Simple Strings
Torke, Clyne, Britten & Korngold

3:00pm Saturday, March 23, 2019

Strings of the Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra
Chris Whittaker, Conductor

The WHCO presents an afternoon of great 20th and 21st century music for strings, featuring music by Michael Torke, Anna Clyne, Benjamin Britten and Erich Korngold. 

Free! Young listeners welcome!


Michael Torke: December
Anna Clyne: Within Her Arms
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony, Op. 4
         I. Boisterous Bourrée
         II. Playful Pizzicato
         III. Sentimental Sarabande
         IV. Frolicsome Finale
Erich Korngold: Sinfonische Serenade in Bb, Op. 39
         I. Allegro moderato, semplice
         II. Intermezzo
         III. Lento religioso
         IV. Finale


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About the composers

The music of Michael Torke has been called "some of the most optimistic, joyful and thoroughly uplifting music to appear in recent years" (Gramophone). Hailed as a "vitally inventive composer" (Financial Times) and "a master orchestrator whose shimmering timbral palette makes him the Ravel of his generation" (New York Times), Torke has created a substantial body of works in virtually every genre.

Career highlights include: Color Music (1985–89), a series of orchestral pieces that each explore a single, specific color; Javelin, recorded both for Argo and for John William’s Summon the Heroes, the official 1996 Olympics album; Four Seasons, an oratorio commissioned by the Walt Disney Company to celebrate the millennium; Strawberry Fields, whose “Great Performances” broadcast was nominated for an Emmy Award; and two evening-length story ballets, The Contract, and An Italian Straw Hat, for James Kudelka and the National Ballet of Canada.

In 1998 Torke was Composer in Residence for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, for which he wrote and recorded Rapture, his percussion concerto, and An American Abroad, a tone poem.

In 2003 Torke founded Ecstatic Records and re-issued the Decca/Argo catalog of his works. Recent recordings include Blue Pacific, Tahiti, Miami Grands, Concerto for Orchestra, and the upcoming Unconquered, featuring The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Three Manhattan Bridges, along with Winter's Tale—new concertos for piano and cello respectively—was released by Albany Records featuring Joyce Yang and Julie Albers as soloists, led by David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony.

Upcoming projects include a recording of wind concertos alongside a bluegrass concerto for violinist Tessa Lark, and the continuing development of SENNA, an opera about the Formula-1 racing legend.

From the Composer
"I remember experiencing a kind of cozy cheer in the early days of winter back in suburban Milwaukee, when, on the rounds of my afternoon paper route, I would anticipate with pleasure the forecast of the season's first snow. The cold and the precipitation never bothered me; I loved the season: young girls wrapped up in parkas with only their bright faces showing, outdoor Christmas lights being strung out on the front lawns, warm meals waiting when I got back home.

Music never literally represents things, but it does evoke feelings, impressions, and sometimes memories. In writing this piece, I noticed that the music that came out didn't just refer to itself—it is my habit to set up certain compositional operations to give each piece its own profile—but that the music seemed to refer to things outside of itself. This is something I discover as I'm writing; it is not that I set out intending to describe the last month of the year through music; rather, the associations creep up on me, as I'm composing.

I had originally called this piece Rain Changing to Snow because at first the listener might hear a kind of musical 'precipitation', a resultant wetness that comes from some of the strings sustaining notes that are moving in the other instruments. And as this develops, the music moves to a more tranquil key, where it sounds as though the rain has turned to snow and there is a strange stillness everywhere.

But to me the music is about more than meteorological patterns. In my goal to write more thematic music which is less process oriented, I believe this music can afford a wide range of responses in the listener. I am against music that is merely cerebral, and I welcome the simple, physical experience of listening, and responding directly, without undue brain circuitry."  Michael Torke

London-born Anna Clyne is a Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Described as a "composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods" in a New York Times profile and as "dazzlingly inventive" by Time Out New York, Clyne’s work often includes collaborations with cutting-edge choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians worldwide. 

Appointed by Music Director Riccardo Muti, Clyne served as a Mead Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2010-2015. She also recently served as Composer-in-Residence for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra during the 2015-2016 season and for L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France from 2014-2016. This season, Clyne is an Artist-in-Residence at National Sawdust. She was additionally selected by the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA to serve as the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the Berkeley Symphony through the 2018–2019 season.

Clyne has been commissioned by such renowned organizations as American Composers Orchestra, BBC Radio 3, BBC Scottish Symphony, Carnegie Hall, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Houston Ballet, London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, and the Southbank Centre, and her work has been championed by such world-renowned conductors as Marin Alsop, Pablo Heras-Casado, Riccardo Muti, Leonard Slatkin, and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Clyne was nominated for the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her double violin concerto, Prince of Clouds. She is also the recipient of several prestigious awards including the 2016 Hindemith Prize; a Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; awards from Meet the Composer, the American Music Center, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Jerome Foundation; and prizes from ASCAP and SEAMUS. She was nominated for the 2014 Times Breakthrough Award (UK) and is the recipient of a grant from Opera America to develop a new opera, Eva

During the 2017–2018 season, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard perform the world premiere of Clyne’s Beltane in Glasgow. Recent highlights include the premiere of her mandolin concerto for Avi Avital, Three Sisters, performed with the Kremerata Baltica ;Masquerade for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop at the Last Night of the Proms; This Lunar Beauty for the Britten Sinfonia and soprano Julia Doyle; RIFT, a symphonic ballet in collaboration with choreographer Kitty McNamee for Marin Alsop and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra; Pocket Book VIII for Roomful of Teeth; and her violin concerto, The Seamstress, performed by Jennifer Koh with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes. 

From the Composer
"Within Her Arms is music for my mother, with all my love.

Earth will keep you tight within her arms dear one
So that tomorrow you will be transformed into flowers
This flower smiling quietly in this morning field
This morning you will weep no more dear one
For we have gone through too deep a night.
This morning, yes, this morning, I kneel down on the green grass

And I notice your presence.
Flowers, that speak to me in silence.
The message of love and understanding has indeed come.

—Thich Nhat Hanh"

Courtesy of Anna Clyne

Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, on the east coast of England, on 22 November 1913. Although he was already composing vigorously as a child, he nonetheless felt the importance of some solid guidance and in 1928 turned to the composer Frank Bridge; two years later he went to the Royal College of Music in London, studying with Arthur Benjamin, Harold Samuel and John Ireland. While still a student, he wrote his ‘official’ Op. 1, the Sinfonietta for chamber ensemble, and the Phantasy Quartet for oboe and string trio, and in 1936 he composed Our Hunting Fathers, an ambitious song-cycle for soprano and orchestra, which confirmed Britten’s virtuosic vocal and instrumental technique. He was already earning his living as a composer, having joined the GPO (Post Office) Film Unit the previous year; the collaboration he began there with the poet W. H. Auden was to prove an important one throughout his career.

Britten found himself in the United States at the outset of World War Two and stayed there for three more years, returning to Britain in 1942. In America he produced a number of important works, among them the orchestral Sinfonia da Requiem, the song-cycle Les Illuminations for high voice and strings, and his Violin Concerto. With the opera Paul Bunyan he also made his first essay in a genre that would be particular important to him. 

Back in Britain, where as a conscientious objector he was excused military service, he began work on the piece that would establish him beyond question as the pre-eminent British composer of his generation – the opera Peter Grimes, premiered to an ecstatic reaction on 7 June 1945. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell – a cornerstone of the orchestral repertoire – was first performed in the following year. Indeed, Britten now composed one major work after another, among them the operas The Rape of Lucretia (1946), Albert Herring (1947), Billy Budd (1951), Gloriana (1953), The Turn of the Screw (1954), Noye’s Fludde (1957), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960), Owen Wingrave (1970–71) and Death in Venice (1971–73); the Nocturne for tenor and orchestra (1958), the War Requiem (1961–62), a Cello Symphony (1963) for Rostropovich and his orchestral Suite on English Folk Tunes (1974).

Britten’s importance in post-War British cultural life was enhanced by his founding of the English Opera Group in 1946 and the Aldeburgh Festival two years later. His career as a composer was matched by his outstanding ability as a performer: he was both a refined pianist and a spontaneous and fluent conductor – his Mozart was particularly highly esteemed. Britten’s later career was clouded by bouts of ill-health, culminating in heart disease. He never fully recovered from open-heart surgery in 1973, and died on 4 December 1976, at the age of 63, a few months after being appointed a life peer – the first composer ever to know that honour.  Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was born on 29 May 1897 in Bruenn, Moravia, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Brno, Czech Republic). This musical prodigy was the second son of Julius Korngold, prominent music critic of the Neue Freie Presse. Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini were two of the admirers of the musically precocious child’s compositional ability. Encouraged by his father, Korngold received his first music theory lessons at the age of six. When only nine, he performed his fairy tale cantata “Gold” for Gustav Mahler who immediately recommended Alexander von Zemlinsky as a teacher. In 1910, the ballet-pantomime Der Schneemann received its premiere in the Vienna Court Opera under the baton of Franz Schalk. The work was discussed in the cultural pages of the newspapers and certain critics doubted the authorship of the young composer. In 1916, public acclaim was again achieved with the premiere of the one-act operas Violanta and Der Ring des Polykrates under the direction of Bruno Walter. At the age of 20, Korngold performed his military service as a recruit in the military band of an infantry regiment. Three years later, the triumphal success of his opera Die tote Stadt began on a variety of European stages. With his fourth opera Das Wunder der Heliane (1927), Korngold was caught in the crossfire of a cultural dispute, partially initiated by his father, which had been sparked off by Krenek’s topical opera "Johnny spielt auf”. The cooperation with Max Reinhardt began in 1929 with the adaptation of Johann Strauss’s “Fledermaus”. In 1934, the director invited Korngold to Hollywood for a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". For the next four years, the composer divided his time between Vienna and Hollywood, ultimately settling in Hollywood in 1938, following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. 
In Hollywood he became one of the most sought after film music composers in the USA. In the post-war years, the composer was unsuccessful in his attempts to re-establish himself on European cultural stages. Korngold died in Hollywood on 29 November 1957.

Korngold’s music theatre works made him the most popularly performed German-speaking opera composer between 1910 and the 1930s alongside Richard Strauss. The opera Die tote Stadt (1916-1919) today continues to be included in the regular music theatre repertoire. The libretto based on Rodenbach’s novel “Bruges-la-morte” was written by Korngold himself in cooperation with his father under the pseudonym Paul Schott. Korngold’s music for the Symbolist, morbid text developed on the back of Late Romantic tonal worlds to form an independent expressive language tracing the psychology of the plot in great detail. Wunder der Heliane (1923-1926) which was considered by the composer as his most significant work marks a turning point in Korngold’s oeuvre. The monumental orchestral forces and the demands on the singers reach the limits of what is performable. During his second career as film music composer for the Warner Brothers Studios, the composer was able to bring the genre of symphonic film music to perfection. Korngold was one of the most influential co-founders of the “sound of Hollywood” with his classics such as “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), “The Sea Hawk” (1940) and “The Sea Wolf” (1941).

Korngold’s film music received four Oscar nominations. The composer was awarded the prize for the "Best Original Score" 1936 (“Anthony Adverse”) and 1938 (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”). Since 1995, the Erich Wolfgang Korngold Prize has been awarded by the foundation Deutsche Kinemathek for the lifework of an outstanding film music composer.

Music is music whether composed for the stage, the conductor’s desk or for the cinema. The form can change and the method of notation can be different, but the composer cannot make any compromises in what he considers to be his musical convictions. (Erich Wolfgang Korngold)

(Courtesy of Schott Music)

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Concert Location:

Fort Washington Collegiate Church
729 West 181st Street
New York, NY, 10033

The concert will last approximately 1.5 hours with intermission.