Program Notes

From the New World

Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra

Thursday, April 7th, 2022, at 7:30 PM

This moving Orpheum Session is conducted by Roger Kalia and features music by Montgomery, Milhaud, and Dvořák.

Conductor

Roger Kalia

LPO Musicians

Composers

Antonin Dvorak (1841 – 1904) Symphony no. 9 in E minor Op. 95 “From the New World” (1893)

Composed for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings

First performed by the LPO on September 19, 1996

Most recently performed on September 26, 2019

In 1885, Jeannette Meyers Thurber founded the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. A revolutionary in many senses, Mrs. Thurber founded the Conservatory on ideals that were uncommon at that time. Among them, the school was to be racially integrated, to serve both male and female students, and promote the belief that every nation was responsible for cultivating a unique and excellent musical tradition. 

To this end, Jeannette Meyers Thurber sought out the internationally-known Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, and over a period of several months, persuaded him to come to America and assume the role of director of the school. Mrs. Thurber’s feeling was that as Dvorak had created a flourishing musical language that was uniquely part of the Czech heritage, he could teach young American composers and musicians to discover the same thing for themselves. 

Dvorak ended up serving as director of the National Conservatory from 1892 to 1895. It wasn’t long after Dvorak began his duties that melodic ideas began to be jotted down in his notebooks. Many of these fragments went on to become some of the most beloved and well-known classical melodies to American concert audiences as part of his ninth symphony.  The symphony was finally completed during the summer of 1893 during Dvorak’s summer stay at a cabin in Spillville, Iowa. (The same summer in which he wrote his famous American string quartet.) 

In December of 1893, the premiere was given in New York City by the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall.  The reception was so rousing during its premiere that Dvorak was compelled to stand and receive the audience’s applause between every movement of the symphony.  Lauded as some of the composer’s finest work, the symphony became nearly an overnight sensation. Despite its uniquely American flavor (or perhaps because of it) the symphony has enjoyed immense popularity worldwide and remains one of the most often performed symphonies in London and Japan. 

The first movement is in sonata form with a slow, yearning introduction in the cellos. The melody passes through the orchestra until a fiery blast signals the arrival of the main theme in the horns. This theme is developed and passed through the orchestra for the duration of the movement. 

The second movement contains perhaps the most famous melody from this entire symphony. It became so well known, that lyrics were written to accompany it and it became known as “Goin’ Home.”  In the symphony, the melody is stated in its entirety first by the English Horn before the entire orchestra joins in. 

The third movement begins with a heavy reminiscence of the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony before Dvorak’s unique talent for melodic development takes us in a completely different direction that finds us in a pleasing pastoral scene before returning to the storm of the movement’s opening. 

The final movement has become one of the most famous in classical literature. The main theme of this movement, proudly and fiercely first introduced by the trumpets, has become one of the most enduringly popular in the orchestral canon. Dvorak develops this theme throughout the movement until delivering his listener to a brilliant, shimmering end.

Jesse Montgomery (born 1981) Banner (2009)

This is the premiere performance of Banner by the LPO

Banner is a tribute to the 200th Anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner, which was officially declared the American National Anthem in 1814 under the penmanship of Francis Scott Key. Scored for solo string quartet and string orchestra, Banner is a rhapsody on the theme of the Star-Spangled Banner. Drawing on musical and historical sources from various world anthems and patriotic songs, I’ve made an attempt to answer the question: “What does an anthem for the 21st century sound like in today’s multicultural environment?”

In 2009, I was commissioned by the Providence String Quartet and Community MusicWorks to write Anthem: A tribute to the historical election of Barack Obama.  In that piece, I wove together the theme from the Star Spangled Banner with the commonly named Black National Anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson (which coincidentally share the exact same phrase structure). 

Banner picks up where Anthem left off by using a similar backbone source in its middle section but expands further both in the amount of references and also in the role-play of the string quartet as the individual voice working both with and against the larger community of the orchestra behind them. The structure is loosely based on traditional marching band form where there are several strains or contrasting sections, preceded by an introduction, and I have drawn on the drumline chorus as a source for the rhythmic underpinning in the finale. Within the same tradition, I have attempted to evoke the breathing of a large brass choir as it approaches the climax of the “trio” section. A variety of other cultural Anthems and American folk songs and popular idioms interact to form various textures in the finale section, contributing to a multi-layered fanfare.

The Star-Spangled Banner is an ideal subject for exploration in contradictions. For most Americans, the song represents a paradigm of liberty and solidarity against fierce odds, and for others, it implies a contradiction between the ideals of freedom and the realities of injustice and oppression. As a culture, it is my opinion that we Americans are perpetually in search of ways to express and celebrate our ideals of freedom — a way to proclaim, “we’ve made it!” as if the very action of saying it aloud makes it so. And for many of our nation’s people, that was the case: through work songs and spirituals, enslaved Africans promised themselves a way out and built the nerve to endure the most abominable treatment for the promise of a free life. Immigrants from Europe, Central America, and the Pacific have sought out a safe haven here and though met with the trials of building a multi-cultured democracy, continue to find rooting in our nation and make significant contributions to our cultural landscape. In 2014, a tribute to the U.S. National Anthem means acknowledging the contradictions, leaps and bounds, and milestones that allow us to celebrate and maintain the tradition of our ideals.

— Jessie Montgomery

Darius Milhaud (1892 – 1974) La création du monde (1923)

Composed for 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, saxophone, french horn, 2 trumpets, trombone, piano, timpani, percussion, 2 violins, cello, and bass

First performed by the LPO on November 5, 1998

Most recently performed on November 5, 1998

Milhaud first encountered jazz in 1920, at a concert in London presented by an American band. However, it was two years later, during a trip to New York City that Milhaud enjoyed a prolonged encounter with jazz in Harlem.  As a member of Les Six, (a troupe of progressive composers which, in addition to Milhaud, also included Honneger and Poulenc) Milhaud had a keen eye for the unique and exotic musical languages of cultures from all over the world and jazz uniquely inspired the thirty year-old composer.  The jazz ensembles that Milhaud watched perform in Harlem became the direct inspiration for the instrumentation that he used in this ballet, La création du monde (The Creation of the World.) 

In 1923, Milhaud was commissioned by the Ballet Suédois to write an original work based on a concept by the Swiss poet Blaise Cendrars about an African legend of creation.  The story begins with three African gods conjuring trees and animals and finally mankind. The dances evolve and expand until we are left with only a solitary male and female couple, and the ballet ends with a representation of desire and mating.  

This fifteen-minute work is divided into six sections, played without pause.  Milhaud’s use of Baroque structure with jazz idiom is among the most unique and striking attributes of this work. The culmination of the ballet could best be described as “Dixieland run amok.”

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