PERFORMANCES & TICKETS
Britt Orchestra / Aoife O'Donovan & Jeremy Kittel
Friday, August 7, 8 p.m.
IVES: Putnam's Camp from Three Places in New England
O'DONOVAN: Red & White & Blue & Gold
KITTEL: Big Fiddle
ABRAMS: Questions (world premiere)
O'DONOVAN, KITTEL, ABRAMS: Bull Frogs Croon (poems by Peter Sears) (world premiere)
ANTHEIL: A Jazz Symphony
IVES: Ragtime Dance No. 3
COPLAND: Suite from Billy The Kid
TICKETS ON SALE Reserved $45 | Lawn $32 | Child/Student Lawn $10
GATES OPEN @ 5:45 Early Entry | 6:00 General Public
This concert celebrates the influence of jazz and folk on a variety of American composers. Two works by Charles Ives — “Putnam’s Camp” from Three Places in New England, and Ragtime Dance No. 3 — explore the uniquely American sounds of marching bands and ragtime, through the lens of one of the most forward-thinking musical experimenters of his time. George Antheil’s edgy, spirited work A Jazz Symphony, is one of the composer’s symphonic syntheses of jazz.
The center of the concert features fiddler/violinist Jeremy Kittel, regarded as one of the best of his generation, and vocalist Aoife (pronounced EE-fa) O’Donovan, a versatile singer who has been featured on the Goat Rodeo sessions, the modern folk band Crooked Still, and her own solo efforts. The two will solo in a folk set of original tunes with the orchestra.
The concert closes with a suite from Copland’s Billy the Kid, one of the composer’s most popular works, which incorporates cowboy tunes and American folk songs.
Unless otherwise notes, program notes are © 2015 Elizabeth Schwartz.
“Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut” from Three Places in New England
THE VITAL STATS
Composer: Born October 20, 1874, Danbury, CT; died May 19, 1954, New York City
Work composed: c1908–14. The version for full orchestra was completed in 1913-14; in 1929, Ives revised it for chamber orchestra, at the request of conductor Nicholas Slonimsky. There were further revisions for both chamber orchestra (1933-5) and a restoration of the full orchestra score by Ives scholar James Sinclair (1976).
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, gong, snare drum, piano and strings.
Estimated duration: 6 minutes
In the mid-1940s, Aaron Copland wrote, “It will be a long time before we take the full measure of Charles Ives.” Copland’s assessment of Ives was prescient. More than 50 years after his death, even for audiences who have experienced music far more radical and less listenable than Ives’, he continues to challenge and astonish us.
Ives’ inimitable style, which combines bursts of violent colors and rhythms with gentler passages, layered with fragments of recognizable tunes but rarely a conventional melody, shocked friends and colleagues. One day in 1912, Ives played excerpts of Three Places in New England for Max Smith, music critic for the New York Press. When Ives finished, Smith exclaimed, “These were awful! How can you like horrible sounds like that?”
Conductor Nicolas Slonimsky, however, appreciated Ives’ unique approach. In his autobiography Perfect Pitch, Slonimsky described his first reaction to Three Places: “As I looked over the score, I experienced a strange, but unmistakable, feeling that I was looking at a work of genius.”
Ives wrote the following program notes for Putnam’s Camp:
“Near Redding Center, Conn., is a small park preserved as a Revolutionary Memorial; for here General Israel Putnam’s soldiers had their winter quarters in 1778-1779 …
Once upon a “4th of July,” some time ago, so the story goes, a child went here on a picnic ... As he rests on the hillside of laurels and hickories the tunes of the band and the songs of the children grow fainter and fainter … over the trees on the crest of the hill he sees a tall woman standing. She reminds him of a picture he has of the Goddess Liberty, – but the face is sorrowful – she is pleading with the soldiers not to forget their “cause” and the great sacrifices they have made for it. But they march out of camp with fife and drum to a popular tune of the day. Suddenly, a new national note is heard. Putnam is coming over the hills from the center, – the soldiers turn back and cheer. – The little boy awakes, he hears the children’s songs and runs down past the monument to “listen to the band” and join in the games and dances.
Ragtime Dance No. 3
THE VITAL STATS
Composer: Born October 20, 1874, Danbury, CT; died May 19, 1954, New York City
Work composed: 1900-04, revised through the 1920s. The final version was arranged by Ives scholar James Sinclair and published in 1990.
Instrumentation: flute (doubling piccolo), oboe, clarinet (doubling alto and baritone saxophone), bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, chimes, piano and strings
Estimated duration: 3 minutes
Charles Ives’ music is a radical blend of forward-thinking collage and snippets of Americana. His innovative style often obscures the fact that in many respects, Ives immersed himself in the music of his time. He was particularly drawn to folk songs, hymns, Sousa marches and the jazzy swing of ragtime.
Between 1902 and 1904, Charles Ives composed the Ragtime Dances, several works for small orchestra. Using hymn tunes – Bringing in the Sheaves, Happy Day, and I Hear Thy Welcome Voice among them – Ives employed his unique blending of the hymns with ragtime rhythms to fashion these uniquely odd, tongue-in-cheek Ragtime Dances. “Ragtime is more than a natural dogma of shifted accents,” Ives wrote. “It may be one of nature’s ways of giving art raw material. Time ... will weld its virtues into the fabric of our music.” In some ways, Ives’ episodic style, sudden shifts of mood and interjections of familiar quotes – often to humorous effect – anticipates the brilliant scores written by Carl Stalling for classic Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Although Ives worked on the Ragtime Dances intermittently between 1904 and the 1920’s, he never completed a final version. The publication of Four Ragtime Dances in 1990 is the result of the work of Ives scholar James Sinclair, who reconstructed them from the earlier versions.
A Jazz Symphony (1955 version)
THE VITAL STATS
Composer: born July 8, 1900, Trenton, NJ; died Feb. 12, 1959, New York City
Work composed: 1925, rev. 1955.
Instrumentation: flute, 3 clarinets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, piano and strings.
Estimated duration: 8 minutes
The title of George Antheil’s 1945 autobiography, “Bad Boy of Music,” accurately captures the nature of this precociously talented, arrogant, brilliant and insufferable enfant terrible.
Antheil spent the years immediately following WWI in Paris, where he quickly gained fame as an outstanding concert pianist and avant-garde composer. Antheil’s primary interest lay in writing music that reflected the sounds of the new industries and machines of his time. The best example of Antheil’s machine-age music is his Ballet Mécanique, originally written in 1924 and scored for several pianos, xylophones, electric bells, airplane propellers and other percussion. Antheil wrote several other works in a similar vein, all aggressively dissonant, with insistent percussive rhythms.
By contrast, Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony is downright melodious, a crazy-quilt pastiche of Tin Pan Alley, Afro-Cuban jazz, lots of evocative solos (for piano, trumpet and clarinet, in particular) and plenty of dissonant chord clusters. Rhythmically, A Jazz Symphony is equally complex: rapid-fire changes in time signatures, abrupt meter shifts and an ever-present snare drum drive everything relentlessly forward. Into this dizzying aural stew, Antheil drops in a sentimental waltz and A Jazz Symphony concludes dripping with irony.
Antheil introduced A Jazz Symphony at his 1927 Carnegie Hall debut concert, at which the Ballet Mécanique also premiered. Although the audience gave A Jazz Symphony an ovation, it was completely overshadowed by Antheil’s avant-garde ballet, which almost triggered a riot during the concert (or a succès de scandale, depending on your point of view).
Billy the Kid Suite
THE VITAL STATS
Composer: born November 14, 1900, Brooklyn, NY; died December 2, 1990, North Tarrytown, NY.
Work composed: Copland composed the ballet in 1938 on a commission from Lincoln Kirstein, director of the Ballet Caravan Company; the composer arranged the orchestral suite the same year.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, guiro, orchestra bells, slapstick, sleigh bells, snare drum, tin whistle, triangle, wood block, xylophone, piano, harp and strings.
Estimated duration: 20 minutes
“Every American has a feeling of what the West is like – you absorb it,” Aaron Copland observed in 1976. For a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, composing a ballet about the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid was “just a feat of the imagination.” Billy the Kid is quintessential Copland: spare, open harmonies with colorful writing for individual instruments, particularly brasses. In this ballet, Copland also paints musical portraits of the Wild West, using quotations from cowboy songs.
Billy the Kid is the first ballet by an American composer to enter the ballet repertory and has been performed by companies across the United States and around the world. The orchestral suite Copland extracted from the ballet has likewise become a standard of the symphonic repertoire.
Eugene Loring choreographed Billy and danced the title role. Loring’s conception of the story is a mythic re-imagining of the short, violent life of Henry McCarty, alias Henry Antrim, alias William H. Bonney, known to the world as Billy the Kid. The ballet features four characters: Billy; Sheriff Pat Garrett, a boyhood friend who eventually guns Billy down; Billy’s mother, who doubles as his Sweetheart; and Alias, a composite character representing all of Billy’s victims.
The ballet opens with a procession of western pioneers emigrating across the open prairies of the West, which Copland illustrates with a spare, solemn arrangement for winds and brasses. The music abruptly shifts to a street scene in a generic Western frontier town. Bouncy strings, winds and brasses quote bits of Copland’s adaptations of the cowboy songs “Great Granddad,” “The Streets of Laredo” and “The Old Chisholm Trail.” The full orchestra represents two drunks fighting; the music grows louder and more raucous as the fight escalates, until one (Alias), accidentally shoots Billy’s mother. In an explosion of violence, twelve-year-old Billy stabs his mother’s murderer to death.
A gentle interlude suggests the tranquility of a night by the campfire as Billy and Garrett play a leisurely game of cards. A solo trumpet intones the main theme, loosely adapted from “Oh Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.” The game is interrupted by Alias (a lawman) and his posse, who have tracked Billy down. A violent shootout ensues and Billy’s gang is defeated. The battle is vividly suggested by bleating brasses, stark, angular snippets of melody in the strings, pounding timpani and the rat-a-tat of the snare drum. The settlers celebrate Billy’s capture with a lively but crude dance (in the ballet the macabre humor of this scene is more apparent, as the dancers hop nimbly among the bodies of the dead outlaws). Billy’s death is represented by a gentle statement in the strings that conveys nostalgia for the slain outlaw. The suite closes with a reprise of the noble prairie pageant.
Collaborations with Aoife O’Donovan and Jeremy Kittel (notes by Teddy Abrams)
This program features a set of music that is the product of a beautiful and unique collaboration. Instead of performing a standard concerto on the first half of this American-themed show, I wanted to present a body of new work created by some of my favorite American musicians. I’ve been very fortunate to work with violinist and composer Jeremy Kittel and singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan several times in recent years. Their combined musicianship, sensitivity, creative openness, and collaborative spirit are extraordinary. Both artists have a sound and voice that are instantaneously recognizable; you’ll love the smooth, gorgeously shaped turn-of-phrases from Aoife and distinctive, expressive slides from Jeremy. These are the kind of musicians that make composing, arranging, and performing together a thrill and a joy.
We are presenting several original works on this program. The largest of them is called Bull Frogs Croon, a song-cycle commissioned by Britt and premiering at this performance. Most “classical” compositions have a single author; an individual composer starts from musical sketches and ends up with a fully orchestrated piece. However, most songs in popular genres like folk and rock have a variety of contributors to the final musical product. In Bull Frogs Croon, we have created a work in the tradition of vocal composers like Richard Strauss, Mahler, or Schubert, but composed in a truly collaborative form. The poetry comes from three works of Oregon’s wonderful Poet Laureate, Peter Sears. Aoife created the initial version of the melodies and harmonies using the selected poems, and following a few multi-state Skype conferences, Jeremy began the orchestrational layout and string parts. I then added the wind, brass, and percussion scoring. We were very excited to watch this piece be built jointly over several months. There is a special nostalgia about the poetry that we all found powerful and inspiring. Lines like “the water is a glaze like loneliness at ease with itself”, “to feel your way down and know this darkness did not begin did not gather” and “I’d live in ruin to lie down beside her” have a timelessness that for me seems to appeal to every generation, every background of humanity. The references to nature in this poetry come alive with a combination of childlike imagery and beautifully profound insights into these pictures, these animal characters, and the descriptions of the immense and unchanging forces of our world.
In addition to Bull Frogs Croon, we are also premiering a new work of my called Questions. Written for Aoife and Jeremy specifically, this is a simple folk tune paired with neo-Romantic orchestration (maybe Mahler would have orchestrated it similarly!). The lyrics are my own, written in a style that ideally draws from the folk/romantic hybrid musical genre. The program also features one of my favorite virtuosic fiddle works, Big Fiddle by Jeremy. This is a new arrangement made for Britt, and while it uses Americana fiddling as its genre, like many of the American works on this program it references diverse musical sources. Hints of minimalism and lush string orchestrations combine beautifully with Jeremy’s intricate solo writing, which showcases his remarkable technical range (listen for his high, lyrical passages that float and hover almost miraculously). Aoife’s solo work on the program is a song she wrote called Red & White & Blue & Gold, which was released on her album Fossils. Aoife is as talented a vocalist as she is a lyricist; the warmth and expressiveness of her voice makes the imagery of her poetry remarkably real. The poem’s first-person requests, invitations, and desires speak directly and beautifully; it’s the transporting ability of her voice and compositions that makes this music very special.
Red & White & Blue & Gold
Questions (world premiere)
Aoife O’Donovan, Jeremy Kittel, & Teddy Abrams
Bull Frogs Croon (world premiere)
Poetry by Peter Sears
I. Night Fishing
The water is a glaze like loneliness
at ease with itself. I cast and close
my eyes for the whir out across the
water, the line striking the surface
and sinking. I like waiting for it to
settle on the bottom, then jig it up a
little. I imagine the lure in utter dark.
I play it lightly. Fish rise. Just shy of
the surface, they play their glints off
the moon on the water. I see too my
own loneliness. It’s not too big and it
breathes easily. Soon, it may pretend
it’s rain. Rain blurs the water. There
is nothing wrong with rain. I take a
deep breath and cast and cast.
II. The Darkness
Say you are out for a walk
and somewhere through the trees
you walk out of everything in your
or off by a window in thought and
what you look out to a crease of trees
perhaps you don’t see at all but what
you are thinking there in the trees
as you open like this through a
window or walk and walk into a
gazing they say darkness falls
darkness farther back than the
cave you felt into farther back than
violence to animals darkness farther
back than the water you dove into
hands in front of your face to feel
your way down and know this
darkness did not begin did not gather
then something backing off it seems
as you come in re-enters you and
crosses you over the sleep of the living
and the dead
Big frogs croak,
baby frogs slither;
I’d rather go broke
than not be with her
Bull frogs croon,
slugs wiggle wider;
I’d live in ruin
to lie down beside her.
Poems reprinted from Small Talk by Peter Sears, ©2014 Lynx House Press
Charles Ives - “Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut” from Three Places in New England
Charles Ives - Ragtime Dance No. 3
George Antheil - A Jazz Symphony
Aaron Copland - Billy the Kid Suite
Aoife O’Donovan - Red & White & Blue & Gold
Jeremy Kittel - Big Fiddle
2015 Britt Classical Playlist
Guest Artist: Aoife O'Donovan & Jeremy Kittel
Aoife O’Donovan (pronounced “ee-fah”) is known for her ethereal vocals and substantive songwriting. Her powerful performances continue to garner her praise in the folk and roots worlds. After graduating from the New England Conservatory she spent the better part of a decade as the lead singer and principal songwriter of
Crooked Still, which grew into one of the world’s most acclaimed progressive string groups. She has appeared in many other collaborations, including a role as vocalist on the Grammy-winning Goat Rodeo Sessions alongside Chris Thile, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan.
In 2013, she released her solo debut, Fossils, which received critical acclaim and was declared a “must listen” by Rolling Stone. This year sees the beginning of her newest collaboration: a trio tour called “I’m With Her” with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz.
Jeremy Kittel has earned a reputation as one of the most exceptional violinists and fiddlers of his generation. With tremendous musicality; a rare mastery of styles as diverse as jazz, Scottish and Irish fiddle, bluegrass, classical music, and more; a unique compositional voice, and an “exhilarating stage presence” (Strings Magazine), Kittel inspires listeners and fans worldwide through his solo work and collaborations.
As a leader, he performs with his own Jeremy Kittel Band, as well as in intimate duo and trio formats, and also as a soloist with orchestras. In collaboration, he is frequently called upon by some of today’s most influential and vibrant artists in a variety of genres, including My Morning Jacket, Jars of Clay, Mark O’Connor, Abigail Washburn, Camera Obscura, Bela Fleck and many more. He also recently completed a five-year full time position in the Grammy-winning Turtle Island String Quartet.
Jefferson Public Radio's Director of FM Program Services, Eric Teel, will host a pre-concert conversation with vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, fiddler Jeremy Kittel, and Oregon Poet Laureate Peter Sears at 7 p.m. in the Performance Garden.
Table Rock City Series Performer: Mazama Saxophone Quartet
Britt Performance Garden from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.