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Program Notes and Composer Biographies

In Memoriam

Novemebr 12 , 2001

The Forum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Mary Chun, conductor


Iannes Xenakis, a R. (hommage a Maurice Ravel) (1987)

Marja Mutru, piano

NOTES:

Composed in 1987, a R. (hommage a Maurice Ravel) was commissioned by Radio France to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ravel's death. a R. is both virtuosic and concise. The piece is characterized by rapid scalar passages interrupted by resonant, sustaining chords; impressive in virtuosity and power, arid in its intransigence, its frenzied gestures challenge both the performer and the listener.

BIO:

Iannis Xenakis was born in 1922 into a Greek family residing in Braila, Romania. The sense of being an outsider has remained integral to his identity, as the title of a recently published book of interviews signals: “il faut źtre constamment un immigré.” Xenakis lost his mother when he was five years old, then was sent off to boarding school on the Greek island of Spetsai at age ten. He studied civil engineering at the Athens Polytechnic, but the German invasion followed by the British occupation drew him into the Resistance, activities from which he would end up near fatally wounded, losing one eye, then later condemned to death. Forced to escape his country, Xenakis ended up in Paris, wanting to study music, but earning a living working as an engineering assistant for Le Corbusier.

His creative and intellectual intensity attracted the attention of both the renowned architect, who delegated architectural projects to him in spite of his lack of professional training, and the composer and pedagogue Olivier Messiaen, who saw in the music he was struggling to produce in isolation an originality deserving of encouragement. Xenakis had his first major succŹs du scandale with the premiere of Metastasis at the Donaueschingen Festival in 1955, and by 1960, he was able to devote himself entirely to composition. Critical of other developments in contemporary music at the time, dominated by the serialists (Darmstadt school) such as Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Xenakis followed his own path, aided by his background in mathematics, engineering and design, and by his interest in complex sonic phenomena (rainstorms, street demonstrations, etc.). He incorporated probability theory into his compositional approach, as a means of generating and controlling large-scale events composed of massive numbers of individual elements. He also adopted the sonic entity (texture) as the primary material for the construction of musical form (rather than themes, or pitch structures).

For over forty years, Xenakis has created a steady stream of remarkable works, and his impact on contemporary music has been of crucial importance. Along with his acoustic works, he has produced a number of important electroacoustic pieces, and a series of multimedia creations involving sound, light, movement, and architecture (polytopes). In the domain of computer music, Xenakis was a pioneer in the area of algorithmic composition, and has also developed an approach to digital synthesis based on random generation and variation of the waveform itself. In addition, he designed a computer system utilizing a graphic interface (the UPIC), which has proven to be a liberating, provocative pedagogical tool as well as a powerful environment for computer composition.

Iannis Xenakis died on February 4, 2001, at age 78. His last completed composition, O-Mega, for solo percussion and ensemble, written for Evelyn Glennie and the London Sinfonietta, was premiered at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music in November 1997. His retirement was enforced by a loss of memory that made it impossible to compose, and by increasingly frequent periods in the hospital, lapses into coma, and so forth. At the same time, however, Xenakis continued to be feted around the world. He was awarded the Kyoto Prize (Japan) in 1997, the UNESCO International Music Prize in 1998, and the Polar Prize (Sweden) in 1999.

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Henry Onderdonk, A Moment of Discussion

Terrie Baune, violin
Marja Mutru, piano

BIO:

Henry Onderdonk taught composition and theory at the University of Michigan before coming to San Francisco in 1960 to work at SF State's Music Department. He spent 34 years at San Francisco State University where his inspirational mentoring of young composers and his intense devotion to their development as individuals became his hallmark that caused him to be beloved by colleagues and students alike. Most of his compositions are scored either for solo piano or chamber ensemble. His style is classified as both complex and lyrical. Dr. Onderdonk died this past summer while backpacking with close friends in the Sierras. He was 73.

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Yizkor (In Memoriam) (1995) by Yinam Leef

Tod Brody, flute

NOTES:

Yizkor for flute alone was written in December, 1995, following the murder of Yizhak Rabin, and is dedicated to his memory. The piece began as if writing itself, after the disastrous murder. The paralyzing shock, the feeling of helplessness and the initial wave of emotions started to change into a kind of sustained sadness that refused to disappear.

Slowly, the preoccupation with the melodic line, through the voice of the single instrument, so exposed and vulnerable, turned into a desire to attempt and articulate the essence of pain.

BIO:

Born in 1953, Yinam Leef grew up in a cultural melting pot, where East meets West, old and new coexist, and local and universal aesthetics are apparent at a change of a glance. While firmly rooted in Western musical tradition, Leef has combined in his music certain elements which are particular to Middle-Eastern sound-environment: melodic fragments, rhythmic or temporal aspects of music, or the relation to time and form. Thus in his works complex harmonies may live side by side next to long pedal tones, and irregular, jazzy rhythms next to timeless melismas. When honoring him with the Prime Minister Prize for Composers in 1993, the jury described him as a “native of Jerusalem, that ‘Place of Fire,’ according to poetess Zelda, which recurs in his works... Word and sound, longing and protests, Canaanite spirit and academic ivory towers have all combined to constant motion that has in recent years gathered momentum, power and massiveness, when extended orchestral works have augmented the already existing corpus of chamber and solo compositions. The integration of Eretz-Israeli roots with characteristically Western patterns of composition lends Yinam Leef's works both their concertantic-expressive nature and their polished crystallinity.”

Leef studied composition with Mark Kopytman at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy, Richard Wernick, George Crumb and George Rochberg at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his doctorate, and with Luciano Berio at Tanglewood. He was a Composition Fellow at the Composers Conference in Johnson, Vermont (1980) and the Yale Composers Seminar at Norfolk (1981), and was the recipient of the America Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarships, CBS Foundation Fellowship, the Margaret Lee Crofts Fellowship at Tanglewood (1982), and a Residence Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony (1984). His song cycle The Invisible Carmel, set to texts by Zelda, won the Halstead Prize, and he is twice the recipient of the Hilda K. Nitzsche Prize in Music for his Symphony No. 1 and Cannanite Fantasy No. 1 for piano. His choral work Sounds, Shadows... received the Israel Composers League Prize, and his haunting vocal work A Place of Fire received a Citation of Honor from the City of Haifa. His Violin Concerto won the 1992 ACUM Prize for Publication Encouragement and in 1993 he received the Prime-Minister Prize for Israeli Composers.

Leef was commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard, the Samuel S. Fels Fund in Philadelphia, The Swarthmore Music and Dance Festival, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Haifa Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Sinfonietta, and by numerous performing organizations in Israel and abroad. His works have been heard in most European countries, USA and the Far East and have enjoyed frequent performances in festivals worldwide, including the Tanglewood Music Festival (1982), Swarthmore Music and Dance Festival (1984, 1986, 1988), Israel Festival Jerusalem (1986 and 1997), Pittsburgh International Music Festival (1986), the ISCM World Music Days in Hong Kong (1988) and Oslo (1990), Musical Spring in St. Petersburg (1993), Wratislavia Cantans (1995) and "The Old Testament in the Arts" Festival in Prague (1995). All major Israeli orchestras have performed his works, and among the ensembles which have featured his compositions are Orchestra 2001, New York New Music Ensemble, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Penn Contemporary Players, Ensemble Musica Viva Dresden, Notabu Ensemble fuer Neue Musik Dusseldorf and the Swedish Radio Choir. His works are published by the Israel Music Institute (IMI), Israel Music Publications (IMP), and Theodore Presser Company.

Leef had taught at Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges, Philadelphia College of Performing Arts and the New School of Music. He is a Senior Lecturer at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance, where he has served as Dean of Students (1990-94) and Chairman of the Department of Composition, Conducting and Theory (1995-1997). He was guest composer at the Berlin Hochschule der Kunste and Conservatorium Maastricht, and Guest Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

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A Moment of Farewell by Donald Bruce Aird

Tod Brody, flute
Peter Josheff, clarinet
Tim Dent, marimba

NOTES:

A Moment of Farewell is dedicated to Tom Nee, who was conductor of the New Hampshire Festival of Music and a great champion of new music. Beginning his career as principal assistant in Minneapolis in the 1940s, Nee taught at McAllister College and later UC San Diego, and continued to conduct the New Hampshire Festival for 26 seasons. A Moment of Farewell was written for his final performance with the Festival, and is built on a soggetto cavato, a musical theme derived from the letters of Thomas Nee's name. Originally scored for trumpet, oboe, and marimba, tonight's version represents a slightly different coloration: for flute, clarinet, and marimba. It was intended to capture the poignancy of Nee's farewell to his friends.

BIO:

Donald Aird received his musical training at San Francisco State University and was the former director of the Berkeley Chamber Singers. His compositions have been performed by the Royal College of Music, the London Bach Society, the Hilliard Ensemble, Earplay, and the San Jose Symphony, among others. A long-time friend and supporter of Earplay, Mr. Aird died Aug. 7 of a heart attack at Dulles Airport near Washington, D. C. He was 77.

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Pierrot Lunaire (1912) by Arnold Schoenberg

Elise Ross, soprano

Tod Brody, flute and piccolo
Peter Josheff, clarinet and bass clarinet
Terrie Baune, violin and viola
Marja Mutru, piano
Dana Putnam, cello

NOTES:

Schoenberg's early music was clearly marked by the style of the late nineteenth century, and influences of Brahms, Mahler, and others can be seen in pieces such as his Verklärte Nacht. But as his compositional style developed, it became more concise and contrapuntally intricate. At the same time, Schoenberg's chromaticism intensified to the point that any strong tonal focus disappeared. Such works as Pierrot Lunaire are in a fully atonal style. The music of this period is also marked by a style that is referred to as expressionist, and Schoenberg had contact with, and a great deal of admiration for, the expressionist painters and writers (Schoenberg himself painted in an Expressionist style). These ideals can be seen in the dark and dreamlike atmosphere conveyed in Pierrot Lunaire, based on the expressionist poetry of Albert Giraud. The kinds of internal conflicts we associate with Freud and his school of psychoanalysis are played out in exquisite musical detail.

Arnold Schoenberg wrote Pierrot Lunaire in 1912 at the request of actress Albertine Zehme, whose aquaintence the composer had made soon after he moved from Vienna to Berlin in 1911. Pierrot Lunaire ("Pierrot in the Moonlight", or "Moonstruck Pierrot") consists of three groups of seven poems each, each poem being of two four-line verses followed by a five-line verse, and each begins and ends with the same line. Schoenberg composed Pierrot very quickly, all but two of the pieces were composed between March 12 and May 30, and fourteen of them were each written within a day.

Pierrot consists of three groups of seven poems each, each poem being of two four-line verses followed by a five-line verse, and each begins and ends with the same line. Schoenberg here plays puppeteer, presenting through Pierrot (a traditionally love-sick and petulant character from European theatre) an array of contradictions: the instrumentalists are soloists and orchestra at the same time. Pierrot is both hero and fool, acting in a drama that is also a concert piece, performing cabaret as high art and vice versa, and doing it with song that is also speech. The latter is one of the most famous things about Pierrot Lunaire: the use of sprechgesang (literally 'speech-song', a means of dramatic declamation first used in German opera at the end of the 19th century) allows Schoenberg to veer freely from song and speech.

BIO:

Arnold Schoenberg, creator of the twelve-tone system of musical composition, was one of the most significant composers of the 20th century. He was born on September 13, 1874, to a Jewish family in Vienna. He taught himself composition, with help in counterpoint from the Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky, and in 1899 produced his first major work, the tone poem Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for string sextet. In 1901 he married Zemlinsky's sister Mathilde, with whom he had two children. The couple moved to Berlin, where for two years Schoenberg earned a living by orchestrating operettas and directing a cabaret orchestra. In 1903 Schoenberg returned to Vienna to teach. There he met two composers who were to become his close friends, and most successful students: Anton Webern and Alban Berg. In his compositions, Schoenberg employed far-reaching harmonies, a trait that later developed into atonality. Because of this, riots erupted at both premieres of his first two string quartets in 1905 and 1908. Such experiences led him often to feel persecuted by a public that could not understand his music.

Schoenberg also began painting during these years and exhibited his work with a group of artists in the circle of the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. This period was marked by tragedy when Mathilde had an affair with his painting teacher, who committed suicide after she returned to Schoenberg. In 1911, the year in which Schoenberg published his book Theory of Harmony, he accepted a teaching position in Berlin. There he composed one of his most influential works, Pierrot Lunaire (1912). He returned to Vienna in 1915. The interruptions occasioned by World War I, combined with Schoenberg's search for a way to ensure logic and unity in atonal music, prevented him from producing many works between 1914 and 1923. By 1923, however, he had completed the formulation of his twelve-tone method of composition. Mathilde's death that same year was a serious blow to Schoenberg, but in 1924 he met and married Gertrud Kolisch, the sister of an Austrian violinist. With the invitation in 1925 to teach composition at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, Schoenberg finally obtained a prestigious position, financial security, and a stable family life. In 1932, the year the couple's daughter was born, he completed the second act of his opera Moses und Aron (produced posthumously, 1957).

Schoenberg and his family fled Nazi Germany to Paris in 1933. In 1934 they emigrated to the United States, and he accepted a teaching position in Boston. The next year, because of his health, they moved to Los Angeles, where his two youngest sons were born. After a year as a lecturer at the University of Southern California (1935), he taught at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1936 to 1944. He became a US citizen in 1941. Schoenberg fell seriously ill in 1946, and at one point his heart stopped beating; this experience is reflected in his String Trio (1946), written after his recovery. In retirement he continued to teach and to compose. He died on July 13, 1951, in Los Angeles.

Whether one calls oneself conservative or revolutionary, whether one composers in a conventional or progressive manner, whether one tries to imitate old styles or is destined to express new ideas—one must be convinced of the infallibility of one's own fantasy and one must believe in one's own inspiration. The desire for a conscious control of the new means and forms will arise in every artist's mind; and he will wish to follow consciously the laws and rules that govern the forms he has conceived “as in a dream.”

(Arnold Schoenberg)

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