Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summermusic 2016: A Musical Visit to Cape Cod

Jonathan Bailey Holland
It would be appropriate we should all go to the beach at least once during the summer but today “Curtis on Tour” brings with it, to start its final Summermusic concert, a piece inspired by Cape Cod.

That would be maybe an 8 hour drive (depending on traffic) and about 450 miles according to those internet maps.

Or you could join us this evening at 6:00 at Market Square Church – and yes, that's six o'clock – meaning, if you're a nine-to-fiver, you could be at Cape Cod, musically speaking, an hour after work lets out.

The program includes American works by Samuel Barber (home of his famous "Adagio for Strings") and by Antonin Dvořák, his musical souvenir of a summer in the Midwest - you can read about them, here - as well as this newly commissioned work receiving its first public performance tonight.

Co-commissioned by the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival (where it will receive its official world premiere on July 29th) and the Curtis Institute of Music for this summer's program of “Curtis on Tour,” it draws inspiration from the Cape Cod National Seashore and at the same time celebrates both 50 Years of the National Endowment for the Arts and 100 Years of the National Park Service.

It is called “Forged Sanctuaries” and the composer, Jonathan Bailey Holland – a Curtis graduate who studied with Ned Rorem – wrote this program note for these performances:

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Since the year my daughter was born our family has spent time during the summer months on Cape Cod. We have explored many of the different beaches, from the South facing ocean beaches; to the popular beaches on the Eastern shore of the outer cape; to the calm, oyster-laden bay beaches; and even the lesser-known ponds. The opportunity to compose a work that celebrates these and other treasures associated with the Cape Cod National Seashore National Park as part of the centennial celebrations of the National Park Service was a very welcomed opportunity.

a view of Cape Cod's National Seashore
For me, like most, the cape is a destination for escape, relaxation and rejuvenation. It is at times an unstable landmass, jutting out into the Atlantic, its shore constantly in a state of transformation from the ocean waves and the redistribution of the sands of the beaches. It holds a great deal of historical significance for many people. It is a daunting subject to embrace musically. The string quartet, as an ensemble, also presents its own challenges. No other musical ensemble carries the historical weight and significance of the string quartet.

There is nowhere for a composers to hide when writing for the string quartet. Many great composers are heralded as such in no small part because of their contributions to the genre.

For this work, I chose to embrace the enormity of both the topic and the ensemble by imagining the formation of the Cape, as well as the significance it holds for me, and many others. The first movement, titled Glacial Formation, is about the evolution of a glacier. The music is intended to be programmatic, beginning with the sound of wind and snow. As the snow accumulates and compresses it creates large crystals of ice that eventually become glaciers. These glaciers, massive in size, move across the surface of the earth, carving landmasses as they go. As the glaciers move away and melt, they reveal their creations.

The second movement of this work, titled The Hypnosis of Tides, is about the allure of the beach and the soothing nature of waves. The ocean waves are unpredictable, sometimes calm and sometimes violent, reshaping the beach with every ebb and flow. The bay waves are often much calmer, but nonetheless hypnotic in their constant lapping of the shoreline. The second movement ends peacefully, reminiscent of the end of the first movement, with a sense of being somewhat unfinished.
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You can read the article by Jess Hayden for the Carlisle Sentinel, here.

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Holland, born in 1974 in Flint, MI, began his compositional studies at the Interlochen Arts Festival, attended Curtis where he studied with Ned Rorem and earned his Bachelors degree, then earned his PhD from Harvard where he studied with Bernard Rands and Mario Davidovsky. Currently, he is Chair of Composition, Theory and History at The Boston Conservatory. Additionally, he was a professor of composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and a founding faculty member in the Low Residency MFA in Music Composition program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

The list of orchestras who have commissioned him include those in Detroit, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, plus chamber ensembles across the country. His “Equality” for Narrator and Orchestra, setting words of Maya Angelou, was recently premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony.

While he is not committed to a particular style, he chooses to use whatever suits the music for the occasion. While “Forged Sanctuaries” is a work for string quartet (requiring a distinctly different approach from an orchestra, for instance) inspired by nature, here is an “urban” work written originally for the Detroit Symphony, to give you one idea of his voice:

“Motor City Dance Mix” had been commissioned by the Detroit Symphony where it was premiered in 2003. This performance is from a 2011 concert with the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra, conducted by Jason Love:
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Of his “Synchrony,” composed for oboe, bassoon, violin, cello, piano and taped voices and premiered by the Radius Ensemble in 2015 at the time of the riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, the composer said:

Jonathan Bailey Holland
“I am as influenced by contemporary classical music as I am by jazz, rap, R&B, neosoul, and all other good music. I am fascinated by color, both visually and aurally. I strive to communicate with my music. I do not embrace one single style for all of my compositions. I aspire to have a recognizable voice.

“The work I am composing for the Radius Ensemble is about duality on many levels, and in many ways: from the instrumentation and their possible combinations – oboe and bassoon, violin and cello, oboe and cello, violin and bassoon, etc.; to musical form and structure – call and response, imitation, repetition; to the external influences – black and white race relations, class relations within and between races, morality vs emotion, double standards of laws and socially accepted behavior, confronting symbols vs confronting ideology.

“While these issues pervade the news as of late, I, as an African-American composer of classical music, live this duality every day.”

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Too often we ask ourselves, after hearing a new piece of music or something unfamiliar to us, something that may challenge our comfort level, "did I like it?" or "do I understand it?" That's not really the question on first hearing - that's something that may come later, with more hearings, the sort of thing that makes me long for those concerts where, with a brand new piece, they'd play it again.

The question, if you find yourself not sure what to think, is to ask "do I respond to it?"

If you do, then you're starting at a good point, whether you love it or hate it or aren't sure. Listen to it and judge your responses: is it entertaining or does it make you think? Is it pretty (as someone once asked about my own string quartet after its premiere) or does it have moments that grab your attention?

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Join us tonight for the first public performance of Holland's newest work, “Forged Sanctuaries,” with the Curtis Student String Quartet at Market Square Church at 6pm.

Even though it's the last concert in the current Summermusic season, rumor has it the summer heat and humidity will continue and I think by this weekend, with heat indices forecast to be around 110°, we'll all be glad the concerts were scheduled the week they were...

Then you can start thinking about the opening of Market Square Concerts' new season on October 1st with the ensemble "Rebel" performing treasures of the 17th and 18th Centuries, and November 2nd's concert with the Heath Quartet playing Haydn, Dvořák and Michael Tippett's 5th String Quartet. Oh, and in April, violinist Kristóf Baráti returns to play more Bach for solo violin. And there's much more.

This will be MSC's 35th Anniversary season, so there'll be lots to tell you about.

- Dick Strawser

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Photo credit: top photo of Jonathan Bailey Holland by Sancho Maulion

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