Program Notes – BMF & NRO Joint Concert

American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider is a bright light among America’s new generation of composers. Something for the Dark was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as a prize for winning the 2013 Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for women composers. The work takes its title from a poem by Detroit poet Philip Levine, which was a source of inspiration for the composer. She writes,

“When I received the commission to write this piece, I thought I would try to write something about hope and endurance. Early into my sketches for the piece, I stumbled onto an idea that sounded to me like hope incarnate: a bold, full-hearted little melody surrounded by dignity and sunlight and shiny things. I thought that maybe I would open the piece with it and then have the music journey through some adversity to an even bigger, bolder statement of optimism. Growth! Triumph! A happy ending! But that wasn’t what happened. The piece opens with the statement of hope, and sets out on an uncertain journey to find it again, but instead encounters strange new echoes of the motif in different, unfamiliar settings. It chases digressions, trying to resolve related but new musical arguments. Eventually it finds its way to solid ground, though this place is quite a bit darker than where we began. But to my mind this arrival feels more trustworthy, more complete, more worthy of celebration, because it feels more real.”

In 1778, Leopold Mozart directed his son to set out from Salzburg to look for a better job. This meant bowing and scraping for various princes and electors in any court where it was rumored an opening might be coming available. Wolfgang was to take his beloved, long-suffering mother, with whom he had not traveled since a very young age (and who, sadly, would not survive the journey). After unsuccessful interviews in Munich and Mannheim, they arrived in Paris, where audiences clamored for a particular genre of music: the symphonie concertante. Their appetite for these works is responsible for the bulk of the existing examples, most written between roughly 1770 and 1830, and mainly by French composers or foreign composers like Mozart, who visited. Mozart probably composed his E-flat Sinfonia Concertante to introduce the form to a Salzburg audience, and would have taken either of the solo parts for himself. The orchestra consists only of strings and pairs of oboes and horns, but Mozart thickens the texture from time to time by dividing each of the string sections even further. Mozart follows the conventions of classical concerto form, with the orchestra laying out the principal thematic materials before leaving room for the soloists to take the spotlight. However, unlike a typical concerto, here we find themes in much greater abundance. The sheer scale of the first movement, at fourteen minutes, is remarkable for this period. In the ensuing Andante, Mozart allows the soloists to jump in after only a brief and lonesome introduction. This is some of the most introspective and darkly glamorous music Mozart had produced, especially in the context of solo string repertoire; the dual cadenza itself is an emotional powerhouse. A joyful, dancing finale brings the works to a close.

Ottorino Respighi was raised and studied in Bologna before finding an orchestra job in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1901. Over the course of two non-consecutive seasons there he was able to take a few lessons from the estimable Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Respighi then hoped to find a permanent position at the conservatory in Bologna but found it necessary to take a teaching position in Rome. Like all Italian composers of his generation, Respighi dreamed of success in opera, but though he wrote many, his most enduring and frequently performed works today are a handful of works for orchestra, particularly Pines. This is the central work in a large triptych of orchestral suites celebrating Rome: Fountains of Rome (1917), Pines of Rome (1924), and Roman Festivals (1929). These works show his deft sense of orchestral color and a style blending widely varying influences, from Debussy and Wagner to Mussorgsky. The composer gives the following descriptions of each of the movements:

The Pines of the Villa Borghese (Allegretto vivace) — Children are at play in the pine groves of the Villa Borghese, dancing the Italian equivalent of “Ring around a Rosy.” They mimic marching soldiers and battles. They twitter and shriek like swallows at evening, coming and going in swarms. Suddenly the scene changes.

The Pines Near a Catacomb (Lento) — We see the shadows of the pines, which overhang the entrance of a catacomb. From the depths rise a chant, which echoes solemnly, like a hymn, and is then mysteriously silenced.

The Pines of the Janiculum (Lento) — There is a thrill in the air. The full moon reveals the profile of the pines of Gianicolo’s Hill. A nightingale sings.

The Pines of the Appian Way (Tempo di Marcia) — Misty dawn on the Appian Way. The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. Indistinctly, incessantly, the rhythm of unending steps. The poet has a fantastic vision of past glories. Trumpets blare, and the army of the Consul bursts forth in the grandeur of a newly risen sun toward the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph the Capitoline Hill.


© Jamey Lamar 2018