Britt Orchestra / Yefim Bronfman

Friday, August 19, 8 p.m.


JULIA WOLFE: Amber Waves of Grain
PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 2
COPLAND: Symphony No. 3

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Britt Orchestra

American composer Julia Wolfe won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2015. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Wolfe has "long inhabited a terrain of [her] own, a place where classical forms are recharged by the repetitive patterns of minimalism and the driving energy of rock." The orchestra will perform her 1988 work Amber Waves of Grain.

Next, internationally acclaimed pianist Yefim Bronfman takes on one of the most technically formidable piano concertos as he and the orchestra perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Written after World War II, Copland’s Third Symphony captured the spirit of the country at that time, and the work has become an essential American symphony. The famous Fanfare for the Common Man serves as the theme of the final movement.

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

Julia Wolfe
Amber Waves of Grain
(composed in 1988; premiered in 1989)

Composer: born December 18, 1958
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass trombone, 4 percussion, harp, strings.

As co-founder and co-artistic director of Bang on a Can, Julia Wolfe is continually creating contemporary and adventurous music. Wolfe’s masterpieces do not only push performers to extremes and demand the audience’s full attention because of the intense physicality and power of the music, but because of raw emotion and real voices. The Wall Street Journal describes Wolfe as having “long inhabited a terrain of [her] own, a place where classical forms are recharged by the repetitive patterns of minimalism and the driving energy of rock.”

As a “new” music composer, Wolfe is no stranger to minimalism, a form of 1960s experimental music that has become a prominent genre in America with the compositions of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams, La Monte Young, and Terry Riley. As Richard E Rodda states in a review of Glass’s Violin Concerto, “’Minimalist’ music is based upon the repetition of slowly changing common chords in steady rhythms, often overlaid with a lyrical melody in long, arching phrases…Minimalist music is meant, quite simply, to sound beautiful and to be immediately accessible to all listeners.”

Wolfe creates an underlying buzzing tone with the snare drum and string section in the beginning, as if imitating insects swarming in the Amber Waves of Grain. She introduces the first pattern in the woodwinds. She then orchestrates it in the brass section—first the trombones, then trumpets, creating a crescendo to the end of the first section. Next, a four-note sequence appears, starting with the oboes and slowly evolving as it moves around the orchestra. The next theme is also a pattern, with each instrument section trying to outshine the previous rendition. Wolfe brings these motives back towards the end of the piece, molding them together with dissonance.

— Hope Erickson

Sergei Prokofiev
Piano Concerto No. 2
(composed between 1912 and 1913; 1st edition premiered in 1913; the 2nd edition in 1924)

Composer: born April 23, 1891; died March 5, 1953

I.     Andantino - Allegretto
II.    Scherzo: Vivace
III.   Intermezzo: Allegro moderato
IV.   Finale: Allegro tempestoso

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, timpani, snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, cymbals, harp and strings.

Sergei Prokofiev started composing at a young age, writing his first piano piece at the age of five and his first opera, The Giant, at nine years old. He entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory when he was 13, and was clearly a prodigy as both a pianist and composer. But those conservatory years were far from joyful for Sergei. In January 1905, there were rumblings of revolution in Russia, which had immediate repercussions among the music professionals in the city, resulting in a lack of continuous teaching at the Conservatory. Prokofiev was self-willed, arrogant, much younger than his classmates, and made few friends; he even kept statistics on errors his classmates made during courses.

Prokofiev completed his Piano Concerto No. 2. in April 1913 during his last year as a student, dedicating it to his friend Max Shmitgov, who committed suicide that month after writing a farewell letter to Prokofiev. It was premiered on September 5, 1913, at the Vauxhall at Pavlovsk. The concert drew curious music lovers from throughout the surrounding area and the critic for the Saint Petersburg Gazette noted that his fellow passengers on the train to Pavlovsk were talking nothing but Prokofiev. Here is part of his review: On the platform appeared a youth looking like a Peterschule student. It was Sergei Prokofiev. He sat down at the piano and appeared to be either dusting the keyboard or tapping it at random, with a sharp dry touch. The public did not know what to make of it. Some indignant murmurs were heard. One couple got up and hurried to the exit: “Such music can drive you mad!” The hall emptied. The young artist ended his concerto with a relentlessly discordant combination of brasses. The audience was scandalized. The majority hissed. With a mocking bow, Prokofiev sat down again and played an encore. “The hell with this futurist music!” people were heard to exclaim. “We came here for pleasure. The cats on the roof make better music!

This response is not surprising, given that he was greatly influenced by Igor Stravinsky and his Rite of Spring, which was premiered a few months prior and had a similar reaction from the audience. However, the orchestra will not play the original version of Prokofiev’s concerto tonight.

When Prokofiev came to America in May 1918, he left the score in his apartment, where it was lost in a fire. He reconstructed the work from his sketches and reintroduced it on May 8, 1924, in Paris. During this decade, he broke away from the standard composer-pianist category with his orchestral suite Scythian Suite. He also wrote ballets (Chout), operas (The Love for Three Oranges), and symphonies (Symphony No. 1 in D major), as well as his Third Piano Concerto. He wanted his peers to know that when he rewrote the concerto, he did so as a more mature and accomplished composer. In his autobiography, he claimed, “the thematic material is entirely intact, but the contrapuntal fabric is slightly more complex, and the form is more graceful, less square.”

The first movement reflects the feelings of loss Prokofiev felt for his friend Max Shmitgov. The music traverses many emotional landscapes, from nostalgia to rage, from innocence to despair. Ever present is Prokofiev’s penchant for defying your expectations, with seemingly strange harmonic changes coming off as uniquely beautiful. Also present is a constant virtuosic force in the piano part that culminates in a stunning cadenza. The second movement Scherzo is in seeming perpetual motion, with cascading figures accentuated by orchestral outbursts. The Intermezzo has a more sarcastic character throughout, and paves the way for a rather grandiose finale, which includes another impressive cadenza for the piano that weaves in material reminiscent of the folk song treatment so common in early 20th century Russian music.

— Hope Erickson

Aaron Copland
Symphony No. 3
(composed between 1944 and 1946; premiered in 1946)

Composer: born November 14, 1900; died December 2, 1990

I.     Molto moderato
II.    Allegro molto
III.   Andantino quasi allegretto
IV.   Fanfare: Molto deliberato - Allegro risoluto

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, tam-tam, cymbals, xylophone, glockenspiel, tenor drum, wood block, snare drum, triangle, slapstick, ratchet, anvil, claves, tubular bells, two harps, celesta, piano and strings.

As a young nation, American composers felt the need to construct a style of music that embodied “The Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave.” Not only did Copland display national pride through his compositions, he also incorporated and expanded upon cowboy tunes and American folk songs with great skill, helping to pioneer a truly American compositional style.

Copland did not have many preconceived notions about the components of this symphony when he retreated to the isolated town of Tepotzlan, Mexico in the summer of 1944, free from distraction. He was thinking more of pleasing Serge Koussevitzky, who commissioned the work and “liked music in the grand manner.” However, Copland planned to incorporate his recent Fanfare for the Common Man. David Diamond, Copland’s friend and fellow composer, wrote to him while he was in Mexico, “Make it a really KO symphony. And do, please use the fanfare material.”

By the time he returned home in October, Copland had drafted the first movement. In 1945, he spent a short time in Bernardsville, New Jersey, from March to October, where he completed the first two movements. As he travelled around the East Coast, he wrote the third movement in Connecticut, and finished drafts of the last two movements at the MacDowell Colony in Peterboro, New Hampshire. He polished the final product in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, in a nearby converted barn before going to Tanglewood’s first post-War season in July 1946.

During the late 1920s, Copland was typically pigeonholed as a composer of symphonic jazz, and as a folklorist and purveyor of Americana. In his Third Symphony, he tried to make it clear that the work contained no folk or popular material, in the interest of defying this particular expectation of his output.

The beginning movement is broad and expressive in character, and in general, the form is that of an arch, starting slowly and climbing with animation to the climax, before returning to the serenity of the opening.

The tranquility is broken with the entrance of the horns with the principal motto of the theme (Allegro molto). Throughout, it continues in the clarinets, then in unison strings, and finally appears in augmentation in the brass section. The contrasting middle section has suggested to some listeners a kind of “cowboy song”—this may have been coincidental given his statement about the piece. After the climax, the lyrical theme returns, this time with a full-orchestra canon.

The third movement has the freest form structure. The theme heard in the trombones in the first movement is recapitulated in the first violins. This melts into a new theme in the solo flute, eventually building speed, almost dance-like. Undiscerningly, the movement drifts off into the strings, eventually dying away on a sustained A-flat chord. In Copland’s notes, he writes, “Although it is built up sectionally, the various sections are intended to emerge one from the other in continuous flow, somewhat in the manner of a closely knit series of variations.”

Copland uses an opening fanfare as the preparation for the main body of the last movement. It is close to the customary sonata-allegro form. The oboe states the energetic first theme, budding into a joyous dance. A broader and more song-like second theme appears in the brass section, serving as counterpoint to it. The development section revolves around the fanfare and first-theme fragments, a violent dissonant chord bringing the section to a close. In the final minutes, elements of the fanfare gradually rematerialize until a final resounding affirmation brings this euphoric symphony to a close.

Leonard Bernstein conducted the European premiere in Prague on May 25, 1947, a year after the world premiere. Copland and Bernstein became lifelong friends while Bernstein, almost 20 years Copland’s junior, was a sophomore at Harvard. He wrote to Copland after the premiere with some surprisingly forthright criticism: “First I must say it’s a wonderful work. Coming to know it so much better I find in it new lights and shades—and new faults. Sweetie, the end is a sin. You’ve got to change [it]. Stop the presses! We must talk—about the whole last movement, in fact.”

Copland’s friendly response was “I’ve decided that it’s a tough job to write an almost 40 min. piece which is perfect throughout. That’s about all I’ll concede for the moment!”

— Hope Erickson

Yefim Bronfman

Internationally recognized as one of today’s most acclaimed and admired pianists, Yefim Bronfman stands among a handful of artists regularly sought by festivals, orchestras, conductors, and recital series. His commanding technique, power, and exceptional lyrical gifts are consistently acknowledged by the press and audiences alike.

Bronfman’s 2015-16 season included a residency with the Staatskapelle Dresden, which included all the Beethoven concerti conducted by Christian Thielemann in Dresden and on tour in Europe. He also performed the daunting complete Prokofiev sonatas over three programs in Berlin, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and Cal Performances, Berkeley. Also, following the success of their first US tour, Bronfman rejoined Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lynn Harrell in May for a European tour that took them to Madrid, Berlin, Moscow, and Milan.

Widely praised for his solo, chamber and orchestral recordings, Bronfman was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 for his Deutsche Grammophon recording of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s piano concerto with Salonen conducting, and in 1997 he won a Grammy, again with Salonen, for his recording of the three Bartók Piano Concerti and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His prolific catalog of recordings includes performances with Emanuel Ax, the complete Prokofiev concerti with the Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta, a Schubert/Mozart disc with the Zukerman Chamber Players and the soundtrack to Disney’s Fantasia 2000.

Born in Tashkent in the Soviet Union, Bronfman immigrated to Israel with his family in 1973, where he studied with pianist Arie Vardi, head of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. In the US, he studied at The Juilliard School, the Marlboro School of Music, and the Curtis Institute of Music, under Rudolf Firkusny, Leon Fleisher, and Rudolf Serkin. Bronfman was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize in 1991, and the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in piano performance from Northwestern University in 2010. He is a 2015 recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Manhattan School of Music.

Yefim Bronfman became an American citizen in July 1989.

Guest Artist: Yefim Bronfman

Yefim Bronfman

Internationally recognized as one of today's most acclaimed and admired pianists, Yefim Bronfman stands among a handful of artists regularly sought by festivals, orchestras, conductors and recital series. His commanding technique, power and exceptional lyrical gifts are consistently acknowledged by the press and audiences alike.
At the center of this season is a residency with the Staatskapelle Dresden which includes all the Beethoven concerti conducted by Christian Thielemann in Dresden and on tour in Europe. Mr. Bronfman will also be performing Bartok concerti with the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev in Edinburgh, London, Vienna, Luxembourg, and New York. Recital performances will capture audiences with the cycles of the daunting complete Prokofiev sonatas over three programs in Berlin, New York's Carnegie Hall, and Cal Performances, Berkeley.

As a regular guest, Mr. Bronfman will return to the Vienna, New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, Mariinsky, Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, as well as the symphonies of Boston, Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco and Seattle. Following the success of their first US tour last spring, Mr. Bronfman will rejoin Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lynn Harrell in May for a European tour that takes them from Madrid to Berlin, Moscow and Milan.

Mr. Bronfman was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize in 1991, and the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in piano performance from Northwestern University in 2010. He has been nominated for three GRAMMY® Awards, one of which he won with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for their recording of the three Bartók Piano Concerti.

Born in Tashkent in the Soviet Union on 10 April 1958, Yefim Bronfman immigrated to Israel with his family in 1973.

Visit these sites for more information on Yefim Bronfman:

Pre-concert music: Britt Orchestral Fellows String Quartet

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