For the first time in 30 years, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is embarking on an international tour. In collaboration with Maestro Krzysztof Penderecki and Madame Elzbieta Penderecka, the BPO will perform as part of Warsaw’s prestigious Beethoven Easter Festival. JoAnn Falletta will make history as the first American woman to conduct an orchestra at the 20-year-old festival and the Buffalo Philharmonic will become the first full American orchestra to perform there.
Samuel Barber composed his one-movement First Symphony in Rome during the winter of 1935 and it was premiered December 13, 1936, under Bernardino Molinari. The following year, Artur Rodzinski conducted the Cleveland Orchestra for its American premiere in January 1937 and performed it again that summer making it the first American piece heard at the Salzburg Festival. Barber revised the work in 1942 and Bruno Walter and the Philadelphia Orchestra performed the revised version in February 1944.
The composer wrote of the First Symphony, “The form of my Symphony in One Movement is a synthetic treatment of the four-movement classical symphony. It is based on three themes of the initial Allegro non troppo, which retain throughout the work their fundamental character. The Allegro opens with the usual exposition of a main theme, a more lyrical second theme, and a closing theme. After a brief development of the three themes, instead of the customary recapitulation, the first theme, in diminution, forms the basis of the scherzo section (Vivace). The second theme (oboe over muted strings) then appears in augmentation, in an extended Andante tranquillo. An intense crescendo introduces the finale, which is a short passacaglia based on the first theme (introduced by the violoncelli and contrabassi), over which, together with figures from other themes, the closing theme is woven, thus serving as a recapitulation for the entire symphony.”
George Gershwin composed the Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra between July 22 and November 10, 1925. The composer performed the solo at the premiere on December 3rd the same year, in New York City. The piece was commissioned by the conductor Walter Damrosch. Gershwin’s biographer, Isaac Goldberg, claimed that after accepting the commission, Gershwin went to buy a book on musical form, to see how a concerto was constructed. Whether there is truth to the tale or not, the story does point to the fact that Gershwin was embarking on an unfamiliar compositional challenge. Ferde Grofé had orchestrated Rhapsody in Blue, and the composer was apprehensive about orchestrating the piece himself. While he intended to use Charleston rhythms and a blues trumpet, Gershwin also wanted to create a piece of serious music, one he said, would represent “the young, enthusiastic spirit of American life.”
Gershwin's notoriety stems from the natural way he diminished the polarity between commercial and classical music. The composer’s most significant compositions are written using traditional European forms. An American in Paris is a tone poem for orchestra and Porgy and Bess is an opera. The most classical of Gershwin's works, however, is the Concerto. He constructed the piece in the form established by Mozart and Beethoven with the first movement in sonata form, a lyrical second movement and a finale in rondo. The Concerto in F is truly a high point in the merger of European approaches with the freedom, rhythm, and swagger of jazz.
Krzysztof Penderecki was born on November 23, 1933, in Dębica. He comes from a multi-cultural family with Armenian, German, and Polish roots. He started his musical training with piano lessons but was more interested in his father’s violin. As a student, he went to Kraków to study composition. Penderecki studied composition first with Franciszek Skołyszewski and then with Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz at the Academy of Music in Kraków. In 1958, he began lecturing in composition, and in 1972, he became a professor. He also gave lectures as an assistant professor in Essen at the Folkwang-Hochschule and at Yale University. From 1987 to 1990 he was the artistic director of the Kraków Philharmonic, and since 1993 he has been the artistic director of Festival Casals in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Starting in 1997 he became the music director of Sinfonia Varsovia, and in 1998 he began advising the Beijing Music Festival. Since 2003 he has served as the Artistic Director of the Sinfonia Varsovia. He regularly works with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Sinfonia Iuventus, the Beethoven Academy Orchestra, Sinfonietta Cracovia, and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.
His most successful works include Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960), St. Luke Passion (1966), Cello Concerto No.2 (1983) written for Mstislav Rostropovich, Polish Requiem (1984), Symphony No.3 (1995), Violin Concerto No.2 written for Anne-Sophie Mutter (1995), Symphony No.7 The Seven Gates of Jerusalem (1997) and the Double Concerto (2012). Also a prominent film composer, Penderecki wrote music for one full-length feature film The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Wojciech Jerzy Has, and his work can also be found in Kubrick’s The Shining, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, The Mask by the Quay brothers and Shutter Island by Martin Scorsese.
Leonard Bernstein composed the musical West Side Story from autumn 1955 through summer 1957, its first performance was a pre-Broadway try-out that took place on August 19, 1957, at the National Theater in Washington DC. It opened on Broadway on September 26, 1957, at the Winter Garden Theater, with Max Goberman conducting. The Symphonic Dances were extracted from the score in 1960, the Lyrics are written by Stephen Sondheim with orchestrations by Sid Ramin and Irving Kostal, in consultation with Bernstein. The concert suite version was performed for the first time on February 13, 1961, by the New York Philharmonic.
As early as 1949, Leonard Bernstein and his friends, choreographer Jerome Robbins and librettist Arthur Laurents had played with the idea of creating a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Originally, the story was focused on a doomed love affair between a Jew and a Catholic falling in love during Easter and Passover. Bernstein realized the show’s broader implications, as well as its enormous challenges, as soon as Robbins contacted him, he wrote in his diary, “Jerry R. called today with a noble idea, a modern version of Romeo and Juliet set in slums at the coincidence of Easter-Passover celebrations… But it’s all much less important than the bigger idea of making a musical that tells a tragic story in musical-comedy terms, using only musical comedy techniques, never falling into the “operatic” trap. Can it succeed? It hasn’t yet in our country. I’m excited. If it can work, it’s the first.” In 1955, when the idea was revisited, Laurents recalled, “We realized the religious issue had become extraneous. Juvenile delinquency had become the problem.” Later, the subject was switched to ethnic gang warfare in New York City. At that time working title had become East Side Story, but when it was discovered that the tenements on that side of Manhattan had all been razed, the setting was switched to the gang-dominated communities of the Upper West Side.
When it opened on Broadway in 1957 as West Side Story, the shape of American musical theatre was changed forever. Though, the show was largely snubbed at the Tony Awards in favour of the more accessible, The Music Man, nearly everyone agreed that a breath of fresh air had blown through Broadway. West Side Story ran for two years tallying 722 performances, it toured nationally for another year, and then returned to New York City for an additional 253 performances. Bernstein’s music immediately became awesomely popular throughout the country. In 1961, shortly after they had completed the scoring for the film version, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal prepared the concert suite version, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The principal sections are a prologue, portraying the gang rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks; “Somewhere,” a unification in friendship; a scherzo illustrating a world of open space, fresh air, and sun; a aggressive mambo; a cha-cha treatment of “Maria”; the lovers’ first meeting; a fugue on “Cool”; the climactic gang clash; and the tragic finale, based on “I Have a Love.”
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator