Saturday, October 7, 2023 • 7:30 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)

Harmonia Orchestra & Chorus
William White, conductor
Serena Eduljee, soprano


Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
Festive Overture, Op. 96

Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
Gloria, FP 177

— intermission —

Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881)
orch. Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
Pictures at an Exhibition

About the Concert

Join Harmonia for a festive season opener featuring some of the most lively, colorful works in the repertoire! Plan to arrive early for a pre-concert talk by music director William White, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

This concert is dedicated to the memory of Jim Hattori (1955–2023), Harmonia trombonist, board member and dear friend.

About the Soloist

Serena Eduljee

Soprano Serena Eduljee’s soaring, rich, precise coloratura and “magnetic” acting (Entertainment News Northwest) has made her one of the Pacific Northwest’s most in-demand singers, and a favorite of opera audiences everywhere. Last season she sang the roles of Lisa (La Sonnambula) and Nanetta (Falstaff) with Puget Sound Concert Opera, Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) with Pacfic Northwest Opera, and Violetta and Norina in (The Drunken Tenor’s Operapalooza Spectacular Shindig) with Tacoma Opera. Ms. Eduljee made her Seattle Symphony debut performing the iconic role of Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflöte) and has recently performed Orff’s Carmina Burana and Bach’s Magnificat with the Kirkland Choral Society. A frequent singer with Seattle Opera, her performance as Amore in Seattle Opera’s highly acclaimed production of O+E earned much praise. Ms. Eduljee holds a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where she studied under Carol Vaness. Upcoming performances include the roles of Stella/Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta (Les Contes d’Hoffmann) with Tacoma Opera in April 2024.

Program Notes

Modest Mussorgsky (orch. Maurice Ravel)
Pictures at an Exhibition

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born March 21, 1839, in the Pskov region of Russia, and died March 28, 1881, in St. Petersburg. He composed Pictures at an Exhibition for solo piano during June 1874. Ravel orchestrated the work during the summer of 1922 at the request of Serge Koussevitzky, who conducted the premiere in Paris on October 22 of that year. Ravel’s version calls for 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, glockenspiel, bells, triangle, tam-tam, rattle, whip, cymbals, side drum, bass drum, xylophone, celesta, harp and strings.

Had it not been for composer Modest Mussorgsky, Victor Hartmann, a Russian-born architect and artist of French ancestry, would be little remembered today. The two met around 1870 and formed a fast friendship that lasted until Hartmann’s unexpected death at age 39 a mere three years later. Their mutual friend Vladimir Stasov, a noted art critic, organized an exhibit of Hartmann’s works — to which Mussorgsky loaned pieces from his own collection —  in St. Petersburg during February and March of 1874. (Only about 100 of the more than 400 works of art from this exhibition survive.) Mussorgsky’s visit to the memorial exhibit inspired him to compose a suite of piano pieces the following June. Surprisingly, there is no record of a performance during the composer’s lifetime.

After Mussorgsky’s death, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov edited Pictures at an Exhibition (polishing some of the rough edges, as he was wont to do, and inserting a few ideas of his own), publishing it in 1886. One of Rimsky’s students, Mikhail Tushmalov, subsequently orchestrated several movements, perhaps with guidance from Rimsky-Korsakov himself, who conducted the premiere in 1891. In 1915, the British conductor Henry Wood created his own orchestral version, and subsequent generations of composers and arrangers have scored Mussorgsky’s music for all manner of ensembles, but Maurice Ravel’s 1922 orchestration quickly cemented itself as the transcription most widely performed around the world.

Not only had Ravel orchestrated a number of his own piano works, he had previously transcribed the piano music of others, including Robert Schumann’s Carnaval (now mostly lost), so the task proved to be relatively straightforward. Ravel attempted to track down Mussorgsky’s original score (which remained unpublished until 1930), but made do with the Rimsky-Korsakov edition.

Mussorgsky opens his suite with a Promenade — cast in alternating bars of 5/4 and 6/4 to suggest a museum visitor wandering about from painting to painting — which returns in various guises to link subsequent movements. The first “picture” we encounter is Gnomus, inspired by a drawing for a Christmas ornament that Stasov described as “a gnome into whose mouth you put a nut to crack.” Mussorgsky’s music evokes a much more enormous figure, proceeding in stops and starts with violent outbursts; a menacing central episode recalls the composer’s Night on Bare Mountain.

A quieter promenade (which Ravel scores for solo horn and woodwinds) leads to The Old Castle, inspired by a Hartmann painting of a medieval Italian edifice. Solo saxophone assumes the role of a troubador singing in the foreground. Another promenade introduces Tuileries, based on a watercolor of the Parisian park with which Ravel was no doubt more familiar than Mussorgsky. Scurrying woodwind passages evoke quarreling children at play.

In Bydło (the Polish word for “cattle”), Ravel employs a solo tenor tuba to represent an oxcart traveling along a muddy road, following Rimsky-Korsakov’s dynamic markings that begin the movement very quietly, reach an enormous climax and then recede, to suggest the cart approaching and then moving into the distance. Another promenade leads directly to Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells, a brilliant scherzo inspired by several watercolors that Hartmann had made to suggest costumes for an 1871 ballet (Trilbi, with music by Yuli Gerber) in which “a group of little boys and girls, pupils of the Theater School, dressed as canaries, scam- pered on the stage. Some of the little birds were wearing over their dresses big eggshells resembling breastplates.”

Mussorgsky used two portraits (“A Rich Jew in a Fur Hat” and “A Poor Jew”) that Hartmann had presented to him as a gift as the basis for Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle. (When Hartmann visited southern Poland in 1868, he painted these works as well as Bydło.) The first man speaks with great authority while Ravel uses muted trumpet to characterize the second man’s complaining tone.

During an 1866 visit to Limoges, France, Hartmann painted over 100 watercolors, including a depiction of the bustling activity in the city’s marketplace. Mussorgsky initially wrote in the score (before ultimately crossing it out): “Important news! M. de Puissangeout has just recovered his cow Fugitive. But the good ladies of Limoges don’t care, because Mme. de Remboursac has acquired handsome new porcelain dentures, while M. de Panta-Pantaléon is still troubled by his big red nose.” This leads directly to Catacombs, a remarkable evocation of underground Paris, inspired by a watercolor showing Hartmann, a friend and a guide illuminated by gaslight. The somber atmosphere continues into the following promenade, marked Con mortuis in lingua mortua: “With the dead in a dead language.”

The Hut on Hen’s Legs involves the Slavic legend of Baba-Yaga, who lives in a hut supported by giant chicken legs. Hartmann had created a bronze clock depicting the child-eating witch and her bizarre abode.

On April 4, 1866, Tsar Alexander II escaped an assassination attempt while visiting Kyiv. Hartmann entered a competition (subsequently called off, perhaps due to lack of funds) to design a gateway to the city in commemoration of the event. Mussorgsky recasts the promenade theme (now in a regular meter) to create a celebratory splendor, contrasting it with a quieter chorale theme based on a Russian hymn. Ravel’s blazing brass and tolling bells evoke the grand ceremony that might have taken place to unveil The Great Gate at Kyiv, had it actually been built.

— Jeff Eldridge