Britt Orchestra / Opening Night-Carmina Burana

Friday, July 31, 8 p.m.


ABRAMS: Kentucky Royal Fanfare
SCRIABIN: Poem of Ecstasy
ORFF: Carmina Burana

TICKETS ON SALE Reserved $45 | Lawn $32 | Child/Student Lawn $10 
GATES OPEN: @ 5:45 Early Entry | 6:00 General Public

Opening Night 2015

Music Director Teddy Abrams starts the 2015 Classical Festival off with a weekend of extravagant orchestral works. Abrams continues the tradition he started last year, beginning the season with a work of his own, called Kentucky Royal Fanfare.

Alexander Scriabin’s symphonic poem, The Poem of Ecstasy, is an intense, bold exploration of ecstasy through music. The work is highlighted by lavish brass and percussion sections, over lush strings.

The first half is an appropriate warm-up for Carmina Burana, one of the most popular works in all of orchestral music. A 150-piece choir and guest soloists are featured in a work the composer described as a celebration of the human spirit.
Based on a collection of poems written in the Middle Ages, the songs of Carmina Burana describe the fickle nature of fortune and fate, nature, love, sensuality and drinking, all in a dramatic, often irreverent and sometimes bawdy style. It’s a feast for the senses, and a fitting celebration to start the 2015 Classical Festival.

Unless otherwise noted, program notes are © 2015 Elizabeth Schwartz.

Teddy Abrams
Kentucky Royal Fanfare

Composer: born May 6, 1988
Work composed: 2015
Instrumentation: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, snare drum, cymbals, shaker, tam-tam, tenor drums, bass drum
Estimated duration: 5 minutes

NOTES (by Teddy Abrams)
The Kentucky Royal Fanfare was written for the Louisville Orchestra for a very special occasion – Prince Charles visited Louisville in March 2015 and the Orchestra was invited to welcome him with a fanfare to be performed at his first stop in town. We initially considered programming an existing work to represent the United States and to greet the Prince, like Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, but it was decided that this unique occasion for Louisville and the orchestra called for a new work to be composed in Prince Charles’ honor. As I researched Prince Charles’ life and philanthropic work, I was impressed with the breadth of his interests in improving and increasing the stability of our planet’s ecosystem, developing a sustainable and healthy food-source for the entire world, and fostering care and understanding between cultures. I wanted to create a piece that celebrated this spirit of caring for our earth and fellow man, and composing a work for the nobility and royalty in all of us seemed like the perfect present for His Royal Highness. Like most of my music, this work draws on many genres for inspiration – Copland’s “Americana” sound is an influence, but so are funk, folk, and British brass music. I also love creating a rhythmic edge and playing with one’s expectations of where the beat falls. Almost every third beat is missing a little chunk of time, which one probably wouldn’t notice as an audience member but makes the piece particularly challenging for the performers. Impressively, I heard that Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla tapped their toes to the piece despite the complex rhythmic scheme!

Aleksandr Scriabin
Le poème de l’extase (The Poem of Ecstasy) Symphony No. 4, Op. 54

Composer: born December 25, 1871, Moscow; died April 27, 1915, Moscow
Work composed: 1905-08
Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, bells, cymbals, celesta, glockenspiel, tam-tam, triangle, two harps, organ and strings.
Estimated duration: 20 minutes

Aleksandr Scriabin died before he could fully express the musical and philosophical ideas that consumed his creative energy. His mystical, enigmatic style eludes easy categorization, and his interests in philosophy and theosophy (defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as “any of various philosophies professing to achieve a knowledge of God by spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition or special individual revelation”) directed all his creative endeavors in later life. Musicologist Gerard McBurney points out Scriabin’s interest in Orientalist philosophies and religions: “He was very much influenced by the new vogue for spiritualisms of one kind or another … Inspired by all these things that he’d read, Scriabin came more and more to regard his music not just as music but as a kind of liturgy, a kind of religious experience that involved a transformation of the inner self of human beings.” In a sense, Scriabin was a man out of time; his explorations of religious and sexual experiences belong to the 1960s.

In later life, Scriabin wrote poetry, although none of his poems compare even remotely with the innovations and quality of his music. The Poem of Ecstasy began as a turgid, lengthy poem of over 200 lines, titled Orgiastic Poem. “Very often in the poem, Scriabin can’t think of any proper Russian words to express what he has to say, so he makes up nonsense words which suggest breathing, gasping for breath, sexual responses of one kind or another,” says McBurney. Eventually Scriabin abandoned the poem and transformed his ideas into music. “If you look at the poem, it seems that some of the fragments of themes – and there aren’t any real tunes in this piece, only fragments of themes – some of the fragments of themes must have begun as settings of the words of the poem.”

When The Poem of Ecstasy premiered in Russia in 1909, Scriabin provided the following comments for the program book:
The Poem of Ecstasy is the Joy of Liberated Action. The Cosmos, i.e., Spirit, is Eternal Creation without External Motivation, a Divine Play of Worlds. The Creative Spirit, i.e., the Universe at Play, is not conscious of the Absoluteness of its creativeness, having subordinated itself to a Finality and made creativity a means toward an end. The stronger the pulse beat of life and the more rapid the precipitation of rhythms, the more clearly the awareness comes to the Spirit that it is consubstantial with creativity itself. When the Spirit has attained the supreme culmination of its activity and has been torn away from the embraces of teleology and relativity, when it has exhausted completely its substance and its liberated active energy, the Time of Ecstasy shall arrive.”

Carl Orff
Carmina Burana

Composer: born July 10, 1895, Munich; died March 29, 1982, Munich
Work composed: 1936
Instrumentation: soprano, tenor and bass soloists, SATB choir, children’s choir, 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, antique cymbals, bass drum, chimes, castanets, cymbals, glockenspiel, ratchet, snare drum, sleigh bells, tam tam, tambourine, triangle, celesta, 2 pianos and strings.
Estimated duration: 60 minutes

If there is such a thing as a one-hit-wonder category in classical music, Carmina Burana certainly qualifies. Its composer, Carl Orff, wrote a number of other works, both before and after Carmina Burana, and he is also known for his Schulwerke (School works), a collection of music for children, and its accompanying pedagogical method of music education. However, nothing else Orff accomplished in his 87 years comes close to rivaling the fame and staying power of Carmina Burana.

In 1934 Orff first came across a collection of 13th-century poems compiled at the Benedictine monastery in Benediktbeueren, located in Bavaria, near Munich. Carmina Burana (Songs of Beuren) is an eclectic collection of over 200 poems and songs. Their themes range from religious ecstasy to secular love, lust, drunken debauchery and bawdy humor. Most of the poems are in Church Latin, although some feature a medieval Bavarian German dialect, and a few poems are in French. Several poems mix the languages together.

In setting these texts, Orff rejected the prevailing styles of German music that dominated the first third of the 20th century. Gone are the sophisticated harmonies, 12-tone rows, esoteric theoretical underpinnings and profound philosophical subtexts. Instead, Orff wrote strophic songs (melodies which do not develop or change from verse to verse), using basic harmonies derived from major, minor and modal scales. He also emphasized dynamic rhythms and highlighted the percussion section. Most central of all, Orff chose texts that celebrate primal human experiences.

Carmina Burana was an immediate hit at its premiere on June 8, 1937 in Frankfurt, despite official Nazi disapproval (New Yorker critic Alex Ross notes, “Orff’s showpiece was far removed from Hitler’s favorite Wagner operas.”).

The 24 texts Orff selected are arranged in three large sections: 1. Primo vere (Spring) and Uf dem Anger (On the Green); 2. In taberna (In the Tavern); and 3. Cour d’Amours (Court of Love). The first section is preceded by Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World), the best-known section of Carmina Burana. The concept of the implacable goddess of Fortune spinning her wheel to determine one’s fate is the central theme of Carmina Burana, a medieval trope on “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The authors of these poems, whose focus on earthly pleasures borders on the obsessive, were motivated by belief in the capricious, often malevolent, power of Fortune’s wheel to destroy their lives.

Primo vere begins with a trilling figure in the piccolos, flutes, oboes and pianos, a musical birdcall signaling spring’s awakening. The first three songs focus on the rejuvenation of the earth. They also link the first stirrings of spring with feelings of love and passion, which are also emerging from winter’s long hibernation. The music is spare; in the first song, Veris leta facies, the chorus sings in unison octaves; the second, Omnia Sol temperat, features a baritone soloist and the barest wisps of accompaniment. Only when spring fully bursts forth, in Ecce gratum, do we hear vocal harmonies, accompanied by full orchestra. The subsection Uf dem Anger features a number of dances, both earthy (Tanz) and refined (Reie). The songs are full of flirtation and seductive promises.

In Taberna both celebrates and decries the effects of alcohol. Estuans interius is an operatic rant for baritone, who declares, “My soul is dead/So I look after the flesh.” Olim lacus colueram, sung by tenor and accompanied by a plaintive bassoon solo, is told from the viewpoint of a swan being roasted on a spit at a drunken feast. Ego sum abbas parodies Gregorian chant. It tells of the fictional abbot of Cockaigne, who loses both his money and his clothing at the gambling table. The men’s chorus echoes his despairing cry of “Wafna!” In taberna quando sumus venerates, in a series of toasts, all who partake of drink. The men’s voices are accompanied by alternating bursts of brass and percussion and prosaic oom-pahs.

The songs of Cour d’amours focuses on the two main facets of love in medieval times: courtly love, the yearning for a chaste and usually unattainable lady (as in Dies, nox et omnia), and the frankly erotic (Si puer cum puellula and Veni, veni, venias). The soprano soloist expresses both longing and virginal hesitancy (In trutina mentis dubia and Tempus est iocundum); she later conveys her ecstasy with an orgasmic aria (Dulcissime). This section ends with the chorus’ grand quasi-religious paean to “the most beautiful one.” With language usually reserved for prayers to the Virgin Mary, she is compared to Helen of Troy, Blanchefleur, the heroine of a 12th-century romance, and Venus herself. Before anyone is allowed to linger in love’s realm, however, Fortune’s ever-spinning wheel returns for a final comment on life’s capriciousness and unpredictability.


Aleksandr Scriabin - Le poème de l’extase (The Poem of Ecstasy) Symphony No. 4, Op. 54

Carl Orff - Carmina Burana

2015 Britt Classical Playlist

Guest Artists: Hugh Russell, Celena Shafer, Javier Abreu,
Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, Rogue Valley Chorale
& San Francisco Girls Chorus

Carmina Burana Guest Artists

The 150-member chorus for Carmina Burana will include the Rogue Valley’s own Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and the Rogue Valley Chorale, as 30 members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, all under the preparation of Chorusmaster Paul French.

Celena Shafer, soprano Shafer has garnered acclaim for her silvery voice, fearlessly committed acting and phenomenal technique. She spends much of her time on the concert stage where she appears regularly with orchestras in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and with leading conductors.

Javier Abreu, tenor
Puerto Rican tenor Javier Abreu has been described as a commanding force on stage, incorporating a rich, sweet and agile voice, with ample dramatic skills. The Washington Times stated that “his high, supple lyric voice possesses great conviction.”

Hugh Russell, baritone
Canadian baritone Hugh Russell continues to receive high praise for his charisma, dramatic energy and vocal beauty. At the center of his orchestral repertoire is Carmina Burana, which Mr. Russell has performed with The Louisville Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Toronto Symphony, and Vancouver Symphony, among others.

Video Content

For more information about Rogue Valley Chorale:

For more information about the San Francisco Girls Chorus:

For more information about Southern Oregon Repertory Singers:

For more information about Javier Abreu:

Pre-Concert Conversation

Jefferson Public Radio's Director of FM Program Services, Eric Teel, will host a pre-concert conversation with Dr. Ford Lallerstedt, Britt's Assistant Conductor/Musical Advisor at 7 p.m. in the Performance Garden. Due to the Opening Night Gala Dinner, seating will be limited.


Table Rock City Series Performer: Trio Terra Nova

Britt Performance Garden from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.  Due to the Opening Night Gala Dinner, seating will be limited.