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ALIVEmusica, a collaboration among leading Hudson Valley chamber music presenters, welcomes the MET Orchestra Musicians to the stage of the Howland Cultural Center for a concert of chamber music. Noted as one of today's most stylistically versatile and musically satisfying orchestras.
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Up until the turn of the 20th century Camille Saint-Saëns, a gifted pianist and organist, enjoyed a celebrity status as the greatest composer in France. A pioneer for French music, he was dubbed “the French Beethoven” by Charles Gounod, and the name temporarily stuck. Unfortunately, the attention didn’t last. With the new century came a wave of musical creativity with Modernist masters like Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, and Stravinsky. Though he had witnessed Wagner’s ultra-Romantic influence throughout Europe, Saint-Saëns remained unaffected by the hype. Rather, Saint-Saëns adhered to the classical models, upholding a conservative ideal of French music that emphasized polished craftsmanship and a strong sense of form. While today his music is not performed as often as some of his contemporaries, Saint-Saëns is celebrated for his larger works, including his Symphony No. 3, the charming suite Carnival of the Animals, the opera Samson et Delilah, and the symphonic poem Danse Macabre.
Written at the ripe age of 72 for sisters Clara and Marianne Eissler, the Fantasie in A Major for violin and harp is a perfect reflection of Saint-Saëns’ style, with its characteristic clarity and elegance of expression. As the title implies, Fantasie is a through-composed, improvisatory work that shifts rapidly in mood. Comprised of five distinct sections, the harp and violin continuously trade roles between virtuosic soloist and adept accompanist in an ever-changing pas de deux. Beginning in the Poco allegretto, the instruments take on the roles expected of them; a flowing melody in the violin plays over the harp’s cascading arpeggios. From this gentle beginning the music evolves, growing in complexity. In the Vivo 5/4 section, Saint-Saëns offers a fiery drama through virtuosic flourishes traded by both instruments and leads the listener to a Mediterranean-inspired basso ostinato, played by the harp. A memory of the original violin melody returns towards the end, offering a light symmetry to this masterfully constructed piece.
Jules Massenet (1842–1912)
Meditation from Thaïs
“Meditation” from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs is a perfect portrayal of the composer’s sentimental and indulgently romantic style. Although Massenet was especially beloved for his oratorios, cantatas, and song cycles, he is most celebrated for his operas, particularly Manon, Esclarmonde, Werther, and of course, Thaïs. Massenet wrote Thaïs in Paris in 1894; it is based on the scandalous novel by Anatole France which circles around the themes of female sensuality and male obsession. The story takes place in Thebes, Egypt where the beautiful courtesan Thaïs, who worships the goddess Venus, rules the city of Alexandria by the power of her charms. Enter Athaneal, a Cenobite monk who had once been infatuated with her, and who entreats her to denounce her pagan ways for Christianity. After an unsuccessful seduction attempt and some fierce argument, Thaïs eventually follows Athaneal to the desert where she finds salvation at a convent, and soon thereafter dies, leaving Athaneal heartbroken and spiritually conflicted.
“Meditation” is an orchestral intermezzo featuring solo violin, which takes place in Act Two. The stunningly beautiful melody reflects the change of Thaïs’ heart, where she leaves her hedonistic life for religious redemption. This six-minute interlude has become a classic encore piece for violin, having been performed as such by many of the great violinists of our time. Marked Andante religioso, the violin offers an achingly expressive melody that transports the listener from the temporal realm to the pearly gates of heaven.
Gabriela Lena Frank (1972 – )
Zapatos de Chincha
Zapatos de Chincha is the second movement of a larger work, Hilos (Threads, 2010), written for the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, which is scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Alluding to the beauty of Peruvian textiles, both in their construction and in their pictorial content of everyday life, the short movements of Hilos are a kind of Peruvian "pictures at an exhibition." Players are mixed and matched in various combinations, and draw on a myriad of sounds evocative of indigenous music. These include fanciful pizzicatos and widely-spaced tremolos suggesting guitar-like instruments, strong attacks and surging releases suggesting zampona panpipes and quena flutes, glissandi and scratch tones suggesting vocal coloristic effects, and so forth.
Zapatos de Chincha (Shoes of Chincha): This light-footed movement is inspired by Chincha, a southern coastal town known for its afro-peruano music and dance (including a unique brand of tap). The cello part is especially reminiscent of the cajon, a wooden box that percussionists sit on and strike with hands and feet, extracting a remarkable array of sounds and rhythms.
— Gabriela Lena Frank
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9 No.3
In 1798 a relatively young Beethoven wrote a set of string trios, dedicating them to an Austrian nobleman named Count Browne. He must have been a fairly eccentric fellow, because the year prior, the Count sent the young composer a horse as a gift for an earlier dedication. Alas, this horse was ridden a few times and then quickly forgotten by Beethoven. Though he was no great equestrian, at this stage Beethoven was already a masterful composer. While his early compositions live somewhat in the shadow of his heroic middle period (cue his Symphony No. 5) and the unearthly quality of his later works, Beethoven’s set of string trios portray an extraordinary gift for expression and imagination.
The String Trio in C Minor is comprised of four movements, following the form of a traditional string quartet, an indication of the composer’s pursuit of more serious ventures. The key of C minor shows up regularly in Beethoven’s later works as a language of conflict and dark intensity. Throughout the four movements, dramatic tension builds through mercurial shifts from C major to C minor, creating a sense of instability and turmoil.
The first movement begins with a sepulchral four-note descent that places the listener right in the middle of the storm. Alternating from turbulent storm of C minor to cloudless skies of C major, the Allegro paints an internal drama that comes to a thunderous conclusion. Beethoven begins the second movement, Adagio con moto, in four parts by using double stops, giving the illusion of a rich string quartet. With its simple beauty, this graceful Adagio offers a heavenly respite before the fiery, perhaps demonic, Scherzo movement. The Finale again returns to the composer’s battle of darkness and light with abrupt shifts from C minor to C major, concluding with a Haydnesque whimsy. Already in 1798, Beethoven has proven an uncanny ability to turn simplicity into sublimity, foreshadowing the great works yet to come.
About the Artists
Thrilling audiences with more than 200 performances each season, the MET Orchestra is one of the world’s great performing ensembles, both on stage and in the opera pit. Since its founding in 1883, the MET Orchestra’s performances have encompassed not only the entire opera repertoire, but symphonic and chamber programs at Carnegie Hall, international tours, and countless musician activities outside of the Metropolitan Opera House. The MET Orchestra has grown in the past four decades into an ensemble noted by singers, critics, conductors, and audiences as one of today’s most stylistically versatile and musically satisfying orchestras.
MET Orchestra Musicians are chosen through a rigorous blind audition process. Auditions routinely draw upwards of two hundred applicants for a single position, due to the quality and status of the MET Orchestra and the particular audition procedures that make the MET Orchestra’s auditions arguably the fairest in the industry. MET Orchestra Musicians were educated at the finest colleges and conservatories around the country and world, from the Conservatoire de Paris to Harvard University, Oberlin College to The Juilliard School.
Members of the MET Orchestra are much sought-after teachers, comprising large portions of the music faculties of all the major universities and conservatories in the New York metropolitan area. Former students of MET Orchestra Musicians can be found in virtually every performing arts organization in the country. In addition, a number of MET Orchestra Musicians dedicate time to working with younger students, both privately and by assuming leading roles in youth orchestras and pre-college programs.
Individual members of the orchestra have traveled to all corners of the Earth, in equal parts performing and engaging underserved audiences. MET Orchestra Musicians have recently performed fundraisers for local public schools, taught in Haiti and elsewhere in Central America, and brought South African students to New York for intensive study. In addition, MET Orchestra Musicians are coaches and teachers at some of the world’s leading summer music festivals, including the Verbier Festival, where the coaching faculty has been comprised of MET Orchestra Musicians since its founding in 2000.
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