October 5, 2020 @ 9:00 am - 11:59 pm
On the Program
Join the Reno Phil for their triumphant return to the concert stage. This livestream concert event will open with William Grant Still’s profound and ethereal piece, Out of the Silence, written for solo piano, performed by the Reno Phil Principal Pianist James Winn. The socially-distanced, strings only orchestra will then tackle Britten’s idyllic musical portrait, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The concert closes with one of the most popular works in the classical canon, Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, known also as “A Little Serenade.”
On Demand = $25 per household
Out of the Silence “On Demand” is a 7-day rental from the first time you access the video player (whether or not you watch the entire concert).
Conductor Laura Jackson is generously sponsored by Allen Black & Nancy Northrup
Concertmaster Ruth Lenz is graciously sponsored by Lillian & Stephen Frank
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge is generously sponsored by Cecilia Lee
Eine kleine Nachtmusik is graciously sponsored by Millard Reed & Millie Hopper
Additional concert support: Susan Huckabay, Dr. Penny Pemberton & Carol Neel
William Grant Still
Born: May 11, 1895, Woodville, Mississippi
Died: December 3, 1978, Los Angeles, California
Long known as the “Dean of African-American Composers,” William Grant Still created some 200 works, including five symphonies and nine operas. His best-known composition remains his Afro-American Symphony, which was the most-performed American symphony in the first half of the twentieth century. Still initially pursued medical studies at Wilberforce University. But music won out, and he later went to the Oberlin Conservatory and studied with George Whitefield Chadwick and Edgard Varèse. At first he made his living as a pit musician – Still was able to play the violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, saxophone, and oboe. He worked with the likes of W.C. Handy, Fletcher Henderson, Artie Shaw, and Paul Whiteman, while also doing much arranging for films and radio. By the 1930s, Still had turned to composing full-time. He was the first African-American composer to have a symphony and an opera performed by major institutions. He was also the first to conduct a major American symphony orchestra when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936.
“Out of the Silence” from 7 Traceries
Duration: 4 minutes
In 1936, Still met Verna Arvey, a pianist, journalist, and writer. They were married three years later, and remained together until Still’s death in 1978. Still often said, with humor, that it was Verna’s “nagging” that led him to be as prolific a composer as he was. Although he was never entirely comfortable writing for the piano and didn’t play the instrument himself, Still wrote several large-scale piano works. Many were composed for Verna, including the Seven Traceries, written the year of their marriage. The fourth, central, and most substantial piece of the set is “Out of the Silence.” Its gentle, yet sometimes dissonant outer sections frame a more forceful, full-textured central interlude. Verna Arvey described this lovely, often ethereal piece this way: “only in meditation does one discover beauties remote from the problems of earth.”
Born: November 22, 1913, Lowestoft, England
Died: December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh, England
Thought by many to be the greatest British composer of the twentieth century, Britten wrote over a dozen operas, including Peter Grimes – which brought him international fame – as well as numerous songs and song cycles, orchestral works like The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and his memorial for the dead of the two World Wars, the War Requiem, which Dmitri Shostakovich dubbed “the greatest work of the twentieth century.” Britten showed great musical promise in his teens, and won many prizes while attending the Royal College of Music. A committed pacifist, Britten left England in 1939 and lived in the U.S. and Canada for several years before returning as a conscientious objector. By that time he was famous, acknowledged in particular for his vocal works, many of which were written for his longtime partner, tenor Peter Pears. In 1948, they founded the still-thriving Aldeburgh Festival. Britten wrote for some of the most prominent musicians of his day, including Mstislav Rostropovich and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He was also an excellent conductor and pianist. Shortly before his death, he was the first British composer to receive a life peerage, becoming Baron Britten of Aldeburgh.
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10
Duration: 27 minutes
English composer and violist Frank Bridge (1879-1941) was one of the main reasons that Benjamin Britten became a composer. On hearing Bridge’s most popular orchestral work, The Sea, at a concert when he was eleven years old, Britten said that he was “knocked sideways.” It lead him to start composing at an even more prolific rate (Britten started writing music at age five). Three years later, in 1927, Britten got to meet Bridge and show him some of the music he’d been writing. Bridge was impressed, and invited Britten to study with him.
Bridge was Britten’s first proper composition teacher, and although Britten had written a considerable amount of music before then, Bridge’s formal training was invaluable. “Bridge insisted on the absolutely clear relationship of what was in my mind to what was on the paper,” wrote Britten many years later. “I used to get sent to the other side of the room; Bridge would play what I’d written and demand if it was what I’d really meant … He taught me to think and feel through the instruments I was writing for.”
In 1932 Britten started writing a set of variations on a theme from one of Bridge’s works, but he got stalled and set the piece aside. Then, in May 1937, the Salzburg Festival asked conductor Boyd Neel and his orchestra to perform three works at that year’s Festival, one a previously unperformed work by a British composer. Neel sought out Britten, who returned to that notion of a work based on a melody by his teacher. Taking the same theme he’d used five years earlier – the main tune from the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls, Op. 6/2 for string quartet (1911) – Britten wrote his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge in just ten days, and had the work completed within a month. The work’s premiere on August 27, 1937 was a huge success, bringing Britten his first international attention.
After the work’s forceful beginning, Bridge’s theme emerges quietly in solo strings. This introduction leads directly into the first variation, an Adagio. After a March comes the syncopated, dance-like Romance third variation. Pastiche of various musical styles and genres was part of Britten’s approach in his Variations. For instance, the fourth variation Aria Italiana makes a nod to the music of Rossini. The fifth, Bourrée Classique, evokes not only actual Classical period composers like Mozart but also the modern Neoclassical style of Igor Stravinsky. The sixth, Wiener Walzer, pretty strongly suggests Maurice Ravel’s La valse. Contrasting with the lively seventh movement Moto Perpetuo is the intense eighth, a Funeral March. After the ninth variation Chant comes an elaborate concluding Fugue which makes reference to several other works by Frank Bridge, including The Sea and his orchestral works Summer and Enter Spring.
According to handwritten notes in the score that Britten gave Bridge, each variation was also meant to allude to an aspect of Bridge’s personality: the first variation his integrity, the second his energy, the third his charm, the fourth his wit, the fifth his respect for tradition, the sixth his gaiety, the seventh his enthusiasm, the eighth his sympathy, the ninth his reverence, and the tenth both Bridge’s skill and the mutual affection that Bridge and Britten enjoyed.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born: January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria
Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna, Austria
No reminder is really needed of the unique stature of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the history of Western music. His vast catalog of compositions – over 600 of them, including some 15 operas, 17 masses, 50 symphonies, 20 piano concertos, 23 string quartets, and much more – epitomizes the German-Austrian Classical style. His music is recognized and loved all over the world for its melodic, harmonic, and textural richness and beauty. The son of a well-known violinist and pedagogue, Mozart was one of the greatest prodigies ever, playing his first public concert at age five and composing his first music at seven. Before reaching the age of ten he had already played recitals in front of the likes of Marie Antoinette and King George III of England. He traveled throughout Europe through his teens. After failing to find a secure post elsewhere, and having grown dissatisfied with his career in Salzburg, Mozart moved to Vienna, where he spent the last decade of his life. While he enjoyed some successes with his new operas and piano concertos, life there grew more and more precarious, leading to his early death at age thirty-five.
Serenade No. 13 in G major, K. 525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
Duration: 18 minutes
The serenade (along with similar compositions that went by names like divertimento and cassation), comprised of a sequence of several short, tuneful movements often enlivened by dance rhythms, was a common form during the eighteenth century. Most composers of the day supplemented their incomes by writing these comparatively lighthearted works, which typically accompanied civic functions, dinners, wedding and holiday parties, and other celebrations. Mozart wrote quite a few such works for the aristocracy and for the court in his hometown of Salzburg. But he hadn’t written a serenade in several years when he produced his last such composition, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Serenade) in July and August of 1787.
Why did he write this piece, which has come to be among the most famous of all classical works? No one knows for certain. There may have been some party or social event the details of which haven’t come down to us. Some have suggested that he needed a break during the exhausting, intensive composition of Don Giovanni (he was in the middle of writing the opera’s second act at the time). Others have looked to A Musical Joke, K. 522, that humorous send-up of the less talented composers and players of the day that Mozart had written two months earlier. After the wrong-note jokes and (deliberate) crudeness of A Musical Joke, perhaps Mozart just needed to write something that was perfectly balanced, clear in form, and elegant in sound.
If that was his goal, he succeeded perfectly. The opening gesture of Eine kleine Nachtmusik is known to music fans around the world. That melody is just one of several memorable ones that follow in close sequence in the first movement. The movement as a whole is in sonata form, with the statements of the main melodies surrounding a brief development. The slow, gently flowing second movement is essentially a set of variations on its opening tune. The work concludes with a short, charming minuet and a lively finale.
James Winn is the principal pianist for the Reno Phil. Piano and composition professor at the University of Nevada, Reno since 1997, made his professional debut with the Denver Symphony at the age of 13 and has been performing widely in North America, Europe and Asia ever since. With his duo-piano partner, Cameron Grant, he was a recipient of the top prize given in the two-piano category of the 1980 Munich Competition (Musical America wrote about the team, “Not since Josef and Rosina Lhevinne regaled us in the 1930s have we heard such technical prowess paired with such genuine musical values”).
Winn has been a solo pianist with the New York City Ballet, a member of the New York New Music Ensemble, of Hexagon (woodwind quintet plus piano) and the pianist and resident composer of the Telluride Chamber Music Festival, as well as a frequent guest with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Speculum, the Group for Contemporary Music, Cactus Pear Chamber Music Festival, La Musica International Chamber Music Festival and Bargemusic. Well-known as a specialist in new music, he has been involved in numerous world premieres and premiere recordings by many renowned composers, among them 13 Pulitzer Prize winners. He is currently a member of Argenta, the University of Nevada, Reno’s resident piano trio, a founding member and regular participant in the Nevada Chamber Music Festival and performs regularly in recital with internationally acclaimed New York-based violinist Rolf Schulte. An active recording artist, Winn has been featured in more than three dozen CDs as soloist, chamber musician and composer. He has received numerous career recognitions including an artist fellowship from the Nevada State Council of the Arts and the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Ruth Lenz*, Concertmaster
Lucie Zalesakova, Acting Associate Concertmaster
Calvin Lewis*, Acting Principal Second
Ellen Flanagan*, Acting Assistant Principal Second
Dustin Budish*, Principal
Tiantian Lan*, Assistant Principal
Peter Lenz*, Principal
Robin Bonnell*, Assistant Principal
Scott Faulkner*, Principal
Mark Wallace*, Assistant Principal
*denotes contract player