This concert, which coincides with the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, features works by American composers. Included are several of Samuel Barber’s works, including his pensive Adagio for Strings. Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, with James Westwater’s The Eternal Struggle photochoreography, is narrated by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with the reading of excerpts of Abraham Lincoln’s great documents, including the Gettysburg Address.
*Photochoreography: photographed, designed and visually directed by James Westwater.
The Eternal Struggle was commissioned by the Orlando Philharmonic and the Akron Symphony Orchestra, Christopher Wilkins, Music Director.
(b. March 9, 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania; d. January 23, 1981 in New York)
Samuel Osborne Barber II at only nine years old laid out to his skeptical mother, manifesto-style, his calling, saying in part, “I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing.—Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please.” Talent won out and at age 14 he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Curtis was in a comfortable world that fit his nature, not to stray too far nor embark on any risky adventures. At Curtis, he met his life partner Gian Carlo Menotti, who was a classmate. Barber, as a favorite of Curtis founder Mary Curtis Bok, was introduced to the Schirmer family, neatly solving a young composer’s early hurdle to find a publisher.
Unlike his contemporary Aaron Copland, who spent time abroad absorbing musical ideas from many cultures yet settled into a career that drew heavily on Americana, Barber was happy to concentrate on a Romanticism that wasn’t overtly American. His models were more Bach and Brahms who looked at themselves as endpoints than new beginnings. Because his music sounded more familiar, his acceptance by the public was more immediate. His fame grew quickly but in a manner befitting a modest man who did not pursue the limelight.
Overture to The School for Scandal
Choosing to write music to introduce a play at the beginning of one’s career invites comparison to Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Perhaps at 21, Barber was long in the tooth compared to Mendelssohn’s willowy 17. Still, Barber’s effort seems precocious and was an instant hit.
He wrote it as his graduating thesis from Curtis. The play behind it is by Richard Sheridan and dates from 1777. In the play, English elite embrace scandal, get into wild hijinks, but in the end survive with at least the possibility that virtue may triumph.
Young Sam, in his cloistered surroundings, must have been giddy to find he could be a gay man and “out” among at least a few around him. Imagine what people might think of his life if they only knew! Was scandal at Curtis in the back of his mind? It certainly fits his style that he would translate his feelings to a setting more than a century past.
That is speculation for us in a different time. At any rate, this student work was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1933 and was awarded the Joseph H. Beams Prize given annually to young American composers. Barber’s career was firmly established.
Adagio for Strings
CBS’s John Daly broke into Wilderness Road to announce the death of President Franklin Roosevelt on the afternoon of April 12, 1945. Further details trickled in slowly. The depth of the tragedy made normal programming out of the question but when no new information was available, someone put Adagio for Strings onto the turntable. Immediately it communicated the deep grief beyond words that everyone felt and in the years since it has become the soundtrack for terrible moments in the history of the world—at JFK’s memorial service, after the deaths of Princess Grace and Princess Diana, and repeatedly in the aftermath of 9/11.
Adagio for Strings’ genesis was modest. It was the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11, a work he intended for the Curtis String Quartet. Unsatisfied with the finale, he reworked parts of it repeatedly so that it wasn’t played in its final form until 1943. In the meantime he realized he had something special in the second movement. He decided to arrange it for string orchestra and dispatched a copy to Arturo Toscanini. When Toscanini returned it without comment, Barber was disappointed, but, in fact, Toscanini had already chosen to program it. He had memorized it at sight. The NBC Symphony radio broadcast on November 5, 1938 was a huge coup for Barber as Adagio for Strings was premiered with First Essay for Orchestra and all the more so because Toscanini rarely favored modern American works.
(b. February 15, 1947 in Worcester, Massachusetts)
The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra
John Coolidge Adams is an American success story. A New Englander and Harvard-educated, he chose California and the beat poets instead of 12-tone avant-garde composers. In hindsight, it was a lucky escape from the sterility of musical academe of the 60s and 70s. He is often called a minimalist, but his music defies easy categorization. Whatever you call him, Adams is now a staple for concertgoers who want to hear living American composers.
The Chairman Dances was a sort-of warmup for Adam’s opera Nixon in China (1987)—a breakthrough work that brought him worldwide recognition. The National Endowment for the Arts commissioned The Chairman Dances. Lukas Foss conducted the Milwaukee Symphony in its first performance January 31, 1986.
The Chairman is Mao Zedong and Dances is a verb. Peter Sellars (who produced the premiere) and Alice Goodman (who wrote the libretto) explain the action as follows:
“Chiang Ch’ing, aka Madame Mao, has gatecrashed the Presidential Banquet. She is first seen standing where she is most in the way of the waiters. After a few minutes, she brings out a box of paper lanterns and hangs them around the hall, then strips down to a cheongsam, skin-tight from neck to ankle and slit up the hip. She signals the orchestra to play and begins dancing by herself. Mao … steps down from his portrait on the wall, and they begin to foxtrot together. They are back in Yenan, dancing to the gramophone…” At the end we hear the needle clicking in the lock groove of the record as the machine winds down to a stop.
Samuel Barber – First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12
Barber met Toscanini a few times in 1933 and was flattered to hear that he would like to conduct one of his works. Barber wrote his Essay for Orchestra in 1937 immediately on the heels of his String Quartet with Toscanini in mind. Musical “essays” were Barber’s invention. The form implies complex and thoughtful exploration of a small amount of thematic material. He wrote two more essays for orchestra, one in 1942, the third in 1978—the last major work he completed.
The overall mood of First Essay is contemplative although it has moments of high energy. The ending is unusual. Three muted trumpets seem to be seeking something; the strings respond briefly but it’s no answer.
(b. November 14, 1900 in Brooklyn; d. December 2, 1990 in Sleepy Hollow, NY)
Like Fanfare for the Common Man featured last month, Lincoln Portrait was expressly intended to support the war effort. Conductor André Kostelanetz commissioned Copland to compose a portrait of an American who expressed the “magnificent spirit of our country.” Copland’s first thought was Walt Whitman, but his patron thought someone of greater stature—likely a political figure—was more appropriate. With that input, Lincoln was the obvious choice. Most of the music was original but drew on two period songs, “Camptown Races,” which Lincoln used with new words as a campaign song in 1860, and “Springfield Mountain.” The latter seems to honor Springfield, Illinois, the very flat place Lincoln came from, but the song is about Springfield, Massachusetts.
In 1943 Copland wrote notes for a performance by the Boston Symphony. Here is an excerpt:
The composition is roughly divided into three main sections. In the opening section I wanted to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality. Also, near the end of that section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit. The quick middle section briefly sketches in the background of the times he lived. This merges into the concluding section where my sole purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame about the words of Lincoln himself.
(c)2013 by Steven Hollingsworth, Creative Commons Public Attribution 3.0 United States License. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Andy Berke
City of Chattanooga
Andy Berke was born on March 31, 1968 in Chattanooga, Tennessee to Marvin and Kandy Berke.
Andy’s grandfather, Harry, founded a local law practice in Chattanooga aimed at representing and helping Tennesseans. From assisting someone who was discriminated against for his military service to talking to someone who just needed some advice, the Berke family law practice worked to make someone’s life better. Growing up in a family devoted to solving problems for individuals, Andy learned the value of helping others while giving back to and improving one’s community.
After graduating with honors from Stanford University in 1990, Andy worked as a legislative assistant in the office of Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon. Seeing Congressman Gordon’s attentiveness to his constituents’ needs, Andy decided public service was where he could best serve his community.
Andy graduated with honors from the University of Chicago Law School in 1994. Following law school, he worked as a law clerk for Judge Deanell Tacha of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Denver, Colorado. During this time he also taught at Kansas University Law School as an adjunct professor.
Elected to the State Senate in 2007 and re-elected to a second term in 2008, Andy became the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. During his tenure, he worked on key legislation like Tennessee Works, First to the Top, and Complete College Tennessee and served on the Senate Education and Transportation Committees. In 2008, he was appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen to the State Workforce Development Board. In addition, the State Legislative Leaders Foundation nominated him to attend its Emerging Leaders Program at the Darden School at the University of Virginia Business School. He attended the 31st American-German Young Leaders Conference in Germany. Recently, he was honored by the Tennessee PTA as the 2012 Legislator of the Year and the Tennessee Education Association’s 2012 Friend of Education Award for his commitment to improving public education across Tennessee. Previously, the County Officials Association of Tennessee had named him its legislator of the year, as had the Southeast Tennessee Development District. Lipscomb University’s Institute for Sustainable Practice awarded him its Public Official of the Year.
Andy is a past President of the Chattanooga Association for Justice, and was a charter member of the local chapter of the Inns of Court. Prior to his election as Mayor, he worked as a board member of the Siskin Children’s Institute, the local public television station, WTCI, the Chattanooga Nature Center, and the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. At his daughter’s elementary school, Normal Park Museum Magnet, he has been on the PTA board and worked on the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Committee.
Andy was elected to serve as Mayor of Chattanooga on March 5, 2013, winning over 70% of the electoral vote. Andy has focused his public service on making streets safer, providing every child with the opportunity for success, promoting economic and community development, and ensuring that government budgets on outcomes and effectiveness. Andy is married to Monique Prado Berke and they have two daughters: Hannah, who is in eighth grade, and Orly, a fifth grader.
Principal Trombone, Doug Warner, shares his favorite moments and what to listen for on this concert.
Atlanta Symphony performance of Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal
Detroit Symphony Orchestra 2013 performance of Adagio for Strings
Veona Contemporanea Festival 2011 performance of The Chairman Dances
Recording of the world premiere of Barber’s Essay No. 1 for Orchestra
Philadelphia Orchestra performance of Lincoln Portrait with narration by Adlai Stevenson