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Beethoven Choral Fantasy

This Beethoven and Beethoven-inspired concert begins with his Egmont Overture, incidental music pieces written for a play of the same name. This powerful and dramatic overture, with its political overtones, became the unofficial anthem of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.  Next up is the world premiere of modern composer Kendra D’Ercole and her piece that was inspired by Beethoven’s Heilignstadt Testament regarding his despair over his increasing deafness. Closing out the concert is Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, written for piano, solo voices, chorus, and orchestra.
Kendra D'Ercole, Composer kendra-dercole-headshotComposer Kendra D'Ercole (b. 1971, Palo Alto, CA) writes for a variety of ensembles, with works premiered in the United States and Europe. She holds music degrees from Arizona State University (DMA), Northwestern University (MMus), the University of California at Irvine (BFA), and Rancho Santiago College (AA), where she began her musical career as a piano accompanist and theater musician. She has taught music theory and ear training for nearly two decades and is currently a professor at Phoenix College. Her creative interests center predominantly around vocal music, drawing inspiration from the expressive capacity of text.  Embracing a deep appreciation for playful humor as well as dark emotional drama, her pieces tend to reside on either end of this spectrum, ranging from comical song cycles like The Recycled Cycle (2004) and the whimsical award-winning orchestral work Mobile Fantastique (2003), to the poignant chamber opera Scattering (1998) and Wie die Blätter des Herbstes herabfallen (2016), a complete setting of Beethoven's heartbreaking letter known as "The Heiligenstadt Testament" for solo baritone, piano, chorus and orchestra. This work is presently receiving its world premiere with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. Having directed the music programs for several elementary schools in Southern California, Dr. D'Ercole is also very enthusiastic about early music education and music written for young ears. Her musical, The Conversation Club (2004), is a lively adaptation of the delightful children's book by Diane Stanley, and she has recently begun work on an album in collaboration with the California a cappella group Spot the Octopus, in which she takes a fun approach towards highlighting various concepts of music theory for kids. She lives in Chandler, AZ with her husband, Mark, and their two children, Luke and Talia.
ABOUT THE WORK Wie die Blätter des Herbstes herabfallen [As the Autumn Leaves Fall]: Das Heiligenstädter Testament Following the advice of his doctors, Ludwig van Beethoven took an extended stay in the Viennese suburb of Heiligenstadt, where he addressed this famous letter to his two brothers, Carl and Johann, “to be read and fulfilled after my death.” This last will and testament is dated October 6, 1802, well before the composer died in 1827, when it was then discovered among his personal items. Curiously, he had only written out the name of his brother Carl; blank spaces remain where Johann’s name should appear. Though the reasons for this are unclear, Beethoven seems to have directed his words to the community at large, beginning the document with “O ye men who hold or declare me to be hostile, stubborn, or misanthropic...” The text that follows reveals an outpouring of an emotional spectrum which ranges from anger and despair over his increasing deafness, even thoughts of suicide—to reflective hope and moments of prayer, with statements of a desire to persevere for the sake of fulfilling his artistic destiny. He also imparts words of wisdom and leaves instructions regarding his worldly possessions. The title of the present composition borrows a line from the document’s postscript, dated four days later: “As the autumn leaves fall and wither, so also has [hope] become dried up for me.” This is more than simply poetic—it encompasses the whole of Beethoven’s depressed state, time-stamped with the image of falling leaves in the October countryside. This beautiful setting was but a harsh reminder that six months had passed since his arrival, yet his hearing had not improved. Because the letter itself is through-composed, the music follows suit in a highly sectionalized form, reflecting sudden emotional changes which move between agony, depression, pleading, hope, solace, perseverance, and even joy. These are defined through shifts in orchestration, tempo, dynamics, and the play between tension and release. The solo baritone assumes the central role of the testament’s author, delivering expressive lines which sometimes include speaking and falsetto. The text receives further enhancement from the choir, which not only gives the soloist a periodic respite but also provides a source of depth and lightness to words of frustration, spirituality, inner dialogue, and shifting emotions that have been preserved in Beethoven’s hand. Like falling leaves, descending melodic lines drift throughout the piece, including an abrasive recurring motive that occasionally transforms into a distorted Beethoven theme. Other references to Beethoven’s music are fairly prominent, especially a chorale that is derived from the themes in the Choral Fantasy and Symphony No. 9. Glimpses of assorted piano works may also be heard as the piece progresses. While no actual quotations have been included, obvious allusions appear freely. Birdsongs also emerge periodically, representing the tranquil environment of Heiligenstadt and Beethoven’s love of nature. Wie die Blätter des Herbstes herabfallen includes, intact, the Heiligenstadt Testament proper as well as its postscript, which begins: “Thus I say goodbye to you, and in true sadness...” and ends with a spiritual plea for true inner joy, a petition which thereafter he immediately doubts will ever be granted.
Wie die Blätter des Herbstes herabfallen by Kendra D’Ercole With grace, charm and sweet sounds The harmonies of our life And the sense of beauty engenders The flowers which eternally bloom Peace and joy advancing in a perfect accord, Like the alternating play of the waves; All harsh and hostile elements Fall into place in bliss When the magic of sound will reign And the awe of language is spoken, Something wonderful will engender, Night and tempests transform into light Calm without and joy within Will reign for the lucky man After all the spring sun of the arts Forms light out of suffering Something great, when it’s touched the heart, Blooms anew in all its beauty. Which spirit taken flight, And all a choir of spirits resounds in response. Accept then, oh you gracious souls, Joyously the gift of art. When love and strength are united, The favor of the Gods rewards Man.
Beethoven Choral Fantasy  Graceful, charming and sweet is the sound Of our life’s harmonies, and from a sense of beauty arise Flowers which eternally bloom. Peace and joy advance in perfect concord, like the changing play of the waves. All that was harsh and hostile, has turned into sublime delight. When music's enchantment reigns, speaking of the sacred word, Magnificence takes form, The night and the tempest turns to light: Outer peace and inner bliss Reign o'er the fortunate ones. All art in the spring's sun Lets light flow from both. Greatness, once it has pierced the heart, Then blooms anew in all its beauty. Once one's being has taken flight, A choir of spirits resounds in response. Accept then, you beautiful souls, Joyously the gifts of high art. When love and strength are united, Divine grace is bestowed upon Man.  
 
Spencer Myer, Pianist
Spencer Myer

Spencer Myer

Lauded for “superb playing” and “poised, alert musicianship” by the Boston Globe, and labeled “definitely a man to watch” by London’s The Independent, American pianist SPENCER MYER is one of the most respected and sought-after artists on today’s concert stage. Spencer Myer includes in his 2016-17 season debuts with the Evansville Philharmonic, Macon Symphony Orchestra, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus and Symphony of the Redwoods, as well as return engagements with the Traverse, Springfield (MA and OH), Bozeman and Wyoming Symphonies and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, in addition to recital appearances in Connecticut, Houston, Washington and Idaho. Spencer Myer’s orchestral, recital and chamber music performances have been heard throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and Asia. He has been soloist with The Cleveland Orchestra, the Boise, Dayton, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestras, Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Baton Rouge, Indianapolis, Knoxville, New Haven, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Springfield and Tucson Symphony Orchestras, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, Mexico’s Orquesta FilarmÓnica de Jalisco and Beijing’s China National Symphony Orchestra, collaborating with, among others, conductors Nicholas Cleobury, Leslie B. Dunner, Robert Franz, Bernhard Gueller, Jacques Lacombe, Jahja Ling, Timothy Muffitt, Kevin Rhodes, Lucas Richman, Klauspeter Seibel, Steven Smith and Victor Yampolsky. His 2005 recital/orchestral tour of South Africa included a performance of the five piano concerti of Beethoven with the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, followed by return orchestra and recital tours in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015. Spencer Myer’s recital appearances have been presented in New York City’s Weill Recital Hall, 92nd Street Y and Steinway Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center and London’s Wigmore Hall, while many of his performances have been broadcast on WQXR (New York City), WHYY (Philadelphia), WCLV (Cleveland) and WFMT (Chicago). An in-demand chamber musician, he has appeared the past four summers at the Lev Aronson Legacy Festival in Dallas with cellists Lynn Harrell, Ralph Kirshbaum, Amit Peled and Brian Thornton, and has enjoyed a recurring partnership with the Miami String Quartet at the Kent/Blossom Music Festival. Other artistic partners include clarinetist David Shifrin, sopranos Nicole Cabell, Martha Guth and Erin Wall, the Jupiter and Pacifica string quartets and the Dorian Wind Quintet. Spencer Myer’s career was launched with three important prizes: First Prize in the 2004 UNISA International Piano Competition in South Africa, the 2006 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship from the American Pianists Association and the Gold Medal from the 2008 New Orleans International Piano Competition. He is also a laureate of the 2007 William Kapell, 2005 Cleveland and 2005 Busoni international piano competitions. He enjoys an esteemed reputation as a vocal collaborator since winning the 2000 Marilyn Horne Foundation Competition. Mr. Myer was a member of Astral Artists’ performance roster from 2003-2010. An enthusiastic supporter of the education of young musicians, Spencer Myer has served as a guest faculty at the Oberlin and Baldwin-Wallace Conservatories of Music, and in the fall of 2015, he was appointed Artist-Teacher of Piano and Collaborative Piano at Boston’s Longy School of Music of Bard College.