Britt Orchestra / James Ehnes / Mason Bates

Friday, August 14, 8 p.m.


BATES: Mothership
BARBER: Violin Concerto
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2

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Britt Classical

One of the most-performed composers of his generation, Mason Bates is best known for the expansion of his orchestra to include electronics. He'll join the Britt Orchestra for its performance of his piece Mothership.

Violinist James Ehnes returns to perform Barber's Violin Concerto. With its lyrical melodies and gorgeous orchestration, this is one of the works that is most responsible for Barber's label of a new Romantic.
After intermission, the orchestra will perform Brahms' Second Symphony. The masterwork starts with a peaceful, pastoral setting, includes the famous "Brahms lullaby" theme, and ends with a joyful and spirited last movement.

Program notes © 2015 Elizabeth Schwartz

Mason Bates
Mothership for Orchestra and Electronica

Composer: born January 23, 1977, Philadelphia, PA
Work composed: 2010. Commissioned by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 clarinets (two doubling bass clarinet), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn) 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, electronica, piano, harp and strings
Estimated duration: 9 minutes

Today’s composers and musicians have blurred lines between styles and genres to such an extent that they have redefined the sound of classical music. Mason Bates epitomizes this trend, combining his background in classical composition and his years DJing at Bay Area clubs (using the name DJ Masonic) to create a wholly unique sound. Bates was recently awarded the Heinz Medal in the Humanities. When Teresa Heinz awarded Bates the medal, she said, “his music has moved the orchestra into the digital age and dissolved the boundaries of classical music.”

Bates studied composition with some of America’s leading composers, including David Del Tredici and John Corigliano. He has served as the Chicago Symphony’s Composer-In-Residence; in January of this year he was named composer in residence at the Kennedy Center. Bates describes his music as a fusion of “the dance-floor origins of electronica and the concert hall.”

Mothership was commissioned by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, directed by Michael Tilson Thomas. The piece functioned as both an audition vehicle for musicians from around the world, and for soloists to submit improvisations. “Once upon a time improvisation was very much a part of what we call classical music,” Bates observes. “This piece is a way to welcome that back in.”

When Tilson Thomas and the YTSO premiered Mothership in Sydney, on March 20, 2011, 1.8 million people viewed the performance online.

In his program notes, Bates writes, “This energetic opener imagines the orchestra as a mothership that is ‘docked’ by several visiting soloists, who offer brief but virtuosic riffs on the work’s thematic material over action-packed electro-acoustic orchestral figuration. The piece follows the form of a scherzo with double trio (as found in, for example, the Schumann Symphony No. 2). Symphonic scherzos historically play with dance rhythms in a high-energy and appealing manner, with the ‘trio’ sections temporarily exploring new rhythmic areas. Mothership shares a formal connection with the symphonic scherzo but is brought to life by thrilling sounds of the 21st Century – the rhythms of modern-day techno in place of waltz rhythms, for example.”

Samuel Barber
Violin Concerto, Op. 14

Composer: born Mar. 9, 1910, West Chester, PA; died Jan. 23, 1981, New York City.
Work composed: 1939, rev. 1948.
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, snare drum, piano and strings.
Estimated duration: 25 minutes

Samuel Barber wrote his Violin Concerto, his first major commission, for Samuel Fels, the inventor of Fels Naptha soap, on behalf Fels’ adopted son, violinist Iso Briselli. Barber began work on the Violin Concerto in Switzerland in the summer of 1939. Due to what he described in a letter as “increasing war anxiety,” Barber left Europe in August and returned home with the final movement still unfinished.

At the end of summer 1939, Barber sent the first two movements to Briselli for comment. Briselli was unimpressed, describing them as “too simple and not brilliant enough for a concerto.” Taking these comments to heart, Barber resolved to write a final movement that would afford “ample opportunity to display the artist’s technical powers.” Briselli found fault with this movement as well, calling it “too lightweight” in comparison with its predecessors. In a letter to Fels, Barber wrote, “[I am] sorry not to have given Iso what he had hoped for, but I could not destroy a movement in which I have complete confidence, out of artistic sincerity to myself. So we decided to abandon the project, with no hard feelings on either side.” Barber later approached violinist Albert Spalding, who immediately agreed to premiere the work. Because of all the controversy generated by the third movement, Barber gave the concerto a humorous nickname, the “concerto del sapone,” or a “soap concerto,” a reference both to Fels Naptha and the melodrama of soap operas.

Reviews praised the concerto as “an exceptional popular success” and Barber for writing a concerto “refreshingly free from arbitrary tricks and musical mannerisms … straightforwardness and sincerity are among its most engaging qualities.” The finale which sparked such controversy, a rondo theme and variations, is particularly impressive. In his program notes for the 1941 premiere, Barber wrote, with characteristic understatement, “The last movement, a perpetual motion, exploits the more brilliant and virtuoso characteristics of the violin.” But as biographer Barbara Heyman notes, “This is one of the few virtually nonstop concerto movements in the violin literature (the solo instrument plays for 110 measures without interruption).”

Johannes Brahms
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73

Composer: born May 7, 1833, Hamburg; died April 3, 1897, Vienna
Work composed: During the summer and fall of 1877
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.
Estimated duration: 39 minutes

Less than a year after the successful premiere of his first symphony, in November 1876, Johannes Brahms left Vienna to spend the summer at the lakeside town of Pörtschach on Lake Wörth, in southern Austria. There, in the beauty and quiet of the countryside, Brahms completed his second symphony. Pörtschach was to be a productive place for Brahms; over the course of three summers there he wrote several important works, including his Violin Concerto. In a letter to critic Eduard Hanslick, a lifelong Brahms supporter, Brahms wrote, “The melodies fly so thick here that you have to be careful not to step on one.”

Unlike his first symphony, which took Brahms over 20 years to complete, work on the second symphony went smoothly and Brahms finished it in just four months. Brahms felt so good about his progress that he joked with his publisher, “The new symphony is so melancholy that you won’t stand it. I have never written anything so sad … the score must appear with a black border.” In a different letter, Brahms self-mockingly observed, “Whether I have a pretty symphony I don’t know; I must ask clever people sometime.”

As Brahms composed the symphony, he shared it as a work-in-progress with his close friend Clara Schumann. In early October 1877, Schumann wrote in her diary, “Johannes came this evening and played me the first movement of his Second Symphony in D major, which greatly delighted me. I find it in invention more significant than the first movement of the First Symphony … I also heard a part of the last movement and am quite overjoyed with it. With this symphony he will have a more telling success with the public as well than he did with the First, much as musicians are captivated by the latter through its inspiration and wonderful working-out.”

The Symphony No. 2 is often described as the cheerful alter ego to the solemnity and melancholy of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. It unfolds seamlessly, almost inevitably, downplaying the elegant complexity of Brahms’ compositional style. Brahms uses the lilting notes of the Allegro con brio as a common link throughout all four movements, where they are repeated, reversed and otherwise, in Schumann’s words, “wonderfully worked-out.” In the extended coda, Brahms introduces the trombones and tuba, which casts a small shadow over the sunny mood of the opening; the lyrical cello melody of the Andante also hints at the melancholy that underlies so much of Brahms’ music. The Poco allegretto is remarkably gentle for a scherzo, with little of the joking quality that gives the scherzo its name. The symphony winds up with a glorious Allegro con spirito, which recaptures the first movement’s power and vitality.

Mason Bates - Mothership for Orchestra and Electronica
Mason Bates Website

Samuel Barber - Violin Concerto, Op. 14

Johannes Brahms - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73

2015 Britt Classical Playlist

Guest Artists: James Ehnes / Mason Bates

James Ehnes

Known for his virtuosity and probing musicianship, violinist James Ehnes has performed in over 30 countries on five continents, appearing regularly in the world’s great concert halls and with many of the most celebrated orchestras and conductors.
He was born in 1976 in Brandon, Manitoba. He began violin studies at age four, and at age nine became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin. He studied with Sally Thomas at the Meadowmount School of Music and from 1993 to 1997 at The Juilliard School, winning the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music upon his graduation. Ehnes first gained national recognition in 1987 as winner of the Grand Prize in Strings at the Canadian Music Competition. The following year he won the First Prize in Strings at the Canadian Music Festival, the youngest musician ever to do so. At 13, he made his major orchestral solo debut with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

He has won numerous awards and prizes, including the first-ever Ivan Galamian Memorial Award, the Canada Council for the Arts’ Virginia Parker Prize, and a 2005 Avery Fisher Career Grant. James has been honoured by Brandon University with a Doctor of Music degree (honoris causa) and in 2007 he became the youngest person ever elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada. In 2010 the Governor General of Canada appointed James a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2013 he was named an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, limited to a select group of 300 living distinguished musicians.

James Ehnes plays the "Marsick" Stradivarius of 1715. He currently lives in Bradenton, Florida with his family.

Recently awarded the Heinz Medal in the Humanities, Mason Bates writes music that fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, the harmonies of jazz and the rhythms of techno. Widely performed by orchestras large and small, his symphonic music has been the first to receive widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds, and it is championed by leading conductors such as Riccardo Muti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Leonard Slatkin.

He has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships such as his residency with the Chicago Symphony, or through his classical/DJ project Mercury Soul, which has transformed spaces ranging from commercial clubs to Frank Gehry- designed concert halls into exciting, hybrid musical events drawing over a thousand people. In awarding Bates the Heinz Medal, Teresa Heinz remarked that “his music has moved the orchestra into the digital age and dissolved the boundaries of classical music.”

For more information on James Ehnes:

For more information on Mason Bates:

Pre-Concert Conversation

Jefferson Public Radio's Jefferson Exchange Host, Geoffrey Riley, will host a pre-concert conversation with violinist James Ehnes at 7 p.m. in the Performance Garden.


Table Rock City Series Performer: Harris-Fitch Trio

Britt Performance Garden from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.