work for many years and I have more than once hoped that we might collaborate. It particularly pleases me that you should make this possible and also that I should be invited to take part as composer in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the historic Pittsfield Festivals.

August 12, 1942; MG to AC: I had a letter from Mrs. Coolidge saying she had written to you, and also “It is my thought that as we are planning to have other works on the program the piece should not occupy more than half an hour at the outside. And I also wish it to be composed as true chamber music, which is to say for an ensemble of not more than ten or twelve instrument at the outside.” ... Naturally I want you to feel at ease about this whole arrangement. You know how long I have looked forward to having music by you and how much I respect and admire you as a composer.

November 7, 1942; MG to AC: I do not know whether or not I told you that Carlos Chavez had accepted the other commission from Mrs. Coolidge. Think I am the most fortunate dancer anywhere to have you and Chavez. I cannot believe it yet.

April 13, 1943; AC to HS: Your letter sent to Stockbridge, just reached me out here. Since I hadn’t heard from Martha Graham in several months, I was going on the assumption that the idea of a ballet was in abeyance. Your letter now brings the whole thing to life again.

When I last saw her in New York, she promised to send me a scenario which we could discuss. That was around Christmas time and I haven’t heard from her since. We also agreed that when the rights to the ballet are released after the first year she would be willing to pay me a royalty performance fee on a per performance basis. Therefore, as far as Miss Graham goes, every-thing is set, except that I have nothing to work with, until she prepares a scenario suitable to us both.

May 10, 1943; AC to HS: I’ll be waiting with much curiosity to see Miss Graham’s scenario. It hasn’t arrived as yet, however. I’m also glad to see that the date of the premiere is as late as Oct. 30 now. Don’t be concerned about the number of musicians. There is no difficulty on that point since it’s being taken into account as early as this. The type of musical instruments needed will depend on the nature of Miss Graham’s scenario. I’ll try to stick to Chavez’s choice of instruments as far as practicable.

May 16, 1943; MG to AC: I approach you with fear and trembling on two counts; one is lateness of this and the other is--- will you like it at all and will it something you can work with.

I have really had a hard time with this, simple as it seems. Even now it is not quite all here in that there is no timing down. But I am so anxious to get it in the mail tonight that I will send the timing by another mail. Anyway, timing is only an indication and in no way ties or binds you.

I wonder if you will object to the use of words? If so perhaps we can see what else can be done. I have wanted to make it as straight and as real and as over all time as I can. I have used the canvas of America without any historical relationship. I feel that all periods exist for us in any given instant if we think them. So I have used them here in that way. I want it to say things to people about themselves, some good and some bad. There are moments of almost pastoral peace with sinister moments of terror. Sometimes the wall between them is very thin... I have used the quotations from the Bible because that is the poetry of that type of mind, it is often all the poetry they know. Then, too, it is much the speech of these people. I know some today who are not essentially religious but who use the Bible language. Then I have also used it as a theatrical device.

May 29, 1943; MG to AC: In the main I agree with you. I think the suggestions you made, such as the breaking up of the strict biblical quotation is very good. I think it will be much more imaginative and leave the whole thing more free. I will take time on that, however, and will not be able to send that with the other re-workings... What the whole thing really adds up to is that it is a profile of American life in some way. There are certain things that add up to an American, that is, an United States American and that really more than a specific period or happening. In a way it has more of the feeling that music has in it when you speak of it as being American. It is a certain quality rather than anything else. All of the parts should add up to that I feel.

June 8, 1943; AC to HS: I shall assume that the premiere date is October 30th unless I hear to the contrary. Please be sure to let me know if there is any change, as the more time I have the better. Also, if you can find out from Chavez what instruments he intends using, that would be a help. I think I have my first theme!

July 10, 1943; MG to AC: I am not lost completely although I have almost been lost in the writing of this piece. I have wanted a definite thing which is hard to get... gentleness without sentimentality and a sense of the universal without being symbolic. Whether I will succeed is whether this possible to do in so far as I have done this script. It is hard to do American things without either becoming pure folk or else appearing a little like a mural in a middle western railway station or post office... I have used the word poem several times in this. I know you will understand that I do not mean a tone poem but that I mean something nostalgic in the lyrical way and yet completely unsentimental and strong about our way. It has to do with the roots in so far as people can express them, without telling an actual story. I do want to remember that it is for stage and that it will have certain incongruities that will make it at times delightfully theatrical if I can make it work.

July 21, 1943; AC to HS: In the meantime I was at work on the score, and have perhaps a third done. If I had nothing to do between now and Sept. 1st but write the ballet, I wouldn’t hesitate to promise it for that date. But through a series of unforeseen incidents, the picture score I am contracted to do is just now getting under way. In another week I shall be in the midst of it—and there are a lot of notes to write!

Martha wrote that the Chavez score is still not in her hands. Knowing him well and the heavy season he has in Mexico at this time, I can hardly hope that his score will give Martha something to work on until I am ready. As you probably know, he is famous for getting things done at the last possible moment.

In view of all this, I told Martha I thought she ought to write to you with the idea of finding out whether there was any chance of postponing the performances until Spring. I was very reluctant to make the suggestion, and only did so because I thought we could all do ourselves greater justice if we took a few more months time.

There is one other detail that hasn’t worked out as I had hoped. Because of the nature of the scenario I have decided that the best possible instrumentation for my ballet would be piano and strings. In the case of the premiere that could mean piano and double string quartet. Since you have a flute and clarinet for the Chavez anyway, I may decide to add those two instruments. This means an addition of five players to the Chavez group, and I hope won’t cause too much upset in the finances.

July 22, 1943; MG to AC: I have not heard from Carlos Chavez. I have been expecting some word daily but none has arrived. I do know that he is in the group of Manana people and that is bad... I do not know what to tell you about the postponement you suggest. I am certain that Mr. Spivacke is all geared to go and that this will not be to his liking. As far as I am concerned I am in an embarrassing position. I made arrangements with my company that these works would take place at that time. They have made their plans for the year accordingly. I would have to see what they could do about re-routing their own concerts. You see several of them have activities that take them on small tours and as there are several schedules to work around we have to be very careful in our plans.

August 19, 1943; MG to AC: I have just had a letter from Mr. Spivacke telling me that he has decided on postponement. There is no date set. I am greatly upset but I suppose it will be for the best. I had made all plans to rehearse, engaged my pianist for the summer and all company rehearsals so that they could be free part of the time. I feel that it all would have worked out had Chavez done as he told both Mr. Spivacke and me. I expected the work in June at the latest. So you are blameless in this. I was at fault in getting your script to you on time but you have done as you said you would last summer and I do appreciate that. My only fear is that something might happen to permanently delay this. And it means more to me as a start on a season and in every way than I can say. But all I can do is to hope for the best and go to work.

August 30, 1943; AC to HS: Your letter announcing the decision to post pone the Graham performance reached me while I was up to my neck in notes for The North Star. I’ll be out of the woods in another week or so, and can then turn to the ballet score with a free mind. So the postponement is something of a god-send as far as I am concerned. Also I plan to be back in New York by October first, so can keep in close touch with Martha Graham, which ought to produce better results than long distance correspondence.

I have about a third of the work completed so far. I am going on the assumption that the scoring for double string quartet and piano will be satisfactory.

January 31, 1944; AC to HS: I have revised my scheme a bit in regard to the instruments for which the ballet will be scored. I told Martha the other day that the ideal combination now seems to me to be the double string quartet with one double bass, one piano, and three woodwinds (probably flute, clarinet, and bassoon). That adds up to thirteen men which is one more than your original letter called for if I remember correctly. I hope that’s OK with you.

July 8, 1944; AC to HS: At last I am able to write you that the complete score of the ballet has been mailed to you. Since I put the score on thin master sheets I hope you will send a copy to Martha Graham soon, so that she may have some idea of the sonorities. I am also planning to make some piano records for her, so that she will know my tempi.

August 5, 1944; MG to AC: I have been trying to write you for weeks but I have been as occupied as you can imagine, and you can permit your imaginings to be quite extravagant. I have been working on your music. It is so beautiful and so wonderfully made. I have become obsessed by it. Bur I have been also doing a little cursing, too, as you probably did earlier over that not-so-good script. But what you did from that has made me change in many places. Naturally that will not do anything to the music. It is simply that the music made me change. It is so knit and of completeness that it takes you in very strong hands and leads you into its own world. And there I am.... The part I had not heard is really magnificent and the ending is wonderful. I also know that the Gift to be simple will stay with people and give them great joy. I hope I can do well with it, Aaron. I do not have any idea as to name yet so we must get together on that.

October 5, 1944; HS to MG: I am writing to confirm our arrangements for the dance presentations in connection with the Tenth Festival of Chamber Music to be held by the Coolidge Foundation at the end of this month. As you know, we expect you and your associates to give two dance performances on October 30 and 31 of the three new works by Copland, Hindemith, and Milhaud commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation for this Festival.

Pre-concert talk: Cancelled