Program Notes for Stockton Symphony – Dance Rhythms

Friday | October 7, 2022 | 7:00 pm
Hutchins Street Square, Lodi

Sunday | October 9, 2022 | 2:30 pm
Grand Theatre, Tracy

Stockton Symphony
Peter Jaffe, conductor
Chili Ekman, violin

Béla Bartók

Romanian Folk Dances, BB 76
Joc cu bâtǎ: Allegro moderato—
Brâul: Allegro—
Pe loc: Andante—
Buciumeana: Moderato—
Poargǎ româneascǎ: Allegro—
Mǎrunţel: L’istesso tempo—
Mǎrunţel: Allegro vivace

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky

Violin Concerto in D major, op 35
Allegro moderato
Canzonetta: Andante—
Finale: Allegro vivacissimo
Chili Ekman, violin


William Grant Still

Danzas de Panama
Tamborito: Moderato
Mejorana y Socavon: Allegro moderato—Vivace
Punto: Allegretto con grazia
Cumbia y Congo: Allegro con moto

Concert sponsors: Drs. Thomas and Virginia Chen
Guest artist sponsors: Byron and Christine Alvarez/Alvarez Properties

Program Notes

Romanian Folk Dances, BB 76
Béla Bartók
Born in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary (now Sînnicolau Mare, Romania), March 25, 1881; died in New York, September 26, 1945

Béla Bartók
Béla Bartók

Bartók spent what he considered the happiest years of his life in the field collecting folk music from all over Hungary and neighboring countries. He discussed three ways in which folk music could be used in art music, all of which he pursued at one time or another: 1) transcribing authentic folk melodies, with little change other than providing accompaniment or introductory or closing phrases, 2) inventing material that imitates folk song, and 3) absorbing the essence of folk melodies in such a way that the folk idiom becomes an integral part of the composer’s style. Though Bartók worked in all three methods, the Romanian Folk Dancesfall into his first category—he used Romanian fiddle tunes from the Transylvanian districts, adding only accompaniment, in which he occasionally allowed himself greater harmonic freedom than in his earlier folk-song settings. He composed these pieces in 1915 for piano, transcribing them for small orchestra in 1917. 

Of his various pieces based on Romanian folk song, the Romanian Folk Dances have been performed most frequently, not only in Bartók’s versions but in many other transcriptions—Zoltán Székely’s very popular version for violin and piano, Arthur Willner’s for string orchestra, Wilke’s for salon orchestra, and Arthur Levering’s for violin and guitar. The original piano version contains six brief pieces; for the small orchestra version Bartók split the final Mărunţel into two dances.

The following descriptions preface the piano score:

1. Joc cu bâtă—Dance with Sticks—or a game played with a stick. From Mezoszabad, district of Maros-Torda, in Transylvania. Merry and energetic with a gaily syncopated melody.

2. Brâul—Waistband Dance. The word actually means: a cloth belt worn by men or women. From Egres, district of Torontal, now a part of Yugoslavia. Gay and quick in duple measure.

3. Pe loc—Stamping Dance. Translation is: “on the spot.” Undoubtedly a dance in which participants do not move from a certain location. From Egres. Rather slow with a steady step and a melody notable for small intervals. Like bagpipe music.

4. Buciumeana—Hornpipe Dance—Dance from Butschum, the district of Torda-Aranyos in Transylvania. Graceful, in three-quarter measure with a haunting melody.

5. Poargă românească—Romanian Polka—Romanian Children’s Dance. Poargă is a game played by the country children. From Belenyes district of Bihar on the border between Hungary and Transylvania. Quick and lively with a broken-chord melody marked into groups of three beats, three beats, two beats.

6. Mărunţel—Quick Dance. A fast dance [split into two for the small orchestra version] using very small steps and movements. From Belenyes.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 2 flutes, 2nd doubling piccolo, 2 clarinets, two bassoons, 2 horns, and strings

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka province, May 7, 1840; died in St. Petersburg, November 6, 1893

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky

Three violinists played a part in the creation of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto: Yosif Kotek, composition pupil of Tchaikovsky and initial connection to his great patroness Mme. von Meck (whom he never actually met); Leopold Auer, whom Tchaikovsky met at Nikolay Rubinstein’s house and for whom Tchaikovsky wrote the Sérénade mélancolique; and Adolf Brodsky, who actually first performed the Sérénade.

In 1878 Kotek visited Tchaikovsky in Clarens where the composer was recovering from his disastrous marriage. Kotek offered advice on the solo violin part of the Concerto, which Tchaikovsky had begun in March and completed by the middle of the month. They played it through for Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest on April 1, and their dissatisfaction with the original slow movement led the composer to discard it and write another. (The discarded movement later turned up as one of the violin-piano pieces in Souvenir d’un lieu cher.) Auer was to premiere the work and thus “took over” the dedication from Kotek, who had abandoned his plan to learn the work. Yet just as Rubinstein had rejected the First Piano Concerto, Auer pronounced the Violin Concerto impossible to play, which “had the effect,” wrote Tchaikovsky in his diary, “of casting this unfortunate child of my imagination for many years to come into the limbo of hopelessly forgotten things.”

Two years later Tchaikovsky heard from his publisher Jürgenson that Brodsky had learned it and would play the premiere in Vienna. The performance on December 4, 1881, under Hans Richter caused a great stir, as recorded by many critics. Only two out of ten had favorable things to say, and the supreme venerated critic Eduard Hanslick wrote such a nasty attack that Tchaikovsky never forgave him. Hanslick—an arch conservative in the days when critics had less wide-ranging tastes—had just the year before given a glowing report of Brahms’s new Violin Concerto and could hardly have been expected to like such a dissimilar work. Brodsky valiantly continued to champion the Concerto, and thus Tchaikovsky finally dedicated it to him, although he had certain problems with it as well. In Auer’s defense it should be said that he changed his opinion of the work (again following Rubinstein’s pattern) and not only played it everywhere himself but taught it to his many famous pupils, including Jascha Heifetz.

After the orchestral introduction, the solo violin introduces the first subject, whose lyrical character could do as well for a second subject. Nor does the actual second subject provide great contrast as in the Classical tradition. There are, however, plenty of fireworks in the movement, especially in the cadenza, which in the manner of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto creates an elision with the orchestral recapitulation. After the beautiful second movement, Canzonetta, with its graceful melodies, the finale bursts upon us with what Hanslick unfairly described as the “brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian kermess—we see wild and vulgar faces, we hear curses, we smell bad brandy.” The second section, which is more relaxed compared to the dash of the rest of the movement, still preserves the atmosphere of rustic festivity with its simple melody over a drone bass. In this light-spirited rondo the violinist’s opportunities for display are dazzling.

©Jane Vial Jaffe

 Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

Danzas de Panama
William Grant Still
Born in Woodville, Mississippi, May 11, 1895; died in Los Angeles, December 3, 1978

William Grant Still
William Grant Still

  William Grant Still interrupted his education at Wilberforce College to play piano in several jazz bands. His training at Oberlin College was interrupted by World War I, during which he played violin in the Navy, and, though he returned to Oberlin, he soon left for New York to work for W. C. Handy’s publishing company and to play in his band. He also played oboe in the pit orchestra for the show Shuffle Along, for which he did most of the orchestrations.

When the show played in Boston, Still began studying composition with Charles Chadwick at the New England Conservatory—a turning point, as it was Chadwick who inspired him to write specifically American music. Back in New York, Still worked for the Black Swan Phonograph Company and dabbled in avant-garde techniques during studies with Edgard Varèse. He soon rejected that language, however, becoming best known for his nationalist works that employed folk idioms.

Still’s list of “firsts” is impressive: he was the first African American to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra—his Afro-American Symphony (1930), premiered by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra on October 29, 1931—and the first African American to conduct a major orchestra. He was also the first black composer to have an important opera company perform one of his operas—Troubled Island (1941), performed by the New York City Opera on March 31, 1949.

In the 1930s Still had moved to Los Angeles, where he composed “serious” music while supplementing his income doing arrangements for film scores and stage musicals. His many honors and awards included several Guggenheim fellowships and honorary degrees, two of them from the colleges from which he had dropped out—Wilberforce and Oberlin.

Still composed his Danzas de Panama in 1948 for string orchestra or string quintet (also arranged for string quartet) in collaboration with violinist/ethnomusicologist/composer/educator Elisabeth Waldo. The Waldo Latin American String Quartet gave the premiere on December 12 that year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

Waldo had studied at the Curtis Institute on the recommendation of Jascha Heifetz, had joined the first violins of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a year, and then toured Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Cuba as a solo violinist. Back in Los Angeles she was inspired to create her own compositions fusing classical and ethnic aesthetics, but, she said, “At that time I had not developed my own skills of composition. I turned all of my musical ideas and texts to Dr. Still.”

As it happens, Waldo was also a scout for Ralph Peer of Peermusic publishers (formerly Southern Music Publishing Company), who was cultivating African American and Latin American composers for his expanding market. Her collaboration with Still on this popular work was a win for all—not only did Southern benefit but she and Still established a 50-50 royalty agreement.

Waldo no doubt provided the description for the published score’s preface:

“Music for the native dances of Panama has been notated so infrequently that it is still unknown to people outside of the country itself. It was Narciso Garay who first called the attention of Elisabeth Waldo to it and she, in turn, interested the American composer, William Grant Still, in developing it for concert use. Now Mr. Still has written, on Panamanian dance themes collected by Miss Waldo, a work which is adaptable to string quartet or string orchestra. Nothing like it has been done before in the literature for strings: Mr. Still has further departed from traditional practices by making an attempt to approximate the sounds of native instruments, giving the music an unusually interesting quality.

“There is a distinct unity and a touch of Caribbean color in the four dances. The first and last [were] probably brought by the first slaves imported into Panama, while the second and third are of Spanish Indian derivation.

Tamborito: This dance [for women, considered the national dance of Panama] is performed with percussive instruments and voice or with strings and percussion. The drum introduction is repeated at the end ·of the dance.

Mejorana: Usually in the major mode, the mejorana is improvisatory in style. The instruments used are the mejoraneras (guitars playing in counterpoint) and the rabel (three-stringed violin).” [The movement also incorporates a socavón—a mejorana that is sung exclusively by men and not danced—after which the mejorana returns.]

Punto: This is a graceful dance in six-eight time, distinguished by the zapateo (shoe-tapping) section and a pasco (promenade), which occur in the mejorana as well.

Cumbia: Most sensuous of all the dances and completely lacking in European elements. When it is danced in the streets, the women hold lighted candles in their upraised hands while: the men dance about them in an abandoned manner.” [The movement also incorporates a congo, another dance of African Caribbean origin. Still imitates the characteristic drums by having the string players tap the back of their instruments with their knuckles.]

©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for strings

Dances of Galánta
Zoltán Kodály
Born in Kecskemét, December 16, 1882; died in Budapest, March 6, 1967

Zoltán Kodály
Zoltán Kodály

Galánta is a small Hungarian market town known to travelers between Vienna and Budapest. The composer passed there seven years of his childhood. There existed at that time a Gypsy band which has since disappeared. Their music was the first “orchestral sonority” that came to the ear of the child. . . . About 1800, some books of Hungarian dances were published in Vienna, one of which contained music “after several Gypsies from Galánta.” They have preserved the old Hungarian tradition. In order to continue it, the composer took his principal subjects from these ancient editions.

Composer’s preface to the score

Kodály dedicated a major effort, along with his lifelong friend Béla Bartók, to collecting and preserving Hungarian folk tunes by recording them throughout the countryside. Many of these tunes provided source material for his own compositions. Kodály distrusted the accuracy of printed versions of folk tunes, preferring recordings of actual performances. But in the present case, the 1804 Viennese publication of Hungarian dances mentioned in his preface was his only link to an earlier tradition. It was to this collection that he turned when asked in 1933 to compose a dance suite in honor of the eightieth anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic, resulting in his Dances of Galánta.

 The 1804 publication was a collection of verbunkos music, dances that originated in the second half of the eighteenth century to accompany the recruitment of men into the military. The verbunkos typically includes a slow introduction (lassú) and a section in a fast tempo (friss), with music characterized by the alternation of slow and fast figures even within a given tempo, dotted rhythms, syncopations, major-minor melodies, and wide melodic leaps. The dance steps likewise consisted of slow figures alternating with fast and were performed by hussars accompanied by local or regimental Gypsy bands. The proceedings died out with conscription in 1849, but the musical form survived.

Kodály’s Dances of Galánta include many elements of the verbunkos tradition in addition to the modified tunes themselves. In general they maintain the structural order of the lassú and friss although they are considerably enlarged. The introduction is permeated with a typical Hungarian dotted rhythm—long notes alternating with pairs of short notes—begun by the cellos. The Gypsy qualities (uncommon melodic steps, syncopations, etc.) are all present. Kodály strings together the various dance tunes using the use of recurring material in the manner of a rondo. The clarinet, a typical instrument in Gypsy bands, is quite prominent in the work, but curiously the solo violin, the leader of such a band, is not; eventually the entire orchestra shares the virtuosity.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 2 flutes, 2nd flute doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, orchestra bells, snare drum, triangle, and strings

Guest Artist

Chili Ekman

Violinist Chili Ekman, age eighteen, recently graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Pre-College Division where he studied with Ian Swensen and Joseph Maile. He began violin studies at age three and attended the Crowden School from 2012 to 2015. This year Chili is studying at the Juilliard School toward his Bachelor of Music degree. Chili was one of the winners of the Junior Bach Festival in 2016, and he performed the Bach Triple Concerto under conductor Ben Simon at Herbst Theatre. Chili has participated in master classes and lessons with the Telegraph Quartet, Jeff LaDeur, Tanya Tomkins, Eric Zivian, Robert Lipsett, William van der Sloot, Axel Strauss, David Finckel, Wu Han, Dimitri Atapine, and Michael Brown. A member of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2018 to 2020, he has also attended Greenwood Music Camp, Innsbrook Music Festival, Beijing International Music Festival, and Music@Menlo.