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Symphony No. 7 in F minor
Emilie Mayer (1812–1883)
Carlos Simon (b. 1986)
“Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor
Alexander Borodin (1833–1887)
Symphony No. 7 in F minor
Born May 14, 1812, Friedland ǀ Died Apr. 10, 1883, Berlin
A composer at the height of German Romanticism, Emilie Mayer was prolific, well-known and popular within her own time. Despite this, she struggled to get her music published, most likely because of her gender. Mayer spent a large portion of her time (and money) to promote and advertise her music, and yet, most of her music remained unpublished in her lifetime. Because our sources today are still influenced by those who controlled nineteenth-century European musical resources and culture, Mayer and her music are now largely neglected, a status that does not truly reflect her popularity within her own time.
Mayer studied piano from age five and began writing her own pieces shortly after. She moved to Poland at age twenty-nine to study composition with noted Lieder (German art song) composer Carl Loewe. In order to have a more thriving compositional career, Mayer moved to Berlin in 1847 and enjoyed success there; her music was performed publicly, including in the main concert hall. Mayer also traveled throughout western Europe and her music was so popular that she not only received favorable reviews, but audience members wrote and published poems dedicated to her. Throughout her life, Mayer organized and performed in private salon performances of her music, a more common and culturally-accepted way for nineteenth-century women composers to have their music performed. (Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s music, for example, was only heard in her lifetime in private salon performances.) Unusual for a woman in the nineteenth century, Mayer was known as and considered herself to be a professional composer. Mayer regularly composed in a variety of genres, including those that were at the time often considered the domain of men due to their length and perceived complexity. She wrote numerous solo piano works, a piano concerto, violin sonatas, cello sonatas, piano trios and quartets, string quartets and quintets, Lieder, choral music, overtures, an opera and eight symphonies.
Mayer’s seventh symphony, first performed in 1862, follows the four-movement structure made standard for symphonies during the Classical era: a fast first movement in sonata form, slow second movement, dance third movement and concluding with a fast fourth movement. Her compositional style is marked by clear melodies with regular phrasing, perhaps influenced by her and her teachers’ experiences writing Lieder. The first movement of Symphony No. 7 is a quintessential example of Mayer’s compelling melodies. The energetic first theme in this movement is immediately introduced in the strings; the elegant second theme is heard in the upper strings and then flutes, with the lower strings and winds providing a beautiful countermelody. Mayer then explores the thematic and harmonic possibilities of these melodies in the development section, before returning to both themes to conclude the movement. Unpublished, Mayer’s seventh symphony is sometimes mistaken for her lost fifth symphony due to a misprint on one of the few recordings of this piece. This is another example of how previous resources (or lack thereof) present a challenge for musicians today, as we seek to increase our understanding of and appreciation for historical figures who have so far been left out of written history simply because of who they were.
Born Apr. 13, 1986, Washington, D.C.
Carlos Simon began his musical education out of necessity; his father was a pastor in Atlanta and needed a pianist for church services. To fill the need, Simon started piano lessons and quickly began writing gospel songs for the congregation. The improvisational qualities of gospel and jazz have remained at the core of Simon’s compositional process and style. After the initial concept for a piece, Simon begins by improvising and then refines the resulting musical ideas to create the final composition. The influence of improvisation is also evident in the through-composed (continuous, non-sectional) form of many of Simon’s compositions, including the one you hear this evening.
Composed in 2019, The Block explores different textures and timbres. Simon describes music as color and seeks to use different orchestrations, or parings and combinations of instruments, to evoke different emotions in his work. This mentality is especially related to The Block, which is based on six paintings (which you can view by following this link) by artist Romare Bearden (1911–1988). Simon describes his music in his own notes for the piece:
The Block is a short orchestral study based on the late visual art of Romare Bearden. Most of Bearden’s work reflects African American culture in urban cities as well as the rural American south. Although Bearden was born in Charlotte, NC, he spent most of his life in Harlem, New York. With its vibrant artistic community, this piece aims to highlight the rich energy and joyous sceneries that Harlem expressed as it was the hotbed for African American culture. [Bearden’s] The Block is comprised of six paintings that highlight different buildings (church, barbershop, nightclub, etc.) in Harlem on one block. Bearden’s paintings incorporate various mediums including watercolors, graphite and metallic papers. In the same way, this musical piece explores various musical textures which highlight the vibrant scenery and energy that a block on Harlem or any urban city exhibits.
A percussive groove drives this piece, conjuring the hustle and bustle of city life. The layered, driving rhythms are an aural representation of the vignettes in Bearden’s visual work that sought to depict the reality of Harlem: pedestrians at a street corner (panel 1, on the left) a funeral (panel 2), a figure reading in their apartment (panel 3), a church and a homeless man sleeping on the ground (panel 4), two lovers seen through a window (panel 5) and children playing while adults socialize (panel 6, far right).
Bearden was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, an era of pride in and rebirth of Black American culture in the 1920s and 1930s and named for the neighborhood in New York City that was the movement’s epicenter. Just as Bearden aimed to represent and speak for his community by depicting the reality of life in it, Simon also seeks to be a voice and use his art as social activism. Educated first in the African American musical traditions of gospel and jazz, Simon continues to represent and honor the African American community through the themes and dedications of his compositions.
“Polovtsian Dances,” from Prince Igor
Born Nov. 12 (O.S. Oct. 31), 1833, St. Petersburg ǀ Died Feb. 27 (O.S. Feb. 15), 1887, St. Petersburg
While chemistry was his chosen profession, Borodin enjoyed listening to and performing music from early in life. When studying at the Medical-Surgical Academy, Borodin used music as a release, attending chamber music concerts and performing with his friends. He also arranged folk songs and composed his own music for these casual performances. Upon graduation in 1856, he was assigned the role of duty physician to a regiment in which composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881) was an officer. From 1859 to 1862, Borodin traveled throughout Europe, sent abroad to further his scientific experiments by the board of the Medical-Surgical Academy. As he traveled in Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy, Borodin consistently attended concerts, performed chamber music and composed. When he returned to Russia in 1862 and began teaching chemistry, he met composer Mily Balakirev (1837–1910) through a colleague. Borodin quickly became part of Balakirev’s compositional circle, which also included Mussorgsky, as well as composers César Cui (1835–1918) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908). Together, this group is today known as “The Five” and are known for their dedication to creating a uniquely Russian national style.
The opera Prince Igor is an example of the Russian style that Borodin and his colleagues consciously created. The libretto is based on The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, a twelfth-century epic poem from the medieval Rus’ people, as well as two other accounts of Rus’ battles. In the opera, Prince Igor seeks to avenge and defend the honor of the Rus’ and therefore attacks the Turkic Cumans, referred to in the opera as Polovtsians. It is revealed in Act I that his army was defeated and Igor taken captive. Act II is set in the Polovtsian camp, where Igor is a prisoner of the Polovtsian Khan Konchak. The conversation between the two enemy leaders serves to demonstrate Igor’s bravery, courage and honor. Konchack, respecting these traits in Igor, orders his slaves to entertain the noble captives; the entertainment is the “Polovtsian Dances,” which conclude Act II. As the opera continues, Igor escapes captivity, returns to his city and is hailed as a glorious leader.
After a brief introduction to the “Polovtsian Dances,” the English Horn begins the “Flowing Dance of the Young Maidens.” The embellished melody supported by the harp, echoed by full, lush strings, is meant to evoke sensuality as enslaved young girls dance before the Rus’ prisoners. After this, the “Dance of the Wild Men” gives a stark contrast with a sudden increase in tempo and the frenzied clarinet. The atmosphere intensifies as more instruments join to state the theme, the brass providing a fanfare underneath. After a deceptively calm interlude that repeats the theme from the introduction, the dance builds to the final sforzando chord. The “General Dance,” dominated by the timpani, embraces The Five’s use of chromaticism to exoticize. The crashing percussion, wailing timbres and chromatic scales combine to cast the Polovtsians as wild and barbaric, a purposeful characterization to implicitly contrast the noble Rus’ and their leader, Igor. The successive “Dance of the Little Boys,” defined by a motive of four descending notes, alternates seamlessly with “Dance of the Men.” Without staging, the transition between the two dances is almost imperceptible, since the extremely fast tempo and continuous rhythmic support are maintained as the dances alternate. After this, all the dances are reprised, with some alteration and variation, ending with the “General Dance.” In a full operatic production, the dances are also accompanied by choral texts that glorify the Polovtsian homeland and Khan Konchak.
Borodin started Prince Igor in 1869 and worked on it intermittently for the remainder of his life; the “Polovtsian Dances” were completed by 1875. The opera remained unfinished when Borodin died suddenly in 1887. Rimsky-Korsakov and his student Alexander Glazunov (1965–1936) completed the opera and prepared it for its first performance in 1890.
— Program Notes by Elizabeth Massey
MUSIC DIRECTOR BIOGRAPHY
Recently described by Opera News as "a ninja warrior with a baton" for his performance of Berg's Wozzeck, Neely maintains an active career in concert, opera and higher education. Previously serving on the conducting faculties of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the University of Kansas and the University of Texas, Neely was named Kansas Artist-Educator of the Year for 2016–17 by the Kansas Federation of Music Clubs. He is currently the director of orchestral activities at the University of Maryland School of Music.
As music director and principal conductor of Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO), a post he has held since 2012, Neely continues to elevate the company’s musical profile with acclaimed performances of a wide range of repertoire such as Queen of Spades, Turandot, Billy Budd, Manon, Falstaff, Elektra, Peter Grimes, Dead Man Walking, Macbeth, Don Giovanni, La fanciulla del West, Rusalka and Flight. His performances have been praised in publications such as Opera News, Opera Today and the Chicago Tribune. Neely’s televised Manon and Billy Budd, produced by Iowa Public Television for DMMO, were awarded Emmys by the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Next summer, he will conduct the world premiere of Kristin Kuster and Mark Campbell’s A Thousand Acres, based on Jane Smiley’s 1991 Pulitzer-winning novel.
Neely is equally at home in concert, opera, musical theater and ballet settings. He has appeared as conductor with numerous orchestras, including the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Portland Symphony Orchestra, Bochumer Symphoniker, Dortmunder Philharmoniker and the Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg. He has led productions with Atlanta Opera, Sarasota Opera, Bonn Opera, Halle Opera, Dortmund Opera, Saarland State Opera, St. Gallen Opera and the Eutiner Festspiele, among others. He was associate music director of Chicago for the Munich and Basel runs of the current Broadway production. He has collaborated with such instrumentalists as Joshua Roman, Bella Hristova, Benjamin Beilman, Rainer Honeck, Nicholas Daniel, Delfeayo Marsalis, Phillippe Cuper, Ben Lulich and Ricardo Morales, in addition to countless singers of note, including Joyce Castle, John Holiday, John Osborne and David Adam Moore. Neely conducted the German premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage's The Silver Tassie, the North American premiere of David Dzubay’s Sijo for Orchestra, Robert Orledge's reconstruction of Debussy's The Fall of the House of Usher as well as world premieres of Arthur Gottschalk's Four New Brothers, Billy Childs' Concerto for Horn and Strings, Alexandre Rydin's Clarinet Concerto and, at the University of Maryland School of Music, Maria Newman’s Our Rights and Nothing Less in celebration of the 200th birthday of Susan B. Anthony and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, with Carmen Balthrop as narrator. He was recently music director of three new operas with Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative at the Kennedy Center and of a new opera for American Lyric Theater in New York.
University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra
Manager of Orchestral Activities
Abby Wuehler, Concertmaster (Mayer)
Jonathan Toomer, Concertmaster (Simon, Borodin)
Emily Konkle, Principal Second (Mayer)
Charrine Liu-Maddox, Principal Second (Simon, Borodin)
Amirhossein Norouz Nasseri
Chi Lee, Principal (Mayer)
Rohan Joshi, Principal (Simon, Borodin)
Emily Doveala, Principal (Mayer)
Syneva Colle, Principal (Simon, Borodin)
Chad Rogers, Principal (Mayer)
Asa Dawson, Principal (Simon)
Daphine Henderson, Principal (Borodin)
Omar Martinez Sandoval