Holiday Brass December 16th, 2018 

Who’s who

It would be hard to think of a composer other than Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) whose work is so intensely affected by life—his own, and of the turbulent world in and for which he wrote. Today, he is widely viewed as the greatest of the Soviet composers, thanks to the originality, breadth of conception, and profound personal imprint his works display. The buoyant six minutes of the Festive Overture (composed in 1954) make an irresistible curtain-raiser that sounds equal parts John Williams, Leroy Anderson, and a tongue-in-cheek parody of Wagner and Tchaikovsky.  

Johann Topf (or Topff) was a German composer of the Baroque period. Several of his compositions, including Lobet den Herrn auf Erden, der Menschenkinder (Praise the Lord on Earth, Children of Men) appear in the very specifically-named choral anthology Thüringische Motetten der ersten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts (Thuringian Motets of the First Half of the Eighteenth Century).

Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1555-1612), organist at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, composed a wealth of music for brass with call-and-response effects. Call it early stereo. In the Byzantine-influenced interior of Saint Mark’s, brass choirs stationed at different points around its vast spaces would sound out and answer each other, and as they did this the music, echoes, and resonant interior created a rich and exalting sound.

Chrysogonus Waddell (1930-2008) was a musician and theologian who lived as a Trappist Cistercian monk in Kentucky for many years. His Rosa mystica is a simple setting of the well-known Christmas text (also set by Britten as “There is no rose” in Ceremony of Carols). Tonight we hear the piece in a setting for brass ensemble by SFS Principal Horn Robert Ward.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93) is among our most durable composers, an artist who possessed an amazing well of melody and brilliant powers of orchestration. His style is subjective and emotional, often touched with melancholy. Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, which has become a holiday favorite, was first seen (and heard) in December 1892. The story is an adaptation by the elder Alexandre Dumas of a tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Nutcracker and the King of Mice. Over the years Tchaikovsky’s music for The Nutcracker has been reworked in numerous arrangements, including Duke Ellington’s delightful version for jazz orchestra, a slightly less tasteful heavy metal version by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and of course several versions for brass ensemble.

Anthony DiLorenzo is a composer and trumpet player who performs as a member of the Center City Brass Quintet. DiLorenzo’s music has been performed by the Tokyo Symphony, New World Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Utah Symphony, and the Boston Pops, and he has composed music for ABC’s college football broadcasts, ESPN, HBO, FOX, and numerous campaigns for NBC. DiLorenzo has composed more than eighty film trailers, including Toy Story, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Red Dragon, The Lost World, Final Fantasy, Fools Gold, Bee Story, and The Simpsons Movie. His ’Twas the Night Before Christmas adds a new twist to Clement Moore’s classic story.

William Byrd (1543-1623) was a devout Catholic, but he managed to hold a post at a Protestant court for half a century. In addition to composing a number of English church anthems and a few clandestine Latin Masses, Byrd also wrote a host of keyboard works utilizing the dance forms of the day. The march heard in these concerts was originally published in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and also appeared in a larger collection of Byrd keyboard pieces known as My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music.

Friend to Grieg and Delius, folk-song collector, piano showman, and restless experimenter, Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was one of the twentieth century’s more colorful musical figures. Born in Australia, he trained at the conservatory in Frankfurt and later spent time in London and New York. A galvanizing performer, he appeared as piano soloist with the San Francisco Symphony in 1916, 1924, 1931, and 1947. Today, Grainger is most known today for his many settings of folk songs from Australia, the British Isles, Denmark, and the United States. His music is characterized by rich harmony, a prevailing lyricism (alternating with episodes of impish irreverence), and unexpected orchestral colors.  

Our program closes with several traditional carols in arrangements for brass ensemble. Austrian carol “Es wird scho glei dumpa” (It will soon be dark) is performed in an arrangement by SFS horn player Jonathan Ring. The carol tradition of France is represented in two short works, “Il est ne, le divin enfant” (He is born, the Heavenly Child) and the ancient “Veni, Veni Emmanuel.”

—From notes by James M. Keller, Michael Steinberg, and Steven Ziegler