DECEMBER 3 & 4
ADAMS, ATOMS AND PLANETS SATURDAY December 3, 2016 – 8:00pm SUNDAY December 4, 2016 – 2:00pm JACOBS MASTERWORKS CONCERT
conductor Peter Oundjian Women of the San Diego Master Chorale (See page 14 for roster and page 32 for bio)
All performances at the Jacobs Music Center's Copley Symphony Hall.
PROGRAM JOHN ADAMS
Doctor Atomic Symphony The Laboratory Panic Trinity
INTERMISSION GUSTAV HOLST
The Planets Mars, the Bringer of War Venus, the Bringer of Peace Mercury, the Winged Messenger Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age Uranus, the Magician Neptune, the Mystic Women of the San Diego Master Chorale
This performance of Holst’s The Planets is dedicated to Alex C. McDonald.
The approximate running time for this concert, including intermission, is one hour and forty-five minutes.
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ABOUT THE CONDUCTOR
ADAMS, ATOMS AND PLANETS - DECEMBER 3 & 4 his performances are renowned for their broad range of artistic expression and deep commitment to the composer's intent. Currently the Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a post he's held since 2004, Mr. Oundjian has worked to establish the organization as both a world-class North American ensemble and a pillar in the community arts forum. He has focused on attracting a young and diverse audience, performing and commissioning new music, and releasing multiple recordings, both on Chandos Records and on the orchestra's self-produced label, TSO Live, the creation of which he spearheaded in 2008. In the summer of 2014 Mr. Oundjian took the orchestra on a European tour that included a sold-out performance at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and the first performance of a North American orchestra at Reykjavik's Harpa Hall.
PETER OUNDJIAN, CONDUCTOR
ETER OUNDJIAN is widely recognized as one of the most respected musicians on the world stage. A conductor of consummate artistry,
In 2012 Mr. Oundjian was appointed Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He has since led the ensemble in critically acclaimed performances both at home and abroad in China, Europe, the BBC Proms and Edinburgh Festival. In the 2016-17 season Mr. Oundjian makes his debut with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony
and Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, with return engagements including the Atlanta, San Diego, Colorado, and Nashville symphonies. Previous posts have included the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where he was Principal Guest Conductor from 2006 to 2010, and the Caramoor International Music Festival in New York, where he served as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor from 1997 to 2007. Since 1981 Mr. Oundjian has served as a visiting professor at the Yale School of Music, and was awarded the university’s Sanford Medal for distinguished service to music in 2013. Peter Oundjian began his artistic career as first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet, playing a vast range of repertoire on the most prestigious international stages, including complete Beethoven cycles in Paris, Vienna, Milan, Brussels, Chicago, and New York's Carnegie Hall. With strong support from André Previn, he began conducting professionally, and has since formed lasting relationships with many of the world’s most esteemed orchestras. n
A Few Thoughts on Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony
As that well-ordered society broke down in the late 19th and especially the 20th century, however, the symphony as a musical form became irrelevant, and the term “symphony” now encompasses almost any substantial work written for orchestra.
No wonder we’re nervous. In September, The New York Times ran a story headlined, “North Korea Tests a Mightier Nuclear Bomb, Raising Tension.” Then there’s the possibility of Iran creating a nuclear weapon, not to mention our issues with China and Russia.
Of course to say Adams “symphony” is not metaphoric, but real, is a bit absurd. As Magritte reminds us in a painting of a pipe, “This is not a pipe,” and a symphony is not a nuclear explosion. Still, Dr. Atomic might feel like one, or at least sound like the buildup to something equally consequential.
by James Chute
The timing couldn’t be better for a performance of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony. Adams’ explosive, 22-minute, 2007 work uses materials from his 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic, which primarily deals with the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer in the days before the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Adams collaborator, the director and librettist Peter Sellars, calls the opera the Gotterdammerung for our generation (referring to the final opera of Wagner’s monumental “Ring” cycle), “with our speed, with our tension points, with our nervous energy, but with nothing being a metaphor and everything being a reality.” That may be the key to understanding Doctor Atomic, whether the opera or the symphony. Even a Beethoven symphony (such as this month’s Beethoven Symphony No. 9) is a metaphor, in which chaos is ultimately resolved in an orderly fashion by a group of individuals pursuing a common goal.
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It is a sweeping generalization, but you might say much Twentieth and Twenty-first century music is less metaphoric and more realistic (than earlier music), which might explain our reluctance to come to terms with it. Don’t we go to the concert hall to escape reality, not to confront it? There are lots of reasons to go to the concert hall, and one is the excitement, affirmation and even delight of encountering ourselves and our world there. In Adams’ remarkably evocative music, there’s the possibility of discovering something about both. n As a critic, writer and editor, James Chute has covered the arts for nearly four decades. A Pulitzer Prize nominee, he served as music critic for The Cincinnati Post, The Milwaukee Journal and The Orange County Register before joining The San Diego Union in 1990, later evolving to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
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ABOUT THE MUSIC
ADAMS, ATOMS AND PLANETS - DECEMBER 3 & 4 Doctor Atomic Symphony J O HN ADA MS Born February 15, 1947, Worcester, MA John Adams’ three operas have been based on historical events pinpointed precisely in time. Richard Nixon’s February 1972 meeting with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai in Beijing became the context of Nixon in China. The hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists in October 1985 was the basis for The Death of Klinghoffer. And the events leading up to the detonation of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico in July 1945 furnished the dramatic situation of Doctor Atomic. Yet Adams and his librettists were not so interested in the events themselves as in how the characters caught up in them responded. Adams’ operas become psychological studies of the characters participating in these events and grappling with themselves in the midst of crucial situations. Adams composed Doctor Atomic between 2003 and 2005, and it was premiered by the San Francisco Opera on October 1, 2005. Peter Sellars’ libretto uses the run-up to the first test of the atomic bomb as a way of studying the impact of that event on those racing to create that weapon. The opera focuses on the moral dilemmas faced by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, and there are also important roles for his wife Kitty, fellow atomic scientist Edward Teller and Leslie Groves, the army general charged with overseeing the production of the first atomic bomb. The opera proved a great success: it has been performed in Amsterdam, Chicago, at The Met in New York and in London; it has been recorded several times and released as a video. Like many composers of operas, Adams felt that some of the music from Doctor Atomic was too good to leave buried beneath the sets and action of the opera stage, and so he “took some of my favorite music from the opera and made this compact and high-energy symphony.” The symphony was originally in four movements, but Adams reduced these to three; the Doctor Atomic Symphony, as he titled it, was first performed by the Saint Louis Symphony under David Robertson on March 16, 2007. Its three interconnected movements – The Laboratory, Panic and Trinity – are drawn from both instrumental
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and vocal music in the opera, and they are not in correct chronological order: Adams felt free to arrange the operatic excerpts for maximum impact in the concert hall. The brief opening The Laboratory is derived from the opera’s overture. Pounding timpani strokes (which have reminded many of the opening of Brahms’ First Symphony) introduce music that Adams said was in some way inspired by the soundtracks to science fiction films he saw as a boy in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War nuclear terror; this opening tension eases into the tentative calm of quiet wind chords. Panic bursts to life on a blast of unrelenting energy. In the opera this is the music that accompanies the electrical storm that unnerved scientists just prior to the detonation of the first bomb. General Groves’ hectoring aria, driving the scientists to get the job done, is here undertaken by a solo trombone. The final section, Trinity, takes its name from Oppenheimer’s own name for the first blast site. Stuttering brass attacks lead the way here, and these give way to a long passage for solo trumpet, which sings Oppenheimer’s great aria “Batter my heart, three-personed God” from the end of Act I. The text, one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, was one of Oppenheimer’s favorite poems; in it the poet, agonized by his separation from God, admits his many failings and pleads to be readmitted to a state of grace. (One understands why such a poem might speak with particular force to someone engaged in creating the atomic bomb.) The aria complete, the stuttering brass chords from the beginning of the movement return to drive the Doctor Atomic Symphony to its emphatic concluding chord. Though the Donne sonnet is “sung” here by the solo trumpet, listeners may wish to know the text of that poem (and perhaps to better understand why it appealed to Oppenheimer): Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end. Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betrothed unto your enemy: Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. n The Planets, Op. 32 G U STAV H O LST Born September 21, 1874, Cheltenham Died May 25, 1934, London Mystic, visionary, and socialist, Gustav Holst was also fascinated by astrology, and that passion helped shape The Planets. Holst composed this seven-movement suite for large orchestra during the years 1914-16, when he was teaching at St. Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith, a borough of London. The name The Planets can be misleading, and Holst’s intentions in this work need to be understood carefully. Each movement has the name of one of the seven known (at the time) other planets: Holst eliminated Earth, and Pluto was not discovered until 1930, twelve years after the first performance (though its recent downgrade in status makes Holst’s original vision correct). It is important to note, however, that Holst was not interested in depicting the planets themselves. Listeners should not expect an aural depiction of the frosty, windswept deserts of Mars or of the sun-baked surface of Mercury. This is emphatically not a Grand Canyon Suite or La mer of outer space. Instead, Holst was interested in the names of the planets and the associations that went with them. But rather than being drawn to the mythological meanings of those names, Holst turned to their astrological associations. Only in certain cases do the mythological and astrological meanings agree (Mars and Mercury), and in some other cases they differ sharply. Jupiter, for example, was the king of the Roman gods, but he becomes for Holst simply “The
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ABOUT THE MUSIC
ADAMS, ATOMS AND PLANETS – DECEMBER 3 & 4 Bringer of Jollity”; Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, becomes “The Mystic.” The physical planets themselves supply only the loosest sort of unity to this massive work; Holst’s daughter Imogen noted that once her father began to compose a work, “he let the music have its way with him.”
massive chords that bring the movement to its grinding close. Many early listeners believed that this movement depicted World War I, but Holst noted that he began Mars during the early summer of 1914 and had it complete before the guns began to sound that August.
When he began composing The Planets, Holst was convinced that he would never be able to arrange a performance, so rather than feeling constrained by the limits of a normal symphony orchestra, he added many unusual instruments, writing for an ideal orchestra rather than for the one he thought he might have. The Planets calls for an orchestra of four flutes, two piccolos, bass flute in G, three oboes, English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, six horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tenor tuba, bass tuba, two harps, celeste, organ, six timpani, a massive percussion battery (triangle, side drum, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, gong, bells, glockenspiel and xylophone) plus the usual strings. And then, much to the composer’s pleasure and surprise, Balfour Gardiner, a wealthy patron of the arts, learned of this score and arranged a private run-through with a professional orchestra. On September 29, 1918, Holst heard this music come to life for the first time.
Venus, the Bringer of Peace – pure, cool and precise – brings complete contrast, a draught of clear water after the fire and smoke of the opening movement; silvery violin solos contribute to this movement’s mood of calm.
Mars, the Bringer of War An insistent 5/4 meter, tapped out by the wood of the bows, opens Mars and continues throughout, either clicking lightly in the background or hammering full-blast into the listener’s consciousness. Trumpet calls announce the arrival of the god of war, and his violence saturates this entire movement, rising to the
Mercury, the Winged Messenger Though Mercury is placed third in the suite, it was the last movement to be composed and is – musically – the most complex. Mercury is a scherzo, and its complexities arise from the fact that Holst mixes meters and tonalities daringly. In this movement, for example, the first and second violin sections play in different keys. While complex, the movement is also a lot of fun, with its portrait of the messenger whirling and swirling on his rapid way. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity Though his subject is nominally the king of the gods, Holst is a good deal more earthbound in his intentions here, describing his Jupiter as “one of those jolly fat people who enjoy life.” The movement is in rondo form, and right at the center comes a stately melody that has become a virtual symbol of English pomp and ceremony. (Holst later used this tune to set the text “I Vow to Thee, My Country.”) A charming story: at the first run-through of The Planets, the cleaning-women in the hall were so struck by this theme that they set
aside their mops and buckets and began to dance. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age This movement, Holst’s own favorite, opens with eerie, empty chords and soon leads to madly-tolling bells that signal the passage of time, but a noble chorale for trombones (Holst’s own instrument) establishes a mood of acceptance and serenity. Uranus, the Magician One of the most brilliant sections of the suite, Uranus has been compared to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, though Holst did not know Dukas’ music when he wrote The Planets. Here is a portrait of a magician going through all his tricks. The movement opens with a four-note motto that will recur in many forms. Near the end, the magician vanishes in a puff of smoke, the four-note motto thunders out, and the music ends in silent mystery. Neptune, the Mystic Like Mars, Neptune is in 5/4, but spiritually it is far removed from the violence of the opening movement. Holst takes an artistic risk here, choosing to end quietly after all the brilliance that has preceded this last movement. Mysterious and icy swirls of sound hover at the edge of this solar system, and the orchestra remains at a pianissimo dynamic throughout. At the end, a six-part women’s chorus sings a wordless text offstage, repeating the final measure until, in Holst’s words, “the sound is lost in the distance” and the audience is left at the silent edge of infinite space. -Program notes by Eric Bromberger
by Dr. Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist The Doctor Atomic Symphony, from music the American composer John Adams composed for his opera about Oppenheimer and the initial testing of the atomic bomb, is being given its first appearance at these concerts. The popular suite by Gustav Holst, The Planets, was given in pieces the first few times any of it was programmed here, initially via only three movements when Earl Bernard Murray conducted Mars, Venus and Jupiter during the 1964-65 season. That kind of presentation went on for a number of seasons under Peter Eros, David Atherton and Charles Ketcham. Atherton finally did the whole thing during the 1981-82 season, and Yoav Talmi followed through in 1993-94. Jahja Ling also led the entire suite, with the added ladies of the San Diego Master Chorale, during the 2008-09 season.
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