“During the week’s intensive course at Uppingham School, members of NSSO worked an average of eight hours a day, enjoyed the sports facilities of the school, mounted their own ‘Silly Concert’ in the school theatre and attended presentations by international experts, all of whom have most generously given their time to NSSO:
Dr Robin Philipp, a world expert in occupational health, gave a talk on the impact of music and art on well-being and health.
Ms Maggie Cotton, recently-retired percussionist with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle and author of the Percussion Work Book, shared her stories.
Mr Andrew Brownridge, an NSSO Trustee, organised a Quiz night.
Natalie Clein, the internationally-acclaimed cellist and first ever British winner of the Eurovision Competition for Young Musicians in Warsaw, gave an inspiring presentation to NSSO on Saturday evening.”
Course – Uppingham School
Orchestral Performance – West Road Concert Hall at Cambridge University
Date of Concert – Sunday 27th July 2003
Cimablom – Ed Cervenka
Ed was a percussionist in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, where he learned to play the cimbalom for a performance of Gawain Symphony by Harry Birtwistle for a BBC Promenade Concert in 1994. Since leaving music college, Ed has carved out a niche for himself as a freelance percussionist and cimbalom specialist.
Conductor - Mark Shanahan
Mark Shanahan was born in Manchester and studied at Chetham’s School of Music, London University and the Royal Academy of Music as the Sir Henry Wood Conducting Scholar. He won the NAYO Conducting Competition for European Music Year.
His orchestral work includes broadcasts and concerts with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, RTE Concert Orchestra, Stavanger Symphony and RPO and the Orchestre Filarmonica de Gran Canaria. Mark has conducted for Opera Ireland, English Touring Opera and the Wexford Festival. Since 1993 he has been associated with English National Opera as a guest conductor: this season he conducted their new production of Tosca, described by The Times as ‘a musical triumph’.
Future engagements include his debut at the National Reisopera in Holland and Tosca with the Frankfurt Opera and Roberto Alagna. Mark is an honorary associate of the Royal Academy of Music and was recently appointed Visiting Fellow in Conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music.
“Mark Shanahan is much sought-after as an opera conductor in international as well as national opera houses. He has most generously supported NSSO over recent years, both by breaking his summer holiday period with his young family to be with us, and by doing so for a significantly reduced fee. He deeply believes in the work of NSSO, and NSSO is indebted to him for his generosity.”
Academic Festival Overture, Op.80 – Brahms
Brahms composed this overture in 1880 and conducted the first performance himself in Bresslau on 4 January 1881. Two years earlier, when he received a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from the University of Bresslau, he was described as the ‘most famous living German composer of serious music’. (It should be noted that Wagner was still alive!). Shortly after on 18 March 1879 Bernard Scholz, the conductor of the Bresslau Orchester Verein, wrote to Brahms congratulating him on the honour and asked: ‘Will you write us a Doctoral Symphony for Bresslau? We expect a Festival Ode at the very least’.
The Academic Festival Overture was Brahms’s response and, although he was enthusiastic about the work, neither he nor Bernard Scholz were too happy about the title. It is interesting though to note that Brahms described the difference between it and his Tragic Overture thus: ‘the Tragic Overture is full of tears, the other is full of laughter’. The Academic Festival Overture is certainly rich in thematic content and, as Brahms also said, it is “a lively medley of student songs, after the manner of Suppe”.
Carmen Suite No. 2 – Bizet
Bizet composed Carmen, his greatest and subsequently best-known work, between 1873 and 1874, shortly before his untimely death. Its first performance, given in the Opera Comique in Paris, was however not a great success. The opera house had hitherto been more accustomed to the more accessible, less confrontational operettas of Offenbach and others. Carmen overwhelmed them with its ‘in your face’ passion and its sexually explicit portrayal of jealousy and corruption. It must have made the hypocrites in the audience feel uncomfortable!
Once the Parisian audience had recovered from the shock, the opera steadily gained popularity. Soon after the curtain had fallen on the 33rd performance at the Opera Comique, Bizet died, aged 37 years, at 2am on 3rd June 1875 – the morning of his wedding anniversary. In a moment of strange prescience, during that 33rd performance, Galli-Marie (who had created the role of Carmen) fainted in the wings after singing the famous Card Song, in which Carmen sees the future deaths of the opera’s protagonists.
The story of Carmen is based on a short novel of the same name by Merimee. Its tale of the corruption of a man of high ideals and of noble birth by his passion for a gypsy whom he finally murders surprised that romantic age with its explicit realism.
Bizet composed two orchestral suites based on the opera – the first and more frequently-performed version uses material from the Prelude and Entr’actes. The second, performed here today, takes material from the acts themselves.
The first movement of Carmen Suite No. 2 uses the sextet and chorus which opens Act III: Ecoute, ecoute compagnon, ecoute! The second, the Habanera, is based on a song by Sebastien Tradier, which in Bizet’s version is placed in Act I. A Habanera itself is a Cuban dance-song of Spanish origin, from which the modern tango is but one offspring. Sung by Carmen in a provocative sweep of centre stage, the original song deals with the meaning of gipsy love:
‘Love is a wild bird that can’t be tamed – No sweet words nor yet a command will make me love you! But, if I do love you – then beware!’
Her target in the Opera is Don Jose, who is at this point oblivious to her: this arouses her passion and in turn launches his destiny.
The Nocturne is based on Michaela’s aria from Act 3, and the fourth movement is taken from the chorus of urchins in Act I. The finale is the famous Danse Boheme.
Hary Janos Suite – Zoltan Kodaly
The Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly wrote the Hary Janos Suite between 1923 and 1926. It is based on his opera – or more accurately described, Singspiel (a sung drama but with spoken dialogue) of the same name. First performed at the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest in 1926, it is rarely performed as a staged work these days outside of Hungary: it requires a very large cast yet only has seven solo roles!
From the 30 numbers in the stage work, Kodaly chose just eight to form this six-movement orchestral suite, which enjoys great popularity worldwide.
Kodaly describes Hary Janos himself as “a peasant – an ex soldier who day after day sits in the tavern and recounts his heroic feats. On the surface he may appear to be no more than an ‘armchair hero’, but in essence, he is a poet, carried away by his dreams and feelings”. An imaginative dreamer, Hary clearly enjoys telling a tale or two about his youthful exploits in Austria, or about the role he played in the battle that defeated Napoleon, followed by the reception in Vienna at the Court of the Emperor
There is a saying in Hungary that a sneeze at the beginning of a story is an indication that what follows is mere fabrication and must be ‘taken with a pinch of salt’! So, to make sure that Hary’s exploits are not taken too seriously, Kodaly begins his six-movement orchestral suite with a suggestion of a sneeze – this opens the prelude!
Kodaly was composing this ‘opera’ in the mid-1920s. During this period there was a strong revival of national interest in traditions of all forms of folk art, both in central Europe and in England, where Vaughan Williams, Cecil Sharpe and others were busy collecting folk music. For his part, Kodaly was assembling and notating Hungarian folk music too. There are many examples of derivative folk melodies in Hary Janos, but Kodaly does not quote any directly. Instead he uses their influence to enhance the atmosphere and feeling of the protagonist’s stories.
Programme notes by Dr Jill White HonDMus (Bristol)