The Peninsula Music Festival - Season 2009 Program Notes
Program 9 - Saturday, August 22, 2009 - Festival Finale - Tribute to Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Facsimile, Choreographic Essay for Orchestra
Composed in 1946.
Ballet premiered on October 24, 1946 in New York City; “Choreographic Essay” premiered on March 5, 1947 in Poughkeepsie, New York; both performances conducted by the composer.
Bernstein's Facsimile was last performed at the Peninsula Music Festival on August 22, 1996 with Victor Yampolsky conducting
By 1946, Leonard Bernstein’s career was nearing orbit. Three years earlier Artur Rodzinski had appointed him as his conducting assistant with the New York Philharmonic, largely on the advice of Bernstein’s mentor, Sergei Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony. On November 14, 1943, Bernstein took over a concert for the ailing guest conductor Bruno Walter at very short notice. The national broadcast of the program went ahead as scheduled, and the 25-year-old musician was instantly famous and immediately in demand by other leading orchestras. One of the earliest of Bernstein’s guest appearances was with the Pittsburgh Symphony on January 28, 1944, when he led the premiere of his own Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”), the work that won the New York Music Critics Circle Award that year. Revealing his creative talent for the musical theater, Bernstein premiered both the ballet Fancy Free and the musical On the Town later in 1944, but he was still able to continue his guest conducting at such a hectic pace that he had registered a hundred performances within a year of his radio broadcast. In 1945, Bernstein took on the duties of music director of the New York City Symphony, whose concerts specialized in avant-garde compositions. On May 15, 1946, he made his European conducting debut in an all-American program with the Czech Philharmonic at the Prague Music Festival. On July 4th, he led the European premiere of his Fancy Free at Covent Garden, London, and a month later conducted the first American performance of Benjamin Britten’s epochal opera Peter Grimes at Tanglewood.
Despite the accelerating pace of his life in 1946, Bernstein agreed to collaborate again with choreographer-dancer Jerome Robbins in creating a successor to their popular Fancy Free for New York’s Ballet Theatre. They hammered out the scenario for the new ballet — Facsimile — in five days, and Bernstein finished the score three weeks later. He made a piano recording of the music for Robbins and the dancers to work out the choreography soon after returning to New York, and conducted the premiere, at the Broadway Theatre, on October 24, 1946. Facsimile, with its unsettling theme of loneliness and its explosive interpersonal relations (i.e., a “facsimile” of a true, meaningful relationship), did not draw the warm critical and public responses that had greeted Fancy Free, however, and it has been infrequently revived as a ballet.
The composer wrote, “The action of the ballet is concerned with three lonely people — a woman and two men — who are desperately and vainly searching for real interpersonal relationships. The music can be divided into four sections, which follow closely the action:
“I. Solo: The woman is alone in an open and desolate place [a deserted beach in Oliver Smith’s design for the premiere], trying (and failing) to escape from herself.
“II. Pas de Deux (in two sections):
“A. Meeting with the first man, flirtation (waltz) and sudden passionate climax.
“B. Sentimental scene (muted strings with two solo violins and solo viola). The love interest peters out, leaving the pair bored and hostile.
“III. Pas de Trois (in two sections):
“A. Entrance of a second man (scherzo, featuring extended piano solo passages). Forced high spirits, triangular intrigue, brittle and sophisticated interplay, leading to ...
“B. Denouement: Discovery of a triangle-situation, reproaches, abuses, imprecations, threats. The three are now convinced that they are ‘really living’ — or at least emotionally busy — only to arrive at a point of painful recognition of the absurdity of their behavior, and the emptiness of their feelings.
“IV. Coda: One after the other, the men make embarrassed exits, the relationships obviously exhausted, leaving the woman alone, no richer in real experience than she was at the start.
The score is played without pause.
Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Solo Violin,
String Orchestra, Harp and Percussion
Composed in 1954.
Premiered on September 12, 1954 in Venice, conducted by the composer, with Isaac Stern as soloist.
Bernstein's Serenade was last performed at the Peninsula Music Festival on August 7, 2001 with Juliette Kang, soloist, and Victor Yampolsky conducting.
By 1954, when the Serenade was written, Leonard Bernstein had firmly established himself on the American musical scene as both conductor and composer. He had served as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Music Director of the New York City Symphony and Musical Advisor to the Israel Philharmonic. As a composer, he had won the New York Music Critics Circle Award for his “Jeremiah” Symphony, and had completed his Second Symphony (The Age of Anxiety), the ballets Fancy Free and Facsimile, and the scores for two Broadway shows (On the Town and Wonderful Town). During the mid-1950s, he was on the staffs of Brandeis University and the Tanglewood Music Festival, and much in demand as a guest conductor in Europe and America, having created a sensation in December 1953 when he became the first American to conduct at La Scala.
Bernstein wrote of the literary origin of his Serenade: “There is no literal program for this Serenade, despite the fact that it resulted from a re-reading of Plato’s charming dialogue, The Symposium. The music, like the dialogue, is a series of related statements in praise of love, and generally follows the Platonic form through the succession of speakers at the banquet. The ‘relatedness’ of the movements does not depend on common thematic material, but rather on a system whereby each movement evolves out of elements in the preceding one.
“I. Phaedrus; Pausanias (Lento — Allegro). Phaedrus opens the symposium with a lyrical oration in praise of Eros, the god of love. (Fugato, begun by the solo violin.) Pausanias continues by describing the duality of lover and beloved. This is expressed in a classical sonata form, based on material of the opening fugato.
“II. Aristophanes (Allegretto). Aristophanes does not play the role of clown in this dialogue, but instead that of bedtime storyteller, invoking the fairytale mythology of love.
“III. Erixymathus (Presto). The physician speaks of bodily harmony as a scientific model for the workings of love-patterns. This is an extremely short fugato scherzo, born of a blend of mystery and humor.
“IV. Agathon (Adagio). Perhaps the most moving speech of the dialogue, Agathon’s panegyric embraces all aspects of love’s powers, charms and functions. This movement is a simple three-part song.
“V. Socrates; Alcibiades (Molto tenuto — Allegro molto vivace). Socrates describes his visit to the seer Diotima, quoting her speech on the demonology of love. This is a slow introduction of greater weight than any of the preceding movements; and serves as a highly developed reprise of the middle section of the Agathon movement, thus suggesting a hidden sonata-form. The famous interruption by Alcibiades and his band of drunken revelers ushers in the Allegro, which is an extended Rondo ranging in spirit from agitation through jig-like dance music to joyful celebration. If there is a hint of jazz in the celebration, I hope it will not be taken as anachronistic Greek party-music, but rather the natural expression of a contemporary American composer imbued with the spirit of that timeless dinner-party.”
The musical processes of the Serenade seem a bit abstruse in Bernstein’s above description, but are really a logical counterpart to the spoken conversation they represent. An initial theme is given out, just as an idea, spoken, opens a conversation. The first speaker pursues his thought until another converser puts forth his own idea engendered by what he has just heard. The conversation goes on, unwinding, fueled by the interchange and development of its basic ideas — in the case of Plato’s Symposium, the aspects of love. In Bernstein’s Serenade, one theme gives rise to another, to which the first may, for example, then become an accompaniment. Each musical idea, like each conversational statement, leads logically to another, related to it, yet different according to the thought and the speaker. Bernstein’s “conversational” composition is brought round full circle when the opening theme from the first movement reappears in the closing pages.
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Composed in 1957.
Broadway opening on September 26, 1957; the Symphonic Dances were premiered in concert on February 13, 1961 in New York, conducted by Lukas Foss.
Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story were last performed at the Peninsula Music Festival on August 19, 2000 with Stephen Alltop conducting.
West Side Story was one of the first musicals to explore a serious subject with wide social implications. More than just the story of the tragic lives of ordinary people in a grubby section of New York, it was concerned with urban violence, juvenile delinquency, clan hatred and young love. The show was criticized as harshly realistic by some who advocated an entirely escapist function for the musical, depicting things that were not appropriately shown on the Broadway stage. Most, however, recognized that it expanded the scope of the musical through references both to classical literature (Romeo and Juliet) and to the pressing problems of modern society. Brooks Atkinson, former critic of The New York Times, noted in his book Broadway that West Side Story was “a harsh ballad of the city, taut, nervous and flaring, the melodies choked apprehensively, the rhythms wild, swift and deadly.” Much of the show’s electric atmosphere was generated by its brilliant dance sequences, for which Jerome Robbins won the 1958 Tony Award for choreography. In 1961, Bernstein chose a sequence of dance music from West Side Story to use as a concert work, and Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal executed the orchestration of these “Symphonic Dances” under the composer’s direction. Bernstein said that he called these excerpts “symphonic” not because they were arranged for full orchestra but because many of them grew, like a classical symphony, from a few basic themes transformed into a variety of moods to fit the play’s action and emotions. West Side Story, like a very few other musicals — Show Boat, Oklahoma, Pal Joey, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park with George, Rent — provides more than just an evening’s pleasant diversion. It is a work that gave an entirely new vision and direction to the American musical theater.
Overture to Candide
Composed in 1956.
Premiered on October 29, 1956 in Boston.
Bernstein's Candide Overture was last performed at the Peninsula Music Festival on August 14, 1991 with Victor Yampolsky conducting.
Lillian Hellman conceived a theater piece based on Voltaire’s Candide as early as 1950, but it was not until 1956 that the project materialized. She originally intended the work to be a play with incidental music, which she asked Bernstein to compose, but his enthusiasm for the project was so great that the venture swelled into a full-blown comic operetta; Tyrone Guthrie was enlisted as director and Richard Wilbur wrote most of the song lyrics. Candide was first seen in a pre-Broadway tryout at Boston’s Colonial Theatre on October 29, 1956 (just days after Bernstein’s appointment as co-music director of the New York Philharmonic had been announced for the following season), and opened at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York on December 1st.
The Overture to Candide was taken almost immediately into the concert hall and it has remained one of the most popular curtain-raisers in the orchestral repertory. Its music, largely drawn from the show, captures perfectly the wit, brilliance and slapstick tumult of Voltaire’s novel. The group of first themes comprises a boisterous fanfare, a quicksilver galop and a brass proclamation, used later in the show to accompany the destruction of Westphalia, the hero’s home. Lyrical contrast is provided by a broad melody from the duet of Candide and his beloved Cunegonde, Oh, Happy We. These musical events are recounted, and the Overture ends with a whirling strain from Cunegonde’s spectacular coloratura aria, Glitter and Be Gay.
©2009 Dr. Richard E. Rodda