Program Notes: Carmina Burana
Vers les astres
Serge Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)
Concerto No. 1 in D major for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 19
II. Scherzo: Vivacissimo
Carl Orff (1895 – 1982)
Carmina burana (Songs of Beuren)
Born in Montreal, August 22, 1980
Vers les astres (2011)
Composer of this season’s opening work, with the world première of his Festive Overture, Montreal-based composer, Éric Champagne was composer-in-residence for the city’s Orchestre Métropolitain from 2012 to 2014 and continues to be a regular collaborator on musical and pedagogical projects. He subsequently completed a similar two-year position as composer-in-residence at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. In June 2017, his monumental Te Deum, for soloists, choir and orchestra was presented at Carnegie Hall and, in November 2017, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestre Métropolitain performed his symphonic poem Exil Intérieur in Cologne, Amsterdam and Paris. Éric has been awarded numerous prizes and honours and is the author of many print articles, interviews, and reviews. He also directs creative workshops with music students.
Vers les astres (Toward the Stars) takes inspiration from a sculpture by Quebec artist Henri Hébert, titled Ad Astra, showing, in Éric Champagne’s words, “a man, arms stretched out to the sky in a rapturous, yearning gesture.” A feeling of awe comes through in Contemplation, the first of three continuous sections in Champagne’s score. As though at dawn, a reflective, soaring violin is set against a background of still strings and resonant percussion, punctuated by rippling winds and awakening brass. In Hesitations, the grandeur and vastness of the universe is exposed. “The solo tuba seems to be battling the orchestral mass that is, itself, troubled and turbulent,” Champagne says. This gives way to the exuberant energy of Exaltation. “It is this momentum that allows us to go vers les astres in a revitalizing gesture, in fulfilment of the desire for eternity,” Champagne concludes. “Each section brings back the same three-note motive – three minor thirds – but develops this sonic material in a different way. This musical idea in constant mutation symbolically unites the three phases of the work: those of poetic contemplation, of existential doubts, and of vivid, unrestrained energy.”
Born in Sontzovka, Russia, April 11/23, l89l; died in Moscow, Russia March 5, l953
Violin Concerto No. 1, in D, Op. 19 (1916-7)
With its origins in a one-movement concertino for violin and orchestra from 1915 or even earlier, Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto had to wait until 1923 for its première. This took place in Paris with Marcel Darrieux, 18-year-old concertmaster of Koussevitzky’s orchestra, as soloist, in the same concert in which Stravinsky made his début as conductor. Three days later, two extraordinary 19-year-olds gave the Russian première: Nathan Milstein and Vladimir Horowitz. “With a great pianist like Horowitz playing with you, you don’t need an orchestra,” Milstein later wrote in his memoirs. The renowned Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti took up the concerto the following year and, by now, the success of the work was assured. Szigeti was intrigued by what he called Prokofiev’s “mixture of fairy-tale naïvety and daring savagery in layout and texture.” Savagery was just the quality that Parisian critics and audiences were looking for in Prokofiev. They had responded enthusiastically to the shock value of his savage Scythian Suite and new Diaghilev ballet The Buffoon. To be savage was chic for those on the cutting edge of musical trends. But the violin concerto was viewed as tamer stuff. “Mendelssohnian” was the biggest put-down a Parisian critic could muster. Years later, Prokofiev expressed surprise that even the long lyrical lines of the concerto were ignored. “For a long time, I was given no credit for any lyrical gift whatever,” he wrote, citing the opening of the First Violin Concerto as an example of his lyrical skill.
But it is precisely this soaring lyricism, so idiomatic to the violin, that subsequently made the First Violin Concerto among the most popular of Prokofiev’s eight concertos. Its dreamy, haunting opening seems drawn from an idyllic river trip Prokofiev took in the summer of 1917 along the river Kama to the foothills of the Urals, rather than from the turbulent events between the February and October Revolutions in Russia. Throughout, the violin is the dominant voice of the ensemble rather than its antagonist. It leads the orchestra through a kaleidoscope of emotions, alternately ethereal and motoristic, wistful and assertive, innocent and sardonic, intimate and extrovert. The three movements each contain a wide range of moods. Even the brief, innocently titled Scherzo goes far beyond its mischievous, lightly scored opening. The finale brings back the melody with which the concerto opens. It closes as though in a dreamlike state, high on the violin, surrounded by flute, high strings and harp.
Born in Munich, Germany, July 10, 1895; died in Munich, March 29, 1982
Carmina burana (1935-6)
The title literally means ‘Songs from Beuern’ – Beuern being both a variant of the word ‘Bayern’ (Bavaria) and the town Benediktbeuern in the Bavarian Alps, near Munich. Orff’s ‘songs’ are original settings of a selection of mediaeval poems from the Benedictine monastery of Beuern. Orff came across them in 1935, published in a mid-19th century edition by the librarian of the Bavarian Court – which is where the manuscripts had been deposited earlier in the century. “The things that moved me most of all were the sweeping rhythmic drive, the picturesqueness of the poetry, and (not least of all) the unusually concise Latin text,” Orff said.
He was 42 at the time, a late-bloomer as a composer, with a history of childhood involvement in theatre, puppet plays and music. Largely self-taught as a composer, Orff had published several late romantic compositions and had spent more than a decade as a music educator. Here, his aim was to open up music to all, including the least gifted, through dance movement and physicality, the playing of simple music instruments and, above all, the use of elemental rhythms and repeated ostinato patterns. These principles became widely known and adopted by educators once the Orff-Schulwerk began to be published in 1930. They also helped provide a Eureka moment for Orff the composer.
In his Scenic Cantata Carmina burana, Orff goes back to basics, casting aside complex musical forms, emphasising powerful rhythms, avoiding polyphony, stripping back all aspects of the music, with uncomplicated harmony and folk-like melody. Like rock music, the piece draws rhythmic vitality from African music and jazz. It includes a high degree of repetition, its emotions are raw, and its texts are about drinking and debauchery. Much of the concept has its origins in the music of Stravinsky, particularly in the dance cantata The Wedding. Orff simplifies Stravinsky’s complex rhythmic patterns, irregularities in scoring and emotional impact to their most elemental. To maximise the impact of the human voice, he pushes his chorus and soloists to the extremes of their vocal range. Carmina burana was a breakthrough work at its première in the Frankfurt Opera House, June 8, 1937 and, although Orff continued to compose in a similar style for the rest of a long career, it remains by far his best-known composition.
Framing the whole piece is its most popular number ‘Fortune, Empress of the World,’ which shows humankind at the mercy of a Wheel of Fortune. The text is in Latin, as is much of the Beuern collection, though Orff includes some in the vernacular of the itinerant German, French and English university students and minor clergy who travelled throughout Europe in the 11th through 13th centuries, scandalising and entertaining local folk. Their poems are erotic, satiric and frequently moralistic and provided something of a counterculture in an age dominated by the church. (They were also intended to be sung, though Orff left it to a later generation to decode the musical notation of some 45 of the 254 poems found in the manuscript). The 24 poems that Orff selects are subdivided into three main sections. ‘Springtime’ celebrates youth and the prevailing theme of love and includes the sequence ‘On the Green.’ ‘In the Tavern’ is a male preserve, leading to a splendid drinking chorus, a drunken abbot and the vivid portrayal of a swan whose high, tortured squeals resonate from the roasting spit. The third section is titled ‘The Court of Love’ and presents a sequence of contemplated love, indecision, seduction and surrender. It’s all capped by another turn of the Wheel of Fortune.
FORTUNE EMPRESS OF THE WORLD
Reclining in Flora’s lap
ON THE GREEN
is decked with flowers and leaves.
I long for my lover.
- IN THE TAVERN
III. THE COURT OF LOVE
Baritone and Chorus
- Double Chorus
BLANZIFLOR AND HELENA
©2019 Keith Horner
All program notes are written by Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: firstname.lastname@example.org
Benjamin Beilman, violin
Benjamin Beilman has won praise both for his passionate performances and deep rich tone which the Washington Post called “mightily impressive,” and The New York Times described as “muscular with a glint of violence.”
In 2018-19 Beilman will appear with Symphony Orchestras in Oregon, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Indianapolis, and Orchestra St. Luke’s. He also play-directs both the Vancouver Symphony and the New Century Chamber Orchestra. Abroad, Mr. Beilman performs with the Cologne Philharmonie, Munich Chamber Orchestra, Bruckner Orchestra Linz, City of Birmingham Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Iceland Symphony and Nagoya Philharmonic in Japan.
“Demons,” a new work written for Beilman and pianist Orion Weiss by Frederic Rzewski and commissioned by Music Accord, was premiered in 2018 at Baltimore’s Shriver Hall Concert Series, the Boston Celebrity Series and later presented in recital with the Gilmore Festival and Grand Teton Festival. Beilman and Weiss will continue to perform the work in recital during the 2018-19 season at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center and Spivey Hall. Other upcoming recital appearances include Wigmore Hall, Kennedy Center, Philadelphia’s Perelman Theater, and Carnegie Hall.
Mr. Beilman garnered worldwide attention following his First Prize wins in both the 2010 Young Concert Artists International Auditions and the 2010 Montréal International Musical Competition. He went on to receive a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a London Music Masters Award and an exclusive recording contract with Warner Classics. In 2016 he released his first disc for the label, titled Spectrum, featuring works by Stravinsky, Janáček and Schubert.
Beilman studied with Almita and Roland Vamos at the Music Institute of Chicago, Ida Kavafian and Pamela Frank at the Curtis Institute of Music, and Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg Academy. He plays the “Engleman” Stradivarius from 1709 generously on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.
Carla Huhtanen, soprano
Soprano Carla Huhtanen is in demand internationally for her soaring, translucent voice, winning stage presence, and her diverse repertoire. Now living in the UK, last season’s highlights include a special project with the Toronto Symphony which combined performances and a recording of Vaughan-Williams Serenade, to be released on the Hyperion label. She was heard in the Opera Atelier production of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and other recent highlights include Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail for Opera Columbus and a Boulez programme with the Toronto Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall and in Vienna. In 2015-2016, Ms. Huhtanen was heard at Versailles in the Opera Atelier production of Armide, with the Toronto Symphony in Richardson’s Alligator Pie, in Bach’s Mass in B Minor for the Grand Philharmonic Choir and in the Tapestry New Opera Works production of Rocking Horse Winner, which won a Dora Award.
She debuted in the UK as Lisetta in Garsington Opera’s La Gazzetta (Rossini) and returned as Serpetta in Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera, a performance repeated at the Barbican Centre’s Mostly Mozart series. She debuted in Italy at Gran Teatro la Fenice in Venice as Daisy Park in Gershwin’s Lady, Be Good! and returned to La Fenice as Athenas in Cherubini’s Anacreon. In France, she sang the title role of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen for Festival Mars en Baroque (Marseille, Tarascon, and Aix-en-Provence) and Angelica in Handel’s Orlando for Theatre Gyptis (Marseille), Festival Musique au Coeur (Antibes) and Festival de Chartres. A reprise performance of Lady, Be Good! took her to Lisbon’s Teatro Sao Carlos and she was featured soloist in a Leonard Bernstein Tribute with the Israel Philharmonic. She has been praised for her ‘vivid, fine-toned, accurately placed coloratura’ (Independent) and her ‘clarity of tone and smoothness of line matched only by her exquisite acting’ (Opera Now).
A leading interpreter of modern and contemporary music, Carla performs with Continuum New Music and was a Studio Ensemble member of Tapestry New Opera, where she helped develop and premiered many roles for ‘Opera To Go’ and ‘Opera Briefs’. Carla appeared in The Shadow with Tapestry, in Soundstreams Canada/CBC’s performance of Brian Current’s Airline Icarus, and covered Marie in Luminato’s production of Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna.
Recording credits include Herbert’s Babes in Toyland with the London Sinfonietta for EMI, Vivaldi’s Griselda and Sacred Music Vol. 3 for Naxos Records, and the Juno winning Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage. Carla recently recorded The Music of James Rolfe on Centrediscs.
Christopher Mayell, tenor
Praised for his “sweetly rendered, fluid and pliable tenor voice”, Christopher Mayell is quickly making his mark as a rising star in Canada’s opera houses and concerts halls.
Christopher maintains a hearty schedule of engagements across the country, including performances of Verdi’s FALSTAFF with Calgary Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria, Offenbach’s LA VIE PARISIENNE with Toronto Operetta Theatre, and Puccini’s TURANDOT with Manitoba Opera.
Recent appearances include Bach’s Cantata No. 55 ‘ICH ARMER MENSCH’ with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Bach’s CHRISTMAS ORATORIO with the Kingston Symphony, Orff’s CARMINA BURANA with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and Mozart’s REQUIEM with the Grammy-nominated Elora Festival Singers. He has also joined the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as well as Orchestra London for performances of Handel’s glorious MESSIAH.
Christopher is enjoying a growing international presence, including a portrayal of the title role in a world-class production of ALBERT HERRING at the Aldeburgh Festival in England (alongside soprano Felicity Lott), as well as a nationwide tour of China.
A champion of new Canadian works, Christopher has been a key creator in ArrayMusic’s production of HOW IT STORMS (an opera with Gamelan ensemble), FALLUJAH with City Opera Vancouver, THE LIVES OF LESSER THINGS with Opera NUOVA. He has worked closely with Toronto’s Tapestry Opera in their development of new works, including GET STUFFED!, and OKSANA G. Recently, he collaborated with Toronto’s Continuum New Music, performing a world-premier performance of ‘FREDERICK’S DOCTOR’, a narrative for tenor and instrumental ensemble.
Christopher is a proud alumnus of the Calgary Opera Emerging Artist Ensemble program. Between singing engagements, he co-hosts a podcast, ‘Overthought’, in which he and fellow tenor Isaiah Bell discuss the aspects – challenging and victorious – of a classical singer’s life.
Elliot Madore, baritone
In the 2018-2019, Elliot Madore returns to the Dutch National Opera in the European premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West directed by Peter Sellars, a role he premiered at the San Francisco Opera last season. He also returns to the Zurich Opera in a new production of Sweeney Todd as Anthony Hope and debuts as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia at Manitoba Opera. He sings Carmina Burana with the Kalamazoo Bach Festival, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and Colorado Symphony having previously sung it with the Cleveland Orchestra.
In his signature role of Pelléas in Pelléas et Melisande, he made his Bayerische Staatsoper debut in a new production at the Prinzregententehater. He has also sung Pelléas with the Croatian National Opera in Stéphane Braunschweig’s famous production, with Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra in a fully-staged production by Yuval Sharon, at Opéra-Théâtre de Limoges, with the Bremen Kammerphilharmonie conducted by Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla and with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit. Mr. Madore made his Metropolitan Opera mainstage debut as Lysander in their original baroque fantasy The Enchanted Island conducted by William Christie, as well as singing the Novice’s Friend in Billy Budd as a member of Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Since then, he has appeared as Figaro in The Barber of Seville and Mercutio in the new production of Roméo et Juliette conducted by Gianandrea Noseda which was broadcast worldwide in HD. He made his San Francisco Opera debut as Anthony in Sweeney Todd and returned to the Bayerische Staatsoper as Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos under music director Kirill Petrenko with performances in Munich and at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.
He made his European operatic debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in a new production of L’heure espagnole as Ramiro and L’enfant et les sortilèges as The Cat/Grandfather Clock directed by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Kazushi Ono. He was also seen in this same Ravel double-bill at the Saito Kinen Festival conducted by Seiji Ozawa and directed by Laurent Pelly which recently won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. He made his Salzburg Festival debut as the Japanese Envoy in concert performances of Stravinsky’s Le rossignol with Ivor Bolton and Mozarteumorchester Salzburg.
In addition to the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Mr. Madore was the recipient of the 2010 George London Award for a Canadian Singer from the George London Foundation, a finalist in the 2010 Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers in Houston and the recipient of the ARIAS Emerging Young Artist Award from Opera Canada. He was also the winner of the 2009 Palm Beach Vocal Competition. Elliot Madore is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music where he studied with Marlena Malas.