One of the many great gifts one gets by coming to the NOVA Symphony Orchestra concerts, is that Maestro Christopher Johnston spends great time considering and writing phenomenal program notes. Usually, only the guests get to read all about music. I think his notes are best served with a side of photographs from the wonderful concert.
We began with the famed Overture to William Tell by Rossini!
“Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) was one of the most celebrated Italian composers of the 19th century and consequently enjoyed widespread success, prestige, and wealth during his life. He was one of the most prolific opera composers, and William Tell was his thirty-ninth and final opera. the four-act opera is based on Friedrich Schiller’s play (“Wilhelm Tell”), which tells the story of William Tell, an archer and Swiss hero who helps to liberate Switzerland from Austrian Occupation. Though the opera is rarely performed, the overture (the introduction to the opera) remains a concert favorite.”
“The overture is divided into four sections: 1 Dawn, a lyrical cello quintet, 2 Storm, a musical representation of the onset and retreat of a violent thunderstorm, 3 Ranch des Vaches (“call of the cows”), a pastorale featuring an English horn and flute duet, and 4) Finale: March of the Swiss Soldiers, a dynamic gallop heralded by trumpets and played by the full orchestra. Much of Rossini’s musical motives have become mainstays of popular culture. Most notably, the melody from the Finale has been cemented into radio and television history as the opening theme to the radio and TV version of The Lone Ranger”
Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major, “Afro-American” by William Grant Still.
Composed in 1930, William Grant Still’s (1895-1978) Symphony No.1 “Afro-American,” was the first written by a African American and performed for a United States audience by a leading orchestra. Premiered in 1913 by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and later published in 1935, it it a symphonic form with blues progressions and rhythms characteristic of popular African-American music at the time. Still sought to demonstrate how the blues could be raised to the highest musical rank, as it was often considered to be music that was not appropriate for the concert hall.
The symphony comprises four movements: Longing,” “Sorrow,” “Humor,” and “Aspiration.” The second is calm and reflective of the movement. The third movement creates a light-hearted, celebratory atmosphere using fast rhythmic patterns accompanied by tenor banjo. The fourth opens with a somber melody in the strings and closes with a grandiose and satisfying finale in the minor mode.
“The Old Boatman”
Florence Prince (1887-1953) originally composed “The Old Boatman” for solo piano, specifically for the benefit of her developing piano students. Upon hearing it , Dana Paul Perna found it very reminiscent of Edvard Grieg, specifically his “Lyric Pieces,” and ” and 19 Norwegian Folk Tunes,” Op 66. With that in mind, he proceeded to score her work in the literal transcription for string orchestra in 2002. Upon the advice of conductor, John McLaughlin Williams, Perna extended his initial transcription of Price’s piece, completing the more comprehensive arrange heard this evening.
The world premiere of this arrangement took place on October 19, 2017, at MATCH (Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston) in Houston, Texas by Orchestra Unlimited under the direction of Kirk Smith.
Finlandia, Op. 26
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) composed Finlandia in 1899 and revised it in 1900. It was an agreed upon contribution by the composer to the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. It was the last of seven pieces performed as an accompaniment to a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish History.
The premiere was on July 2, 1990, in Helsinki with the Helsinki Philharmonic Society conducted by Robert Kajamus. To avoid Russian censorship, Finlandia had to be performed under alternative names at various musical concerts. Famous examples include Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring, and A Scandinavian Choral March.
Most of the piece is taken up with rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finish people. Toward the end , a calm comes over the orchestra, and a sense of melodic hymn is heard. Often incorrectly cited as a traditional folk melody, the hymn section is of Sibelius’s own creation.
“Victory at Sea”
After retiring from the service in 1948, Henry “Pete” Salomon began work on developing the concept for a “telementary” that would chronicle the US Navy’s war-winning efforts in all theaters of conflict during World War II. The title of the work would be “Victory at Sea.”
In the year after its first broadcast (1952), “Victory at Sea” won numerous awards, including a Peabody and an Emmy, and a George Washington Medal from the Freedoms Foundation. Composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979), fresh from his work on The King and I, also, received a Distinguished Service Award from the US Navy. His theme for “Beneath the Southern Cross.” a favorite of series theme music devotees, was given words by Oscar Hammerstein II and became the hit song “No Other Love.” In many ways, thought, it was arranger/orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett’s score, recorded by RCA and released on two LP records that had the most enduring influence and became a fixture in millions of households.
The score’s most famous fan was US Navy WWII veteran Richard M. Nixon, who was known to play it at a high volume after political victories and made it echo down the halls of the White House during his six years as president of the United States. Still played by many orchestras and radio programs on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the guns and strings of “Victory at Sea” continue to resonate in the twenty-first century.
If you enjoyed coming to hear the NOVA Symphony Orchestra, please return for our upcoming concerts!
• Dec. 6, 2022 (8pm concert): NOVA Holiday Concert with the
Featuring: The NOVA Alexandria Community Chorus, Nighthawks Jazz Ensemble and the NOVA Alexandria Community Band!