The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Artistic Director Grant Cooper will embark on a special WV tour – traveling to five venues throughout the state. This season’s fall tour will take the Orchestra to Institute, Princeton, Glenville, Elkins, and Fairmont, West Virginia!
Joining the Orchestra for these performances is soprano soloist Janet Brown, performing a work that was commissioned by WVSO horn player, Tom Beal, for his wife. Below is the full program:
Cooper Appalachian Autumn
Cooper A Song of Longing, Though....
Janet Brown, soprano
Faure Pelleas et Melisande
Kodaly Dances of Galanta
“The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra truly is the state's orchestra. We are proud to once again bring great music to a number of the communities in the Mountain State. All people deserve great art, and we are dedicated to bringing live music to all of West Virginia,” said WVSO President, Joe Tackett.
This concert is funded in part by the Daywood Family Foundation, Herscher Foundation, Jacobson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
West Virginia State University: Free and Open to the public in the Davis Fine Arts Hall. To reserve your seats, please call: Betsy Allen, WVSU Arts & Humanities Department at 304.766.3196.
Chuck Mathena Center: General admission tickets are $20 and can be purchased by visiting chuckmathenacenter.org, by calling 304.425.5128, or by visiting the CMC Box Office at 2 Stafford Commons in Princeton, WV Mon-Fri from 9:00am – 5:00 pm.
Glenville State College: Free and open to the public! Location: Fine Arts Auditorium
Davis and Elkins College: Free and open to the public! Location: Harper-McNeeley Auditorium
Fairmont State University: Performing in Colebank Hall. Reserved seating ($30), general admission ($20), and student tickets ($5) can be purchased by visiting the Fairmont State University Box office (4th floor of Wallman Hall), by calling 304.367.4240, or at Colebank Hall the night of the performance beginning at 6:00 pm.
The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra is West Virginia’s premier performing arts organization, presenting classical, pops, and chamber-music concerts annually throughout the Mountain State. Currently in its 78th season, the WVSO is a proud member of the community and enriches the region by providing affordable, high-quality concerts, collaborations with West Virginia arts organizations and a nationally award-winning education program.
Grant Cooper (b. 1953)
Composer Grant Cooper writes:
Since moving to Appalachia in 2001, I have been deeply impressed by the quantity and quality of the music-making I have heard that is indigenous to our State of West Virginia. The annual Vandalia Festival is but an obvious example which makes manifest this wonderful tradition. I have visited the festival many times and marveled at the way in which one can observe the handing down of the music’s traditions and styles--one might say ‘local variants’-- that is the basis of this music’s being part of a living tradition.
Over the past ten years, I have attempted to create versions of some of the music dear to the hearts of West Virginians so that the WVSO might play “our” versions of some of these tunes. Orchestras, of course, operated under different traditions than do folk musicians. Since we write our music down, in what is sometimes thought of as “iron-clad” notation, the orchestra’s tradition tends more towards multiple performances that more-or-less resemble each other. The spontaneity that characterizes Vandalia performances, though, is something of a mask for the fact that careful listeners can and do tell the differences between different performers and performances. This is how the mechanics of the competitions work, naturally!
I have heard it claimed that judges--the “careful listeners”-- can tell pretty much where a given fiddler comes from based on how (s)he plays a given tune. There must be room for spontaneity in those performances, but there must also be a pretty narrowly circumscribed set of performance variables in operation, if this is to hold true.
All of which is completely in line with how orchestral performance works; we play the same notes each time (again: more-or-less--as human beings we do make the occasional mistake!), but each performance we give is, to the careful listener, unique. This is the basis of my feeling that the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra playing “folk” music is no anachronism. In fact, our performances are a (small) part of the aural tradition that keeps music alive. I decided to create Appalachian Autumn using as source material some existing arrangements.
Appalachian Autumn draws on the folk tradition in several important ways. First, the music does not concern itself with authenticity so much as claiming authenticity for itself simply by being. It does not take itself too seriously, which is not to say that it is frivolous, but meant simply to be enjoyed in the moment--like a great Vandalia performance.
Second; the musical materials derive more from my wishing to pay tribute to the Scots-Irish cultural traditions that are so fundamental to Appalachian culture, than they do from a desire to create arrangements of Appalachian tune. I do not intend Appalachian Autumn to be heard as an arrangement of songs; I wanted to create a piece of music with its own coherency, even as the materials I used came extensively from existing tunes.
Third; the above point is important to understanding the mix of materials that is clearly audible in Appalachian Autumn. Bovaglie’s Plaid is a Scottish tune, pure and simple; it is included because it is beautiful and because it suits my musical purpose, not because it is, strictly speaking, Appalachian. Exactly the same could be said of The West Virginia Hills. This song/tune cannot truly be called folk music, but it is the State Song of West Virginia, so it belongs to us in a very special and meaningful way. But, again, I use it for purely musical purposes--in a clearly defined two-pronged setting. The first part is slow, contemplative, and very free rhythmically, while in the second I hope to invoke the image of a fiddler inspiring the folks to dance.
Fourth; the Jig in the middle of the piece is of my own invention, written to display the virtuosity of our resident “fiddle” soloist. Around this Jig, one might hear the strands of some tradition Appalachian tunes: The Cruel Ships Carpenter starts the Jig, so is quite obvious, while I Wish I Were a Child Again is more deeply embedded in the musical texture--more like a memory or an impression. Again, it bears stating that I am not attempting arrangements of these songs; I would hope that the materials exist around each other in the same natural way that Appalachian Culture exists in its own dynamic balance.
A Song of Longing, Though…
Grant Cooper (b. 1953)
Grant Cooper writes:
Tom had been assigned by his full-time work to spend the summer of 1987 in the state of Oregon, causing him to spend this time apart from his West Virginia-based family. It was during this time, sitting on the Pacific coast, that Tom wrote a free-verse poem as a means of expressing his sense of sadness as well as the solace he felt in reflecting on the metaphor of water; specifically as manifested by rain, rivers, and, especially, the sea, as a means of connecting to his loved ones and the sureness that they would be reunited. Tom further extends this idea into eternity with a final thought, “and after our death, our songs will still sound, for I have taught them to the Sea.”
Tom shared this poem with me in the spring of 2003, in the hopes that I would accept his commission to set his poem to music in time for his upcoming (that December) thirtieth wedding anniversary to his wife, Ellen. I was struck by the beauty of his thoughts and felt a particular kinship to Tom’s references to the sea, especially since I had grown up looking out over that same Pacific Ocean, (admittedly, from the other side, in my native New Zealand).
The sea is an amazingly powerful force, often dark and silent, but inexorable. I could well imagine Tom’s confiding in the sea, trusting her with his deepest thoughts. Though the commission deadline was not far away, I accepted the task and lived with the poem for throughout the summer before deciding on a course for the composition.
Tom had asked that the piece be for soprano and orchestra, but otherwise left the rest to me. He had titled his poem Oregon, 1987, but I felt the music should have its own title (and identity); I just didn’t know what, yet. Since Tom and Ellen were both professional musicians, I decided to allow myself to use a few musical signifiers that have come to have universal meaning in the great body of western Art music. These include the use of parallel dominant seventh chords that suggest the impressionistic (misty) world of Claude Debussy and the infamous “Tristan Chord,” used so effectively to portray the yearning of love in Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. [The Tristan chord is heard in this setting of Tom’s text in places such as “I know it is from rain that touched you” and “cannot… hold you.”]
While I had these ideas for the middle of the piece, I needed a beginning and an end. The final breakthrough in the composition occurred when I decided to reference one of the great operas about the sea, Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. Britten’s use of the passacaglia in his epic opera had always struck me as a powerful way for music to capture this almost sinister power of the ocean to embrace and overwhelm. So it was that I came up with an eight-chord harmonic sequence that would not only act as bookends for the sung music, but also provide, via the first two chords of the sequence (A-minor to E-flat major) the tonal center of the beginning and end of the entire piece.
Once I had this structure worked out, the setting of the text went relatively smoothly and quickly. As is my normal approach to composition, I waited until the very end to write the beginning of the piece. Having lived with the text for several months and now knowing the ultimate destination of the music, I decided to write an extensive orchestral introduction that would summarize Tom’s poem, absent the text. In writing this music, I gravitated toward a line in the poem that I thought encapsulated my own reaction to Tom’s beautiful words and, with slight grammatical alteration, I came up with what would be the title of the music, A Song of Longing, Though…
Poetry by Tom Beal
Drops of rain falling from clouds,
each sings its song of beginning.
Their songs, clear and simple,
are soon embellished
with the ancient songs of the wind.
Some, falling on forest land
lie glistening on leaves of pine and oak
Where they learn the songs of the trees.
They drip to the ground and from all that is there
learn new songs of life and of death.
Gathering together in streams and rivers
they sing of all that they have learned,
Then journey to the Sea
where their voices join
with all that were before.
On all of Earth they fall
and learn the songs of being.
But the songs of those that fall on lovers
are the most treasured of the Sea.
I sit on the shore
listening to tales sung by the Sea.
Hearing a melody close to my own,
I know it is from rain that touched you.
As waves crash on great rocks
I hear a song of sadness and longing,
and I ask the Sea to tell me why.
With all its great songs,
gathered by the timeless rain,
the Sea cannot see you,
or touch you, or hold you,
and that is why it sings
a song of hopelessness.
When we are apart
the songs in my heart
are of love and joy with you.
A song of longing, though, threads through,
the same as sung by the Sea.
Yet mine is not hopeless,
for some day I will be with you again
and our songs will take shape,
and be made real.
These songs we will sing together
as long as we live,
and after our death
our songs will still sound,
for I have taught them to the Sea.
Suite to Pelléas et Mélisande
Maurice Maeterlinck’s enormously popular Symbolist play, Pelléas et Mélisande was first produced in 1893. The plot is overladen with meaning but only marginally functions on a literal level. In the story, Golaud, the grandson of the king of Allemonde (a bit of obvious symbolism there), discovers the princess Mélisande looking at her crown at the bottom of a pond. She does not want the crown back but accepts a symbolic one by almost immediately marrying Golaud. She then meets Golaud’s brother, Pelléas, by a fountain where she loses her wedding ring. Needless to say, Mélisande and Pelléas fall in love. When Golaud learns of their deception he kills his brother. Mélisande dies giving birth to a deformed daughter.
Fauré was asked to write incidental music for the 1898 London production of the play. Because there was very little time between the commission and the production, he enlisted the assistance of his student Charles Koechlin to orchestra the music, some of which was taken from earlier writings. Fauré later arranged this four movement suite, reorchestrating the music to make it entirely his own work.
Three other significant composers set this story to music. Debussy’s opera is probably the best known of the other versions; Schoenberg and Sibelius also produced their musical impressions of the story.
Dances of Gálanta
Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály (reversed in Hungarian) is best remembered as a composer, educator, and musicologist. His long friendship with Bártok was founded on their mutual interest in preserving Hungarian and regional folk music and an ultimate respect for each other’s compositions.
Kodály’s music instruction method is still widely used (including in West Virginia). It involves an introduction to musical principals through the mastery of simple percussion instruments, some of them designed by Kodály himself.
The Gálanta dances were first performed in 1933 and remain one of the composer’s most popular works. Kodály indicated that the dances which make up the work derive from a series of early 19th century Viennese compilations of gypsy dances. The general construction of the work makes use of a popular Hungarian style called verbunkos music. This music (whose earliest art-music proponent might have been the 18th century violinist Jánon Bihari) is roughly translated as ‘recruiting’ music. It is tied to the practice of sending military recruiters to villages where this exciting music would be played by gypsy bands to entice young men to sign up for service. The music begins slowly and grows in intensity. The Gálanta dances use the clarinet as a representative of this folk music tradition. The music begins slowly, evolves into a clarinet cadenza followed by a lyric melody for the instrument, and grows in speed, complexity, and excitement through the following sections of the work.