May 8, 2021 at 6:30 pm
May 9, 2021 at 3:00 pm
Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation
Edward Gero, actor
Daniel Schnyder, saxophone/composer
David Taylor, bass trombone
Joseph Horowitz, librettist/producer
PostClassical Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez
Daniel Schnyder: Duos for Saxophone and Bass Trombone
Igor Stravinsky: A Soldier’s Tale
Adapted for PCE by Joseph Horowitz (premiere)
Daniel Schnyder: Berlin Suite 1920
by Joseph Horowitz
In the wake of World War I, Igor Stravinsky was living in Switzerland, cut off from his family estate in Russia. He was receiving no royalties from his publisher in Berlin. Stage performances of his music by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe were very infrequent. His concert works were virtually dormant. With the Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz, he conceived a small, portable entertainment, requiring neither a large theater nor a large orchestra, in fact suitable for outdoor performance. They imagined a small touring company of players – as an aspiration that proved impractical. But the work itself has vigorously survived.
The pertinence of A Soldier’s Tale today is self-evident. It is a Covid entertainment: compact, flexible, rejecting Romantic symphonic upholstery in favor of a dry, caustic sonority conducive to bitter entertainments, light-hearted yet not evasive.
Kurt Weill’s Dreigroschenoper (The ThreePenny Opera), in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, was premiered in Berlin in 1928 – a decade after the first performance of A Soldier’s Tale in Lausanne. The two works have much in common. The American composer Marc Blitzstein, whose The Cradle Will Rock (1937) is itself a pendant to ThreePenny, once wrote of A Soldier’s Tale: “It is new ensemble, new theatre; it projects a music of satire revealing the anguish, skimmed-milk gaiety and spiritual poverty of postwar Europe. (Weill’s Dreigroschenoper is its descendant, but soft and sentimental by comparison).”
The present PostClassical Ensemble program marries a new version of A Soldier’s Tale with Daniel Schnyder’s Berlin Suite 1920, in which the spirit of Dreigriochenoper is omnipresent. Schnyder and the bass trombonist David Taylor, who also join us this weekend, are frequent PCE guests. Both are singular postclassical artists who straddle multiple musical worlds. We’re also joined by the distinguished stage actor Edward Gero, who has previously played Dmitri Shostakovich and Senator Joseph McCarthy for PCE productions. (For more on all three artists, please see the appended bios.)
The story told by A Soldier’s Tale is based on a Faustian Russian tale. I have crafted a new rhymed libretto, and also a bit of narration for the Schnyder work. The Stravinsky/Ramuz Soldier’s Tale lasts about an hour and uses three actors and at least one dancer (as the Princess). Our version lasts about 35 minutes and uses one actor and no dancers. These adaptations are made for a variety of reasons. However spare, A Soldier’s Tale risks seeming overlong and over-complicated. The music for the Princess is not top-drawer Stravinsky. I have also re-conceived the ending with a new moral – for our times.
Daniel Schnyder has supplied the following note for Berlin Suite 1920:
“Ernest Ansermet conducted Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale in my native Switzerland right after the first World War. The war had devastated the financial and human resources of old Europe. Stravinsky and his colleagues searched for compact formats, conducive to stylistic flexibility, to new colors and sounds. Kurt Weill did something similar with ThreePenny Opera in Berlin. Common to both Stravinsky and Weill was the influence of America – of “jazz.” A new sound was born.
“My Berlin Suite 1920 reflects on that time, following in the wake of battlefield losses, of the Spanish flu. Again, composers are seeking lean formats and new ideas. The big concert halls and opera houses are unfortunately closed – and when they re-open, it may be in a timid way, favoring standard works chosen to lure people back. Let’s hope not.
“Reflecting on a specific past moment, my suite resembles a novel, painting, or movie set in another time. For these other art forms this is totally normal. But for music the idea of depicting a past time in the now has only been practiced with remote Baroque or Classical periods. To my knowledge, this may be the first 21st century composition to look back 100 years to the early 20th century. It is a sound picture or aesthetic audiograph of a time not so remote.
Creating it was and an intriguing and fascinating process. My teachers on Zurich still knew some people that lived in that time. In fact, I was amazed how easily the music came to me. It poured out of my pen. I had the feeling they were all still here . . .
“I have used the same seven instrumentalists as Stravinsky, with the addition of a saxophone part for myself. The centerpiece of my Suite is movement five, in which I cite ethnic musical influences -- something Stravinsky and Ravel, among others, explored with huge success.
It is a process of fusion that continues to generate new musical possibilities. I dedicate this movement to my friend and great musician Bassam Saba, who died from COVID last November.”
Edward Gero, one of DC’s pre-eminent stage actors, is a four time winner of the Helen Hayes Award. For PCE, Ed has played Dmitri Shostakovich for PCE’s 2012 immersion experience “Interpreting Shostakovich,” and impersonated Senator Joseph McCarthy in a re-enactment of Aaron Copland’s grilling by McCarthy and Roy Cohn for PCE’s More than Music film Aaron Copland – American Populist (soon to be become a July 4 “holiday special” radio documentary for WAMU’s “1A” news-magazine).
Daniel Schnyder, a frequent PCE guest artist, was born in Zurich in 1961 and now lives in Harlem (Manhattan). He grew up “in a family that only listened to classical music.” He also acquired a passion for jazz. His vast catalogue of compositions includes commissions from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin (for which he was composer-in-residence), Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, and the Bern Opera. His Charlie Parker opera, Yardbird, was premiered by Opera Philadelphia. For PCE, he has composed on commission a Pipa Concerto for Min Xiao-fen.
While studying at Juilliard, David Taylor was a member of Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony, and occasionally played with the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Boulez. Shortly after, he joined the Thad Jones Jazz Band. He recorded with Duke Ellington and with the Rolling Stones. He has since been closely associated with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Gil Evans Big Band, and the Charles Mingus Big Band. Daniel Schnyder’s Bass Trombone Concerto – composed for Taylor and performed by PCE in 2010 – is today the most performed concerto for the that instrument. He is the topic of a two-hour “PostClassical” webcast featuring PCE.
Angel Gil-Ordóñez is Music Director of PostClassical Ensemble, Principal Guest Conductor of New York’s Perspectives Ensemble, and Music Director of the Georgetown University Orchestra. In León, Mexico, he serves as lead advisor for Trinitate Philharmonia, modeled on Venezuela’s El Sistema. He regularly conducts at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine and at the Jacobs School of Music (University of Indiana/Bloomington). The former Associate Conductor of Spain’s National Symphony Orchestra, he is the recipient of the Royal Order of Queen Isabella, the country’s highest civilian decoration. This is his tenth Naxos release. To learn more, visit gilordonez.com
PostClassical Ensemble Executive Producer Joseph Horowitz has long been a pioneer in classical music programming. As Executive Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, he received national attention for festivals exploring the folk roots of concert works. He subsequently directed an NEH-funded symphonic consortium, “Music Unwound,” which produced festivals in collaboration with universities. He is the award-winning author of ten books mainly dealing with the history of classical music in the United States. His forthcoming book, Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music (November, W. W. Norton) will link to a PCE festival. Both his Classical Music in America: A History (2005) and Artists in Exile (2008) were named best books of the year by The Economist. His blog is artsjournal.com/uq.
PCE concertmaster Netanel Draiblate is frequently featured as a chamber musician and soloist at PCE concerts – most recently in Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion (streamed online). He is also the concertmaster of the Annapolis Symphony. A native of Israel, he was principal second violinist of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
PCE principal trumpet Chris Gekker has long been one of America’s most prominent brass players. During his years in New York City, he was principal trumpet of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and guest principal tumpet of the New York Philharmonic. His many solo appearances with PCE include the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano and Trumpet.
Ali Cook is a professional double bassist, singer, songwriter, arranger, and teacher. Ali can be seen performing orchestral, opera, chamber, and new music in Washington DC, Baltimore, MD, and Detroit, MI. Ali has toured Russia with the National Symphony Orchestra as well as Germany, Turkey, Spain, and Austria with the Christoph Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. While earning her Masters at Indiana University she won a Tanglewood fellowship as well as the double bass concerto competition, performing Bottesini's Concerto No. 2 with the Orchestra. Ali also holds a Bachelors degree from Michigan State University and a Professional Orchestral Studies degree from Manhattan School of Music. She has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Washington Ballet, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Spoleto Festival USA, the Alabama Symphony, and at the Salzburger Festspiele.
Joseph Grimmer joined the Washington National Opera Orchestra as principal bassoon in 2015. He previously served as principal bassoon with the Jacksonville Symphony, was a member of the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, and spent the 2013-14 season as acting assistant principal bassoon with the Naples Philharmonic.
PCE principal clarinet David Jones is also principal clarinet of the National Opera Orchestra. His many solo appearances with PCE include two performances of Bernard Herrmann’s Clarinet Quintet, one of which is featured on PCE’s internationally acclaimed Bernard Herrmann CD on Naxos. He also participates in PCE’s “More than Music” film “Beyond Psycho: The Musical Genius of Bernard Herrmann.”
PCE principal percussionist Bill Richards is also a member of the National Opera Orchestra. He was a featured performer in PCE performances (and Naxos recording) of Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion and also Harrison’s Piano Concerto. He takes part as a performer and commentator in PCE’s forthcoming “More than Music” movie “Lou Harrison and Cultural Fusion.”
PostClassical Ensemble, called “one of the country’s most innovative music groups” by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post, was founded in 2003 by Angel Gil-Ordóñez and Joseph Horowitz as an experimental orchestral laboratory based in Washington, D.C. All PCE programming is thematic and cross-disciplinary, frequently incorporating art, film, dance, or theater. During the pandemic, PCE began producing “More than Music” documentary films, of which “Dvorak and the American Experience of Race” became a 45-minute radio documentary, nationally disseminated by WAMU. Its most recent Naxos CD features the world premiere recording of the classic 1944 radio drama “Whitman,” (“a revelation . . . absolutely marvelous” -- David Hurwitz in ClassicsToday), also featured in the More than Music film “Beyond Psycho: The Musical Genius of Bernard Herrmann.” Of PCE’s five previous Naxos audio releases conducted by Gil-Ordóñez, “Dvorak and America,” featuring the world premiere recording of the PCE-created Hiawatha Melodrama, was named one of the best CDs of the year by Minnesota Public Radio. ClassicsToday. Hurwitz also wrote that PCE’s Naxos recording of the Lou Harrison Violin Concerto revealed “a major masterpiece . . . utterly compelling.” According to Scherzo, Spain’s major classical-music magazine: “Each new album by PostClassical Ensemble and its director, Ángel Gil-Ordóñez, is both a surprise and a discovery, the deserved result of investigating beyond the predictable.” PCE launches its Black Classical Music festival this coming Fall.