Program Notes: Halloween with the WSO!
By James Manishen, Artistic Operations Associate
Concert program notes sponsored by
Der Freischütz Overture
Carl Maria von Weber
b. Eutin, Holstein, Germany / November 18 or 19, 1786
d. London / June 5, 1826
First performance: June 18, 1821 (Berlin)
Last WSO performance: 1997, Tyrone Paterson, conductor
Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter, or The Magic Marksman) became the most popular German opera written to date and a benchmark for German Romantic opera overall. Centering on a theme presented in the form of a huntsman’s magic bullets, the opera’s woodland magic would iinspire similarly magical realms in Wagner’s Ring, Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel and others.
The story revolves around Max, who must win a shooting contest to gain the hand of Agathe. He enlists the help of the evil spirit Samiel. Max’s first six bullets hit the target, but Samiel directs the seventh to kill the evil hunstman Kaspar. Max is forgiven, and he and Agathe are united.
The overture to Der Freischütz vividly sets up the story. The horns represent the life of the hunter; the low strings, clarinets and bassoons depict, in Weber’s words, “the rule of demonic power.”
b. 1991 / Hong Kong
First performance: April 19, 2015 (Idaho Falls, USA)
First WSO performance
Jest was written when I was an undergraduate composition student at the University of British Columbia. Back then, my now defunct flip-phone had a startup ringtone that could not be deactivated, much to my dismay. This four note theme became embedded in my mind for quite a while and I thought it would be interesting to make this the motif for a short and fun orchestral work. In Jest, a single melody permeates the work, appearing in different orchestrational guises. While “Jest” stands for something said or done in amusement, the title is also a riff on the word “Gesture”, as the ringtone was the initial gesture inspiring the piece.
b. Milan / December 3, 1911
d. Rome / April 10, 1979
First performance: March 6, 1969 (Milan); Franco Caracciolo, conductor; Bruno Ferrari, trombone
Last WSO performance: 2005; Carlo Ponti Jr, conductor; John Helmer, trombone
Though Nino Rota is best known from his film scores for Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli and Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather and The Godfather Part II), Rota composed a vast catalogue of over 150 scores that include concert works, 10 operas and five ballets. He also maintained a nearly 30-year long teaching career as director of the Liceo Musicale in Bari, Italy where he mentored many, including the conductor Riccardo Muti.
Rota’s Trombone Concerto is among the most successful for an instrument not always thought of for its instrumental acrobatics. The opening movement puts the solo under the spotlight, gently accompanied by pizzacato strings and short interruptions designed to keep the solo perspective front and centre. The meditative slow movement has the soloist in dialogue with various intruments of the orchestra. The finale is a delicate “galop” ripe with Rota’s special bittersweet tang.
Symphony in C
b. Paris / October 25, 1838
d. Bougival, France / June 3, 1875
First performance: February 26, 1935 (Basel); Felix Weingartner, conductor
Last WSO performance: 2000; Leon Fleisher, conductor
Mention of French composer Georges Bizet’s name usually brings the involuntary response of the beloved, spectacularly tune-filled opera Carmen. Bizet’s Symphony in C was written as a student exercise while the 17-year-old composer was studying with Charles Gounod at the Paris Conservatoire. It took just one month to complete, and so accomplished is its melodic invention, constructive unity and orchestration, one could envision excerpts finding comfortable roles in the score of the famous opera Bizet would produce later on.
Bizet never heard a performance of the Symphony during his lifetime. There is no mention of it in his letters and the work escaped his earlier biographers. Bizet’s widow, Geneviève Halévy, gave the manuscript to composer Reynaldo Hahn who passed it over to the Conservatoire’s library where the score was found in 1933. Shortly after, Bizet’s first British biographer Douglas Charles Parker (1885–1970) showed the manuscript to conductor Felix Weingartner, who led the first performance in Basel two years later.
In a traditional four-movement design, the work was quickly acclaimed for its freshness and charm, and has become a core work in the symphonic literature.