Opening Night

Xavier Foley, bass & composer
Eunice Kim, violin
David Danzmayr, conductor

Program Notes

The Jon Mac Anderson Program Notes underwritten by Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur, LLP

Clarice Assad (b. 1978): Suite for Lower Strings Based on Themes by Bach
Instrumentation: Scored for string orchestra
Duration: Approximately 10 minutes

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Clarice Assad maintains a highly active career as both a composer and performer. Her scores have been played by orchestras and chamber ensembles across the globe, including ProMusica (2012), while her recent commissions by the Camerata Pacifica, the League of American Orchestras, the Oregon Symphony, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the LA Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra speaks to her current popularity. Assad, a Grammy-nominated composer, is also a pianist and vocalist who has shared the stage with artists such as Bobby McFerrin and Paquito D’Rivera.

While much of her work reflects a love of her native Brazil, Assad’s Suite for Lower Strings, from 2009, has more in common with the Baroque in general and with Bach specifically. Tonight, we will play the final three movements of the five-movement suite, which the composer describes as a ‘fantasy.’ You will no doubt be familiar with her Bach quotations, such as the aria “Sleepers Awake” from Cantata BWV 208 and the opening Prelude form the First Suite for Solo Cello, tunes that weave in and out of the musical fabric and which Assad imbues with a rich and inventive musical vocabulary. As the title of the work suggests, Assad has sought to emphasize the ensemble’s lower strings, lending the cellos, violas and basses the melodic material Bach and his contemporaries would, more often than not, have traditionally handed to the violins.


Xavier Foley (b. 1995): For Justice and Peace
Instrumentation: Scored for violin, double bass, and string orchestra
Duration: 8 minutes

I was approached by the Sphinx Organization to create a double concerto for violin, double bass, and string orchestra that marks the 400 years of slavery ever since the arrival of the slave ship “White Lion” (1619) in Jamestown, Virginia. The finished work called “For Justice and Peace” ended up featuring both a gavel and a chorus; the players in the string orchestra would sing the vocal parts in addition to playing their instruments. Both the gavel and the chorus represent past experiences of the first African slaves in Jamestown.

The gavel in the work represents the multiple occasions where African Americans attempted to seek justice in a courtroom that, over time, became less of a place of fair judgement for the person of color.

The chorus in the concerto was used to represent the moments where African slaves would sing together in an attempt to evoke feelings of comfort and joy during a time where a majority of privileges and basic human rights were revoked on the basis of skin color. The lyrics were personally chosen to reflect the slaves plea for equity and justice.”


Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889): Bass Concerto No. 2 in B Minor
Instrumentation: Scored for double bass and strings
Duration: 15 minutes

If the word “virtuosic ” doesn’t leap to mind when you see or hear the double bass, then you’re probably in good company. On average, this seemingly unwieldy instrument is most often regarded as the accompanimental backbone of the orchestra (or, for that matter, a jazz ensemble), as it slowly lumbers through the orchestral thicket, a gentle beast among its more lithe musical companions. That said, the king of strings hasn’t lacked its esteemed virtuosi. Giovanni Bottesini is generally thought of as the first, a Lombardy-born son-of-a-clarinetist who evidently took up the bass in order to secure a scholarship at a school short of bassists. Bottesini soon developed into one of the greatest exponents the instrument has ever known and while he may not have exuded the devilish allure of Paganini, whose dazzling violin playing and rumored connections to Lucifer cast a spell over European audiences, parallels were often enough drawn between Bottesini’s abilities on his own instrument and that of his Italian compatriot.

Like Paganini, Bottesini composed works designed to exploit his own virtuosic powers and impress his listeners, as is the case with his Second Concerto, performed tonight. But unlike his Italian colleague, Bottesini also thought beyond his instrument, composing string quartets and other ensemble works, an oratorio and a handful of operas (during the intermissions Bottesini often took center stage, entertaining his audience with his bass pyrotechnics). He was also in demand as a conductor and was selected by none other than Verdi to conduct the 1871 world premiere of Aida in Cairo.

The Second Concerto, in B minor, is cast in the standard three movement fast-slow-fast structure, opening with lyrical material before launching into the rapid passagework Bottesini’s listeners would have awaited, all leading up to the virtuosic cadenza near the movement’s close. As a Romantic-age composer, however, Bottesini also prided himself on tuneful melodies, which allowed him to play to exploit the gorgeous tone of his Testore bass, one of the greatest double basses ever built (the instrument is currently owned by a collector in Japan). Thus, the slow second movement is richly melodic, reflective of the composer’s operatic arias, while also exploiting the instrument’s tremendous range. The spirited finale reflects Bottesini’s dramatic flair for the stage and culminates in another cadenza, before a charmingly folksy coda drives the music to its thrilling closing bars.


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Instrumentation: Scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings
Duration: 36 minutes

Beethoven, for the Romantics, was the misunderstood genius personified, a man who defied tremendous hardships, conquered fate at the darkest hours, dedicated his life to his art and professed themes of universal brotherhood. Deaf, driven and direct, Beethoven literally and figuratively refused to bow to the aristocracy because he considered himself equally noble. Musically, he went where no composer had gone before, offering up symphonies that plumbed the depths of human emotions, from grief and anger to unbridled joy. It is this latter quality that dominates Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Having taken on themes of heroics and dissolution (3rd Symphony), the struggle from dark to light (5th Symphony) and nature’s divine essence (6th Symphony), Beethoven was now moved by a wholly different source of inspiration: dance. By all accounts a lousy dancer himself, he nevertheless understood its rhythms, inherent energy and drive, and this was what underscores his beloved 7th. To be sure, Beethoven is not evoking the courtly minuet as danced in polished shoes within Vienna’s Hofburg palace but the raucous foot stomping of the Austrian folk. For a little under forty minutes, we are forced to set aside our conceptions of Beethoven the misanthrope and instead are offered up the image of a composer in the full swing of life, a man who did nothing halfway.

For all its Bacchic intentions, the 1812 A major Symphony remains couched within the classic architecture of Beethoven’s day. The first movement even opens with a slow Haydnesque introduction—the longest symphonic introduction Beethoven would ever compose—that maps out the symphony’s significant tonal relationships. As the music cascades into the Vivace, we might consider the nature of the dotted motive—long-short-long, long-short-long—which drives the score incessantly forward. This is Beethoven at his most obsessive, a hallmark, along with the explosive dynamic shifts and abrupt modulations, of his “middle period” scores. There is no true slow movement in this symphony, rather an A minor Allegretto (a little lively), which only seems slow in comparison with that which surrounds it. Beethoven casts the movement as a double set of variations, which banks back and forth between two main ideas, re-inventing each anew. Listen for the mysterious fugato passage about six minutes in and the explosive variation that follows, as well as to the movement’s colorful final phrases, which Beethoven divides up among families of instruments.

The scherzo third movement opens with explosive force in F major and drives with unabated joyousness to its D major trio, propelled forward by rhythmic energy and humorous percussive interjections. The calmer trio at the center offers momentary relief, at least until the music swells majestically. As he does in several works from this period, Beethoven tacks on an additional B-A section to the traditional A-B-A minuet (thus A-B-A-B-A), building an architecture of royal proportions. The symphony concludes with a relentless Allegro con brio finale, a movement of whirling intensity used to great effect in the movie Breaking Away and which the noted British musicologist Sir Donald Tovey described as “bacchic fury.” Although we are immediately swept up in the music’s rhythmic vitality, it should be noted that origins of the melody, as with the preceding scherzo, reside in true folk music (the scherzo draws on an Austrian peasant song and this finale an Irish folk song that Beethoven had previously arranged). This sonata-form movement includes an expansive development and a sweeping coda, the latter featuring a triple forte dynamic (fff), a rare event even for one of Beethoven’s explosive temperament.

The premiere of the Seventh marked one of the most successful and colorful musical events the composer ever experienced, in no small part a consequence of the score having been well rehearsed—which was often not the case—and the quality of the ensemble. Beethoven stocked his band with some of Europe’s greatest players, and violinist Ludwig Spohr, a member of the violin section, noted Beethoven jumping in the air in a forte passage. Some naturally thought Beethoven mad, yet the composer, who regarded this symphony as one of his best, was more likely carried away by his musical celebration of life. How better to round out the opening concert of our 43rd season?

(C) Marc Moskovitz