Behind the Scenes: Opening Night: Bright Program Notes + Guest Artist

LexPhil launches the 2017/18 Season with Michael Torke’s dazzling Bright Blue Music and an array of lively works from the orchestral canon! Featuring Avery Fisher Career Grant Winner and pianist, Joyce Yang, making her return to LexPhil in Grieg’s tour-de-force Piano Concerto with regional choirs filling the Singletary Center in Ravel’s lush Daphnis and Chloé: Suite No. 2.

Opening Night: Bright
Program Notes
By: Daniel Chetel

Tonight’s opening program of the Lexington Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season paints a vibrant canvas of musical sounds and colors: Ravel’s balletic grace, Ginastera’s angular rhythms, American composer Michael Torke’s kinetic pulsations, and Grieg’s lively Piano Concerto in A minor with esteemed soloist Joyce Yang.

Michael Torke’s (1961-) invigorating style of music can perhaps be best encapsulated by the name of his own label, Ecstatic Records, on which he has released many of his own works. In a world that often debates the “seriousness” of art in order to assign value, Torke’s musical vision seems to transcend that question and reach directly into what excites us. Written when Torke was twenty-five, Bright Blue Music (1985) was commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony and premiered in Carnegie Hall under the baton of David Alan Miller. Torke writes about the piece: “Inspired by [Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig] Wittgenstein’s idea that meaning is not in words themselves, but in the grammar of the words used, I conceived of a parallel in musical terms: harmonies in themselves do not contain meaning; rather, musical meaning results only from the way harmonies are used. Harmonic language is then, in a sense, inconsequential. If the choice of harmony is arbitrary, why not use the simplest, most direct, and (for me) most pleasurable: I and V chords; tonic and dominant. Once this decision was made and put in the back of my mind, an unexpected freedom of expression followed. With the simplest means, my musical emotions and impulses were free to guide me. Working was exuberant: I would leave my outdoor studio and the trees and bushes seemed to dance, and the sky seemed a bright blue.”

We move next to another work of youth, Edvard Grieg’s (1843-1907) Piano Concerto in A minor (1868) which features outbursts of energy and brooding introspection in equal measure. Grieg was also twenty-five when he wrote this work on a vacation in the Danish countryside. His enjoyment of nature and longing for home can be heard in the pastoral sounds and sighing melodic gestures throughout. The opening movement begins with a bang and flourish from the piano before settling into a more sentimental mood. Punctuated by short fanfares in the brass and explosions of nervous energy in the strings and winds, the somberness of the A minor key permeates the entirety of the movement. After the grand scale of the orchestral sound in the first movement, Grieg creates a much more intimate sound world in his Adagio, beginning with pianissimo strings alone to introduce the relatively simple melodic material. The final movement is announced with a miniature (or perhaps distant) fanfare played very softly by the clarinets and bassoons and then taken over by the rushing energy of the piano, which is ready to burst out after the reserved second movement. The energy of the music surges and recedes, again and again, before finally breaking into a majestic maestoso for both soloist and orchestra that brings the piece to a close.

Born in 1916 in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) became one of the most prominent figures in twentieth-century Latin American classical music. Ginastera’s musical work, as well as pressures from the political situation in Argentina, brought him to the United States, where he worked with American composer Aaron Copland (1910-1990). The ballet Estancia (1941) depicts a day in the life of the Argentine cowboys running a bustling cattle ranch, and the orchestral Four Dances present some of the most vibrant scenes of this colorful story. Los trabajadores agrícolas depicts the spirited workers of the land in a driving and rhythmic dance. The more subdued Danza del trigo provides a more sentimental contrast to the energy of the opening movement with beautiful solos in the winds and violin. Los peones de hacienda returns immediately to the rhythmic intensity of the opening with dancing brass, leaping strings, and the insistent timpani. Finally, the Malambo—a competitive dance in which gauchos showed off their dancing prowess—jumps into action with the spirited piccolos. The Malambo is almost athletic as each instrument group seeks to outdo the others in this celebratory final movement of the suite.

Tonight’s program closes with one of French composer Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) grandest musical canvases, the second suite from his ballet score to Daphnis and Chloé (1912). Known as a master orchestrator, Ravel—following orchestral revolutionaries like Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918)—expanded the musical palette of the symphony orchestra and set the stage for a modernist upheaval to come. Originally conceived as a ballet score in collaboration with such luminaries as Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) and Michel Fokine (1880-1942), Ravel’s orchestral suites are now staples in the concert repertory and show off the diversity of musical colors available to this early twentieth-century innovator. The shimmering light of the strings and bubbling, rushing water of the woodwinds is joined by a wordless choir that only adds to the splendor of the musical scenery of these final movements from the original ballet. Ravel’s glistening musical sunrise is a fitting end to an evening of radiant music throughout.

Joyce Yang, piano

Pianist Joyce Yang came to international attention in 2005 when she won the silver medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The youngest contestant at 19 years old, she also took home the awards for Best Performance of Chamber Music and of a New Work. A Steinway artist, in 2010 she received an Avery Fisher Career Grant.

Yang has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and BBC Philharmonic, among many others, working with such distinguished conductors as James Conlon, Edo de Waart, Manfred Honeck, Lorin Maazel, Leonard Slatkin, and Jaap van Zweden. She has appeared in recital at New York’s Lincoln Center and Metropolitan Museum, Washington’s Kennedy Center, Chicago’s Symphony Hall, and Zurich’s Tonhalle.

Highlights of Yang’s 2016/17 season include her debuts with the Minnesota Orchestra and San Diego Symphony, a return to the Pacific Symphony and  recitals in Anchorage, Beverly Hills, Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, Seattle, and at Spivey Hall in Georgia, as well as concerts with her frequent duo partner, violinist Augustin Hadelich, in Dallas, New York City, Saint Paul, and San Francisco. She also performs at Chamber Music International in Dallas with the Alexander String Quartet, with whom she has recorded the Brahms and Schumann Piano Quintets. Fall marks the release of her first collaboration with Hadelich for Avie Records, and the world premiere recording of Michael Torke’s Piano Concerto, created expressly for her and commissioned by the Albany Symphony. Additional appearances showcasing her vast repertoire include performances as orchestral soloist in Arizona, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas. In Summer 2016 she appeared at the festivals of Aspen, Brevard, Lake Tahoe, Steamboat Springs and Sun Valley.

Born in Seoul, Korea, in 1986, Yang received her first piano lesson from her aunt at age four. In 1997 she moved to the United States to study in the pre-college division of the Juilliard School. After winning the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Greenfield Student Competition, she performed Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with that orchestra at just twelve years old. Yang appears in the film In the Heart of Music, a documentary about the 2005 Cliburn Competition.

Learn more about Joyce at her website