Stravinsky, Spohr, Still


Stravinsky, Spohr, and Still — oh my!

Please note there are no door sales for the immediate future — all tickets must be purchased online or over the phone (204-783-7377).

Buy September 21st in-person ticket (incl. online) | $36 Adult | $34 Senior | $15 Under-30
Buy September 22nd in-person ticket (incl. online) | $36 Adult | $34 Senior | $15 Under-30
Buy October 5th online-only ticket | $20 Household ticket

It’s been a while. We’ve had many meaningful moments with you over the past year or so, with lots of great music. People tell us how much they’ve missed live concerts with the familiar faces and brilliant talents that make up our ensemble. Of course, we feel the same.

It’s only natural then that our season-opener — presented safely in-person at Westminster Church — should highlight the wonderful musicians who perform regularly with the MCO. There will be solos and moments aplenty for our musicians to shine in works by Barber, Stravinsky, Spohr, and Still. It will be superb, spectacular, supercalifragilistic.

MCO oboist Caitlin Broms-Jacobs has been blowing us away over the past year not just for her “always sublime” (Winnipeg Free Press) playing, but also for her imaginative and faithful arrangements of classic works. Her setting of the Goldberg Variations for reed trio allowed us to experience the work’s rich tapestry of interacting melodies in a whole new light. Stravinsky’s opera-ballet Pulcinella (1920) – for which Picasso designed the original costumes and sets – is a joyous counterpoint to his earlier Rite of Spring (1913) but is still brimming with mischief and bold ideas. We’re so eager to hear what Caitlin makes of those ideas in her arrangement for chamber ensemble.

Among the other works the MCO performs is William Grant Still’s Mother and Child. Sometimes called the “Dean of African-American Composers” for his formative influence in African American classical music, Still composed some two hundred works including numerous symphonies and operas. His popular Mother and Child is a gorgeous work that we had the pleasure of performing once already, in its string version, at our Spring and Summer Festival and apparently was one of Still’s personal favourites. This arrangement is for cello and piano.

A fabulous concert to kick off the season and reconnect with you.

Click for 2021/22 subscription packages!

Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster Church in Wolseley
Tuesday & Wednesday, 21 & 22 September 2021
Online presentation 5 October 2021

Karl Stobbe, Chris Anstey, Rachel Kristenson & Maya de Forest, violins
Momoko Matsumura & Michaela Kleer, violas
Desiree Abbey & Minna Rose Chung, cellos
Charmaine Bacon, flute
Caitlin Broms-Jacobs, oboe
Catherine Wood, clarinet
Allen Harrington, bassoon
Patricia Evans, French horn
Laura Loewen, piano

Samuel Barber
Summer Music

William Grant Still
Mother and Child

Louis Spohr
Double String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 65

Igor Stravinsky (arr. Caitlin Broms-Jacobs)

Season sponsor / CN
September 21st Music Director sponsors / Sandi & Ron Mielitz
Volunteer sponsor / MB Liquor Mart
Media sponsors / Classic 107, Golden West Radio & Winnipeg Free Press

Summer Music for Woodwind Quintet, Op. 31
Samuel Barber

After a period of relative neglect following his death, Barber’s reputation has ridden the neo-romantic wave and returned to the high level it enjoyed at the peak of his career. His music combines the emotional warmth and spirit of communication found in nineteenth-century romanticism, with those techniques of contemporary practice with which he felt comfortable.

In 1953, he received a commission from the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. At first he considered responding with a septet for three woodwinds, three strings and piano, but it evolved into a piece for the standard instrumentation of a wind quintet: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. He composed this one-movement work while taking a breather from the difficult process of creating his first opera, Vanessa. For thematic material, he drew upon an unpublished orchestral work, Horizon (1945). He attended numerous rehearsals and performances by the New York Woodwind Quintet, the better to understand the capabilities and personalities of the instruments.

The premiere took place on 20 March 1956 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, performed by the section principals of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It received a warm reception and has become a much-valued and frequently performed staple of the limited wind quintet repertoire. Barber said of it, with a touch of irony, “it’s supposed to be evocative of summer—summer meaning languid, not killing mosquitoes.”

Mother and Child
William Grant Still

Still became the first African-American composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra when the Rochester (NY) Philharmonic Orchestra gave the premiere of his first symphony in 1931. He was also the first African-American to have an opera produced by a major company (Troubled Island, New York City Opera, 1949); and the first to receive commissions and performances from top-level American orchestras, including New York, Philadelphia, and Cleveland.

He began his musical activities by conducting and arranging for the band and string quartet at Wilberforce College in Ohio. After leaving that school in 1915, he earned a living playing in jazz bands and writing arrangements for them. He continued his formal studies at Oberlin College, then moved to New York in 1919 at the invitation of the celebrated band leader, W.C. Handy.

He worked as a freelance arranger for Broadway shows and popular music artists, and played oboe in theatre pit bands. All the while he continued to build a reputation for his original concert works, and continued his education with noted composers such as the conservative American, George Chadwick, and the avant-garde French composer, Edgard Varèse. In 1934, he moved to Los Angeles, where he devoted himself primarily to composing concert and theatre works. Over the years, his catalogue came to include eight operas, five symphonies, ballets, concert suites, incidental music for plays, choral music, and songs.

He composed Mother and Child in 1943. He initially conceived it as the central movement of a three-movement Suite for violin and piano. A painting or sculpture by American artist Sargent Johnson (1887-1967) provided inspiration for each of the three movements. The gentle, heartfelt Mother and Child bespeaks a warm, loving relationship between the two characters.

Double String Quartet No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 65
Louis Spohr

Spohr won enormous fame as a violinist and composer. He toured throughout Europe, performing his own music, and often appearing in a duo with his wife, a concert harpist. He was one of the first music festival organizers, and one of the earliest musicians to lead an orchestra with a baton. His conducting repertoire was vast, including many of his major (and in many cases, more progressive) contemporaries as well as earlier masters.

He composed a substantial body of elegant, polished music, 150 pieces with opus numbers and 25 without. His catalogue contains 10 symphonies, 20 operas and operettas, 34 string quartets, four double quartets and 20 concertos including 15 for violin, two for a pair of violins, and one of the few examples, ever, of a concerto for string quartet and orchestra.

Despite his music’s quality, only one piece has retained some degree of lasting interest: Violin Concerto No. 8 (1816), sub-titled In the Style of a Vocal Scene. Eminent violinists from Jascha Heifetz to Hilary Hahn have performed and recorded it. Heifetz also recorded the first Double Quartet. Another composition by Spohr that might reward investigation is Symphony No. 6, subtitled Historical Symphony in the Style and Taste of Four Different Periods. Through respectful imitations, it pays tribute to the music of Bach and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven, and in the stormy finale, The Very Latest Period (1840). The orchestra grows larger from one movement to the next.

Spohr credited composer Andreas Romberg with suggesting the idea of a double quartet. He set to work on it in March 1823 and completed it within a month. “I imagined how two quartet groups sitting close to each other should be made to play one piece of music,” he wrote, “and keep in reserve the eight-voice combination for the chief parts of the composition only. I was greatly impressed to find that its effect was far greater than of simple quartets or quintets.”

His four double quartets call for the same instrumentation as the Octet that Felix Mendelssohn composed in 1825: four violins, two violas and two cellos. “Mendelssohn’s Octet belongs to quite a different kind of art,” Spohr said, “in which the two quartets do not concert and interchange in double choir with each other but all eight instruments work together.”

The opening movement of Double Quartet No. 1 is the most expansive of the four and the most forceful. With it, Spohr provided an impressive richness, both of sound and expression. Next comes a lively scherzo whose outer panels bookend a warm, serenade-like central trio section. The brief third movement is a soothing ‘song without words.’ The finale provides a genial wrap-up.

Suite from the Ballet Pulcinella
Igor Stravinsky (Arr. Caitlin Broms-Jacobs)

Stravinsky shot to fame through his brilliant collaborations with impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his company, Les Ballets russes (Russian Ballet). The colourful, inventive dance scores The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) established new standards for the fusion of music, dance and physical production. Their lavishly-scored music shows the influence of the folk-based Russian style Stravinsky had absorbed from his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

The Great War temporarily put a halt to the Stravinsky-Diaghilev partnership. Settling in Switzerland, Stravinsky forged a new creative relationship with author Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz and conductor Ernest Ansermet. Once the war was over, Diaghilev wished dearly to resume the previous relationship, despite feelings of jealousy over his pet composer having “dared” to work with others.

Noting the recent success of The Good-Humoured Ladies, a ballet that his company had mounted and whose score Vincenzo Tommasini had adapted from the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, Diaghilev hatched the idea of creating another ballet with similar origins. After some musicological research in Italian conservatories and the British Museum, he and choreographer Léonide Massine decided that the short-lived but immensely popular composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) was the ideal source for the music.

Stravinsky recalled that as he and Diaghilev strolled down a boulevard in Paris in September 1919, Diaghilev said, “I know you are much taken with your Alpine colleagues, but I have an idea that I think will amuse you more than anything they can propose. I want you to look at some delightful eighteenth-century music with the idea of orchestrating it for a ballet.”

Stravinsky continued, “When he said that the composer was Pergolesi, I thought he must be deranged. I knew Pergolesi only by the Stabat Mater and (the comic opera) La serva padrona, and though I had just seen a production of the latter in Barcelona, Diaghilev knew I wasn’t in the least excited by it. I did promise to look, however, and to give him my opinion. I looked, and I fell in love. My ultimate selection of pieces derived only partly from Diaghilev’s examples, however, and partly from published editions, but I played through the whole of the available Pergolesi before making my choices.”

The scores Stravinsky drew upon include chamber music, solo instrumental pieces and operas. It has since been determined that some of the music is not in fact by Pergolesi, although it had all been published under his name. Domenico Gallo and Count Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer have been identified as two of the authentic sources.

Diaghilev, Stravinsky and Massine collaborated on the ballet’s scenario. They based it on a manuscript dating from 1700, setting out the adventures of Pulcinella, a rascally character from the Neapolitan theatre tradition known as commedia dell’arte. They settled on a typically farcical tale of love, jealousy and deception. Stravinsky’s friend Pablo Picasso was brought on board to design the production.

Stravinsky then set gleefully to work. “Pulcinella was composed in a small attic room of the Maison Bornand at Morges,” he wrote. “I began by composing on the Pergolesi manuscripts themselves, as though I were correcting an old work of my own. I began without preconceptions or aesthetic attitudes, and I could not have predicted anything about the result … the remarkable thing about Pulcinella is not how much but how little has been added or changed.”

He chose a pit-sized orchestra of 33. Mirroring eighteenth-century practice, it excludes clarinets and percussion and sports two separate, interacting groups of strings, one larger than the other. He kept Pergolesi’s melodies and bass lines virtually intact, but placed his own, tart stamp upon the music through transformations in harmony, rhythm and phrasing. The full score includes three vocal soloists. They remain in the pit and sing songs that provide additional atmosphere, rather than playing characters in the story.

The premiere took place in Paris on 15 May 1920, with Massine in the title role and Ansermet conducting. The press gave it mixed reviews, but the public adored it. Two years later, Stravinsky prepared this purely instrumental concert suite. It was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Monteux, the conductor who had led the first performances of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.

Pulcinella’s influence on Stravinsky’s style proved immense and lasting. It appeared at a major turning-point in both his creative and personal lives. The newly-established communist regime made a return to the Russia of his youth impossible, so the Baroque world of Pulcinella pointed him towards a leaner, more classically oriented western European future.

Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible,” he wrote. “It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too.” He would continue in this Neoclassical style (Neobaroque would be equally appropriate) for some 30 years, culminating in the opera The Rake’s Progress (1951). Countless other composers adopted it, too, making it one of the most widespread and durable schools of the twentieth century.