NOVA NOTES

America: The Musical Melting Pot

In January 1938, Samuel Barber, a young American composer mailed a movement of his new string quartet, arranged for string orchestra, to conductor Arturo Toscanini. The score was returned without comment. Barber was furious. But Toscanini replied that Barber had no cause to be angry with him for the perceived slight. Quite the contrary: Toscanini he had liked the piece so well that he intended to perform it on national radio; he had returned it unmarked because he had already memorized it. And perform it he did, on November 2 of that year. So began the American public’s love affair with Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a work which has enchanted audiences since Toscanini’s radio broadcast, and which Utah audiences will get to enjoy on NOVA’s May 22 concert.

Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1910, Barber showed a prodigious talent at a young age. At ten, he composed an operetta, The Rose Tree, to a libretto by his family’s Irish cook. At fourteen, he began attending the recently-founded Curtis Institute of Music; this was followed by extended periods of study in Europe. Barber’s career reads like a “who’s-who” of the American artistic landscape at the time: his ballet Medea was composed for Martha Graham; his Piano Sonata, commissioned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, was first performed by Vladimir Horowitz. He would receive two Pulitzer Prizes (for his opera Vanessa, and for his Piano Concerto), a Rome Prize, and numerous other honors and awards. Yet throughout it all, the Adagio for Strings has retained a special place in the hearts of music lovers in America and abroad.

The career of American composer William Bolcom (b. 1938) has been marked a voracious appetite for eclectic influences. His style imitates, merges, and parodies everything from Stravinsky and Berg, to Romantic symphonies, to cabaret songs, marches, folk tunes, foxtrots and rags. Bolcom’s career followed a trajectory shared by many American composers of his generation: although they studied at conservatories in America, their training was in a European style of arch-modernism, specifically the “serialism” developed by Arthur Schoenberg (featured on a NOVA concert last season), and, later, Pierre Boulez (featured on NOVA’s concert of April 3). Yet many of these composers soon grew disenchanted with this hyper-rationalized, extremely dissonant music, and turned toward alternate sources of inspiration; Bolcom stands a supreme example of composers who returned to their American roots in crafting new musical languages. This tendency is monumentally exemplified in Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, a three-hour setting of the entirety of William Blake’s collection. Bolcom’s Suite for Violin and Cello (1997), which will receive its Utah premiere on NOVA’s concert, offers a similar multitude of colors and sounds, on a much smaller scale.

Morris Rosenzweig, a professor of composition at the University of Utah, writes music that is often infused with the sounds of both his native New Orleans (where he “grew up among the tailors, merchants, and strong-willed women of an extended family which has lived in southern Louisiana since the mid 1890s”), and his adopted home of Utah. His 2010 composition 2005 and Counting, which will be featured on NOVA’s concert, offers a “rumination on the great damage” done to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and merges the live voice of a solo clarinet with recorded voices of New Orleans residents reflecting on their displacement after the storm. “This is a personal composition,” writes Rosenzweig. “I don't live in New Orleans anymore, but it remains the only place that makes sense to me.”

In this group of composers, then, it is Ludwig van Beethoven that seems the odd man out. The final work on NOVA’s concert will be Beethoven’s youthful, vivacious Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20. The year 1800 was, in certain regards, the zenith of young Beethoven’s career. He had traveled to Vienna in 1792 to study with Franz Joseph Haydn and, thanks to his remarkable skills as a pianist and improviser, had quickly become the darling of Viennese musical circles. On April 2, 1800, his first public concert featured, along with works by Haydn and Mozart, his First Symphony, First Piano Concerto, and the Septet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, and strings. The Septet was dedicated to Empress Maria Theresia, one of the most powerful rulers in Europe and a great patron of the arts. Local and foreign publishers were expressing interest in Beethoven’s compositions, his income was good, and his fame increased by the day. By the following year, Beethoven would have to admit to his friends that which he had suspected for some time: he was gradually losing his hearing. But in 1800, Beethoven could still enjoy the glittering musical life he had built for himself, and in the Septet NOVA audiences will have a chance to hear the young master at his creative, charming best.

Composer and bass player Jacob Rosenzweig

NOVA’s program additionally features two exciting young talents, both with roots in Salt Lake City, who are now major players on the national and international musical scenes. Jacob Rosenzweig, a bassist in Los Angeles and son of Morris, will be featured when NOVA performs a movement of his Music for Bass Quartet. Cellist Matthew Zalkind, another SLC native and currently a professor at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver, is performing on Sunday; his mother, Roberta Zalkind (Associate Principal Viola of the Utah Symphony), will also perform.

Cellist Matthew Zalkind

––Kamala Schelling

Interview with Brant and Anne Francis Bayless

Click the link below to listen to a preview of this Sunday's concert with violist Brant Bayless and cellist Anne Francis Bayless.

The World Premiere of Morris Rosenzweig’s String Trio

This Sunday NOVA presents the world premiere of a new work by Utah composer Morris Rosenzweig, his String Trio. What follows are notes by the composer on this new work as well as a short bio that includes upcoming and recent performances of Rosenzweig’s works.

My approach to writing music might best be summed up as direct impulse meshed with reason.

This piece contains a basic underlying narrative which--instead of being diverted by its many changes of texture, mood, tempo, etc.--relies on those apparent shifts in order to ultimately tell its particular type of "story."

In composing this work I intended to write a quickly moving network of interconnected episodes, each of various lengths and types that all contribute to the whole structure. Although not a conscious inspiration, this is a similar approach noticeable in certain paintings by Klee and many other artists, as well as in the work of countless filmmakers, for example.

The piece begins and ends quietly. It contains two fairly extended, uptempo, loud, contrapuntal passages. The first, relatively close to the beginning, the second, relatively close to the end which finishes off the business left open by the first. The other equally important characteristic episodes act as both individual agents whose specific properties connect with others by similar or contrasting association. While there are many temperaments contained in this trio, I intend that an overall sense of balance is achieved: soft/loud, sweet/bitter, high/low, polyphonic/monophonic, and so on.

My deep thanks to NOVA for their interest in my music and for including this trio on today's concert, AND to the remarkable musicians who have worked so hard and patiently to bring this trio to life.

 

Morris Rosenzweig was born October 1, 1952 in New Orleans, where he grew up among the tailors, merchants, and strong-willed women of an extended family which has lived in southern Louisiana since the mid 1890s.

His works have been widely presented throughout the United States and Europe, as well as in Japan, Argentina, Mexico and Israel. Among the noted groups who have brought these works to life are the New York New Music Ensemble, Speculum Musicae, “Piano and Percussion-Stuttgart,” the Leonardo Trio, the Abramyan Quartet, EARPLAY, the New Orleans Symphony, and the Utah Symphony. He has had the pleasure of collaborating with an array of distinguished soloists including Laurence Dutton, William Purvis, Curtis Macomber, Chris Finckel, Steven Gosling, and Daniel Druckman.

Six CDs of his recorded compositions are available on the Albany and New World labels.

Mr. Rosenzweig has received honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Bogliasco Study Center, the Argosy Foundation, two commissions and the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, and support from the Alice M. Ditson Fund.

Recent and upcoming activities include:
- a retrospective concert of his music presented by the Trinity Artists Series, November 2012
- movements from Points and Tales, Florence, Cherubini Conservatorio, December 2013
- premiere of so as to, NOVA Series, November 2013
- performance of Angels, Emeralds and the Towers, Contemporary Music Ensemble, Oberlin, March 2014
- a multi-media collaboration with photographer Savina Tarsitano, (heard through mixtful eyes) premiered in Brussels, July 2014 to be followed by a series of upcoming exhibitions in Japan and Italy
- performance of Da Lives ah da Saints, Sonus Tone Festival, Magdeburg, Germany, October 2014
- performance of Piano Preludes and movements from Points and Tales, Jason Hardink, Libby Gardner Hall, January 26, 2015
- premiere of commissioned piece, A League of Notions by the Orchestra of the League, Miller Theatre, New York, June 11, 2015.

Presently Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Utah, he has formerly held positions at Queens College and New York University. Mr. Rosenzweig is director of The Louis Moreau Institute for New Music Performance, New Orleans; director of The Maurice Abravanel Visiting Composers Series, and artistic director of Canyonlands Ensemble. He was educated at the Eastman School of Music, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University.