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The London Philharmonic
Celebrates American Composers

Donald Erb: Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra (1984)
"The concerto's one movement is divided into three sections, each resembling the corresponding movement in a traditional concerto. The first section is marked "Alla Marcia" but it is simply a little march-like in character, particularly in the opening section. In this sense it represents a departure from the conventional concerto, for the march is not in the usual scheme of things. The soloist plays in concert with other instruments in various places. There are duets with bassoon and later with bass clarinet, and near the end of the section, there is a sextet with these three plus the electric piano, harp, tuba, and double bass.

"This runs directly into a slow "Night Music" section that presents the solo instrument in a more lyric light. The melodies played by the contrabassoon frequently contain jazzy bends. The soloist is also called upon to play in the very high register, something that is uncommon and that many players do not know how to do. The last section of the concerto makes use of the very lowest register of the instrument, which can sound quite earthy. This earthiness, which at times may even seem funny, is in keeping with the historic nature of the scherzo." D.E.

Marga Richter: Blackberry Vines and Winter Fruit (1976)
"I have attempted to express the feelings engendered by the lonely beauty of a Vermont winter landscape. The following lines from Thoreau provided an added dimension and also the title:

blackberry vines here and there
like a streak of blood on the grass
The flower falls in spring or summer,
the fruit and leaves fall or wither in autumn,
but the blushing twigs retain their color throughout
They are winter fruit.

"The piece itself is a one-movement work in four closely related sections. The first opens with a piccolo and two flutes obsessively repeating a melodic motif which permeates the whole piece: a rising minor second followed by a falling major second. The intervals gradually expand and finally come to rest on a sustained minor ninth.

"At this point the violins emerge to begin the second section in which the original motif, slightly altered, is repeated many times, surrounded by rapid, swirling figures. The section ends with a statement in the horns. This occurs simultaneously with the beginning of the multi-layered third section in which a Gregorian-chant-like melody floats over the top, pitted against a recurring melodic ostinato in ever-changing orchestral colors, accompanied by a rhythmic ostinato in the percussion section, and irregularly assaulted by a high, penetrating, descending motif designed to imitate the unearthly sound of the sarangi (a bowed string instrument of India). The sarangi utterances are always preceded by rapid ascending figurations.

"The complexities of section three give way to a simple five-note ostinato in the strings. Clusters of tones in the cellos emerge, suggesting clumps of tangled vines breaking through the snow. An oboe solo introduces an expanded version of the opening motif of the piece. This theme, or variants of it, is gradually taken up by other wind and brass instruments in more and more rapid tempos. It culminates in a canonic statement by two trumpets which occurs just after a passage in the low brass which seems a natural outgrowth of the basic material of the piece, although it is in fact a direct quote from Bach's B Minor Mass.

"After this climax, the music quickly subsides. A final statement of the theme is heard in the oboe; the flute plays a ghostly reminder of the Gregorian melody; and there is a whisper of the first notes of the oboe theme by the horn, supported by harp and solo double bass two and a half octaves below--a streak of blood on the grass, set off against the winter fruit." M.R.

Erik Lundborg: Switchback (1986-88)
"In the Rockies, where I grew up, it is impossible to climb to the higher elevations without employing the switchback--a road carved in a zigzag pattern into the side of a mountain, allowing you to look back as you move ahead. A useful way of thinking about this tone poem, which evokes the dramatic spaces of the American West, might be to use the switchback as the central organizing metaphor.

"The work is cast in one movement grouped into four large parts. A mysterious introduction opens the work, its quiet, introspective nature in sharp contrast to the generally outward, flowing, extroverted character of the rest of the piece. Part I is distinguished by sharp movements back and forth, where textural, harmonic, orchestration, tempo and dynamic shifts disrupt the flow.

"A loud tutti B-flat minor chord signals the opening of Part II, followed by propulsive rhythmic pulsations. It is here that the switchback as a developmental strategy is most in evidence, as successions of phrase-segments of varying lengths are stated and then re-evoked. Longer, more sustained lines pre-figure the brief, full and triumphant melody of Part III. The peak has finally been reached. Part IV subsides into an agitated calm, an abbreviated reiteration of the very opening, and the work ends with a mountain-sized flourish.

"Though the piece employs diatonic pitch structures, the underlying pitch-generative principles are non-diatonic. The three- and four-note collections that dominate much of the piece could easily be associated with tonal music, so that while the surface of Switchback "sounds" diatonic, its structural underpinning remains anchored in serialism. My harmonic concerns lead me to exploit the properties of two seemingly dichotomous musical systems, bridging and exploring their common ground.

"Living in New York City, I find myself recollecting the dramatic images of my boyhood in the West and, like Wordsworth, returning to these sensations:

felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind, With tranquil restoration....

"Switchback is an homage to the big sky of my youth." E.L.

Irwin Bazelon: Symphony No. 8 for Strings (1986)
"Symphony No. 8 for Strings is my first and only work for full string orchestra. The piece is in two movements, the first genuinely slow (sometimes with a fast pulse), and the second, fast (sometimes with a slow pulse). It is both an intensely dramatic work and a long-lined lyrical piece. Occasionally the instruments confront each other as protagonist and antagonist. As in all of my music, prominence of musical line depends on dynamics, impact-accents, phrasing, color, contrast, and the general character of the music. Certain twelve-tone and jazz passages are in evidence, but are neither strict nor formal." I.B.



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