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BEETHOVEN’S 5TH SYMPHONY

11 MARCH 2017 | 7:30 PM | CARSON CENTER
Paducah Symphony Orchestra

Raffaele Ponti, conductor

SAMUEL BARBER | Adagio for Strings

Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral and piano music. He is one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century; music critic Donal Henahan stated that “Probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim.”

Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to parents Marguerite and Samuel Le Roy Barber, his father a physician and his mother a pianist. His aunt, Louise Homer, was a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera, and his uncle, Sidney Homer, was a composer of American art songs.

Barber’s Adagio for Strings began as the second movement of his String Quartet, op.11, composed while he was spending a summer in Europe with his partner Gian Carlo Menotti, an Italian composer who was a fellow student at the Curtis Institute of Music. Barber finished the arrangement in 1936, and it was performed for the first time on November 5, 1938, in a radio broadcast from a New York studio for an invited audience, and conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who also took the piece on tour to Europe and South America.

Its reception was generally positive, with Alexander J. Morin writing that Adagio for Strings is “full of pathos and cathartic passion” and that it “rarely leaves a dry eye.” The music is the setting for Barber’s 1967 choral arrangement of Agnus Dei, and can be heard in many TV shows and movies.

Adagio for Strings begins softly with a B-flat played by the first violins. The lower strings come in two beats after the violins, which, as Johanna Keller from The New York Times put it, creates “an uneasy, shifting suspension as the melody begins a stepwise motion, like the hesitant climbing of stairs.” Music critic Olin Downes wrote that the piece is very simple at climaxes, but reasoned that the simple chords create significance for the piece. Downes went on to say: “That is because we have here honest music, by an honest musician, not striving for pretentious effect, not behaving as a writer would who, having a clear, short, popular word handy for his purpose, got the dictionary and fished out a long one.”

ÓSCAR NAVARRO | Clarinet Concerto No.2

 Oscar Navarro was born in 1981, in the village of Novelda, Spain where he began studying music at an early age. He received the “Outstanding Award” after completing his preliminary music studies, and was awarded both an honorary mention and a distinction at the end of his bachelor degree in the Conservatorio Superior Oscar Espla in Alicante, Spain.

Oscar continued his studies of composition and conducting at the Allegro International Music Academy of Valencia, with his mentor and friend Ferrer Ferrán. Shortly thereafter he was selected by the prestigious University of Southern California Thornton School of Music to study Scoring for Motion Picture and TV. In Los Angeles he studied under the tutelage of many renowned composers who have created the memorable cinema themes of the last several generations.

Oscar was recently awarded the “Hollywood in Music Award,” in the classical music section. His film music has received many award nominations, including for the “10th Cinematography Music Critics Awards,” “Mundo BSO Awards,” and the “XIII GoldSpirit Awards.” In February 2014, he received a GOYA nomination from the Spanish Film Academy for his soundtrack for the film “The Mule.”

The Second Concerto for Clarinet and Symphony Orchestra was a commission of the Valencia Music Institute and dedicated to clarinetist José Franch-Ballester. The work was written between November-December 2011 and January 2012.

The concerto is in one movement with three clearly identifiable sections. In the majority of the piece, the language is tonal with lots of colors and rich orchestration. The work displays the many technical capabilities of the clarinet, often prompting comparison of the instrument to the human voice.

The first section of the work is written in two tempos, a cantabile style tinged with ethnic/new age rhythms, then the second, completely contrasting flavor of typical flamenco music of Spanish folklore. This latter is accompanied by one of the instruments used in the world of flamenco, the palms.

The second section, with a minimalist touch, exploits the dynamic possibilities of expression of the clarinet. The pianissimo and high level of expression tend to hypnotize the listener until an energized climax gives way to an ethereal, floating impressionism.

The last section, prestissimo, is framed as a frenzied dance where soloist and orchestra engage in a dialog that demonstrates the challenging virtuosity of the work.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN | Symphony No.5, op.67, C minor

Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven (December 17, 1770 –March 26, 1827) was a German composer. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works (including the celebrated Missa solemnnis), and songs.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was taught by his father Johann van Beethoven and by composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe. At the age of 21 he moved to Vienna, where he began studying composition with Joseph Haydn, and gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He lived in Vienna until his death. By his late 20s his hearing began to deteriorate, and by the last decade of his life he was almost totally deaf. In 1811, he gave up conducting and performing in public but continued to compose; many of his most admired works came from the last 15 years of his life

Although begun in 1802, the Fifth Symphony underwent a long gestation and did not reach completion until the spring of 1808. Significantly, the celebrated four-note motif that opens the piece was present in the earliest sketches. This motif, the figure Beethoven associated with “fate,” dominates the first movement, its rhythmic vigor accounting in no small way for the sense of agitation and momentum that prevail here. Beethoven provides a timely contrast to the turbulent spirit of the opening movement with the Andante con moto that follows. The scherzo is another matter. Here, the theme softly stated by the low strings in the opening measures seems ghostly and ominous, and its menacing aspect is confirmed moments later by a disturbing reappearance of the “fate” motif of the first movement. Later, Beethoven creates a moment of extraordinary drama. The ghostly melody freezes in mid-step as time and motion are suspended. Slowly, the theme is taken and transformed measure by measure until the music bursts into the finale with a blaze of light and victory. The drama is not yet over, however. In the middle of this fourth movement, we suddenly return to the “fate” motif and the spectral atmosphere of the scherzo. This prepares a recapitulation not only of the movement’s themes but also of the dramatic passage from darkness to light, from despair to joy — that is the “meaning” of the finale and the goal of the entire symphony.