Program Notes

Shostakovich 9

Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra

Thursday, April 21st, 2022, at 7:30 PM

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

Conductor

Nicholas Hersh

LPO Musicians

Guests

DC PauL

DC is an actor, comedian, writer, and performance artist born and raised in New Orleans. A former student of NOCCA and Columbia Arts College, DC has been performing on various stages and screens around the country since the early 90s, and his career as a standup comedian began in 2014.

Since then, DC’s talent has been displayed at local historic performance venues such as the House of Blues and Tipitina’s, as well as weekly open mics and showcases around the city. His style of comedy relies heavily on pop culture observations, sociopolitical punchlines, life experiences, and sweaters.

Nicholas Hersh

Over a remarkable tenure as Associate Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, Nicholas Hersh earned critical acclaim for his innovative programming and natural ability to connect with musicians and audiences alike. Nicholas created the BSO Pulse series, through which he brought together indie bands and orchestral musicians in unique collaborations; he led the BSO in several subscription weeks, and concerts in and around Baltimore; and he directed the BSO’s educational and family programming, including the celebrated Academy for adult amateur musicians. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Nicholas developed and conducted the BSO’s new digital concert series, BSO Sessions. Mixing performance with documentary-style interviews, Nicholas introduced the BSO and online audiences to a wide variety of new repertoire, including numerous living composers as well as seldom-performed historical composers. “His commitment to performing works by composers of color,” described BSO leadership, “will continue to inform the BSO’s programming long into the future.”

Highlights of the 2021-22 season include engagements with the NY Philharmonic, Sarasota Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic, Portland Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Tucson Symphony, Winston-Salem Symphony, and Peabody Opera. 

Nicholas appears regularly with the National Symphony Orchestra in concerts throughout Washington, D.C. He stepped in to replace an indisposed Yan Pascal Tortelier, on subscription, to great acclaim. Other guest conducting appearances include the Houston Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and New World Symphony. 

Nicholas is frequently in demand as an arranger and orchestrator, with commissions from orchestras around the globe for adaptations of everything from classical solo and chamber music to popular songs. His orchestration of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata Op. 69 will receive its premiere by the Philharmonie Zuidnederland in January 2022, while his symphonic arrangement of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody continues to see worldwide success as a viral YouTube hit. He also serves as arranger and editor for the James P. Johnson Orchestra Edition.

An avid educator, Nicholas has embraced the Young Persons Concert format as a crucial method for orchestras to serve their communities. From 2016-2020, he served as Artistic Director of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras, and he continues to be a frequent collaborator and guest faculty at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

Nicholas grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and started his musical training as a cellist. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Stanford University and a Master’s Degree in Conducting from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, studying with David Effron and Arthur Fagen. In 2011 and 2012, he was a Conducting Fellow with the prestigious American Academy of Conducting at Aspen, studying with mentors Robert Spano, Hugh Wolff, and Larry Rachleff, and has participated in masterclasses with Bernard Haitink and Michael Tilson Thomas. Nicholas is also a two-time recipient of the Solti Foundation Career Assistance Award.

Nicholas lives in Philadelphia with his wife Caitlin and their two cats, and in his free time enjoys baking (and eating) sourdough bread.

Composers

Joel Thompson (b.1988) To Awaken the Sleeper

Composed for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 tuba, percussion, harp, and strings

This is the premiere performance of To Awaken the Sleeper by the LPO

To Awaken the Sleeper was premiered by the Colorado Music Festival with Peter Oundjian, conductor, on August 5, 2021. The LPO is a co-commissioner of the work. The piece weaves selections of James Baldwin’s writing into a music profile. Joel Thompson is an Atlanta-based composer, conductor, pianist, and educator, best known for the choral work Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, which was premiered in November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and Dr. Eugene Rogers and won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition.

“Given the sort of turmoil as it relates to race in our society, Baldwin’s writings were sort of a beacon for me, a source of comfort a way for me to focus my craft,” Thompson shared with the local CBS Denver. “In the world of classical music in which my identity is historically marginalized, having a space here where in which I can speak and be heard is very important, and Baldwin faced similar obstacles.”

Baldwin’s words will be performed by a narrator as part of the composition. Local actor, DC PauL will join the orchestra for this performance. Thompson said that Baldwin wanted to highlight the Black experience in the country and as a composer who has focused his work on topics in America, he attempts to do that as well. 

“He had to sort of hold society to account, while also expressing his love for what American can be and not yet achieving,” Thompson said of Baldwin. “Drawing from his words to sort of ask us to look in the mirror and see who we actually are and determine who we can be moving forward.”

Joel Thompson

Emmy award-winning composer, Joel Thompson (b.1988) is a composer, pianist, conductor, and educator from Atlanta.

Currently a doctoral student at the Yale School of Music, Thompson was also a 2017 post-graduate fellow in Arizona State University’s Ensemble Lab/Projecting All Voices Initiative and a composition fellow at the 2017 Aspen Music Festival and School, where he studied with composers Stephen Hartke and Christopher Theofanidis and won the 2017 Hermitage Prize. Thompson taught at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta from 2015 to 2017, and also served as Director of Choral Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at Andrew College from 2013 to 2015. Thompson has a B.A. in Music and an M.M. in Choral Conducting, both from Emory University. 

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975) Symphony no. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70

Composed for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion and strings

First performed by the LPO on December 2, 1999

Most recently performed on April 6, 2013

On May 8th, 1945, Nazi Germany made its unconditional surrender to Allied forces, putting an end to nearly five and a half years of bloodshed that had consumed the entirety of the European continent. In September of 1945, Shostakovich’s ninth symphony premiered. Described by the composer as a work commemorating “the greatness of the Soviet people, about our Red Army liberating our native land from the enemy.”   This appears on the surface as though Shostakovich worked at a feverish pace to compose his symphony to commemorate VE-Day, but the origins of this work reach back almost two years earlier.  

In October of 1943 Shostakovich, declared his desire for his ninth symphony to be a massive, large-scale work including orchestra, soloists, and chorus (a strong allusion to Beethoven’s ninth.)  Shostakovich’s desire to express his pride and admiration for the Red Army’s defeat of Hitler’s Nazi forces during the Battle for Stalingrad was well understood by all Russian people. It was perhaps the hinge of fate that ultimately turned the tide of war in favor of the Allied forces and the brutal weight of that was borne not only by the Soviet army but also by her citizens.

In January of 1945, Shostakovich told his composition students that he had begun work on this massive new symphony.  A week later he reported he had already reached the middle of the opening movement’s exposition, and about ten minutes’ worth of music was shared with the classroom of composition students.  For some unknown reason, Shostakovich stopped work, and no mention was made of a ninth symphony until seven months later when he resumed work on the symphony in July.  On August 30, he finished work on a ninth symphony that was completely unlike the work he set out to write.

Shostakovich’s seventh and eighth symphonies carry a heavy pathos and portray a tragic heroic quality.  In contrast, his ninth symphony, considered the composer’s response to the conclusion of World War II, is almost light-hearted, transparent, and very often, fun. Shostakovich said of the symphony: “Musicians will like to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it.”

The premiere of the ninth symphony took place in November of 1945 where it opened the concert season of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, and true to Shostakovich’s predictions, the symphony was criticized by the state media for “ideological weakness” and for its failure to “reflect the true spirit of the people of the Soviet Union.”  Even the western media regarded the symphony as “childish” for Shostakovich’s seemingly frivolous response to the defeat of Nazism.  The symphony was nominated for the Stalin Prize in 1946, but in 1948 the symphony was banned from public performance as part of Shostakovich’s second denunciation. It remained prohibited until after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1955.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) D’un matin de printemps (Of a Spring Morning) (1918)

Composed for 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, harp, celeste, percussion, and strings

This is the premiere performance of D’un matin de printemps by the LPO

Lili Boulanger was a French composer and the younger sister of the noted composer and composition teacher Nadia Boulanger.

A Parisian-born child prodigy, Boulanger’s talent was apparent at the age of two, when Gabriel Fauré, a friend of the family and later one of Boulanger’s teachers, discovered she had perfect pitch. Her parents, both of whom were musicians, encouraged their daughter’s musical education. Boulanger accompanied her ten-year-old sister Nadia to classes at the Paris Conservatoire before she was five, shortly thereafter sitting in on classes on music theory and studying organ with Louis Vierne. She also sang and played piano, violin, cello, and harp.

In 1912 Boulanger competed in the Prix de Rome but during her performance, she collapsed from illness. She returned in 1913 at the age of 19 to win the composition prize for Faust et Hélène, becoming the first woman composer to win the prize. Winning the Prix de Rome gained Lili a five-year international scholarship, which put her at the center of the French music scene at this time. Lili became a student under her sister Nadia, and also prolific French composer, Gabriel Fauré. Soon after winning the composition prize, Lili was offered a contract with the publishing company, Ricordi, which gave her a fixed salary, as well as the publication safety so she could distribute her works abroad. Her work was noted for its colorful harmony and instrumentation and skillful text setting. Aspects of Fauré and Claude Debussy can be seen in her compositions, and Arthur Honegger was influenced by her innovative work. 

Lili’s life and work were consistently troubled by her chronic illness, which began as bronchial pneumonia and formed into Crohn’s disease, which ended her life in March 1918. 

The last orchestral work completed by Lili before her untimely death in 1918 was D’un Matin de Printemps (‘One Spring Morning’). Originally composed as a duet for violin and piano, in the spring of 1917, this work has been adapted into various versions, including an orchestral version (1918), a trio version with piano and violin (1917), and a duet for flute and piano (1917). This work is only short, clocking in at around 4-5 minutes, however, it is full of playful twists and turns, as well as exhibiting a fine art for both storytelling and complex musical cohesion. 

Courtney Bryan – Shedding Skin 

This is the premiere performance of Shedding Skin by the LPO 

Shedding Skin for orchestra is inspired by the poem of the same name by Harryette Mullen from her book Tree Tall Woman (1981), as well as by conversations from the 2012 American Composers Orchestra’s Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute. Shedding Skin explores the process of notating improvisation and is a personal response to Mullen’s poem.

Shedding Skin (1981) by Harryette Mullen

Pulling out of the old scarred skin (old rough thing I don’t need now I strip off
slip out of leave behind)

I slough off dead scales
flick skin flakes to the ground

Shedding toughness peeling layers down to vulnerable stuff

And I’m blinking off old eyelids for a new way of seeing

By the rock I rub against I’m going to be tender again

Courtney Bryan

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