ARTISTS


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JUANJO MENA


CONDUCTOR

Principal Conductor of the Cincinnati May Festival and Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, United Kingdom, Juanjo Mena is one of Spain’s most distinguished international conductors.

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ROBERT PORCO


DIRECTOR OF CHORUSES

Since 1989, Robert Porco has led the May Festival Chorus in inspired collaboration and music-making which “shook the rafters” at the Chorus’ most recent Carnegie Hall appearance in 2014. “Carnegie has seldom felt so alive,” according to The New Yorker.

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JOHN HOLIDAY


COUNTERTENOR

John Holiday, one of Broadway World’s “New York Opera 2015 Gifts that Keep on Giving”...

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MAY FESTIVAL

ROBERT PORCO • CHORUS DIRECTOR

The May Festival Chorus has earned acclaim locally, nationally and internationally for its musicality, vast range of repertoire and sheer power of sound.

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CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

LOUIS LANGRÉE • MUSIC DIRECTOR

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles.

PROGRAM NOTES


Originally broadcast on October 21, 2018 on 90.9 WGUC in Cincinnati, OH

JUANJO MENA conductor
JOHN HOLIDAY countertenor
MAY FESTIVAL YOUTH CHORUS James Bagwell, director
MAY FESTIVAL CHORUS Robert Porco, director
The May Festival Chorus is endowed by the Betsy & Alex C. Young Chair

GABRIELI
(1554–1612)

Magnificat à 33

BERNSTEIN
(1918-1990)

Chichester Psalms

JAMES MacMILLAN
(b.1959)

Credo NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE

Pater
Filius
Spiritus Sanctus

INTERMISSION

RAVEL
(1554–1612)

Daphnis et Chloé

Mass


 

(1554–1612)

Magnificat à 33

Giovanni Gabrieli is most closely associated with the magnificent musical establishment at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, but in February 1585, just a month after he joined the staff there as organist and composer, he accepted a similar position at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, in the city’s San Polo district, across the Grand Canal from San Marco; he held both posts until his death almost three decades later, though his activities were impeded in his last years by deteriorating health. His vigor certainly must have been tested by his simultaneous duties at two of Venice’s most important religious institutions, with San Marco requiring his regular presence and San Rocco expecting him, according to his contract, to play the organ at its regular Mass on the first Sunday of each month and on 24 other feast days, as well as Sunday Vespers, Friday Compline and for the sumptuous music performed annually on August 16th, the Feast of San Rocco.

The 14th-century San Rocco (St. Roch) is held to be the patron saint of dogs, falsely accused people and bachelors, but principally of protection from plague. He is said to have ministered to victims during an epidemic in Italy and effected many miraculous cures until he fell ill himself. He withdrew to a forest in expectation of dying, but a nobleman’s dog brought him bread and licked his wounds until he recovered. He returned incognito to society but was arrested as a spy and died after five years in prison. His identity became known after his death and he was generally acclaimed as a saint, though he was not formally canonized until 1591. His body was brought to Venice in 1485 and the Church of San Rocco begun four years later to house his remains. A confraternity—an association of lay people created with Church approval to promote works of charity and piety—honoring San Rocco had been established in 1478, and in 1515 the organization began construction of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco adjacent to the Chiesa di San Rocco, which was decorated with magnificent frescoes by Tintoretto between 1564 and 1587; the Scuola remains today one of Venice’s finest art treasures.

The Scuola Grande made the Feast of San Rocco, August 16th, the occasion for one of Venice’s greatest musical spectacles. Extra singers and instrumentalists were hired from as far away as Padua, additional chamber organs were brought in to support the multiple choirs (Gabrieli received a bonus for tracking down seven of them in 1603), and the huge programs were presented with as much pomp as imagination and budget allowed. Thomas Coryat, a music lover visiting from London, left an account:

The third feast was upon Saint Roches Day, where I heard the best musicke that ever I did in all my life both in the morning and in the afternoone, so good that I would willingly goe an hundred miles a foote at any time to hear the like.... This feast consisted principally of musicke, which was both vocall and instrumentall, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so superexcellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like.... Sometimes there sung 16 or 20 men together, having their master and moderator to keepe them in order; and when they sung, the instrumentall musicians played also. Sometimes sixteene played together upon their instruments, ten Sagbuts [trombones], foure Cornets [a curved wooden tube with finger holes blown like a trumpet], and two Violdegambaes [violas da gamba] of an extraordinary greatnesse; and a treble viol.... Of the singers there were three or foure so excellent that I think few or none in Christendome do exell them, expecially one, who had such a peerelesse and (as I may in a manner say) such a supernaturall voice for sweetnesse, that I thinke there was never a better singer in the world.

The provenance of Gabrieli’s Magnificat à 33 (i.e., in 33 separate vocal and instrumental parts; it was published in an alternate scaled-down version in 1615) is uncertain, though its grand performing forces, festive mood and liturgical significance would have suited it perfectly to the Vespers portion of the sumptuous Feast of San Rocco.

 

(1918–1990)

Chichester Psalms

Composed in 1965. Premiered July 15, 1965 in New York, the composer conducting.

These psalms are a simple and modest affair, Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square, Certain to sicken a stout John Cager With its tonics and triads in E-flat major. But there it stands—the result of my pondering, Two long months of avant-garde wandering— My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet. And he stands on his own two tonal feet.

Leonard Bernstein, that Renaissance man among late- 20th-century musicians, penned these verses about his Chichester Psalms for The New York Times as part of a poetic evaluation of the 15 months of his sabbatical from conducting in 1964–1965. Bernstein considered several compositional projects during his year away from the rigorous duties as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, including a theater piece based on Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, but it was this set of Psalms for choir and orchestra that was the principal musical offspring of that hiatus in his public career.

The work was commissioned by the Very Rev. Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival, in which the musicians of Chichester have participated with those of the neighboring cathedrals of Salisbury and Winchester since 1959. The musical traditions of these great cathedrals extend far back into history, to at least the time when the eminent early-17th-century keyboard artist and composer Thomas Weelkes occupied the organ bench at Chichester.

The mood of the Chichester Psalms is humble and serene, unlike the powerful but despairing nature of Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony of 1963, composed shortly before this work. Both use traditional texts sung in Hebrew, but the message of the Chichester Psalms is one of man’s closeness to God, rather than the one of frustration and anger and shaken faith engendered by God’s inexplicable acts as portrayed in the Kaddish. It is indicative that the composer chose the 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my Shepherd”) for the second movement, the heart of the Chichester Psalms.

The first movement opens with a broad chorale (“Awake, psaltery and harp!”) that serves as the structural buttress for the entire composition. It is transformed, in quick tempo, to open and close the dance-like main body of this movement (in 7/4 meter), and it reappears at the beginning and end of the finale in majestic settings. The bounding, sprung rhythms and exuberant energy of the fast music of the first movement are a perfect embodiment of the text, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands.”

The touching simplicity of the second movement recalls the pastoral song of David, the young shepherd. The sopranos take over the melody from the countertenor soloist, and carry it forward in gentle but strict imitation. Suddenly, threatening music is hurled forth by the men’s voices punctuated by slashing chords from the orchestra. They challenge the serene strains of peace with the harsh question, “Why do the nations rage?” The quiet song, temporarily banished, reappears in the high voices, like calming oil on troubled waters. The hard tones subside, and once again the shepherd sings and strums his harp. As a coda, the mechanistic sounds of conflict, soft but worrisome, enter once again, as if blown on an ill wind from some distant land.

The finale begins with an instrumental prelude based on the stern chorale that opened the work. The muted solo trumpet and the harp recall a phrase from the shepherd’s song to mark the central point of this introductory portion. The chorus intones a gently swaying theme on the text, “Lord, Lord, My heart is not haughty.” The Chichester Psalms concludes with yet another adaptation of the recurring chorale, here given new words and a deeper meaning. This closing sentiment is not only the central message of the work, and the linchpin of its composer’s philosophy of life, but also is a thought that all should hold dear in troubled times:

Behold how good,
And how pleasant it is,
For brethren to dwell
Together in unity.

 

(b. 1959)

Credo NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE

Composed in 2011. Premiered on August 7, 2012 at Royal Albert Hall in London by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Chamber Choir, Northern Sinfonia Chorus and Rushley Singers, conducted by Juanjo Mena.

Scottish composer James MacMillan, born in Kilwinning, Ayshire on July 16, 1959, was educated at the University of Edinburgh (B.Mus., 1981) and Durham University (Ph.D., 1987), where his principal teacher was John Casken. After working as a lecturer at Manchester University from 1986 to 1988, MacMillan returned to Scotland, where he has since fulfilled numerous important commissions and taught at the University of Edinburgh and Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. He has also served as Artistic Director of the Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust, Affiliate Composer of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Composer/ Conductor with the BBC Philharmonic, Composer of the Year with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and Visiting Composer of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Artistic Director of its contemporary music series, Music Today; he became Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic in 2010. In 1993, MacMillan won both the Gramophone Contemporary Music Record of the Year Award and the Classic CD Award for Contemporary Music; he was made a CBE in 2004, given the 2008 British Composer Award for Liturgical Music, named an Honorary Patron of the London Chamber Orchestra in 2008, and awarded a Knighthood in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours. In October 2014, James MacMillan inaugurated the Cumnock Tryst, a festival of international scope that he organized in his boyhood home in southern Scotland.

MacMillan’s compositions, many of which incorporate traditional Scottish elements and bear some stamp of either his religion (Catholicism) or his politics (socialism), include two operas, a St. John Passion, concerted works for piano (The Berserking), percussion (Veni, Veni, Emmanuel), cello, clarinet, organ and trumpet, orchestral scores, chamber works and pieces for solo voices and chorus. Of his creative personality, MacMillan wrote:

There are strong Scottish traits in my works, but also an aggressive and forthright tendency with a strong rhythmic physicality, showing the influence of Stravinsky, Messiaen and some minimalist composers.... My philosophy of composition looks beyond the introversion of the New Music “ghetto” and seeks a wider communication while in no way promoting a compromising populism.... The “modernist” zeal of the post-World War II generation of composers who attempted to eschew any continuation of tradition is anathema to me. I respect tradition in many forms, whether cultural, political or historical, and in keeping up a continuous, delicate scrutiny of old forms, ancient traditions, enduring beliefs and lasting values one is strengthened in one’s constant, restless search for new avenues of expression. The existence of the influence of the old alongside the experiments of the new should not appear incongruous. Therefore, in ideological terms, my works express the timeless truths of Roman Catholicism alongside a fierce social commitment. And musically one can hopefully sense the depths of times past integrating with attempts at innovation.

MacMillan’s Credo, a setting of the ancient Mass text confirming the church’s foundational belief in the Holy Trinity, was composed in 2011 on a commission from the BBC Philharmonic, Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Grafenegg Music Festival (Austria) and De Doelen Concert Hall (Rotterdam), and premiered at the London Proms concert of the BBC Philharmonic on August 7, 2012, conducted by Juanjo Mena. The composer provided the following overview of the Credo:

This is a large-scale work but using a fairly economical orchestra. As musical settings of the Creed for liturgical use are no longer viable, this work is conceived as a concert piece. The Credo is cast in three movements reflecting the Trinitarian nature—Father, Son, Holy Ghost—of the text.

Pater. The short first movement begins with a high intonation, evoking liturgical practice. Most of the choral writing here is syllabic and homophonic with orchestral interjections that are busier or fanfare-like.

Filius. The more substantial middle movement begins with a festal theme in layers of different tonalities and pulses. Some of the choral writing is now more ornamented and florid, a style taken up by the instruments as well. At the holiest words in the central section—et incarnatus est—and thereafter, the choir is accompanied by three high solo violas. The opening fanfare motif returns towards the end in different colors.

Spiritus Sanctus. The final movement, the longest, begins with mysterious buzzing chords, first in the winds and then in the strings. The historical hinterlands of plainsong, motet and cantus firmus [“fixed song,” i.e., a borrowed melody or motif around which the other voices are composed] are the inspirations behind much of this music. After the final Amen, there is a brief, joyous coda for the orchestra.

(1875–1937))

Daphnis et Chloé

Composed in 1909–1912. Premiered on June 8, 1912 in Paris, conducted by Pierre Monteux.

The Ballet Russe descended on Paris in 1909 with an impact still reverberating through the worlds of art, music and dance. Its brilliant impresario, Sergei Diaghilev, went shopping among the artistic riches of the French capital, and soon had gathered together the most glittering array of creative talent ever assembled under a single banner: Falla, Picasso, Nijinsky, Fokine, Bakst, Monteux, Stravinsky, Massine, Debussy, Matisse, Prokofiev, Pavlova, Poulenc, Milhaud. Early in 1910 Diaghilev approached Maurice Ravel with a scenario by Fokine for a ballet based on a pastoral romance derived from the writings of the 5th-century Greek sophist Longus. In his 1928 autobiographical sketch, Ravel wrote:

I was commissioned by the director of the Russian Ballet to write Daphnis et Chloé, a choreographic symphony in three movements. My aim in writing it was to compose a vast musical fresco, and to be not so much careful about archaic details as loyal to my visionary Greece, which is fairly closely related to the Greece imagined and depicted by French painters at the end of the 18th century. The work is constructed like a symphony, with a very strict system of tonality, formed out of a small number of themes whose development assures homogeneity to the work.

Ravel’s refined view of Daphnis through the eyes of Watteau was at variance with the primitive one held by others on the production staff, especially Léon Bakst, who was doing the stage designs. There were many squabbles and delays in mounting the production, and, as a ballet, Daphnis had a lukewarm reception at its premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on June 8, 1912. Ravel’s score, however, was greeted with enthusiasm, perhaps because the orchestra was the only facet of the production that was completely prepared. The music immediately entered the repertory of the world’s orchestras and has remained one of the most popular of 20th-century scores, though the ballet is rarely seen.

One of the marks of a great musical work is the way in which it creates and envelops the listener in its own characteristic world. Ravel, through his masterful orchestration, sensitivity to color and atmosphere, and careful construction, created such a sound world in his Daphnis et Chloé. Ravel’s world is one of elegant sensuality and dream-like refinement, one that grew from the composer’s idealized vision not so much of Greece as of the court of Louis XIV at Versailles and its precise etiquette governing life and love. The young lovers of the ballet are not ancient primitives, but pink-cheeked shepherds who have stepped from a delicate canvas of Fragonard to amuse Le Roi Soleil. In considering the wondrous effect of Daphnis et Chloé, Jean Cocteau wrote, “It is one of those works that land in the heart like a meteorite, from a planet whose laws will remain forever mysterious and beyond our understanding.” Igor Stravinsky called it “one of the most beautiful products of French music.”

Daphnis et Chloé opens in a meadow bordering a sacred wood on the island of Lesbos. Greek youths and maidens enter with wreaths and flowers to place at the altar of the Nymphs as the shepherd Daphnis descends from the hills. His lover, Chloé, crosses the meadow to meet him. The girls are attracted to the handsome Daphnis and dance seductively around him, inciting Chloé’s jealousy. Chloé, in her turn, becomes the object of the men’s advances, particularly a crude one from the clownish goatherd Dorcon. Daphnis’ jealousy is now aroused and he challenges Dorcon to a dancing contest, the prize to be a kiss from Chloé. Dorcon performs a grotesque dance and he is jeered by the onlookers. Daphnis easily wins Chloé’s kiss with his graceful performance. The crowd leads Chloé away, leaving Daphnis alone to lapse into languid ecstasy. Daphnis’ attention is suddenly drawn to the clanging of arms and shouts of alarm from the woods. Pirates have invaded and set upon the Greeks. Daphnis rushes off to protect Chloé, but she returns and is captured.

In Scene Two, set on a jagged seacoast, the brigands enter their hideaway laden with booty. Chloé, hands bound, is led in. She pleads for her release. When the chief refuses, the sky grows dark and the god Pan, arm extended threateningly, appears upon the nearby mountains. The frightened pirates flee, leaving Chloé alone.

Scene Three is again set amid the hills and meadows of the ballet’s first scene. It is sunrise. Herdsmen arrive and tell Daphnis that Chloé has been rescued. She appears and throws herself into Daphnis’ arms. The old shepherd Lammon explains to them that Pan has saved Chloé in remembrance of his love for the nymph Syrinx. In gratitude, Daphnis and Chloé re-enact the ancient tale, in which Syrinx is transformed into a reed by her sisters to save her from the lustful pursuit of Pan, who then made a flute from that selfsame reed—the pipes of Pan—upon which to play away his longing. Daphnis and Chloé embrace tenderly and join in the general joyous dance that ends the ballet.

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