Britt Orchestra / Crater Lake - Orchestra Showcase

Saturday, August 20, 8 p.m.


MICHAEL GORDON: Natural History (Crater Lake-inspired world premiere commission)
MASON BATES: Anthology of Fantastic Zoology
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition

TICKETS ON SALE 2-12-16 at 9 a.m.: Reserved $47 | Lawn $32 | Child/Student Lawn $10 
GATES OPEN: @ 5:45 Early Entry | 6:00 General Public

Britt Orchestra

For Closing Night of the 2016 season, Teddy Abrams continues the tradition of spotlighting the Britt Orchestra with an all-orchestral program. The concert starts with a repeat performance of Michael Gordon's work Natural History, as commissioned by Britt in honor of Crater Lake National Park. The piece will be premiered at the park on July 29-30, and the Orchestra will bring the season full circle when the work is encored on the Britt hill. 

Mason Bates’s Anthology of Fantastic Zoology was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered in June 2015. The piece is based on the book Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges. It is made up of eleven interlocking movements, which the composer describes it as a “psychedelic bestiary” that is “teeming with strange creatures and wild sonic effects.”

The 2016 season closes with the colorful Pictures at an Exhibition. Composed by Mussorgsky as reflections on paintings on exhibition, and orchestrated by Ravel, the piece showcases the many colors of the orchestra, and closes with a grand, inspiring ending.

Unless otherwise noted, program notes are written by Mark Knippel.

Michael Gordon
Natural History
(Commissioned by Britt in celebration of the National Park Service centennial in 2016, and in honor of Crater Lake National Park. World premiere July 29, 2016 inside Crater Lake National Park)

Composer: born July 20, 1956
Instrumentation: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, bass trombone, bass drum, timpani, tam tam, xylophone, glockenspiel, and strings. Plus, 10 trumpets/saxophones, 10 low brass, and 10 percussionists; mixed chorus; and the Steiger Butte Singers - members of The Klamath Tribes.

Crater Lake stands as one of America’s most iconic national parks, and has inspired people for thousands of years. No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in color; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past. It is a place of immeasurable beauty, and an outstanding outdoor laboratory and classroom. The stunning and massive caldera served as the inspiration for an unprecedented project, dreamed up by Britt staff, Teddy Abrams, and composer Michael Gordon.

The genesis of the Crater Lake Project comes from a funding opportunity from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Imagine Your Parks initiative, which provided funding “to projects that use the arts to engage people with memorable places and landscapes of the National Park System.” When Britt’s creative staff caught wind of this funding opportunity in January 2015, they quickly thought of doing a project in honor of Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake. As the brainstorming began, Britt staff informed Teddy of the opportunity, and everyone agreed that the scope of the project needed to go beyond anything Britt had previously attempted. As Teddy puts it, “...we want to create a work of musical art that truly binds the natural environment and topography of Crater Lake with a musical landscape and experience. It’s important to us that this work feel deeply connected to the environment, instead of simply presenting music in a beautiful place.” Everyone agreed that the only way to do that was to commission a living composer to write a new work specifically for this project. Enter Michael Gordon, who embraced the idea of the project immediately.

Days after the 2015 Britt Orchestra season, Britt staff, Teddy, and Michael Gordon did a site visit at Crater Lake with park staff members, including Superintendent Craig Ackerman. Performance locations were selected, and details of the commission were finalized. Since Crater Lake is a sacred site for the Klamath Tribes, Gordon wanted to include tribe members and their music in the work. He visited the lake again in the winter and spent time with Ackerman and Park Historian Stephen Mark. Gordon was also in touch with local writer Lee Juillerat who, along with Mark, has provided him with background on the history of the region and native lore and tradition. On his last trip to the park, Gordon spent a week in a ranger’s house in the dead of winter. During that period, he spent an afternoon working with Steiger Butte Drum, an extended family from the Klamath Tribes that sings and collectively plays a large drum, which they encircle. The drum group members are the soloists of the piece, which, in Gordon’s words, is “designed to be an experiential spectacle. The idea is to draw out the natural sounds in and around Crater Lake and connect the natural sonic environment to the orchestra.”

Lyrics to Natural History

"I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness..."
-Henry David Thoreau, Walking (1862)

Red-tailed hawk, black bear, silver haired bat, spiny spored quillwort, boreal toad,

Funghi, porcupines, golden rod, rough skinned newt, bleeding heart, bumblebee, painted lady, ducks, geese, great horned owl, angel wing

Shasta fir cones, nine leaf biscuit root, ducks, bats, hawks, geese, swifts, doves

My father always told me that Giwas, which means spiritual place,

Giwas is Crater Lake

I go up there to gather healing and prayer
I go up there

Mason Bates
Anthology of Fantastic Zoology
(composed in 2014; premiered in 2015)

Composer: born January 23, 1977

     Forest: Twilight—
The A Bao A Qu
The Gryphon
The Zaratan—

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (2 doubling Eb clarinet and bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets (one doubling piccolo trumpet), 3 trombones, tuba, xylophone, large Chinese drum, crash cymbals, woodblocks, crotales, bass drum, castanets, suspended cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, ratchet, Asian woodblock, wind machine, conga, tambourine, alm, glockenspiel, hi-hat, whip, vibraphone, wood switches, Asian drum, glockenspiel, celesta, piano, harp and strings.

How can a composer take a symphony orchestra to the next level and create something revolutionary? Mason Bates’s answer is frequently electronics, even though tonight’s work doesn’t include Bates’ signature touch on orchestral music, such as in his work Mothership (performed at Britt in 2015). His music fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, the harmonies of jazz and the rhythms of techno, receiving widespread acceptance for its unique integration of electronic sounds. The recently named second most-performed living composer has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through his residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or his club/classical project Mercury Soul. In awarding Bates the Heinz Medal, Teresa Heinz Kerry remarked, “His music has moved the orchestra into the digital age and dissolved the boundaries of classical music.”

Anthology of Fantastic Zoology, Bates’s largest work to date, is one of his few compositions without his signature of infusion electronica. With only the musicians on stage, he manages to create the most fantastical music—full of unconventional sonic effects that one might imagine hearing electronics.

— Hope Erickson

The following notes are by the composer himself:

Anthology is a setting of the book by Jorge Luis Borges, a master of magical realism and narrative puzzles, who created a marvelous compendium of mythological creatures. My musical realization of this is eleven interlocking movements, an expansive form inspired by French and Russian ballet scores. In between evocations of creatures familiar (sprite, nymph) and unknown (an animal that is an island), brief “forest interludes” take us deeper into the night, and deeper into the forest itself.

Imaginative creatures provoke new sounds and instrumentation, with a special focus on spatial possibilities using a variety of soloists. For example, the Sprite hops from stand to stand, shattering the normally monolithic string section into several dozen soloists. The A Bao A Qu is a serpentine creature that slithers up a tower; gloriously molts at the top; then slides back down—conjured by an exact palindrome. Nymphs feature two frolicking clarinets, while The Gryphon uses timpani and brass to conjure a flying lion that hunts horses. The lyrical core of the piece, Sirens, features offstage violins that lure the rest of the strings, one by one, to an epiphany. But it is short-lived, as the island they near devours them in The Zaratan, an island-sized animal conjured by tone clusters.

The sprawling finale occurs at the witching-hour moment between midnight and dawn. This movement collapses the entire work upon itself, as all of the animals fuse together in the darkest deepest part of the forest. The sprites bounce around the stage, the palindromic animal flashes forward and backwards, the Gryphon shoots tongues of fire – and the Zaratan, an animal that is an island, devours them all.

Modest Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition
(composed in June 1874, as a cycle of piano pieces; orchestrated by Maurice Ravel in 1922)

Composer: born May 21, 1839; died March, 28 1881
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, alto saxophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, bass drum, rattle, whip, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, glockenspiel, bell, xylophone, celesta, two harps and strings.

Mussorgsky composed Pictures at an Exhibition as a memorial to his friend, Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, who had died in the summer 1873 at age 39. Art critic Vladimir Stasov organized a posthumous exhibition of Hartmann’s drawings, paintings, and architectural sketches in St. Petersburg the following spring, out of which Mussorgsky chose eleven of the paintings as the inspiration for his piano suite. Over the next few months, he worked at high-intensity and speed, finishing his tribute to his friend in June 1874. He imagined himself “roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly thinking of his departed friend.” The work was not performed often, even by Mussorgsky himself, and was eventually brought into the public sphere by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Many composers have made attempts to orchestrate this wonderful piano work, as the music practically asks to be colored in ways only an orchestra can. None achieved the same level of orchestral splendor as Maurice Ravel, who completed his orchestration at the behest of Serge Koussevitzsky in 1922. It has become one of the most recognizable orchestral works in the repertoire, and serves as a perfect ending to the 2016 Britt season.

Now let’s imagine ourselves “roving through the exhibition” of Hartmann’s work, the way Mussorgsky may have done when he imagined his composition, while we attempt to illuminate some of the composer’s thinking.

We begin with a Promenade, which takes us into the gallery. Broad, bold and heroic, the theme is one suited for only great men. The Promenade theme returns several times throughout the work to indicate the change of mood and location for a different painting.

The first piece we stop by is Gnomus, a drawing that was for a Christmas tree ornament. Stasov comes alongside of us and says, “The ornament is a kind of nutcracker, a gnome into whose mouth you put a nut into, ...clumsily running with crooked legs.” The music stops and starts, with jagged edges and strange harmonies that suggest the the gnome’s awkward movements.

We walk around for about a minute and a half until we come across Il vecchio castello - “The Old Castle.” Hartmann sketched these two drawings of medieval castles while he was in France. Mussorgsky is fixated on the troubadour standing in front of the castle. Even though this is a French painting, he has a wild idea about creating the melody from Russian folk music. Little did he know, Maurice Ravel, would give the melody to the alto saxophone—a French instrument—in his orchestration.

A painting across the room looks a bit like a park and bears the title Tuileries. Hartmann’s drawing captured the atmosphere of squabbling children and their nurses perfectly, and thus the music follows suit.

Next in the room is Bydlo, which is Polish for “cattle.” The picture represents an ox-drawn wagon with enormous wheels, while the music imagines said wagon driving by, starting quietly in the distance and rumbling noisily by, with the hooves of the oxen plodding through the hard road.

We walk along the wall and see a painting of unhatched chicks dancing around a gramophone. It’s called Ballet des poussins dans leur coques - “Ballet of Chicks in Their Shells.” Hartmann had designed costumes for Trilby, a ballet given in Saint Petersburg in 1871. The music depicts “a group of little boys and girls, pupils of the Theatre School, dressed as canaries, scamper(ing) on the stage. Some of the little birds were wearing over their dresses big eggshells resembling breastplates.”

Mussorgsky himself owned two drawings of Hartmann’s: ‘A Rich Jew in a Fur Hat’ and ‘A Poor Jew.’ Mussorgsky eventually gave the paintings proper names: Samuel Goldberg and Schmuÿle. We hear something of an imagined conversation between the two figures in the paintings, with the domineering Goldberg and borderline obnoxious Schmuÿle.

Limoges: le marché - “The Market Place at Limoges” is displayed right behind us. Hartmann had done more than a hundred and fifty watercolors of Limoges in 1866. Mussorgsky decided to have some fun and imagine conversations between the shoppers in the margins of his score: “Great new! M. de Puissangeout has just recovered his cow…Mme de Remboursac has just acquired a beautiful new set of teeth, while M. de Pantaleon’s nose, which is in his way, is as much as ever the color of a peony.”

Our eyes move to the next painting, and it dampens the mood. Catacombae is a self-portrait of Hartmann, a friend, and a guide exploring the ancient Roman burial catacombs under Paris. There is an eerie glow in the background and a pile of skulls to their right. A somber mood overcomes the music, leading to a more mournful rendition of the Promenade this time.

A drawing of an odd-looking metal clock titled The Hut on Fowl’s Legs comes next. It’s in the shape of a hut with cocks’ heads and on chicken legs. This is a depiction of Baba Yaga’s hut, a Russian folk character who lived in the woods, preying on innocent passers-by.

The adjacent picture is a piece of history—The Great Gate of Kiev. Hartmann drew this design for a competition for the new gateway to Kiev to commemorate the failed assassination attempt of Tsar Alexander II. Unfortunately, the gates were never built due to lack of funds. Hartmann’s modeled his design on the traditional headdress of Russian women, with the belfry shaped like the helmet of Slavonic warriors. With the gate in our minds, we left the gallery, imagining marching under The Great Gate of Kiev in all its splendor and majesty with Hartmann by our side.

— Hope Erickson


Pre-concert music: Left Edge Percussion

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