February 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm
Ian Swensen, violin; Marc Teicholz, guitar
Bélá Bártok (1881 – 1945)
Romanian Folk Dances Sz56, BB68
– Stick Dance
` – Sash Dance
– In One Spot
– Dance from Bucsum
– Romanian Polka
– Fast Dance
Sergio Assad (b. 1952)
Robert Beaser (b. 1954)
Selections from “Mountain Songs”
– Barbara Allen
– House Carpenter
Sergio Assad (b. 1952)
Un bouquet pour Julia
– Coquelicot [Poppy]
– Belle de nuit [Mirabilis]
– Verveine [Verbena] de Buenos Aires
Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992)
L’Histoire du tango
– Bordel 1900
– Café 1930
– Nightclub 1960
– Concert d’aujourd’hui
Béla Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances Sz56, BB68
As a student, Bartók had met the composer Zoltán Kodaly at the Royal Academy of Budapest. In 1908 the two traveled the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. The Romanian Folk Dances are based on Romanian tunes from Transylvania (annexed to Romania in 1918), originally played on violin or shepherd’s flute. Though such music had previously been categorized as “gypsy” (think Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies), it turned out to be based on pentatonic, or five-note, scales, closely related to Asian folk music. The six Folk Dances were written in 1915, early in the composer’s career, and have been transcribed for numerous instrumental combinations.
Sérgio Assad: Circulo Magico and Un bouquet pour Julia
The contemporary Brazilian Sergio Assad is acclaimed as guitarist, composer, and arranger, and often performs with his brother Odair, also a guitarist, in the Duo Assad. They have collaborated in both performance and recording with such artists as Gidon Kremer, Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, for whom Sergio wrote the triple concerto Originis for violin, two guitars, and chamber orchestra. Celebrating the Italian and Brazilian heritages of Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Duo Assad, the work has been performed by them with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and recorded live in Brazil with the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo.
Sergio Assad currently serves with today’s artists, Ian Swensen and Marc Teicholz, on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has recorded for labels including Nonesuch and Elektra.
Robert Beaser: Selections from Mountain Songs
The American composer Robert Beaser has emerged as one of the most accomplished creative musicians of his generation. Since 1982, when the New York Times wrote that he possessed a “lyrical gift comparable to that of the late Samuel Barber,” his music has won international acclaim. His opera The Food of Love, with a libretto by Terrence McNally, opened to worldwide critical accolades at Glimmerglass and New York City Opera. Televised nationally on PBS Great Performances, it received an Emmy nomination in 2000.
From 1978 to 1990 Beaser held the post of co-Music Director and Conductor of the chamber ensemble Musical Elements at the 92nd Street Y, bringing premieres of over two hundred works to Manhattan. He was Composer-in-Residence with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall from 1988 to 1993, and since that year he has served as Professor and Chairman of the Composition Department at The Juilliard School in New York. His music has been performed by artists including Leonard Slatkin, Richard Stoltzman, James Galway, Dawn Upshaw, Dennis Russell Davies, Renée Fleming, and Lukas Foss. Beaser has shown great interest in infusing American folk music into his composition, and his widely praised Mountain Songs were nominated for a Grammy award in 1986.
Astor Piazzolla: L’Histoire du tango
We have come to associate Astor Piazzolla closely with Argentina and the tango dance form. He was indeed born in Mar del Plata, the only child of Italian immigrant parents, but his upbringing, from age four, was in New York City. One day his father, out for a stroll, spotted a bandoneón in a pawn shop window. In Argentina he had become fond of the instrument, a small accordion with buttons and no keyboard, an integral part of the traditional tango band. Now, on a nostalgic whim, he purchased it for his young son, who quickly became a prodigy.
Such was Astor’s prowess at age 13 that he was invited by Carlos Gardel to join the famous tango master’s band on tour. Astor’s father, however, declared his son too young for such an activity. The refusal was fortuitous: Gardel and his entire company were killed in a plane crash shortly thereafter. Making light of this bit of karma, Astor noted that were it not for his father, he would now be playing the harp instead of the bandoneón.
In 1938 seventeen-year-old Piazzolla returned to Argentina. He became a serious composition student of Alberto Ginastera, who encouraged him in 1953 to submit his Buenos Aires Symphony in Three Movements for the Fabien Sevitzky Award. A fight broke out among members of the audience at the competition who were offended by the young composer’s addition of two bandoneóns to the traditional symphony orchestra. Piazzolla nonetheless won a French government grant to study in Paris. In his memoir he colorfully describes his first encounter with his teacher, the legendary Nadia Boulanger:
“When I met her I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: ‘It’s very well written.’ And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said ‘Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but I can’t find Piazzolla.’ She kept asking, ‘You say that you are not a pianist. What instrument do you play, then?’ Finally I confessed that I was a bandonéon player, and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly took my hand and told me: ‘You idiot, that’s Piazzolla.’ And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.”
But his dedicated, classics-based studies with Boulanger, notably in counterpoint, were destined to be most fruitful. Piazzolla is among the astonishing number of young composers of various nationalities to be enabled by the great pedagogue to fulfill their own highly individual promise. (Boulanger’s hundreds of students, over seven decades of teaching, include Burt Bacharach, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Jean Français, Philip Glass, Roy Harris, Michel Legrand, and Walter Piston.) Piazzolla never lost his interest in the tango and other native Argentinian music, and in 1986 he composed his L’Histoire du Tango, one of his most famous and popular works.