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Symphony No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 10
Dmitri Shostakovich
Born September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia
Died August 9, 1975, in Moscow, USSR

The work was given its earliest performance on May 17, 1926, by the Leningrad Philharmonic, conducted by Nikolai Malko. It is scored piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, and strings.

Dmitri Shostakovich was the wunderkind of Soviet Music. His first symphony was well known before he turned 20, after which he was a regular fixture in Russian musical circles. His youthful appearance – outlined by a fresh face and round glasses reminiscent of silent film star Harold Lloyd or Harry Potter – betrayed no indication that, just ten years later, Shostakovich would become the subject of a fierce political battle. His opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District had become wildly popular in Leningrad and Moscow between 1934 and 1936. The day after Stalin saw a performance or the work, Pravda published a review, doubtlessly written by the Soviet leader or upon his order, ridiculing the opera as “Muddle Instead of Music.” Stalin was offended by the work’s portrayal of Russian police as inept fools and effectively ended the opera’s run in both cities. Furthermore, Shostakovich was labeled an “Enemy of the People.”

Shostakovich’s First Symphony dates from earlier, happier times when he was only nineteen years of age. It served as his graduation thesis from the Leningrad Conservatory, and proved to be the work that thrust the promising young composer into the international spotlight. As so many writers have observed, nearly every aspect of Shostakovich’s satiric and profound mature style was already present in this symphony.

The work begins with solo bassoon and trumpet in a puzzling duet that seems to be out of place in a symphony. When the Allegro begins, a more familiar martial style is introduced by the solo clarinet. In fact, the woodwind instruments play an important role in this movement, as all thematic material is first played by solo woodwinds.

The second movement is a scherzo, traditionally found as the third movement. An orchestral piano part is of great importance here – battling with the percussion over whether the movement is in 3/4 or 4/4 meter. In the end, Shostakovich combines the patterns.

A stark oboe solo ushers in the Lento third movement, causing the emotional tone of the work to shift toward the tragic. The second theme, reminiscent of a funeral march, bears an amazing resemblance to Shostakovich’s more emotionally-charged later works. A violin resumes the oboe theme near the end of the movement. A drumroll crescendos to a threatening volume, connecting directly to the last movement.

In turn brooding, then brilliant and fiery, the finale is a tour-de-force that features many solos along the way. Proving that he was an undeniable master of drama in music, Shostakovich’s pacing is impeccable, with many small climaxes. However, he pulls out all the stops for a coda of unparalleled excitement.

© 2015 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin

Concerto No. 3 in C Major for piano and orchestra, Op. 26,
Sergei Prokofiev
Born April 23, 1891, in Sontsovka, Ekaterinoslav, Russia
Died March 5, 1953, in Moscow, Russia

This work was first performed on December 16, 1921, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Frederick Stock with the composer as soloist. It is scored for solo piano, piccolo, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussion, and strings.

Sergei Prokofiev was a privileged youth. His father managed an estate, earning enough to provide well for his family. His parents were quite involved in his education, serving as his earliest teachers in general subjects, as well as in music. However, his almost aristocratic background provided him with French and German governesses to help with foreign language instruction. It is perhaps surprising that the young composer would adopt Bolshevik attitudes to politics in his twenties, stating in his memoirs two decades later that he enthusiastically backed the 1917 Russian Revolution. There is evidence that this support might not have been completely wholehearted, as the composer most certainly penned his recollections with Soviet censors in mind. To further fuel doubts, Prokofiev left the Soviet Union in 1918 and would not return for twenty years.

The first four years of his extended sojourn were spent in the United States. During this period of exile, Prokofiev gave several concerts – both solo recitals and appearances with orchestras – to help fund his trip. He found himself in direct competition with his fellow countryman Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was much more firmly ingrained in the heart and mind of the public as the leading pianist of his day. Prokofiev lamented, “I could not even dream of the overwhelming success [Rachmaninoff] has with his concerts.”

The music-loving president of the International Harvester Corporation, Cyrus McCormick, had met Prokofiev in Russia, and extended an invitation for the composer to visit Chicago. After only meager success with his New York performances, Prokofiev traveled to the Windy City where several of his works were performed. His opera The Love for Three Oranges premiered on the stage of the Chicago Opera, as did the Third Piano Concerto at Symphony Hall.

Prokofiev completed the concerto on a vacation to France’s Atlantic Coast in 1921, although the bulk of the work dates from much earlier. He incorporated sketches from as early as 1913 and had to compose only two new melodies to fill out the concerto. The premiere on December 16, 1921, was less than enthusiastic and contributed to Prokofiev’s decision to leave America for Europe the following year.

The Third Concerto opens with a flowing clarinet solo, which soon becomes a duet with the addition of the second clarinet. After the rest of the woodwinds come in, the piano enters and transforms the movement into an angular and nervous Allegro with a central Andante. As the second movement, Prokofiev included a masterful Theme and Variations – a march-like exercise in colorful orchestration and pianistic extremes. The five variations range from sentimental to virtuosic. Prokofiev’s Finale opens with a gentle bassoon theme, abruptly interrupted by what the composer called “the blustering entry of the piano.” The climax of the movement, and of the concerto as a whole, is the dazzling coda with its glorious repeated patterns and sweeping piano glissandi.

© 2015 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin

A Thousand Natural Shocks
Kelly-Marie Murphy
Born September 4, 1964, in Sardegna, Italy

This work was premiered on September 23, 2000, by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bramwell Tovey.

With music described as “breathtaking” (Kitchener-Waterloo Record), “imaginative and expressive” (The National Post), “a pulse-pounding barrage on the senses” (The Globe and Mail), and “Bartok on steroids” (Birmingham News), Kelly-Marie Murphy’s voice is well known on the Canadian music scene. She has created a number of memorable works for some of Canada’s leading performers and ensembles, including the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras, The Gryphon Trio, James Campbell, Shauna Rolston, the Cecilia and Afiara String Quartets, and Judy Loman.

Kelly-Marie Murphy was born on a NATO base in Sardegna, Italy, and grew up on Canadian Armed Forces bases all across Canada. She began her studies in composition at the University of Calgary with William Jordan and Allan Bell, and later received a Ph.D. in composition from the University of Leeds, England, where she studied with Philip Wilby. After living and working for many years in the Washington D.C. area where she was designated “an alien of extraordinary ability” by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, she is now based in Ottawa, quietly pursuing a career as a freelance composer.

Murphy provided the following notes for her orchestral work, A Thousand Natural Shocks:

“A Thousand Natural Shocks was commissioned by the CBC at the request of Bramwell Tovey for the occasion of his first concert as music director with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The idea behind the piece is that change and new beginnings can be shocking and stressful, but also full of fantastic challenges that are ultimately as rewarding as they are necessary. The fear and tension of a new experience can quickly melt into thrilling course of action. Whereas Shakespeare had Hamlet wondering what to do when faced with ‘outrageous Fortune,’ Machiavelli proposed that ‘Fortune favours the impetuous.’

“Musically, I explore these approaches in elements of the orchestration. The piece begins with an extended timpani solo. When the orchestra finally enters, it is a loud, chaotic, tangle of lines in competition with one another. Although the majority of the piece is highly charged, fast, and dramatic, an important feature of all my works is the solo voice. These moments focus on the individual voice that can be overwhelmed by the crowd, yet is capable of being heard. In addition to the opening timpani solo, the piece also features extended solos for harp, oboe, flute, and percussion.

“A Thousand Natural Shocks is in one movement and lasts roughly 9’30”. It was written between January and July of this year and is dedicated to Bramwell Tovey with great respect. The title comes from Hamlet’s soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be… and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.’”

Biography and notes provided by the composer.

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