Harmonia Chamber Players I

Saturday, November 25, 2023 • 2:00 p.m.
The Unitarian Church at 6556 35th Avenue NE

Karen Dunstan, soprano
Ellaina Lewis, soprano
Gustavo Berho, violin
Zann Tipyasothi, viola
Cristina Cruz-Uribe, viola
Andrew Romanick, piano
William White, piano
Sheila Bristow, piano
Winds5, wind quintet


Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990)
La Bonne Cuisine

Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)
Élégie, Op. 44

Sheila Bristow (*1969)
selections from Grimké Songs

Ellaina Lewis (*1974)
“This Time”

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791)
Duo No. 1 in G major, K. 423

— intermission —

Marc Mellits (*1966)

Toby Fox (*1991)/arr. Brian Schappals

Miguel del Aguila (*1957)

Valerie Coleman (*1970)

About the Concert

Harmonia musicians and friends perform a mélange of music for a variety of chamber ensembles.

Program Notes

There could be no better way to begin a smörgåsbord-style concert such as this than with a musicalization of actual recipes, which is exactly what Leonard Bernstein crafted in 1947 by setting excerpts from Émile Dumont’s 1899 tome La Bonne Cuisine Française (Tout ce qui a rapport à la table, manuel-guide pour la ville et la campagne) — or Fine French Cooking (Everything That Has to Do with the Table, Manual Guide for City and Country) — for soprano voice and piano. The first of four brief movements, “Plum Pudding,” comes from a larger recipe, while “Queues de boeuf” (“Ox-Tails”) is more of a commentary than actual instructions on how to prepare the dish. Next up is “Tavouk Gueunksis” (a Turkish milk pudding made with shredded chicken) and finally “Civet à toute vitesse” (“Rabbit at Top Speed”), which refers to the creation of a rabbit stew for unexpected company but which Bernstein (who crafted his own witty English translations from the original French) interprets using a Presto tempo.

Our concert continues with Sheila Bristow (who is Harmonia’s keyboardist) and soprano Ellaina Lewis (a regular Harmonia soloist, including in the forthcoming world premiere of William White’s Cassandra this April) presenting their own compositions. Bristow’s contributions set two poems of Angelina Weld Grimké, while Lewis’ “This Time” draws upon the words of Marvin Tate.

In late July of 1783, Wolfgang Mozart and his wife Constanze visited his father and sister in his hometown, where he ended up lending a hand to Michael Haydn (younger brother of Franz Joseph). The prince-archbishop of Salzburg had commissioned a set of six duos for violin and viola from Haydn and, as Mozart biographer Jan Swafford writes, “[p]erhaps mindful of Haydn’s fondness for the bottle, had threatened to dock his salary if the duos were not finished by the deadline. Then the composer fell ill and could only complete four of them. Mozart sat down and quickly wrote the two missing duos, an expansive one in B♭ and an effervescent one in G, both in three movements, both with gently lyrical, aria-like slow movements.” Swafford calls Mozart’s duos “the supreme contribution to a tiny repertoire.”

An associate professor of music at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Marc Mellits has written music for a diverse array of ensembles, including Apollo, which was commissioned by the Houston-based wind quintet WindSync and commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. “Theia,” the first of seven short movements, “has a double meaning,” writes WindSync’s bassoonist, Kara LaMoure, “referring in Greek mythology to the titaness who gave birth to the moon goddess Selene and in astronomy to an ancient planet that may have been involved in the creation of the moon. Setting the tone for the piece, Theia is groovy and rhythmic.” The second movement, “Sea of Tranquility,” takes its name from “the basin on the moon where the Apollo 11 mission landed and man first walked on the moon. Tranquility also describes the character of the movement, with a steady pulse and a gentle melody floating over slowly stacking chords,” while “Buzz” celebrates Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, and “features interlocking rhythms in the upper winds that blur the colors of the quintet and give a feeling of perpetual motion. The tempo jolts upward about halfway through, like a rocket taking off.” Next comes “Luna Nova” (or “new moon” in Latin), a “meditation on the moon as a new frontier and the seeming inevitability that people will exploit and corrupt an environmental resource. This movement is short, beautiful, and melancholy.” The central movement, “Debbie Waltzing on the Moon,” pays tribute “to a childhood neighbor who passed away while [Mellits] was writing the work. Debbie loved to dance, so he composed this memory of her waltzing with his characteristic technique of creating musical motors out of interlocking rhythms.” A nod to Neil Armstrong’s most famous phrase, “One Small Step” possesses “the form and harmonies of a down-tempo rock song, connecting the idea of a musical refrain with the refrain of a popular quote.” Finally, “Moonwalk” closes the work “with a funky, groovy miniature that should inspire some dance moves.”

Robert F. “Toby” Fox is both a game developer and a composer, having created music for a number of video games, most notably his own smash hit Undertale and its still-in-progress sequel, Deltarune, from which Winds5 clarinetist Brian Schappals crafted the arrangement for wind quintet heard this afternoon.

Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, Miguel del Águila emigrated to California at age 21, where he graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before undertaking studies in Vienna. Now a resident of Seattle, his extensive catalog includes five works for wind quintet, the brief Sambeada (written for WindSync in 2022) being the most recent. A reworking of the finale from his Op. 134 Concierto con Brio for oboe, clarinet and orchestra, Sambeada is a “lively dance featuring ostinato rhythms, idioms and colors inspired by Brazilian samba and bossa nova,” according to the composer. Principally in a 13/16 time signature, “the music becomes increasingly lively and joyous, finally triggering a syncopated dance where the horn leads the ensemble as it imitates a Latin trumpet.”

Composer and flutist Valerie Coleman wrote the original version of Umoja, “a simple song for women’s choir,” as a graduate student in the 1990s, shortly thereafter arranging it for her newly formed quintet, Imani Winds, to play at their first gig (a wedding). “Umoja is the Swahili word for ‘unity’ and is the first day in seven in the African-American celebration of Kwanzaa,” she says about the quintet version. “The original composition calls for unity through the tradition of call and response and was first meant to be a simple family sing-along song for Kwanzaa. … The melody is mainly a French horn solo with supporting rhythms from the upper winds and a constant motor played by the bassoon. Even though the meter is in 3/4, the melody and percussive upper-wind accompaniment is mostly phrased in 6/8 when there is syncopation.” Two decades later, Coleman orchestrated and expanded the work as Umoja: Anthem of Unity, which was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin in 2019.