7 Interesting Facts About The Grieg Piano Concerto

Grieg at the Piano

This May, DU Lamont School of Music’s Heidi Leathwood will join the Parker Symphony in performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. It’s one of the composer’s most popular works and one of the most loved and performed of all piano concerti. Whether you recognize the opening notes or have heard the whole thing numerous times, chances are you don’t know all there is to this to this stunning piece. Here are 7 interesting facts about the Grieg Piano Concerto.

  1. It was Grieg’s only completed concerto. When he was just 25, Grieg wanted to make his mark on the world. This was his first work to employ an orchestra and it was an instant success. Many expected the composer to write a second, but one never came. He began work on a second concerto in B minor, but he never completed it. Several pianists have recorded the sketches and in 1997 the Oslo Grieg Society held a competition in which one contestant elaborated a full concerto from the sketches. Grieg also started work on a violin concerto that also was not completed.

  2. It is often compared to Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Not only did Grieg and Schumann each write only one piano concerto, they both wrote theirs in A minor. Both works also begin on a similar descending flourish on the piano. Schumann wrote his first and Grieg heard Clara Schumann perform it about 10 years before writing his own. It is said that Grieg was greatly influenced by Schumann’s style having been taught piano by Schumann’s friend.

  3. Grieg did not perform it at the premiere. Some sources say that Grieg was the intended soloist but he was unable to attend the premiere due to previous commitments in Christiania (now Oslo). Anton Rubinstein, however, was in attendance and he even provided his own piano for the occasion. Danish composer Niels Gade (who wrote the Hamlet Overture which the PSO is also performing in May) was also in the audience.

  4. It was the first piano concerto ever recorded. German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus recognized the importance of the gramophone. His 1909 recording of the Grieg Piano Concerto was not only the first recording of that work, but the first time any concerto had been recorded. Due to the technology of the time, however, it was a heavily abridged performance that lasted only 6 minutes.

  5. A pianist died while performing it. On April 2, 1951, pianist Simon Barere collapse on stage while playing the first few bars of the Grieg Piano Concerto. The performance was with conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York. Unfortunately he died backstage shortly after collapsing.

  6. Grieg revised the work at least 7 times. Most of the updates were subtle, but they add up to over 300 differences from the original orchestration. The final version was completed only a few weeks before Grieg’s death and this is the version we know today.

  7. The concerto contains Norwegian folk music influences. This isn’t surprising since Edvard Grieg was from Norway and like other composers including Dvorak and Sibelius, he sought to pay tribute to his homeland in much of his music. The opening flourish of the concerto is a motif typical in Norwegian folk music while the last movement contains imitations of the Norwegian folk fiddle and halling (a Norwegian dance).


Don’t miss Heidi Leathwood’s performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor along with other Scandinavian pieces at the Parker Symphony Orchestra concert on May 11 at PACE. Tickets are on sale now.


Karelia Suite Captures The Spirit of Finland



Karelia, Finland

Since the Karelia Suite was composed by Jean Sibelius, a Finnish composer, you can imagine he infused a lot of his homeland into the piece. What you may not know, however, is that the piece is more than just inspired by Finland – it is entirely all about Finland. From the title, which refers to a region made up by southeast Finland and parts of Russia, to the premiere in Vyborg, this work captures the spirit of Sibelius’ country and was not only popular during his time, but remains one of his most performed works today.

The Karelia Suite is actually music that was commissioned by students from the Helsinki University in Vyborg for a historical tableau – a set of scenes from the history of Karelia. The original work was called Karelia Music and was an intensely patriotic work, incorporating Finland’s main folk legends from the Kalevala (a 19th century work of epic poetry based on Finnish mythology). It consisted of an overture, 8 tableau movements, and two intermezzo movements. Sibelius created the suite we know today using 3 of the movements.

The three movements of the Karelia Suite are:

  • Intermezzo: Sibelius borrowed the brass theme from the middle of the 3rd tableau to create this lively movement. It is a jaunty movement intended to depict the procession of Karelian laborers paying taxes to Duke Narimont of Lithuania.
  • Ballade: This was based on tableau 4 of the original music. It tells the story of 15th century Swedish king, Karl Knutsson, feeling reminiscent while listening to his bard singing in the castle.
  • Alla Marcia: This exhilarating march is very similar to the last half of the 5th tableau in the original music. The original tableau, however, depicted a violent city siege. This movement in the suite, however, is light, sunny, and jolly.

When the original Karelia Music premiered in 1893, it was not performed in the best of circumstances. The audience, made up of students from the university, was so loud that many could not hear the music at all. Sibelius himself remarked, “You couldn’t hear a single note of the music – everyone was on their feet cheering and clapping.”

Finnish author Ernst Lampén, who was in the audience, recalled:

The noise in the hall was like an ocean in a storm. I was at the opposite end of the hall and could not distinguish a single note. The audience did not have the patience to listen and was hardly aware of the music. The orchestra was actually there, behind the pillars. I thrust my way through the crowd and managed to reach the orchestra after a good deal of effort. There were a few listeners. Just a handful. I arrived just when they were playing the march. What a extraordinarily charming and varied melody! What a springy rhythm!

Despite this initial performance, Sibelius went on to conduct a very popular concert that included the Overture plus the three movements that would become the Karelia Suite and thanks to its wonderful reception, the composer decided to sell the pieces for printing. Many of the original tableaus may have been lost to fire (Sibelius burned many of his manuscripts in 1945), but the Karelia Suite survived.

Today, critics note that this suite combines rustic melodies with grand, noble moments to reflect both the rough, simple life and the deep patriotism of the Karelian people. Listening to the various movements (particularly the opening of the Intermezzo and the Alla Marcia), one cannot help but think of the beautiful wilderness, the vast tundras, and the proud people of Finland.

If you’d like to hear the Karelia Suite performed live, join the Parker Symphony on May 11 at the PACE Center when we perform this and other Scandinavian works.


11 Amazing Facts About Porgy and Bess

Photo courtesy of The New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/theater/reviews/audra-mcdonald-in-the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess-review.html

Porgy and Bess is one of George Gershwin’s best-known works (along with Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris). It is an English-language folk opera featuring a cast of African-American singers based on a play and a book named “Porgy”. When it debuted in 1935, it was a daring artistic choice given the racially charged theme, but despite some controversy, it gained popularity especially after the 1970’s and is now a frequently performed opera. Even if you’ve never seen it performed (or seen the movie adaptation), chances are you’ve heard some of its songs like “Summertime” which is frequently recorded separately.

There’s more to this American opera, though, than “Summertime”, “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin'”, and racial controversy. Here are 11 cool facts about Porgy and Bess to keep in mind the next time you see it or hear its amazing music (you can hear the Parker Symphony perform selections from Porgy and Bess on February 23).

“and Bess” was an afterthought: The opera was originally named “Porgy” throughout its creation. The “and Bess” portion was added to avoid confusion with the novel and play it was based on. The thought was also that the “and Bess” made it sound more operatic.

It was a box office flop: Porgy and Bess debuted on Broadway in 1935 (after its world premiere in Boston). Its original run included 125 performances which by opera standards is a huge success. However, for Broadway, that’s a theatrical failure.

Its performance resulted in an integrated audience: After the Broadway run, the opera went on tour to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and, finally, Washington DC. In Washington, the cast, led by lead actor Todd Duncan, staged a protest of segregation at the National Theater. The theater intended to offer a special “blacks only” performance, but Duncan and the cast said they would never perform in a theater that prevented them from purchasing a ticket because of race. Management gave into their demands and the result was the first integrated audience for a performance of any show at that venue.

It has faced racial controversy over the years: Duke Ellington was said to have objected to its depiction of African Americans, although he later said the opposite. Harry Belafonte turned down the role of Porgy in the film version and the role when to Sidney Poitier. It is thought, however, that Gershwin never meant to insult African Americans. On the contrary, he insisted that it could only be sung by a black cast, a tradition upheld by Ira Gershwin that has launched the careers of several prominent black opera singers. George Gershwin sought to write a true jazz opera and he felt that the Met staff singers couldn’t master the genre.

Robert McFerrin sang the role of Porgy: Bobby McFerrin’s father, Robert, sang the role of Porgy in the 1959 film version. His voice was dubbed over Sidney Poitier’s.

The libretto was co-written by a former insurance agent: The libretto (the text used in the opera) was written by both Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. Heyward was the co-author of the original “Porgy” novel which he wrote with his wife while he was working as an insurance agent.

The setting is fictional, but the inspiration is real: Porgy and Bess is set in the fictional neighborhood of Catfish Row, South Carolina. However, the setting and the story were inspired by the James Island Gullah community in South Carolina. In fact, most of the characters speak in the Gullah dialect. George Gershwin moved to Folly Beach, an island near Charleston, South Carolina, to draw inspiration from the Gullah community while composing the score.

It has been on Broadway seven times: Despite its initial failure, Porgy and Bess has been produced on Broadway seven times to date – 1935, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1953, 1976, 1983, and 2012. The 2012 production had the longest run at 321 performances.

It was a “first” for La Scala: Porgy and Bess was the first opera by an American-born composer to be performed at the famous opera house in Milan. The performance took place in 1955 and Maya Angelou was among the cast.

It was referenced in Sesame Street: The opera has undeniably made its mark in American music and culture, so much so that it was referenced in an episode of Sesame Street’s 36th season. Hoots the Owl sang a parody version of “A Women Is A Sometime Thing” to Cookie Monster called “A Cookie Is A Sometime Food”.

“Summertime” may be more popular than you know: Not only is it a memorable aria, but it has also been covered over 33,000 times by groups and solo performers.


Join the Parker Symphony Orchestra on February 23, 2018 to hear selections from Porgy and Bess and more. Tickets for Gone Too Soon are on sale now.

Obscure & Uncommon Classical Christmas Music


Tired of the usual Christmas carols on the radio? Have you heard Sleigh Ride or Winter Wonderland one too many times this season? Then check out our list of uncommon classical Christmas music including rare choral pieces and obscure symphonic compositions.

Past Three O’Clock

Past Three O’Clock is loosely based on the traditional cry of the city night watchman. It was written by George Ratcliffe Woodward and published in 1924. Although it has been recorded by a number of choirs including the Choir of King’s College and Cambridge, it doesn’t typically make the cut among popular music artists.




In Terra Pax – Gerald Finzi

In Terra Pax was one of the last pieces British composer Gerald Finzi wrote. It was composed in 1954 and was set to the words of a poem entitled “Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913” by Robert Bridges. Finzi explained that the work is the Nativity story becoming a vision seen by “a wanderer on a dark and frosty Christmas Eve in our own familiar landscape”. Like his other works, it has hints of inspiration from other British composers like Elgar and Vaughan Williams.




Riu Riu Chiu

Although it has crossed into some popular music recordings, Riu Riu Chiu remains relatively unknown by most. Sometimes attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder who died in 1553, the basic theme of the song is the nativity of Christ and the immaculate Conception. The words “ríu ríu chíu” are nonsense syllables that represent the call of the kingfisher.




Christmas Overture – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer of African descent. His father was a Sierra Leone Creole physician. His mother, an Englishwoman. He showed promise at an early age as a violinist and then as a composer. He became fairly well-known in England as well as in the US where he was dubbed the “African Mahler”. His Christmas Overture was derived from The Forest of Wild Thyme and arranged by Sydney Barnes after Coleridge-Taylor’s death. In it, you’ll hear familiar tunes like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Good King Wenceslaus”, and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.




Gaudete

Another medieval carol, Gaudete or Gaudete, Christus est natus is a sacred Christmas song that was published in 1582. When it was published, no music was given for the verses, but it is typically sung to a tune that comes from older liturgical books. The title translates as “Rejoice, rejoice! Christ has born”.




Carol Symphony – Victor Hely-Hutchinson

Victor Hely-Hutchinson was a British composer born in Cape Town, Cape Colony (now South Africa). His best known work is his Carol Symphony – a four movement work that incorporates several well-known Christmas carols. The first movement is based on O Come All Ye Faithful. The second is a scherzo on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The third is a slow movement loosely based on both the Coventry Carol and The First Noel. And the finale incorporates Here We Come A-Wassailing and O Come All Ye Faithful again.




Sleigh Ride (Winter Night) – Frederick Delius

Another English composer, Delius is best known for lyrical music influenced by other European composers like Edvard Grieg and Richard Wagner as well as music he heard while in America. His Winter Night is an atmospheric portrayal of a moonlit, snowy sleigh ride complete with sleigh bells.




Wassail Song – Ralph Vaughan Williams

The “Wassail Song” is part of Vaughan Williams’ Five English Folk Songs, a transcription of melodies from England’s vast vocal tradition of folk music. It was written in 1913 with cheer and charm to end the collection of five songs.




Santa Claus Symphony – William Henry Fry

William Henry Fry holds the distinction of being the first composer born in the United States to write for a large symphony orchestra. His Santa Claus Symphony was written in 1853 and was very well received by audiences. It may be the first orchestral use of the saxophone which was invented just barely a decade before.


Handel’s “Messiah” FAQs



Handel's MessiahHandel’s “Messiah” is one of the most widely played pieces during the Christmas season and certainly the most popular oratorio (a musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists). It’s also, however, the subject of a wide variety of myths, misconceptions, and questions ranging from things as simple as its title to why we stand during the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.

Let’s take a moment to explore answers to these key frequently asked questions about “Messiah”.

What is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel’s “Messiah” is a large work for orchestra, choir, and solo singers called an oratorio. It was composed in 1741 and is typically performed around Christmas. The most famous part is the “Hallelujah” chorus which has been used in popular culture in movies, cartoons, and even commercials. While many people refer to it as “The Messiah”, its official name is just “Messiah”.

What is the story of Handel’s Messiah?

It doesn’t tell story. Instead, the libretto, written by Charles Jennens, is a series of contemplations on the Christian theme of redemption through the life of Christ. The work is in 3 parts: the first part foretells Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story, the second part leads up to and includes the crucifixion, and the third part talks about the spread of Christianity and eternal life. Interestingly, despite its Christian message, most of the text is from the Old Testament.

Where was Handel’s Messiah first performed?

Contrary to myths about London, it was actually first performed on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland as a charity concert benefiting three charities: prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercers Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary. Handel sought and was given permission from St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs and he even had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performance. To ensure that the audience would be the largest possible, gentlemen were asked to remove their swords and women were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The takings from the concert were around £400 and each charity received about £127 which secured the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Why do you stand for Handel’s Messiah?

Audiences typically stand only during the “Hallelujah” chorus. The reason for this has its origins in a legend that may or may not be true. The often repeated story is that King George II was so moved by the chorus during the London premiere that he rose to his feet. Because of protocol, the audience in attendance also stood and thus the tradition was born. However, many experts agree that there is no evidence that King George II was even in attendance at the premiere. Newspapers of the time did not mention his attendance and it would be unlikely they would leave out the detail of a royal presence. The first written documentation of this story was a letter written 37 years after the London premiere. The London premiere also received a rather cool reception unlike the Dublin premiere which was a hit. All of this has led to numerous debates and countless passive-aggressive battles between sitters and standers.

Why is Handel’s Messiah so popular at Christmas?

The premiere in Dublin was held in April and Handel himself associated “Messiah” with Lent and Easter. In fact, only one-third of the piece deals with Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story. So why is a piece that’s really an Easter work so popular during Christmas? Laurence Cummings, conductor of the London Handel Orchestra, once told Smithsonian Magazine that the custom may have come out of necessity stating that while there is so much fine Easter music like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, there is little great sacral music written for Christmas. Regardless of the reason, “Messiah” has been a regular December staple since the 19th century, especially in the US.

How long is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel wrote the original version of “Messiah” in three to four weeks. Some accounts estimate just 24 days. We say “original version” because Handel rewrote parts to better meet the abilities of specific soloists and depending on availability of instruments. In 1789, Mozart re-orchestrated it to give it a more modern sound.

The time it took Handel to write the work is amazingly short when you consider the score is 259 pages. NPR music commentator Miles Hoffman estimated that there are roughly a quarter of a million notes in it which means Handel had to keep a continuous pace writing 15 notes per minute.

Typical performances of the entire “Messiah” are usually around 2 1/2 to 3 hours long.

Die Fledermaus? At A Halloween Concert?



If you’re familiar with the famous waltzes of Johann Strauss II (think “The Blue Danube”), you might be asking yourself, why on earth are we performing the overture from Die Fledermaus for a Halloween concert? It’s not creepy or spooky or scary. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – filled with sweet melodies and bouncy rhythms that act as a preview of the rest of the operetta which is filled with humorous plot twists, cases of mistaken identity, and a final chorus in honor of champagne.

Despite all that, there are 3 great reasons to perform the Die Fledermaus Overture for Halloween:

1. The opera is about a masquerade: The operetta (a term used to describe a short opera with a light or humorous theme) is centered around a masquerade ball. And what’s more Halloween than dressing up in costumes?

2. The title means “The Bat”: Die Fledermaus is German for “the bat”. The operetta’s main character, Eisenstein, left his friend Dr. Falke abandoned and drunk on the street. Dr. Falke was dressed in a bat costume and from that point on he took on the nickname of “Dr. Bat”. Interestingly, “fledermaus” does not translate to “flying mouse”. “Fleder” is an old form of “flattern” which means “flutter”. So “fledermaus” is “fluttermouse”.

3. It’s fun!: Who says Halloween music has to be creepy? After all, it is meant to be a fun holiday and what’s more fun than clapping or swaying along with the famous waltz melody of this overture once called the “pièce de resistance” of the operetta by a Viennese critic. In fact it was so well-received at its premiere that it was interrupted several times by applause.

Be sure to join us on October 27, 2017 and hear us perform this and other Halloween music at “Sounds of the Deep”

Parker Symphony Halloween 2017 Concert - Die Fledermaus


Top 12 Fast Classical Music Pieces


Classical music detractors might have you believe that the genre is made up of slow and boring tunes that will put you to sleep. While, sure, there are a fair number of slower tempo pieces including soft lullabies and peaceful preludes, there are also notable quick and lively selections perfect for energizing your workout, keeping you awake, and more. Here is our top 12 list of fast classical music pieces, many of which have become famous through their use in cartoons, TV ads, and more.

Glinka – Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture

The best-known music from Glinka’s opera is this overture, often described as rollicking and wickedly fast.

Chopin – Minute Waltz

The tempo marking of Chopin’s famous “Waltz in D-flat major” is molto vivace (or very lively). Its nickname, the “Minute” was actually intended to describe the piece as a “small” or “miniature” waltz. It was not intended to be played in under a minute. It’s still pretty fast, though.

Vivaldi – “Summer” from The Four Seasons

“The Four Seasons” is the best known of Vivaldi’s works and the Presto movement of Summer is definitely the fastest portion. This portion is intended to evoke images of a storm complete with thunder and hail.

Smetana – “Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride

The Dance of the Comedians is from Czech composer Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride”. You may recognize it though from the Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote cartoon “Fast and Furry-ous”.

Rimsky Korsakov – Flight of the Bumblebee

“Flight of the Bumblebee” was written as a small orchestral interlude for the opera “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” – music to entertain between acts. Today, it is far more famous as a standalone piece.

Popper – Dance of the Elves

Popper was both a cellist and a composer. His “Elfentanz” (Dance of the Elves) was written along with other short showpieces to highlight the cello’s incredible range and unique sound.

Khachaturian – Sabre Dance

The “Sabre Dance” is by far Khachaturian’s most recognizable work. It’s actually a movement in the final act of his ballet “Gayane”, but it has since been used in movies and even by ice skaters as music for their routines.

Liszt – Gnomenreigen

Part of Liszt’s “Two Concert Etudes”, Gnomenreigen (Dance of the Gnomes) is well-known among pianists for its technical difficulty and fast passages.

Vivaldi – Concerto for 2 Cellos in G Minor

Vivaldi only left one “double” concerto for cellos, but the cadenza-like opening is highly charged and often played very fast.

Paganini – Caprice No 5

You don’t have to search anywhere but Wikipedia to read why this made the list. It’s described as being “known for its incredible speed and extremely high technical difficulty”.

Corelli – Badinerie

Badinerie in French literally means jesting. In music, it generally refers to the quick, light movement in a suite. This selection by Corelli is part of his “Sarabande, Gigue, and Badinerie Suite for Strings”.

Barber – 3rd movement from his Violin Concerto

Barber’s violin concerto has three movements and it’s the last which stands out for its fast tempo. It was designed to show off the more brilliant and virtuosic nature of the violin.

 

The Story of Debussy’s “The Sunken Cathedral”


Sunken Church in TyrolIn 1909 and 1910, Claude Debussy wrote a series of 12 preludes for solo piano. Among them is the mysteriously titled, “La Cathédrale engloutie” which translates to The Submerged (or The Sunken) Cathedral. A quintessential example of musical impressionism, the piece depicts the rise of a cathedral from the water and subsequent return to the depths – complete with bells chiming, priests chanting, and organ playing.

While you may know the piece, did you know that it’s based on a real legend? The ancient Breton legend of Ys.

Legend of Ys

Ys was a mythical city said to have been on the coast of Brittany (Northwest France) in the Bay of Douarnenez. It was famous throughout the region for its beautiful gardens and buildings. Run by a king named Gradlon (or Gralon) who lived in a palace of marble, cedar, and gold, it was rich in commerce and the arts. It was also very vulnerable to flooding, being situated below sea level. To protect the city, a huge dike was built around it with a single gate that opened for ships during low tide.

The exact reason why Ys became submerged in the sea varies. There are many different versions of the legend. Most depict Gradlon as a pious, devoted king and father who was the holder of the only key to the city gate. His daughter, Dahut, on the other hand is usually described as a sinful, deceitful princess. In some versions, Princess Dahut holds a secret banquet for her lover and the two, drunk with wine, steal the key from her father and open the gates, letting the waters flood in. Another version says that Dahut steals the key to let her secret lover in to the city during the night, mistakenly flooding the city.

King Gradlon of Ys Statue in QuimperThere are also versions that involve the fight between Christianity and paganism, suggesting the cause of the city’s demise was due to everything from excessive luxury to sin and worship of pagan gods to Dahut taking the devil himself as her lover. In these versions, King Gradlon was said to have converted to Christianity. St Gwénnolé foretold of the city’s downfall and warned the king to flee. He agreed to do so, but devoted father as he was, he tried to save his daughter. A voice called out to throw his sinful daughter into the sea or he would not escape the waters that were about to overtake him. He does so and she turns into a mermaid.

All versions agree that Dahut does not escape her fate. Ys becomes submerged in the sea. King Gradlon escapes and takes refuge in Quimper which becomes the new capital. Interestingly, a statue of Gradlon still stands between the spires of the Cathedral of Saint Corentin in Quimper.

Breton folklore asserts that the bells of the churches of Ys can still be heard below the waters of the Bay of Douarnenez when it is calm, hence the inspiration for Debussy’s prelude.

A Pun For An Ending

Another related legend says that when Paris is swallowed, the city of Ys will rise again. Par-is means “like Ys” in Breton.

Debussy’s Depiction

The opening of the piece gently brings in the cathedral, out of the water, with a melody that resembles waves. Debussy wrote in Peu à peu sortant de la brume (Emerging from the fog little by little). Then after a section marked Augmentez progressivement (Slowly growing), the cathedral emerges and the grand organ is heard with a powerful fortissimo. This is the loudest part of the piece. The cathedral then sinks back down into the ocean and the organ is heard once more, but this time from under water. Finally, it is out of sight and only the bells are heard at a distant pianissimo.

Hear It For Yourself!

Join us on October 27, 2017 and hear us perform Stokowski’s arrangement of Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie along with other pieces perfect for the Halloween season. Tickets for “Sounds of the Deep” are available now.

 

What Is A Pops Orchestra?


Image courtesy of http://www.northshorepops.org/If you’ve attended orchestral performances or listened to classical music for any length of time, you’ve probably seen the terms “philharmonic”, “symphony”, and “chamber” in the names of various organizations. “Pops” is another common term (as in the Boston Pops or the Denver Pops Orchestra). The first three are used to denote different sized groups. A chamber orchestra is the smallest while “symphony” and “philharmonic” typically refer to groups large enough to play the great symphonies. “Philharmonic” is also a proper name used to distinguish orchestras in the same city.

“Pops” is another story. It refers to the type of music played by the group.

What is a pops orchestra?

Simply put, it is an orchestra that plays popular music as well as well-known classical works. They are groups that perform lighter classics, American favorites, popular music, show tunes, and film music. Many feel they are an alternative to the “highbrow” orchestras since they aren’t afraid to let their hair down a little. Of course, we here at the Parker Symphony aren’t afraid to let our hair down at times even though we don’t have the “pops” moniker.

Examples of pops orchestras

Examples include the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Denver Pops Orchestra (as mentioned before) as well as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the American Pops Orchestra, and the Cleveland Pops Orchestra. These groups tend to have friendly relationships with the traditional professional orchestra in their city, often sharing members (although typically not the first chair players).

What music does a pops orchestra perform?

On the classical side, you may hear Strauss waltzes and polkas, overtures from composers like Rossini, Mozart, and von Suppé, and a movement or two from a famous Beethoven or Mozart symphony. On the popular side, you might hear the music of an iconic band like The Beatles, the music from a hit Broadway show like Hamilton, and movie themes from composers like John Williams, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, and Thomas Newman.

Pops Orchestras vs. Pops Concerts

Interestingly, critics of pops orchestras suggest that the fact that they are separate organizations has removed some of these more famous classics from traditional symphony orchestras’ repertoire which has hurt attendance. They tend to “remove some music whose principal reason for existence is pure entertainment”.

To answer this, traditional orchestras have been putting on more programs in the style of pops orchestras. Philharmonic orchestras and symphony orchestras have always occasionally played a pops concert here or there, but more recently, these organizations have found success in themed concerts and even playing a film score alongside the movie.

Even we here at the Parker Symphony perform pops concerts to help draw in new and different audiences. For example, our 2016 “PSO Goes To The Movies” concert included single movements from symphonies and short classics featured in films.

The Future Of Pops

Pops orchestras and concerts will probably always have a place. After all, to quote the New York Philharmonic’s vice president of artistic planning, “Not every subscription concert, week in and week out, should be so deadly serious.” Whether pops plays more or less of a role in the future is hard to say. For now, those who want to hear serious performances, there are always programs available featuring masterful concertos, full symphonies, and choral works. For those who are looking for lighter entertainment, check out the various pops orchestras and concerts in your area.


What Is A Concerto Grosso?

Baroque Instruments

If you’ve ever listened to baroque music (think Vivaldi, Corelli, Handel, etc.), you’ve probably seen the term Concerto Grosso and wondered, “What is that?” Well, as you can probably guess, it does not mean the concerto is gross.

Concerto grosso (or the plural concerti grossi) is Italian for “big concerto”. Unlike a solo concerto where a single solo instrument plays the melody line and is accompanied by the orchestra, in a concerto grosso, a small group of soloists passes the melody between themselves and the orchestra or a small ensemble.

The group of soloists (or soli, concertino, or principale) was often made up of two violins, a bass melody instrument such as a cello, and a harmony instrument such as a harpsichord. Wind instruments were also common. The orchestra (or tutti or ripieno) was usually a string orchestra or a small ensemble of strings, often with a few woodwinds or brass added.

Concerti grossi were very common in the Baroque era (1600-1750). Right around 1750 (just after Handel composed his Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 with 12 different concerti), the solo concerto became the more popular musical form and the concerto grosso all but disappeared. Interestingly, a few 20th century composers like Igor Stravinsky, Philip Glass, and Henry Cowell have revived the form.

Listen to Corelli’s Concerto Grosso op. 6 no. 8 below and see if you can spot the concertino vs. the ripieno.