Saturday, February 15, 2020 • 7:30 p.m.
Shorecrest Performing Arts Center (15343 25th Ave NE, Shoreline)
Quinn Mason and William White, conductors
Benjamin Lulich, clarinet
Quinn Mason (*1996)
A Joyous Trilogy [world premiere]
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791)
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
— intermission —
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
Le sacre du printemps
About the Concert
A world premiere by young composer-conductor Quinn Mason, a performance of Mozart’s exquisite clarinet concerto by Seattle Symphony principal clarinetist Ben Lulich, and Igor Stravinsky’s epochal The Rite of Spring make this a concert for the ages.
One thing that unites us as lovers of classical music is a fascination with history. We tend to obsess with the idea of influence (perhaps even more than indie rock aficionados, who must be a close second in this regard). We are absolutely glee-ridden when we hear a shadow of Wagner in Debussy, or a nod to Haydn in Prokofiev.
Influence rarely appears to us in something as audible as a direct musical quotation; more commonly, it’s something that suffuses a composer’s gestalt, an artistic spirit that moves from artist to artist through the ages. And that’s what tonight’s concert is all about.
Quinn Mason is a young Texan who is just beginning to make his mark on the world of music. Tonight you are going to hear the premiere of a work that shows not only his individual voice, but his fluency in the great music of the past. His influences are multiple and varied, but it just so happens that he’s an expert on the music of Stravinsky, and The Rite of Spring in particular.
Igor Stravinsky grew up in Imperial Russia, the son of a renowned opera singer. From his infancy, he was surrounded by the music of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and his favorite: Mozart. “I like Mozart very much,” Stravinsky once quipped, “so much that I steal the music of Mozart.” You won’t hear any stolen Mozart in The Rite (much of what he stole for this piece came from a collection of Lithuanian folk songs) but you will hear a revolutionary musical statement by a composer firmly grounded in the language of his forbears. This is why The Rite has outlasted so many other experimental scores from the 20th century.
Mozart can seem like a sui generis musical entity with no ancestry at all, a genius torn from the thigh of Zeus who simply began improvising sonatas as soon as he could sit at the keyboard. But Mozart owed a great deal of his facility to his education by people (most notably his father, Leopold, and Johann Christian Bach, son of J.S.) who were studied in music stretching back to the early Renaissance. This sort of historically grounded tutelage was relatively rare in his day: it was much more common for youngsters to learn nothing more than the contemporary style.
There’s one more musical ancestor worthy of evocation in this, our 50th anniversary season: George Shangrow, OSSCS’s founder. George had intended to conduct The Rite of Spring during the 2010–2011 season, which he unfortunately did not live to see, so tonight’s performance will have an extra bit of poignancy for us all.
— William White
P.S. If you love interesting and engaging new instrumental music, head on over to Hale’s Ales next Sunday, February 23, at 6:00 p.m. for some new and new-ish chamber music (including some by me!) performed by our musicians.
P.P.S. Quinn Mason has a wonderful YouTube channel full of interesting classical music discoveries, and I’d like to direct you all to “1,133 Rite of Spring Beats,” in which he compiles 103 different renditions of the famous 11/4 bar from The Rite. (And now there’s a sequel.) If you’ve ever wondered is meant by a conductor’s “interpretation,” this should make the answer self-evident. (You might also notice that not every orchestra tunes to A = 440 Hz.)
Clarinetist Benjamin Lulich has served as principal clarinetist of the Seattle Symphony since 2014. He previously held positions in the Pacific Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Colorado Music Festival, Sunriver Music Festival and Festival Mozaic, and has performed frequently with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Pasadena Symphony, IRIS Orchestra and many other ensembles.
Mr. Lulich has performed with Los Angeles studio orchestras on numerous films and records albums, including Water for Elephants, The Tourist, Monsters University, Godzilla, The Force Awakens and the Oscar-winning score for Life of Pi. In 2013 he served as principal clarinetist for Yamaha’s 125th Anniversary Concert, which featured Elton John and many other performers, and was acting principal clarinetist for the Cleveland Orchestra during the 2015–2016 season.
Also interested in chamber music and new music, Mr. Lulich has been a guest artist for concerts throughout the United States and abroad. He was a member of the Second Instrumental Unit, a contemporary-music ensemble based in New York City, where he took part in a concert honoring Milton Babbitt at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. As a recitalist and soloist, he has performed at the International ClarinetFest and was featured as a soloist with the Pacific Symphony and Sunriver Music Festival on many occasions.
Mr. Lulich’s local solo appearances have included Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto and Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs with the Seattle Symphony, Lutosławski’s Dance Preludes with the University of Washington Symphony Orchestra, and Óscar Navarro’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2 with the University of Washington Wind Ensemble.
The recipient of many awards and prizes, Mr. Lulich studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Cleveland Institute of Music, Yale School of Music, Pacific Music Festival and Music Academy of the West. His teachers include Richard Hawkins, Franklin Cohen, David Shifrin, Fred Ormand and Laura DeLuca. In 2016, he joined the University of Washington School of Music as an artist-in-residence in their instrumental performance program.
A Joyous Trilogy
Mason was born in March 1996 and currently resides in Dallas, Texas. He composed this work, which receives it world premiere this evening under his own direction, as the result of a commission from OSSCS for its 50th anniversary season. The score calls for pairs of woodwinds, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings.
Currently a student at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, where he studies composition with Lane Harder, Quinn Mason previously studied at Richland College with Jordan Kuspa, Texas Christian University with Blaise Ferrandino and with Winston Stone of the University of Texas at Dallas, and has also worked with distinguished composers David Maslanka, Libby Larsen, David Dzubay and Robert X. Rodriguez. Mason considers it his personal mission to create music “based in traditional classical music, but reflecting the times in which we live.”
Mason’s works have been performed by the Dallas Symphony, South Bend Symphony, New Texas Symphony, Mission Chamber Orchestra, loadbang, Voices of Change, American Composer’s Forum, Atlantic Brass Quintet and UT Arlington Saxophone Quartet, as well as the Cézanne, Julius and Baumer quartets and wind ensembles at SMU, TCU, University of North Texas, Purdue University and Seattle Pacific University.
As a conductor, Mason has led the Brevard Sinfonia, TCU Symphony Orchestra, Richland Wind Symphony and various small ensembles, conducting his own works as well as world premieres of music by his colleagues. He has studied conducting with Miguel Harth-Bedoya (Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra), Derrick Logozzo (Richland College), Germán Gutiérrez (TCU) and William White (Orchestra Seattle), and currently studies with Jack Delaney and Paul Phillips (SMU). He also serves as an apprentice conductor at the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra and assistant conductor of the New Texas Symphony Orchestra.
Upcoming projects include a guest-conducting appearance with MusicaNova Orchestra, the premiere of his Symphony No. 4 (“Strange Time”) by the Meadows Wind Ensemble, and a new work for Avant Chamber Ballet.
Mason calls A Joyous Trilogy “a set of three short symphonic sketches for large orchestra,” played without pause. The inspiration “comes from a piece I wrote in 2017, titled Passages of Joy,” premiered on January 21, 2019, by the South Bend Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Alastair Willis.
For A JoyousTrilogy , the composer writes that he “wanted to create a composition that was the very embodiment of happiness and cheerfulness, an accessible work that would put any listener in a good mood. The first movement, ‘Running’ (a revised version of Passages of Joy), is so called because of its always-moving and seemingly never-waning energy. The second, ‘Reflection,’ is a gentle meditation featuring a solo trombone. The third, ’Renewal,’ picks the energy back up and keeps it going to the very end.”
Quinn Mason has dedicated this work to “Will White, a friend and mentor for many years now, and one of the most joyous people I know!”
Wolfgang Amadé Mozart
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
Joannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna on December 5, 1791; he began calling himself Wolfgango Amadeo around 1770 and Wolfgang Amadè in 1777. He completed this concerto for solo clarinet (accompanied by pairs of flutes, bassoons and horns, plus strings) during October 1791 for Anton Stadler, who likely premiered the work in Prague on October 16 of that year.
Mozart first met clarinetist Anton Stadler during the early 1780s. In March 1784 Stadler played in a performance of Mozart’s Gran Partita for 13 wind instruments (including two clarinets and two basset horns) and shortly thereafter likely participated in the premiere of Mozart’s quintet for piano and winds (with the composer at the piano).
In 1786 Mozart wrote the clarinet part in his so-called “Kegelstatt” Trio for Stadler, followed by a quintet for clarinet and strings in 1789. The two became close friends: they were both Freemasons and shared a love of gambling.
Stadler traveled with the composer from Vienna to Prague in late August 1791 for the premiere of his opera La clemenza di Tito. During the journey, Mozart wrote two arias with obbligato solos for Stadler to play at the first performance on September 6.
Three weeks later, back in Vienna, Mozart completed The Magic Flute a mere two nights before its September 30 premiere. A week after that he wrote that he had nearly completed the finale of what would be his last major work (aside from the Requiem that would remain unfinished at this death less than two months later): a clarinet concerto in A major for his friend Stadler.
The music of the concerto’s first movement was derived from an abandoned work in G major for basset horn and orchestra (also intended for Stadler) that Mozart may have begun as early as 1787. He transposed this music up a step to accommodate the instrument Stadler had used for the clarinet quintet and in one of the Clemenza di Tito arias: extending four semi-tones below the range of modern clarinets, today it sometimes goes by the name “basset clarinet,” fitting midway between the basset horn and the clarinet (akin to the oboe d’amore being situated between the English horn and oboe). By the time the work was published a decade later, an anonymous editor had rewritten the passages featuring those four bottom notes to accommodate the range of the standard clarinet.
The first movement is in traditional sonata-allegro form, the middle movement a wordless aria worthy of a place in Mozart’s greatest operas, and the finale a playful rondo.
The Rite of Spring
Stravinsky was born at Oranienbaum, Russia, on June 17, 1882, and died in New York on April 6, 1971. He composed this ballet between September 1911 and March 8, 1913. Pierre Monteux conducted the premiere on May 29, 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The score calls for quintuple woodwinds (including 2 piccolos, alto flute, 2 English horns, E♭ clarinet, 2 bass clarinets and 2 contrabassoons), 8 horns (2 doubling Wagner tubas), 5 trumpets (including piccolo and bass trumpets), 3 trombones, 2 tubas, 2 sets of timpani, antique cymbals, bass drum, cymbals, güiro, tambourine, triangle, tam-tam and strings.
During the spring of 1910, while preparing for the premiere of The Firebird (his first major success as a composer), Igor Stravinsky experienced what he called a “fleeting vision” that inspired his third great collaboration (after Firebird and Petrushka) with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes: The Rite of Spring. “I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite,” he told a biographer in 1931. “Sage elders, seated in a circle, watched a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring.”
That summer, Stravinsky collaborated on the scenario with Nikolai Roerich, a Russian artist and archaeologist, but did not begin working on the music until September 1911. He composed much of the score near Montreux, Switzerland, in a tiny room with a muted upright piano, completing the first part and sketching much of the second by March 1912. After setting aside the score over the summer, Stravinsky finished the concluding “Sacrificial Dance” on November 17. The orchestration — for a massive ensemble that included 20 woodwind and 18 brass players — took another four months.
Meanwhile, Vaslav Nijinsky (who had danced principal roles in Firebird and Petrushka) created the choreography and prepared the dancers. Pierre Monteux, who had conducted the premiere of Petrushka but initially balked at directing The Rite of Spring, suggested revisions he felt were necessary to render the work playable. Stravinsky acquiesced, but the orchestra still needed 17 rehearsals (plus five more with dancers) to grasp — in the words of one double-bass player in Monteux’s orchestra — the work’s “complicated rhythms, atrocious dissonances and strange sounds to which our ears were not accustomed.”
An open dress rehearsal on May 28, 1913, proceeded without incident. At the premiere the next night, however, a riot ensued — or so the legend goes. While some audience members may well have engaged in unruly behavior, research by musicologist Tamara Levitz (writing in The Rite at 100) reveals that the more colorful stories about the premiere did not surface until years later. The term “riot” was not applied until 1924, helping generate publicity for first performances of the score by various American orchestras.
Following a handful of additional presentations of the ballet (after which Diaghilev and Nijinsky had a falling-out that, along with the onset of World War I, prevented further stagings with the original choreography), concert performances turned the spotlight on Stravinsky’s revolutionary music. Serge Koussevitzky conducted the first orchestra-only rendition on February 18, 1914, in St. Petersburg. On April 5, Monteux led a concert performance in Paris, after which the composer was “hoisted to anonymous shoulders and carried into the street and up to the Place de la Trinité.”
Stravinsky named his ballet Весна священная (“Holy Spring”), but it became widely known under its French title (Le Sacre du printemps) and later, in English, as The Rite of Spring. “Holy Spring is a musical-choreographic work,” the composer wrote in 1914. “It represents pagan Russia and is unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of spring. The piece has no plot, but the choreographic succession is as follows:
“First Part: The Adoration of the Earth. The spring celebration. It takes place in the hills. The pipers pipe and young men tell fortunes. The old woman enters. She knows the mystery of nature and how to predict the future. Young girls with painted faces come in from the river in single file. They dance the spring dance. Games start. The Spring Khorovod [a round dance]. The people divide into two groups, opposing each other. The holy procession of the wise old men. The oldest and wisest interrupts the spring games, which come to a stop. The people pause, trembling before the great action. The old men bless the spring earth. The Adoration of the Earth. The people dance passionately on the earth, sanctifying it and becoming one with it.
“Second Part: The Great Sacrifice. At night the virgins hold mysterious games, walking in circles. One of the virgins is consecrated as the victim and is twice pointed to by fate, being twice caught in the perpetual circle. The virgins honor her, the Chosen One. They invoke the ancestors and entrust the Chosen One to the old wise men. She sacrifices herself in the presence of the old men in the great holy dance, the great sacrifice.”
Some of the melodic material in The Rite of Spring — including the opening bassoon solo, set in the instrument’s highest register — had its origins in a book of Lithuanian folk melodies collected by Antanas Juška and published in Warsaw in 1900. “Having assembled his folk melodies,” writes Alex Ross in The Rest Is Noise, “Stravinsky proceeded to pulverize them into motivic bits, pile them up in layers, and reassemble them in cubistic collages and montages.”
Following the introduction, “The Augurs of Spring” announces itself with a bitonal chord, essentially an E-major chord with an E♭-seventh chord stacked on top. When Stravinsky played this passage for Diaghilev (“59 times the same chord”), the impresario “was a little bit surprised. ... He asked me, ‘Will it last a very long time this way?’ And I said, ‘’Til the end, my dear.’ And he was silent. Because he understood that the answer was serious.
“It was a rather new chord, you know? An eight-note chord. But the accents were even more new [and] were really the foundation of the whole thing.” Indeed, the rhythmic innovations in The Rite of Spring surpass all of its other revolutionary aspects, and the unexpected accents in “Augurs of Spring,” which is notated in the very standard time signature of 2/4 , are only the beginning. Stravinsky reported that while he was composing the concluding “Sacrificial Dance” he could play it on the piano, but struggled to notate it, eventually producing a score that shifts between time signatures that include 2/16 , 3/16 , 5/16 and 2/8 .
No other orchestral work of the 20th century has exerted as much influence on composers who followed as The Rite of Spring. And it still possesses the power to shock and thrill audiences 107 years later.
— Jeff Eldridge