This special programme will be performed by our orchestra under the baton of the highly-noted American conductor, musical director of the Kansas Symphony Orchestra and son of the violinist Isaac Stern. Leonard Bernstein's Oscar-nominated music composed for a 1954 film is austere but romantic music. Bohuslav Martinů's Fourth Symphony, like the others, dates from after the composer's emigration to the United States. Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) is linked with one of the greatest scandals in music. The world premiere in 1913 escalated into a riot between the members of the Parisian audience admiring the rhythmic complexity, ingenious orchestration and tones, and those accustomed to more elegant conventions. The crude, barbarian boldness of the work never fails to elicit awe.
On the Waterfront – Symphonic Suite
With numerous works for the stage, Leonard Bernstein surprisingly composed just one original film score. Three years before West Side Story, in 1954 he wrote the music for Elia Kazan’s film On the Waterfront. Like most of his music for stage, in 1957 he created a concert-hall version of the score, a symphonic suite. Starring Marlon Brando, the black-and-white film was Elia Kazan’s most successful work, scooping no fewer than eight Oscars, four Golden Globe Awards and numerous other prizes (Leonard Bernstein was nominated for best film music, but did not win it in the end). On the Waterfront is a special mix of a moral drama and a gangster movie about corruption and gangsterism in dockworkers’ trade unions.
While the title of the symphonic version might suggest a multi-movement form, the ‘suite’ is in fact a continuous piece comprising various parts of the film score. Brilliantly orchestrated, the music is spectacular enough without seeing the film and is much appreciated by the concert audiences. For example, with its thrilling percussion ostinato rhythms, the fierce section following the short introduction is the music of brute force (‘presto barbaro’ as the tempo indication suggests), and neither does the lyrical middle section, with the harp-accompanied flute melody, leave any doubt as to its meaning. The introductory horn melody returns at every important formal boundary of the work and also culminates in the apotheosis-like finale.
Symphony no. 4
Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959) is one of the most important Czech composers of the twentieth century. He spent the better part of his life outside his native country. He lived in Paris (1923–1940), New York (1941–1953) and he later divided his time between Europe and America. A highly prolific composer, Martinů composed music in almost every genre. He wrote 15 operas, 14 ballets, choral works and Lieder; his output in chamber music is considerable with works for 2–12 instruments, piano pieces and orchestral works including 6 symphonies.
He composed Symphony no. 4 in April–June 1945, which received its première in November that year, with Jenő Ormándy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. The work follows the classical four-movement pattern, with the Scherzo second and the slow movement third. A key element of the frequently Impressionist sonority is the piano, playing almost throughout the work, a trademark of Martinů. The composer’s mature style is usually referred to as neoclassical; Symphony no. 4, too, has subtle references to Beethoen and Schubert.
Le sacre du printemps
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Sping) is one of the most powerful and emblematic works of twentieth-century music history. Coming after The Firebird and Petrushka, it was Stravinsky’s third ballet composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company in Paris. Subtitled ‘Pictures of Pagan Russia’, the concept of the work came from the composer who described his vision where, ‘I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of Spring.’ Composed between 1911 and 1913, the two-part work consists of the following scenes. Part I (Adoration of the Earth): Introduction – The Augurs of Spring (Dances of the Young Girls) – Ritual Abduction – Spring Khorovod (Round Dance) – Ritual of the Rival Tribes – Procession of the Sage – Adoration of the Earth (The Sage) – Dance of the Earth; Part II (The Sacrifice): Mystic Circles of the Young Girls – Glorification of the Chosen One – Evocation of the Ancestors – Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One).
The Rite of Spring is a product of Stravinsky’s ‘Russian’ period. Rooted in folk music, it often consists of motifs of a few notes only. The deliberately primitive simplicity of the melody is offset by the exciting novelty of the musical construction, the dissonant harmonies and the complexity of rhythm and tempo. The sacrificial dance, for example, owes its elementary effect to the many emphases that throw out of balance the natural accentual relations, and to the irregular alternation of double and triple time. Like one critic fittingly said, ‘Sacre arrived like a bomb, and in the explosion the constituents of the musical idiom were scattered to the point that they would never again be reassembled as before.”
Michael Stern , son of violinist Isaac Stern (born 1959) is a noted American conductor. He received his music degree from The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his major teacher was the noted conductor and scholar Max Rudolf.
He has been the music director of the Kansas City Symphony since 2005. They have recorded several CD's, including Britten's Orchestra and The Tempest.
Stern is also the founding artistic director and principal conductor of The IRIS Orchestra in Germantown, Tennessee, which has acclaimed commissioned new works by American composers. Other positions include tenure as the chief conductor of Germany's Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra and as Permanent Guest Conductor of the Orchestre National de Lyon in France, and a stint as the Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestre National de Lille, France.
Stern has led orchestras throughout Europe and Asia as well as in North America. He also appears regularly at the Aspen Music Festival and has served on the faculty of the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen.