Veterans Day Concert
November 11, 2018
November 11, 2018
November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary centennial of the end of World War I. In remembrance of this historical event, and since November 11, 2018 happened to fall on a Sunday, the Symphony decided to program a Veterans Day Concert this year. The artistic committee spent considerable time and effort on the program, deciding in the end on three pieces, one each by an American composer, a French composer, and a British composer.
The concert will start with a short piece by Morton Gould entitled American Salute, its theme based on the Civil War era song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. Interestingly, the premiere of this piece was on NBC radio on November 11, 1942, at the height of World War II.
The following two pieces on the program pay respects to the veterans of the first world war.
The next piece features our piano soloist Winston Choi, head of piano at the College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University, who gave us a superb rendition of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto two years ago.
The story of the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand by French composer Maurice Ravel is a fascinating one. It was written for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, a scion of one of Vienna's most remarkable families —Brahms was only one of the famous guests at the Wittgensteins’ celebrated gatherings.
When World War I broke out, Paul enlisted in the Austrian army. A few months later, he was shot and severely wounded, and his right arm was amputated. Being a member of a distinguished family of overachievers and survivors, and raised by a father of forceful determination, Wittgenstein did not give up his career as a pianist. (That same oppressive upbringing, however, may have led the two oldest sons to commit suicide.) Instead, he took family money and commissioned more than a dozen works for piano left-hand from some of the world's leading composers.
This concerto by Maurice Ravel was not the first, but it is generally regarded as the best. Written in 1929-1930, it contains many jazz effects that Ravel had picked up on his 1928 trip to the United States, during which he met bandleader Paul Whiteman and spent several nights visiting jazz clubs in Harlem with George Gershwin. (He also conducted the Chicago Symphony and continually complained about American food!).
It is clear from this work that Ravel had learned all about blue notes! A personal note..I first heard this piece when I was 14 years old. My parents had just bought a stereo system, and my mother brought home a record of this concerto from the library. I think she chose it because the pianist was John Browning, and she thought he was very handsome! I listened to the record so many times that I wore out the grooves. The piece remains a personal favorite.
The biggest work on the program is the Pastoral Symphony by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was during the composer’s service in World War I that he heard a bugler practicing, giving him the first idea for his Pastoral Symphony. He began work on the symphony just after the war ended, and it was completed in 1921 and first performed at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert at Queen’s Hall, London, on January 26, 1922.
The composer referred to this symphony in his first program notes as “almost entirely quiet and contemplative,” yet it is not without moments of underlying passion. The symphony is in four movements, with the second movement containing two cadenzas, the first for a natural trumpet (sounding a lot like a bugle) and the second for a natural horn. The final movement is unusual, beginning with a wordless soprano lament over a timpani roll. After the orchestra swells to an impassioned climax, the symphony will end with the same elegiac soprano melody disappearing into silence. In overall mood the Pastoral Symphony is quite different from most symphonies, but at the same time it is a quite moving testament to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.