The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of the most prestigious music institutions in the country. At the most, the student body consists of two hundred pupils, enough to fill an orchestra, all with merit scholarships.
It was at this well-respected establishment in the late 1930s, a decade after the institution opened, where composition student Samuel Barber and violinist Iso Briselli collaborated to create what would become Barber’s Violin Concerto. The Fairfax Symphony looks forward to performing this work again on January 23, 2010, on the 29th anniversary of Barber’s death, with world-renowned violinist Augustin Hadelich.
Both Barber and Briselli exhibited musical talents from a young age, although their backgrounds were vastly different. Barber was a Pennsylvania native from West Chester and Briselli immigrated was a Russian immigrant. A fellow Curtis student, Gama Gilbert, recognized the incredible talents of Barber and Briselli, and convinced them to work together to create a concerto for violin and orchestra.
The two friends decided it would be an interesting and challenging task. Samuel Fels, a businessman and philanthropist, commissioned the work, offering Barber $1000.
Barber would compose the piece one movement at a time, and Briselli would realize it on violin, influencing the composition with his performance style. Barber finished the first two movements for Briselli, but trouble began to arise once he presented the third movement. Sources dispute the exact problem revolving around this movement. Was the piece lacking in Briselli’s standards or did he find the piece to be too challenging?
Either way, Briselli was unsatisfied with Barber’s work. Fels and Briselli both tried to persuade Barber to alter the third movement to make it more “playable,” but by that time, Barber was tired of their complaints. He was pleased with his arrangements, and he was also busy with other commissions. Barber left the Violin Concerto as it was, even when Fels threatened to take back his $1000 payment.
Barber neither let this dispute discourage him nor let it dissuade him from finding a way to present his composition to the world. He held onto his work, and that same year, in 1939, he found a violinist competent and able to play the concerto. Herbert Baumel helped Barber bring life to the work. He premiered and performed the piece during multiple live performances that year.
For more information on the Fairfax Symphony’s performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto and to purchase tickets, click here.
George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel both had the opportunity to explore and experience each other’s home countries in the early twentieth century. By doing so, these composers expanded and altered their musical knowledge, which became greatly influenced by the exchange in cultures. Ravel toured America and became fascinated by jazz and improvisational styles, leaving the country with a fresh outlook on his musical gatherings. Although Gershwin felt homesick in Paris, the impact of his stay was felt profoundly through his compositions.
The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra will feature Chinese pianist Chu-Fang Huang, performing works by both composers in its performance on Saturday, November 21st, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts at 8:00 p.m.
In 1920, E. Robert Schmitz, a Franco-American pianist, founded the Pro-Musica Society to support North American appearances of rising European composers and performers. Schmitz kept trying to convince Ravel to take on an American tour, funded by Pro-Musica. It took some time, and a $10,000 grant, but in 1928, Ravel kicked off his first American premiere. His tour started and ended in New York, and lasted for four months, covering cities across the United States and even venturing into Canada. He spent quite a great deal of time in New York, either performing or visiting the city, and traveled mostly by train to various towns.
His tour was a very memorable one. In between stops, Ravel visited towns like Omaha, and absorbed the jazz scenes. One time in Chicago, Ravel’s performance started late, but this was only because he could not find his shoes. Some nights he produced stellar performances, only to lack energy in a performance the next day. As a French man, Ravel laughed at the idea of the prohibition, and was happy enough that there were no laws against smoking cigarettes. What Ravel saw developing in the American music scene was jazz. Jazz music excited him, and he thought it would be best for Americans to continue to pursue this style of music.
During Ravel’s travels, he met Gershwin while in New York, where the two exchanged dialogue. Gershwin played for Ravel and apparently overwhelmed Ravel with his style and ability. Interestingly enough, when Gershwin visited Paris and asked to study from Ravel, Ravel turned him away. Ravel’s experience in the United States obviously impacted his appreciation for Gershwin’s style and musicality, and he felt he had nothing more to teach him.
Gershwin left France with one impactful thing, his legendary composition, An American in Paris. As he created this piece, he fed off of the energy of the Parisian streets, struck by sensory overload. Gershwin used this method of responding to his environmental surroundings while creating Rhapsody in Blue. He traveled by train as well and heard music through noise, whether it was in the rhythm of the train’s movement or the atmosphere of a city. Through these experiences, and with his musical knowledge, Gershwin produced Rhapsody in Blue, a classic, well-loved jazz piece.
Join the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra and Chu-Fang Huang at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts this Saturday at 8:00 p.m. to hear the works by these composers for yourself.
Information source: http://www.maurice-ravel.net
In an unusual and bold move, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra announced its 2009-2010 season in March prior to completing its search for a new music director. Today, the Orchestra announced that it now knows who that music director will be.
The Orchestra’s Search Committee reviewed the 249 applications of men and women from around the world, and narrowed the field to six finalists. After the audience and the orchestra had the opportunity to see him conduct one of the six Masterworks concert in the FSO’s 2008-2009 season, Christopher Zimmerman was chosen as the 3rd music director in the FSO’s 53-year history.
Marian Egge, Search Committee Chair, described the two-year process that led to the selection of Zimmerman. “First, the committee was looking for Artistic Leadership to take the FSO to the next musical level. Beyond that, we evaluated the ability of the person to take a creative approach to building deep and broad relationships within the community. We wanted someone who could help the FSO….and be a rich source of creative energy and inspiration. Finally, we were looking for a person to be an integral part of our educational programs and committed to their continuous development. The committee felt that Chris not only has all of these skills, but also an enthusiasm for Fairfax County, and demonstrated a real passion for building this orchestra.”
Zimmerman emerged as the Orchestra’s choice because of his extensive knowledge of musical repertoire, enthusiasm and energy, and the overwhelmingly positive responses from the musicians and audience alike. “The selection of Chris Zimmerman ensures that the Fairfax Symphony will continue to explore and achieve artistic excellence for years to come,” said Jose “Pepe” Figueroa, president of the FSO Board of Directors.
“I am so excited about working with Chris,” said Elizabeth Murphy, Executive Director of the Fairfax Symphony. “He has a real vision for this orchestra and its place in our community, and he brings a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm to our organization. The next few years will be thrilling ones for the FSO under his leadership.”
Zimmerman reacted to the news saying he is, “honored, happy, relieved, excited and energized.”
Zimmerman will begin a three-year contract with the FSO starting in the upcoming 2009-2010 season. He will continue to be Music Director of the Hartt Symphony and professor of the Mary Primrose Fuller Chair of Orchestral Conducting at the Hartt School in Hartford, CT. This past
Ladies and Gents:
Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor I’m always hearing - the one about the demise of Classical Music. The rumor goes that the orchestra is a museum piece, a dinosaur - lumbering around, irrelevant, soon to become extinct.
Hmm….pretty resilient dinosaur, since there are more thriving orchestras in this country than there are soccer clubs in England.
The gloom merchants claim that symphonic music is no longer “relevant” to people’s lives and lifestyles. If they mean that there are numerous and diverse forms of entertainment available to people today which reflect their everyday lives more closely than a symphony concert does, sure, they are right. But that is exactly why the concert hall experience is special. This is a place to go to escape the myriad of activities, issues and concerns which consume our everyday life; a place to discover beauty and a wealth of emotional and intellectual experiences; a place to enrich our senses and inform our lives and, hopefully, to remind us of the truly important things in life. What could be more relevant than that?
At this Saturday’s concert, the Fairfax Symphony will perform three pieces of music of considerable diversity which give us three different insights into three great artists. An early-ish Haydn Symphony bursting with life, energy, exuberance, wit and some over the top drama; one of the things I love about this music is that you can feel that Haydn has somehow written into this piece his own sheer joy at being a virtuoso composer—a sort of mischievous arrogance!
Then a piece by Sylvie Bodorova, a Czech composer who lives in Prague. I am happy and honored to call her a dear friend and I have had the good fortune to present Sylvie’s music in this country several times over the years, as well as on her home turf. This piece is a one movement, violin concerto, 15 minutes of calm, serene, even spiritual music — the spinning out of an extraordinarily beautiful often wistful, melody. I think it truly reflects the character of the composer herself who, in all circumstances, manages to radiate a kind of grounded joy. Despite its overall serenity, this work does however build up to a kind of “cadenza diabolica” where the soloist can give free flight to her virtuosity—and Chee-Yun, our soloist, will certainly give you that, believe me.
Then, the mighty Shostakovich 10th. This is an epic work by a composer who perhaps more than any other—yes, even Beethoven—expressed in his music the world that he lived in. His music is both a reflection of the repressive regime of Stalin’s Soviet Russia under which he lived and worked, and a response to it. Despite, or because of, the grim horrors that he lived through and witnessed, Shostakovich’s music has a raw emotion which is agonizingly beautiful as well as, at times, vehemently brutal. He had to write this music and was in many ways a voice for his people and thus I hope you will hear the compassion that underlies this predominantly dark and powerfully emotional work.
We hear a lot about music education these days - too often about it getting cut from schools. I know Fairfax County has a public school system that endorses and supports a comprehensive music education for its children, but I also want to encourage you to lead the way from home. Our children don’t always know when we’re giving them access to something wonderful and life-enhancing - my 13 year old daughter thinks classical music is so, like, “yesterday” - but keep bringing them and, in my heart, I believe they’ll thank us later. Music education doesn’t always mean being told what to listen to, or which instruments are playing. Sometimes it just means sitting in a darkened hall and being enveloped by great sound.
In most businesses when you apply for a job you go through an interview process and find out pretty quickly whether you’ve been successful or not. For conductors it’s usually different, more protracted, a bit more like a courtship, which one hopes will end in a strong marriage. And now this week is the first time I get to meet the whole family, so as you can imagine I am excited to be here!
During the last two years I’ve tried to learn about Fairfax, both the Symphony and the area. What I see is a proud orchestra, supported by an enthusiastic community in a dynamic and fast-changing region. More importantly, I see a potentially limitless future where the reach of the Symphony is extended and the orchestra performs with ever more quality and impact.
I am sure that you are as excited by the possibilities open to your Symphony’s future as I am to have the chance to be the one helping make them happen.
See you on Saturday,
This season in which 6 highly qualified and artistically individual Music Directors have visited and conducted in our Fairfax community with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra has been in the words of audience members around me been 'Exciting! You are going to have a tough job choosing!, "Next season we are definitely going to be season subscribers - we love them all!", "They are all so talented and creative, how are you going to choose?", etc.,
As a member of the Search Committee, we have loved the audience reaction and participation both on paper and online! We have been excited to see the buzz that word of mouth has created in the community as ticket sales have increased with each performance; this despite a difficult and challenging economy!
We have spent the past 18 months or so on a global search for the perfect fit in conductor selection to lead our orchestra to a new level of excellence and a bold vision for the future!
More than 240 applicants from around the world were reviewed, and then narrowed down to the 6 finalists who have been our conductors for our past season.
Each conductor has spent a week with us : attending a Board reception, meeting with our education leaders with FCPS, meeting with locally elected officials, and of course rehearsing, meeting with our subscibers and members of the public, and culminating in what can only be described as 'exciting performances' for all involved!
Our 6 finalists include a woman, 3 of international background, and hail from communities across the nation. They are exceptional artists in their own right, are highly committed to educational programming, and have excellent public speaking and community relation skills. Each have impeccable references, and in the words of 2 experts in selecting new conductors whom we have consulted with through our search process, have been 'excellent choices'!
We are excited as we near the end of our search process with our last candidate, Chris Zimmerman who will conduct on May 2nd at George Mason University. We encourage the community to attend and join us in our search!
You can learn more about all of our candidates by visiting www.fairfaxsymphony.org.
Yes, this will be a very difficult decision in the end because each of them would be an amazing choice to lead our community symphony to the next level of excellence, and to bring our young people into an even greater understanding, passion and appreciation of symphony!
Hope to see you there!Valerie DaleMember of the FSO Search CommitteeChair of the FSO Education Committee
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