WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: Welcome to Spring For Music’s online course. You can watch these videos and listen to the program excerpts in the order below or watch them out of sequence. The art of programming is about creating an experience; a program takes you someplace. It’s not just a collection of pieces; one piece sets up the next. A program is a vehicle for artists, but it’s the audience that makes it a shared experience. [this video is 5:09 minutes long]
WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: To start – a basic structure of a program. Historically, the big symphony was in first half. Now flipped. Programs fail if you build program just around a big piece. There have to be unexpected things – keep audience on its toes. How you construct a progression for a program. Hundreds of way to create a sense of occasion – a journey that has unpredictability. Progression from one piece to next makes it creative. Bizarre programs can be fun. How do you make musical connections between pieces? Between ideas? Sequence of experiences is key.
WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: Great programs make connection that show pieces in new light. Like a meal – there has to be balance between pieces. We seem to have more ernest programs these days – have we lost fun to pops concerts? The lighter side of music is important. Why music needs a “twinkle.” Do orchestras only exist to play great music of the past? We need to keep refreshing the kind of music that’s played – there’s what people think they want versus what they’re actually getting out of it.
WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: Classical music concerts suffer from competition with every recording in history. Audiences for recordings and for concerts are often different. In the hall, it’s about the moment – a meal where the courses fit one another. Recordings can make you a lazy listener – you can sample and skip around. Following your local orchestra over a series of programs creates a relationship. major League baseball is different from minor league baseball – the experiences are different – not necessarily one better than the other as experiences. Also for live concerts.
This Oregon Symphony program is an example of a “theme” program which is constructed with intelligence and meaning, and contains consistently great music, sequenced in a way that is startling and tells a story. While the overbearing theme is about “War”, by placing the three pieces in the first half as a continuum without breaks, it forms a seamless narrative: the Ives asks the timeless questions about meaning, the Adams recounts the suffering of war victims, and the Britten opens with a brutal lament and ends with the peace of Requiem eternam. Performing these works without breaks (or applause) in effect unites the three works into a kind of single work in three movements. This first half sets up the anxiety and emotional violence of Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 4, written in mid 1930’s as the storm clouds gathered over Europe.
How this works
You can listen to a short excerpt of each piece below for a flavor of the works. To hear the entire program, listen to the live broadcast from Carnegie Hall at the bottom of this post. There is also a list of the program below the recordings. There’s a NYT review of this program and finally, there’s a stream of an interview with Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar talking about this program.
Charles Ives Unanswered Question
The sound is so quiet, so fragile, you have to lean in to hear it. The sound is almost imperceptible and it focuses the ear on straining to hear the texture. Once Ives has your complete attention he introduces short fragments, scraps, phrases, that seem to hover over the background.
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John Adams The Wound Dresser
Adams picks up where Ives left off. This is a 1989 setting of verses from a Civil War poem by Walt Whitman.
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Benjamin Britten Sinfonia di Requiem
This piece was a commission composed in 1940 to commemorate a Japanese celebration, and Britten, who was a pacifist, made it a work that decries the toll of war. It starts violently and ends in a kind of deep resignation.
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Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 4
Enough of Britten’s resignation. Vaughan Williams wrote this symphony on the eve of World War II, and it is angry – rude even – with jabs and fits and rage. While the first half of this program contemplates and regrets war, this second half is the rising up of a cry against it.
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Listen to the entire concert:
The Oregon Symphony
Karlos Kalmar, conductor
“Music for a Time of War”
|CHARLES IVES||The Unanswered Question|
|JOHN ADAMS||The Wound-Dresser
|BENJAMIN BRITTEN||Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20|
|RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS||Symphony No. 4 in F minor|
Want to add more information about any of the performers, composers or recordings related to this program? Add it to the S4MU wiki page.
Class Discussion Here
Do “theme” programs work? Often programs have spiffy titles, such as “Catchy Classics” or bad puns like “Bach To Baroque.” Sometimes trying to jam music into a program to make a theme work makes the whole thing fake. On the other hand, if a program is well constructed, it ought to leave you with something – an idea, a feeling, a new way of seeing (or hearing) things. And isn’t that the same as a theme? Perhaps a theme is just a construct for an idea, and the theme is only as good as the idea. Do themes make you more or less interested in a program? Or does it matter? Add your voice below.