Program Notes for Stockton Symphony Reunions Series: In Tune With Justice at Atherton Auditorium
Saturday | April 2, 2022 | 7:00 pm
Sunday | April 3, 2022 | 2:30 pm
Peter Jaffe, conductor
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: In Tune with Justice (World premiere)
Tama Brisbane, narrator
Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana
The Firebird Suite (1919)
Introduction—Dance of the Firebird
Round Dance of the Princesses
Infernal Dance of King Kastchei—
Concert sponsor: Karen Hall in memory of Michael Hall
Concert co-sponsors: James Morris; Downey Brand LLP
Commission sponsor: Honorable Ann Chargin
Music sponsors: Nancy and Dr. Ed Schneider
Music co-sponsor: Linda Vater
Program Notes by Jane Vial Jaffe
Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
Born in Salzburg, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, December 5, 1791
Even librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, who was prone to dressing up the truth in a self-promoting manner, admitted that writing a Figaro opera was Mozart’s idea. The composer had complained to his father in 1783 of having read hundreds of plays, none of which suited him as a comic opera subject. Having aborted several attempts to set existing Italian librettos, he eagerly turned to Beaumarchais’s play Le mariage de Figaro, ou La folle journée (The marriage of Figaro, or The crazy day) once it became clear that da Ponte would write him a libretto.
Mozart’s desire to set Beaumarchais’s script was enhanced by the knowledge that the play had been banned throughout the Hapsburg Empire early in 1785 by Emperor Joseph II on account of its politically subversive elements. What better popular enticement than something banned? Furthermore, Mozart could count on audience familiarity with the characters from Giovanni Paisiello’s greatly successful opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), based on the first of the plays in what was to be a trilogy. Mozart’s certainty that he could outdo his rival fanned the flame.
Mozart’s father wrote to his sister about her brother having to compose the opera at “breakneck speed,” which could only have meant that the production was imminent, most likely early December. Yet the opera was not produced until May 1, 1786, presumably because it took some time to convince the authorities that the offensive portions had been altered sufficiently. Machinations of da Ponte’s rival Abbé Casti and Mozart’s rival Antonio Salieri also seem to have caused delays, as did problems with procuring dancers, and a cast change for the countess.
The eventual production met with considerable if not phenomenal success; after the third performance the emperor had to limit the encores of solo arias and ban the repetition of all ensemble pieces to keep the performances from lasting all night. Yet Figaro did not achieve its full measure of success until it was produced in Prague the following year, resulting in a commission for a new opera that would become Don Giovanni.
The Marriage of Figaro has often been described as the perfect comic opera because it combines engaging entertainment with exquisite musical construction. As in the play, all of the action takes place in one day, the marriage day of Figaro and Susanna, servants to Count and Countess Almaviva. The main strand of the plot concerns the Count’s flirtations with Susanna, in connection with the droit du seigneur (his supposed right as a noble to have his way with her on her first night of marriage) and her clever foiling of his advances. The eventual humiliation of this member of the aristocracy by his “inferiors”—even in its toned-down guise—greatly appealed to the rising middle-class audience. Woven into the web are myriad subplots involving Figaro and the Marcellina (the Count’s housekeeper), Dr. Bartolo’s desire for revenge on Figaro, the Countess trying to regain her husband’s love, and the womanizing young page Cherubino. Mozart’s achievement in building his multifaceted musical characterizations into an architectural wonder has kept Figaro in the forefront of the repertoire.
The extremely well-known Overture admirably sets up the intrigues and feverish activity of the wedding day. It begins with the merest rustle, followed quickly by a theme for winds and horns, and suddenly the whole orchestra bursts on the scene with a glorious cap to both opening phrases. The second theme group shows the same quick mood changes, building to a climax with no real development section before the reprise begins with the hushed busy theme of the opening. Mozart had at one time composed a middle lyrical contrasting section before the recapitulation, but ripped the sheet out of the finished score, preferring to keep the moods of humor and gaiety uninterrupted.
—©Jane Vial Jaffe
Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: In Tune with Justice
Born in Los Angeles, May 6, May 1945
Victoria Bond belongs to that elite category of musicians who have scaled the heights in not one but two notoriously selective fields: composing and conducting. Her compositions have won praise from the New York Times as “powerful, stylistically varied and technically demanding,” and her conducting has been called “impassioned” by the Wall Street Journal and “full of energy and fervor” by the New York Times. And that’s not all—she has also been in great demand as a lecturer and teacher, and she has served as artistic director of Cutting Edge Concerts in New York ever since founding the organization in 1998.
Bond’s opera Clara, based on the life of composer and pianist Clara Schumann, premiered in 2019 at the Berlin Philharmonic Easter Festival in Baden-Baden, Germany. Recent compositions also include The Adventures of Gulliver, commissioned by American Opera Projects through a commissioning grant from Opera America; Blue and Green Music commissioned by Chamber Music America for the Cassatt String Quartet; Illuminations on Byzantine Chant for pianist Paul Barnes; and The Miracle of Light, a Hanukkah opera, commissioned by the Young Peoples Chorus of NYC. Her vast and distinguished catalog of works has resulted from commissions by myriad other ensembles and organizations ranging from the Houston and Shanghai Symphony Orchestras to the American Ballet Theater and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Bond was born into a family of professional musicians—her grandfather was a composer and conductor, her grandmother a singer, her mother a concert pianist who had studied with Bartók in Hungary, and her father an operatic bass. Her early training included piano pieces by Bartók, and as a preschooler she loved to make up “pictures” on the piano, which she would memorize. Singing came naturally to her, and as an undergraduate at the University of Southern she studied voice with William Vennard as well as composition with Ingolf Dahl.
After conducting studies at the Aspen Music Festival with Leonard Slatkin, she entered the Juilliard School’s master’s degree program as a composition student of Roger Sessions but with a desire to study conducting as well. Spurred on by being told she would never be accepted into the conducting program, she not only got in but became the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in orchestral conducting from Juilliard.
Appointed by André Previn as Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1978, Bond went on to serve as music director of the New Amsterdam and Roanoke Symphony Orchestras; artistic director of Opera Roanoke, Harrisburg Opera, and Bel Canto Opera; music adviser of the Wuhan Symphony in China; principal guest conductor of Chamber Opera Chicago; and assistant conductor of New York City Opera under Beverly Sills. Bond conducted the Houston Symphony in the premiere of her work Ringing and has guest conducted orchestras across the U.S. and in Brazil, Ireland, and China.
In addition to her composing and performing activities, Bond gave frequent lectures for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, including a four-part series on Wagner’s Ring offered as an online course, and for the Met’s HD simulcasts at Guild Hall. She also regularly gave pre-performance lectures at New York Philharmonic concerts. Bond has taught at the Juilliard School, New York University, Nyack College, and at the annual Conductor’s Institute of South Carolina.
Bond describes the impetus for Ruth Bader Ginsburg: In Tune with Justice:
Peter Jaffe and I have worked together for many years teaching at the Conductors Institute in South Carolina. We met through the Institute’s founder, Donald Portnoy, and became instant friends. When Peter commissioned me to write RBG: In Tune with Justice I was thrilled, as it gave me the opportunity to work with him and his orchestra. I have great admiration for his musicianship and look forward to delivering this music into his capable hands.
Because Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a towering figure and an inspiration to me, I wanted to write a work that added music to her forceful words. Knowing that she loved opera, this was a natural. I chose Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro as the basis for my composition, borrowing freely and adapting his energetic pulse, so appropriate to RBG’s own boundless energy. My music weaves in and out of Mozart’s themes, beginning with a fast-paced overture and continuing with underscoring and interludes that highlight RBG’s words. Jane Vial Jaffe has created a compact script, framing RBG’s words with her own original narrative and bringing into relief the struggle and triumph central to the story. The work ends with RBG’s optimism for the future: young people striving to create a better world for the next generation.
—Jane Vial Jaffe with Victoria Bond
Scored for 2 flutes, 2nd doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, snare drum, tenor drum, glockenspiel, triangle, and strings
Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana
Born in Livorno, December 7, 1863; died in Rome, August 2, 1945
In 1888 Mascagni decided to enter a competition for new one-act operas. He commissioned Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti to write the libretto based on Giovanni Verga’s hit play Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic chivalry), which he had seen four years earlier. Targioni-Tozzetti enlisted Guido Menasci to help meet the contest rules, and the libretto was ready that December. Mascagni completed the opera six months later, in May 1889; it won the competition out of a field of seventy-three entries. The impressively successful premiere took place in Rome on May 17, 1890, at the Teatro Costanzi where publisher Edoardo Sonzogno had arranged that all three finalists’ operas be performed during the season. Cavalleria rusticana made a fortune for Sonzogno after Giulio Ricordi had failed to recognize its worth.
The verismo or everyday-life story, which takes place on Easter Sunday, concerns young peasant Turridu, who has seduced Santuzza but left her for Lola, his former love, who is now Alfio’s wife. Santuzza begs him to return to her, but when he spurns her, she tells Alfio about Lola’s adulterous affair. Alfio challenges Turridu to a duel, and Turridu, after charging his mother to look after Santuzza, is killed in the fight.
The famous Intermezzo, customarily played by the orchestra with the curtain up, marks the crucial point in the drama when Alfio has learned of his wife’s infidelity and vows to get even. The serenity of the hymn, based on the Regina coeli from the Easter service, suggests the peacefulness of village life that is just about to be torn apart by the passions of the main characters.
—©Jane Vial Jaffe
Scored for 2 flutes, doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, harp, organ (optional), and strings
The Firebird Suite (1919)
Born in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), June 17, 1882; died in New York, April 6, 1971
Stravinsky said he had begun to think about The Firebird in the fall of 1909 even before he received the commission. “I remember the day [impresario Sergei] Diaghilev telephoned me to say go ahead, and I recall his surprise when I said that I had already started.” Completed in St. Petersburg in March 1910, The Firebird was premiered by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris on June 25. It marked the beginning of a long collaboration with far-reaching results for both artists. Stravinsky, twenty-eight years old, was relatively unknown outside Russia. “Mark him well,” said Diaghilev to Karsavina who was dancing the title role, “he is a man on the eve of celebrity.”
Choreographer Michel Fokine had adapted the story from Russian sources. Prince Ivan Tsarevich spies a bird with plumes of fire eating golden fruit in an enchanted forest (Introduction—Dance of the Firebird). He captures her then releases her when she gives him a glowing feather. He beholds thirteen dancing princesses (Round Dance of the Princesses) under the spell of the fearsome Kastchei and falls in love with the thirteenth. At Kastchei’s castle, the Prince faces a horde of freakish monsters, then Kastchei himself. The Firebird’s feather saves him from being turned to stone, and she herself aids him by causing the monsters to dance in a frenzy. They seem to regain control (Infernal Dance) but collapse from exhaustion. The Firebird lulls them to sleep (Berceuse) and helps the Prince vanquish Kastchei and his monsters. The princesses and other visitors previously turned to stone are liberated, and Prince Ivan receives the hand of the beautiful thirteenth princess amid general rejoicing (Finale).
Stravinsky differentiated musically between the human and supernatural characters—the music for humans is mainly diatonic (within the scale), including the borrowed Russian folk melodies, and for the supernatural characters he uses chromatic music (colored by notes outside the basic scale), based on the interval of a tritone. He was particularly proud of the orchestration, which contains many brilliant effects—horn and trombone glissandos (sliding between pitches) and “the natural-harmonic string glissando near the beginning, which the bass chord touches off like a Catherine-wheel” [revolving firework].
Rhythmic ingenuities abound, among them the syncopated bass of the Firebird’s Dance under the fluttering woodwinds, and the sustained insistent beat of the Infernal Dance. Most notable to the composer himself, the finale shows “the first appearance in my music of metrical irregularity—the 7/4 bars subdivided into 1-2-3/1-2/1-2; 1-2/1-2/1-2-3 etc.” Stravinsky made concert versions of the ballet in 1911, 1919, and 1945; we hear the most popular, from 1919.
Audiences loved The Firebird from the outset, attracted by the romanticism of the tale and the expressiveness of the music. The work identified Stravinsky to much of the public, and he conducted it nearly a thousand times. “To complete the picture, I was once addressed by a man in an American railway dining car, and quite seriously, as ‘Mr. Fireberg.’”
—©Jane Vial Jaffe
Scored for 2 flutes, 2nd doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, 2nd doubling English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, xylophone, tambourine, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, harp, piano, celesta (optional), and strings
Tama L. Brisbane is the City of Stockton’s poet laureate. Now serving her fourth historic term, she has presented well over 200 times, including at the inauguration of Michael Tubbs, the city’s first Black mayor. Her first poet laureate project was to help craft Stockton’s 2015 return to All-America City status with a groundbreaking, ten-minute spoken word group piece incorporating two dozen voices at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals in Denver. Following her 2017 appearance as guest poet at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Martin Luther King III told her, “Your words matter.” She is the executive director of With Our Words, a twelve-time youth poetry slam coach, and a County Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools, one of the largest writing residency programs in the nation.
“Mama T” is also a Susan B. Anthony Award Winner for Creative Arts, a University of the Pacific Woman of Distinction, a Black Women Organized for Political Action Honoree, a Stockton Arts Commission Comet Award Winner, a California Vision 2020 Ambassador, and a charter member of the Brave New Voices National Network. She serves on the boards of Tuleburg Press, Flourishing Families Inc., Central Valley Neighborhood Harvest, and Stocktonia News Group. Her tireless work on behalf of Stockton and Central Valley voices, particularly young voices of color, has been recognized by both houses of the California legislature as well as both houses of the United States Congress. How does she do it? By standing in constant thanks to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the blessing of her particular earthly mission and by taking inspiration and comfort from her two favorite quotes: “The salvation of humanity lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and “If you sit on the bank of the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by” (attributed to an Eastern proverb).