Britt Orchestra / Sixth Floor Trio

Saturday, August 8, 8 p.m.


BARBER: Second Essay
Set featuring Sixth Floor Trio
BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique

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

Britt Classical

Samuel Barber’s Second Essay opens this concert. It’s a concise piece of concentrated musical drama, with rhythmic drive and Barber’s trademark romantic lyricism.

The center of the concert will feature a set with the Sixth Floor Trio, featuring Britt’s own Teddy Abrams, Harrison Hollingsworth, Johnny Teyssier and special guest Gabriel Globus-Hoenich. The Sixth Floor Trio formed when the members were all at the Curtis Institute of Music, and they’re dedicated to music that connects different styles and artistic disciplines.
In Berlioz’s grand semi-autobiographical Symphonie fantastique, the audience goes on a wild ride with a love-struck artist, as the work explores his obsessive love for a young beautiful actress.

Program notes © 2015 Elizabeth Schwartz

Samuel Barber
Second Essay for Orchestra, Op. 17

Composer: born March 9, 1910, West Chester, PA; died January 23, 1981, New York City
Work composed: 1942
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tam tam and strings
Estimated duration: 10 minutes

Samuel Barber’s music evokes the 19th century Romantic tradition in both its structure and language. Barber also followed another significant characteristic of 19th century composers: that of uniting music with literature. A lover of prose and poetry throughout his life, Barber found inspiration in a diverse group of writers, including Percy Shelley, James Agee, Emily Dickinson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda and James Joyce Barber borrowed from literature the forms and ideas he used to craft his three Essays for Orchestra, which are essentially musical treatments of literary genres.

In the autumn of 1940, Barber’s uncle, composer Sydney Homer, urged Barber to write a music drama “on the lines of [Beethoven’s] Fidelio, built on sympathy for suffering and with a voice of true eloquence.” Keenly aware of the threatening war in Europe, Homer continued, “They say insects could destroy the world if they were unchecked. Something like that is going on in civilization. Write the greatest thing you possibly can!”

An essay, in Barber’s words (he used the Oxford English Dictionary definition), is “a composition of moderate length on any particular subject … more or less elaborate in style, though limited in range.” Barber’s Second Essay explores three themes, the first introduced by solo woodwinds, the second by the violas (parts of this theme sounds remarkably like John Williams’ music from the blockbuster film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) and the third, a fugue of brasses and woodwinds. To extend the metaphor, Barber develops these three themes by juxtaposing fragments from each, and deftly layers his rich orchestral timbres, in the manner of a painter daubing one color over another.

Barber completed the second essay on March 15, 1942. “I have been composing very hard,” he wrote to poet Katherine Garrison Chapin, “and my music has been going so well that it seems incongruous for times such as these. But I’ve taken the attitude that it is better to continue in one’s job tutta forza [full strength] until one’s draft board decides otherwise.” About the Second Essay itself, Barber said, “Although it has no program, one perhaps hears that it was written in war-time.”

The Second Essay for Orchestra premiered on April 16, 1942, at Carnegie Hall with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic, on the occasion of the orchestra’s centennial celebration. One reviewer said of Barber, “In a short space he creates and sustains a mood … worked out with economy of knowledge and assurance … perhaps a shade too solemn, but a composer is entitled to his own thesis.” Noting Barber’s affinity for literature, another critic dubbed him the “musical American Shelley.”

Hector Berlioz
Symphonie fantastique (Episode in the Life of an Artist), Op. 14

Composer: born December 11, 1803, La Côte-Saint-André, Isère, France; died March 8, 1869, Paris.
Work composed: Between January and April of 1830, although some of the material Berlioz included was written as early as 1819.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas (ophicleides), 2 sets of timpani, bass drum, chimes, cymbals, bells, field drum, 2 harps and strings.
Estimated duration: 49 minutes

Hector Berlioz was an arrogant, selfish, vitriolic, self-obsessed man, and he drove poor Harriet Smithson, his unfortunate wife and the inspiration for his Symphonie fantastique, to drink and despair. Berlioz’ deficits as a human being notwithstanding, nothing takes away from the fact that at age 27, he wrote, by general agreement, the most amazing first symphony any composer has yet produced.

This feat is all the more surprising when we realize that Berlioz completed his Symphonie fantastique just three years after the death of Beethoven. When heard in that context, it is possible to appreciate how truly original this music is. Berlioz was no doubt inspired by Beethoven’s own symphonic innovations, especially Beethoven’s use of a program in his Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony, but, typically, Berlioz pushed the programmatic elements further than any composer before him.

Berlioz’ inspiration for the Symphonie fantastique was born from his obsession with Smithson, an Irish actress he first saw in a production of Hamlet in 1827. Berlioz spoke almost no English, so it seems clear that his violent infatuation with Smithson was carnal rather than courtly. (Berlioz and Smithson did not actually meet for another five years, after the premiere of the revised version of the Symphonie.)

What made Berlioz’ program so innovative and shocking to his audiences was the extent to which the story reflected autobiographical and literary elements. Along with Smithson, who was musically transformed into the idée fixe – recurring theme – of the symphony, Berlioz drew on plots from literature, most notably Faust, in his exploration of the gloriously ruinous nature of love. What audiences, both then and now, often misunderstood was the quintessentially Romantic nature of Berlioz’ program. He was not interested in a literal depiction of events, but rather the transformation of his emotional response to those events into music.

Berlioz insisted that his music could not be understood or appreciated without its accompanying program, which he provided to audiences at the first performances of the work. Its five movements, in roughest outline, proceed as follows: Part I: Dreams – Passions: Boy meets girl. Part II: A Ball: Boy obsesses about girl. Part III: A Scene In the Country: While strolling about the countryside listening to shepherds’ songs, boy convinces himself girl doesn’t return his love. Part IV: March to the Scaffold: In despair, boy takes a less-than-fatal dose of opium – enough to induce horrible visions and hallucinations – including a death march to the guillotine. Part V: Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath: Still hallucinating, the boy dreams his funeral is a witches’ Sabbath, and his beloved joins in the diabolical festivities.

Or, as Leonard Bernstein so eloquently put it, in one of his Young Peoples’ Concerts, “Berlioz tells it like it is … You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”

Samuel Barber - Second Essay for Orchestra, Op. 17

Hector Berlioz - Symphonie fantastique (Episode in the Life of an Artist), Op. 14

2015 Britt Classical Playlist

Guest Artist: Sixth Floor Trio

Sixth Floor Trio

The Sixth Floor Trio is a chamber group dedicated to the creation and performance of music that connects different musical styles, communities, and artistic disciplines. Formed by graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music in 2008, the Trio has performed extensively throughout the United States in venues ranging from traditional concert halls to grunge bars and experimental spaces. The trio is Harrison Hollingsworth, bassoon/violin; Johnny Teyssier, clarinet; Teddy Abrams, piano/clarinet. For this performance, the Trio will be joined by Gabriel Globus-Hoenich on drums.

The Trio’s debut performance took place in August 2009, when the group opened for (and collaborated with) Marvin Hamlisch in Western North Carolina. Following this successful beginning, the Trio performed at venues such as the Kennedy Center, the Kravis Center (Palm Beach), World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, the Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival, the FUZE! Series at the Akron Art Museum, the Living Room in New York City, and numerous other locations during the Trio’s annual Summer, Fall and Winter residencies.

In addition to presenting performances, the Sixth Floor Trio has created and directed several exciting projects inspired by the Trio’s mission to bring music to the widest audiences and to connect with artists from many different genres. The Trio received a substantial grant in 2011 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to present “Random Acts of Culture” across the United States. These “Random Acts” led the Trio to collaborate with organizations such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Stanford University, the Akron Public Library, Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History, Greyhound, and the Ferry Terminal Marketplace in San Francisco in addition to showcasing the Trio at numerous malls, markets, transit centers, and airports around the country.

Pre-Concert Conversation

Jefferson Public Radio's Director of FM Program Services, Eric Teel, will host a pre-concert conversation with Sixth Floor Trio members Teddy Abrams, Johnny Teyssier, Harrison Hollingsworth, and Gabriel Globus-Hoenich at 7 p.m. in the Performance Garden.


Table Rock City Series Performer: Southern Oregon University Faculty Brass Quintet

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