Showcase March-April 2014 - page 34

Program Notes
apr 10, 11
Samuel Barber
West Chester, Pennsylvania, March 9, 1910
New York City, January 23, 1981
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
solo soprano with orchestra comprising flute (doubling piccolo),
oboe (doubling English horn), clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns,
trumpet, triangle, harp and strings
Eric Whitacre
The word “equus” means “horse” in English, and
Whitacre describes his
as “a
moto perpetuo
, a
piece that starts running and never stops…a virtuosic
show piece for winds. The final result is something that
I call ‘dynamic minimalism,’ which basically means that
I love to employ repetitive patterns as long as they don’t
get boring.”
was premiered in March 2000 by
the University of Miami Wind Ensemble conducted by
Gary Green, to whom it is dedicated.
mixed chorus and orchestra
Eric Whitacre
Water Night
Water Night
, Whitacre explains: “In January of
1995 I spent the day with Dr. Bruce Mayhall, and in one
amazing four-hour conversation he basically convinced
me to stay in school, finish my degree and continue my
life as a professional artist.…I got home, opened up my
book of Octavio Paz poetry, and started reading. I can’t
really describe what happened. The music sounded in the
air as I read the poem, as if it were a part of the poetry.
…The thing was basically finished in about 45 minutes. I
have never experienced anything like it, before or since. It
has become one of my most popular pieces.”
One year later, in 1996 while a student at the Juilliard
School in New York, Whitacre adapted
Water Night
originally scored for chorus, as a composition for string
ensemble divided into many parts. In this form it is
equally effective, and reminiscent of Samuel Barber’s
Adagio for Strings
: grave, reflective, exuding a sense of
vast space and religious aura. (Barber, however, wrote
his string version first, followed years later by the choral
adaptation titled
Agnus Dei.
strings alone
hile many other composers of the mid-20th
century were jumping on bandwagons, afraid
to be left behind by the latest fad, ism or
experiment, Samuel Barber remained true to
his inner conviction of writing music founded on tonal
centers, emotional expression and traditional music.
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
inadvertently became
a quintessential piece of American music with a flavor
unmistakably of this country and no other.
It came about when, in 1947, Serge Koussevitzky,
conductor of the Boston Symphony, asked Barber for a
symphonic vocal work, to which Barber responded with
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
. Shortly thereafter, Eleanor
Steber, the famous American soprano, commissioned
Barber to write a work she could use to help promote her
career. This set a historical precedent, for “up to that time,
no American singer had ever commissioned an orchestral
work for voice, and the idea of promoting a singer’s career
through performance of America music was unusual
during the 1940s,” as Barbara Heyman informs us in
her monograph on Barber. The composer fulfilled both
Koussevitzky’s and Steber’s requests with this one work.
Barber called
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
a “lyric
rhapsody.” It is written in a free, declamatory style and
infused with exquisite lyricism throughout. Barber chose
to set a lyrical prose passage by James Agee, the American
novelist, poet and scriptwriter of films (including
African Queen
). The nostalgic text depicts a quiet summer
evening in the yard of a family in Agee’s hometown of
Knoxville, Tennessee, early in the century, as perceived
through the eyes of a child. This passage would later be
affixed as a prologue to Agee’s posthumously published
autobiographical novel,
A Death in the Family
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