Britt Orchestra: Eastern Inspiration

Saturday, August 5, 8 p.m. • 2017

PROGRAM: EASTERN INSPIRATION - Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano & Richard Cox, tenor

BRIGHT SHENG – Shanghai Overture
IGOR STRAVINSKY – Le chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale)
GUSTAV MAHLER – Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)

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

Eastern Inspiration
Program: Eastern Inspiration - Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano & Richard Cox, tenor

Bright Sheng – Shanghai Overture
Igor Stravinsky – Le chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale)
Gustav Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)

Bright Sheng (born December 6, 1955)
Shanghai Overture (2007)

Instrumentation: flute, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 4 percussionists, harp, and strings.

The following notes were written by the composer:

“In Western music, the term neo-Classicism primarily refers to a movement in music composition prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s. While the main aesthetics of the style emphasizes on textural clarity, light orchestration and formal balance, some of the compositions were directly linked to specific composers from earlier periods. The most well-known composer of the movement was Igor Stravinsky who wrote a number of works including a neo-Bachian piano concerto, a neo-Pergolesian suite (Pulcinella), and a neo-Mozartian opera (The Rake's Progress).

I always wondered what the result would be if I would adopt a similar concept and some of the techniques of the neo-Classical style and apply them to traditional Chinese classical or folk music. Although my approach is somewhat different from Stravinsky, I took the opportunity to explore the idea when I was asked to write a short composition for The Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Shanghai Overture is inspired by two well-known traditional Chinese compositions, "General's Degree" and "Purple Bamboo." Whereas both came from the same region near Shanghai, they differ vastly in character and color, one is grand and powerful while the other is light and elegant.

This work is dedicated to The Shanghai Conservatory of Music, my Alma Mater, where I received a firm foundation in basic music training.” -Bright Sheng

Igor Stravinsky (June 17, 1882 - April 6,1971)
Le chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale, 1917)

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 2 harps, piano, celeste, and strings.

Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Nightingale was very popular after it was published in 1843. The story depicts the Emperor of China, who learns of the nightingale’s beautiful song. He then commands his court to bring him the bird, to hear the song for himself. The nightingale agrees to appear for the Emperor, and quickly becomes the Emperor’s favorite. Later, the Emperor is gifted a jeweled mechanical bird that supplants the nightingale at court. So the nightingale returns home, only to later learn that the Emperor had fallen into ill health after the mechanical bird stopped working. So the nightingale returns to visit, only to find Death itself, there to take the Emperor away. The nightingale sings its wonderful song, and Death is so moved that he allows the Emperor to live.

Stravinsky wrote an opera based on this story, entitled Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), in the years 1908 through 1914. Due to his newfound collaborators at the Ballet Russes (which yielded Stravinsky’s most famous works - The Rite of Spring, Petrushka, The Firebird, and more), Stravinsky had to set aside working on his opera, thus taking 6 years to complete the work. By the time he returned to work on The Nightingale, Stravinsky decided to also create a symphonic version of the story, partly at the behest of Diaghilev to eventually stage as a ballet by Ballet Russes.

The symphonic version takes most of its material from the second and third acts of the opera, which Stravinsky composed much later than the first. Some of the scoring is reminiscent of The Rite of Spring, but doesn’t carry the same edgy, primitive tone. Instead, the music is laden with Chinese sonorities, such as the pentatonic scale, primarily as a representation of the Emperor. Naturally, the nightingale’s song is often given to the flute, who have a number of featured moments in the score. The appearance of the artificial bird, given to the oboes, makes for some repetitive phrases that are interrupted by the Emperor, when he realizes the real nightingale has escaped. Another frequent character in the story is a group of fishermen, whose song is played by the trumpets. Their harmonious song bookends the work, and Stravinsky’s penchant for storytelling in music takes us through this fascinating tale of art, nature, and progress.

Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860 - May 18, 1911)
Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth, 1909)

Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde (The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow); tenor soloist
Der Einsame im Herbst (The Solitary One in Autumn); mezzo-soprano soloist
Von der Jugend (Of the Young); tenor soloist
Von der Schönheit (Of Beauty); mezzo-soprano soloist
Der Trunkene im Frühling (The Drunkard in Spring); tenor soloist
Der Abschied (Farewell); mezzo-soprano soloist

Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, mandolin, timpani, 2 harps, celeste, strings, and tenor and mezzo-soprano vocal soloists.

German poet Hans Bethge capitalized on European fascination with all things “oriental” at the turn of the 20th century when he published a volume of Tang dynasty poetry called Die chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute). The original Chinese text underwent a number of iterations before it was published by Bethge. It was first translated into French from Chinese, then the French version was translated into German by Hans Heilman. Only then did Hans Bethge use the text, and even then, he essentially paraphrased the translations. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where at least some of the meaning was lost in translation; regardless, many intellectuals, scholars, and artists encountered Bethge’s volume, including Mahler.

Mahler’s fascination with this text grew out of troubled times in his personal life. His daughter Maria had recently died of diptheria and scarlet fever, and he had recently learned of his own heart condition. Confronted with his own mortality, the texts in Bethge’s book resonated with Mahler, and he quickly made setting these texts a top composing priority during his summer retreat in 1908.

Das Lied von der Erde defies easy categorization. It is certainly a set of art songs, but goes beyond that genre in its scope and depth of musical materials. It has a symphonic character that even Mahler himself acknowledged. Ultimately, he regarded Das Lied as a symphony, as even the score itself refers to the work as “a symphony for tenor and contralto (or baritone) and orchestra.” However, the work is not among his numbered symphonies. Mahler was superstitious about finishing a ninth symphony, given that Beethoven died shortly after finishing his Ninth, and Anton Bruckner passed before he completed his. Mahler thought he could essentially cheat death by not calling Das Lied his ninth symphony. He later completed his Ninth, and passed away while working on his tenth.

Most of Mahler’s symphonies underwent extensive revision, in particular in the orchestration of the works, but Mahler did not live long enough to treat Das Lied in this fashion. As a result, it is a fascinating look at Mahler’s musical voice, as much of the piece is almost chamber music-like in its scoring. The six movements have the vocal soloists alternating in front of the orchestra, and the emotional range of the music is truly stunning. Though we cover everything from terror to melancholy, in the end, Mahler’s Song of the Earth is a song of deep appreciation for all of life’s twists and turns.

Guest Artist: Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano & Richard Cox, tenor

Tamara Mumford and Richard Cox

Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford performs regularly at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as tours the US with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Tenor Richard Cox will be performing at the Colorado Music Festival this summer, as well as performing several opera engagements.
Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano

This season, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford returned to the Metropolitan Opera as Smeaton in Anna Bolena, appeared on tour in the US and Europe with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in performances of Mahler Symphony No. 3, made her debut with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in performances of John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary and returned to the Utah Symphony for performances of Mahler Symphony No. 8. This summer she returns to Caramoor for the first ever American performances of Rossini's Aureliano in Palmira, and next season she appears in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Kajia Saariaho's L'Amour de loin and appears in concert with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra on tour in Europe.

A graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Ms. Mumford made her debut there as Laura in Luisa Miller, and has since appeared in more than 140 performances with the company, some of which include Smeaton in the new production of Anna Bolena, and in productions of Rigoletto, Ariadne auf Naxos,  Il Trittico, Parsifal, Idomeneo, Cavalleria Rusticana, Nixon in China, The Queen of Spades,  the complete Ring Cycle, The Magic Flute, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Wozzeck.   Other recent opera engagements have included L'Amour de loin at the Festival d'opéra de Québec, Iolante at the Dallas Opera, the title role in the American premiere of Henze’s Phaedra,  the title role in The Rape of Lucretia, and the world premiere of Daniel Schnyder's Yardbird at Opera Philadelphia; the title role in Dido and Aeneas at the Glimmerglass Festival,  Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival and the BBC Proms, Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia at the Caramoor Festival , Isabella in L’Italiana in Algeri at the Palm Beach Opera, the title role in The Rape of Lucretia, conducted by Lorin Maazel at the Castleton Festival; the title role in Carmen at the Crested Butte Music Festival, Principessa in Suor Angelica and Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi with the Orchestra Sinfonica Giuseppe Verdi di Milano in Italy; and the title role in La Cenerentola at Utah Festival Opera.

Richard Cox, tenor

American tenor Richard Cox possesses a remarkable voice that combines lyric and heroic qualities, and is equally suited to opera, concert, and recitals.

This summer, Mr. Cox performs Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Colorado Music Festival. He then sings Prinz Kalaf in Ferruccio Busoni’s Turandot for the Bard SummerScape Festival. Continuing into the 2016/2017 season, Mr. Cox makes his role debut as Loge in Das Rheingold with Minnesota Opera and North Carolina Opera; he joins I Musici de Montréal Chamber Orchestra for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde; and makes his Hawaii Opera Theatre debut as Mitch in Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Recent opera engagements have included a critically acclaimed debut as Laca in Jenůfa for Des Moines Metro Opera; the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in semi-staged performances of Peter Grimes; his debut with Washington National Opera for Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (Das Rheingold and Die Walküre); Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, Sergei in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Tichon in Káta Kabanová at the Teatro Municipal de Santiago de Chile; Froh in Das Rheingold, Malcolm in Macbeth, First Armored Man in Die Zauberflöte, and the Celebrant in Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at the Metropolitan Opera; Don José in student performances of Carmen at the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the title role in Samson et Dalila at the New Orleans Opera; Ruprecht in Viktor Ulmann’s Der zerbrochene Krug at the Los Angeles Opera (released on DVD by Arthaus Musik); Adolar in Weber’s Euryanthe at the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden; and Claudio in the first fully-staged North American production of Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot at the Glimmerglass Festival. A former ensemble member at Oper Frankfurt, Mr. Cox appeared in several new productions there, including The Tempest, Arabella, Owen Wingrave, and Das Rheingold (released on CD and DVD by Oehms Classics). He also appeared as Florestan in Fidelio, Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw, the Bishop of Budoja in Palestrina (released on CD by Oehms Classics), and Aegisth in Elektra.

Visit these sites for more information on Tamara Mumford:

Visit these sites for more information on Richard Cox:


Pre-concert music: Tessa Brinckman & Mitsuki Dazai

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

Pre-concert talk: Host Cody Growe interviews Erich Heckscher (Principal Bassoon)

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