Our program this evening begins with Giuseppe Verdi’s Fanfare from Othello. Although it sounds like an overture, Verdi’s opera doesn’t have one. The Fanfare is from Act III; it heralds the arrival of the delegation from Venice. What we hear tonight is the fanfare arranged by Carl Topilow, combining phrases from various sections of the opera.
Like Edward Elgar before him, Ralph Vaughn Williams was the most important English composer of his day. As a composer, he was a nationalist. “Every composer,” he wrote, “cannot expect to have a worldwide message, but he may reasonably expect to have a special message for his own people, and many young composers make the mistake of imagining that they can be universal without at first having been local.”
Vaughan Williams wrote The Lark Ascending in 1914 as a work for violin and piano. In 1920 he rescored it for violin and orchestra. The music was inspired by a poem of the same name written by English poet George Meredith. The piece is an evocation of the flight of the lark, sketched with the violin’s flowing passages, ornamented over a light orchestral accompaniment. The result is brilliant.
Anthony Plog began studying music at the age of 10, and by the age of 19 he was playing extra trumpet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under conductors such as Zubin Mehta, James Levine, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Claudio Abbado, to name a few. His first orchestral position was Principal Trumpet with the San Antonio Symphony from 1970-1973 and was followed by a 2-year stint with the Utah Symphony as Associate Principal. He left the Utah Symphony in 1976 to pursue a solo and composition career, and while living in Los Angeles from 1976-1988 supported himself by playing Principal Trumpet with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Pacific Symphony and by occasionally playing in the film studios (including Star Trek 1, Gremlins, Rocky 2&3 and Altered States).
At the beginning of his compositional career Plog wrote almost exclusively for brass but eventually broadened his compositional horizons and his literature includes operas, chamber works and three children’s operas. Symphony No. 1 has been substantially revised since then. Tonight is the world premiere of the Symphony.
The operas by Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini were successful; by 1900 Italy had no significant composers of orchestral music. The challenge of restoring the country’s musical tradition fell to Ferruccio Busoni and Ottorino Respighi. Italian music meant opera. While Busoni is something of a forgotten man (few of his works are performed today), Respighi (1879-1936) maintains an important position in the repertoire. His most famous compositions are the three tone poem portrayals of the Italian capital: Fountains of Rome (1916), Pines of Rome (1924) and Roman Festivals (1929).
Respighi studied with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov in St. Petersburg, where he was first violist in the Opera Orchestra. His expertise in teaching orchestration greatly influenced Respighi.
As is the case with Fountains and Pines, Roman Festivals is a series of four interconnected sections, each with its own identify and mood. The four movements depict four festivals: The Circuses, the Jubilee, the October Festival and the Epiphany.
Respighi supplied descriptive paragraphs for each movement. Here they are:
Games at the Circus Maximus — A threatening sky hangs over the Circus Maximus, but it is the people’s holiday: “Ave Nero!” The iron doors are unlocked, and the air carries the strains of a religious chant and the howling of wild beasts. The crowd rises and seethes: unperturbed, the song of the martyrs rises, conquers, and is lost in the tumult.
The Jubilee — Pilgrims trail along the highway, prating. Finally, from the summit of Monte Mario, there appears to their ardent eyes and yearning souls the Holy City: “Rome, Rome!” A hymn of praise bursts forth and the church bells ring out their reply.
The October Festival — The October festival in the Roman castelli (a small fortress), all covered with vines: echoes of the hunt, tinkling of bells, love songs. Then, in the tender evenfall, a romantic serenade trembles in the air.
The Epiphany — The night before Epiphany in the Piazza Navona: a characteristic rhythm of trumpets dominates the frantic clamor; above the swelling din float, from time to time, rustic motives, the cadences of a saltarello, the sounds of a barrel-organ, the appeal of the barker, the raucous song of the drunk, and the proud verse in which the people’s soul expresses itself. “Lassàtece passà, semo Romani!” — Let us through, we’re Romans!
Written by Doug Adams