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Parallel Worlds

  • Libby Gardner Concert Hall 1375 Presidents Circle Salt Lake City, UT, 84112 United States (map)

Guest pianist Luis Magalhães is featured in Nikolai Kapustin’s Double Concerto for Violin and Piano. This concert focused on the intersection of jazz and classical music also includes Aaron Copland’s Quiet City (featuring Lissa Stolz on English horn and Travis Peterson on trumpet) and William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano.

Aaron Copland: Quiet City
Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No. 1
William Grant Still: Suite for Violin and Piano
Nikolai Kapustin: Double Concerto for Violin and Piano, op. 105

Get More Out of Your Experience

Join us before each concert at 2:30pm to participate in a discussion about the music with Jeff Counts, Vice President of Operations & General Manager of the Utah Symphony. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the program and increase your enjoyment of the music you'll hear.

Program Notes

by Jeff Counts

As much as we might wish it were so, works of musical art do not exist in sealed capsules, discrete from one another and the competing or complimentary contexts that define their relationships. In fact, multiple parallels exist within every well-crafted program. Most are intentional, but there are almost always a few surprises, and the questions these juxtaposed worlds elicit can be fascinating. How did the compositions of Russian and American musicians differ during the late 1930s and early 1940s? How did the music of white composers compare to that of African-American composers during that same period? Did the influence of jazz have a noticeably distinct impact on the sounds of a mid-20 th century American and an early-21 st century Russian?

William Grant Still had a long trailblazing career filled with many “firsts” as an African American musician. His many accomplishments included success as an oboist, arranger, conductor and, most importantly, as a composer. His influences ranged widely, but he often found his muse very close to home. Though he was from Mississippi, Still was considered part of the Harlem Renaissance and often sought inspiration in the work of kindred “New York” artists. The Suite for Violin and Piano (1943) is a good example, having been designed around three sculptures by prominent African-Americans. The bluesy “African Dancer” was based on work by Richmond Barthé, while the poignant second movement invoked “Mother and Child” by Sargent Johnson. The closing movement, a humorous, street-wise caprice, paid homage to Augusta Savage’s “Gamin.”

It took Prokofiev almost eight years to complete his Violin Sonata No. 1, and the gestation period essentially mirrored the span of World War II (1938-1946). The work had been shelved periodically during that time to make way for other projects (Alexander Nevsky, etc.) but in the end, it did not suffer from its long incubation. In fact, it could be argued that the inherent darkness of the music matched the mood of Prokofiev and indeed the world at war’s end and that it arrived exactly when it should have. Not for the first time, the profound misery projected by Prokofiev in the Sonata was misinterpreted as fervor by the Soviet cultural apparatus, and he was awarded a fifth Stalin Prize.

When Harold Clurman and the Group Theatre asked Aaron Copland to write incidental music for the newly-commissioned Quiet City in 1939, they didn’t know that Copland’s contribution to the project would very soon be its only surviving aspect. The play, penned by Irwin Shaw, centers on the struggles of a Jewish businessman, Gabriel, who rejects both his heritage and his dreams of becoming a poet in order to establish himself socially and financially. Sadly, the production was abandoned after only a few previews, but Copland knew he had done work worth preserving. The single-movement feature piece for trumpet and English horn he constructed from his cues comprises several episodes from the drama, all delivered in an unbroken flow of ideas.

Russian musician Nikolai Kapustin has been described simply as a “classical composer who happens to work in the jazz idiom,” an expressive style he has nurtured since his first publicly-performed works at age 13. Put less simply, it could be said that Kapustin has made career out of the fusing of traditional formal structures with the relative freedom of improvisational creativity, but when asked about his jazz training, he has always been quick to note that he not a jazz performer. His improvisations, as such, are written out and, in his words, “improved” through structural clarity. This intellectual melding of disparate styles has become a hallmark of Kapustin’s catalogue, and the Double Concerto for Violin and Piano (2002) shows us just how interesting a decidedly American vernacular looks when viewed through an Eastern European lens.