“From Sea to Shining Sea”
Smith Opera House
Ticket may be used to attend concert in person or to livestream it from home.
Saturday, June 11th: “From Sea to Shining Sea”
Smith Opera House, 7:30 pm
Geoffrey Herd, Grace Park, violin; Ettore Cause, viola; Hannah Collins, Clive Greensmith, cello; Jon Kimura Parker, piano
Explore trends that shaped American music and culture, with music by Florence Price, Chick Corea, William Grant Still, Samuel Barber and Dvořák in a sonic panorama of the country’s musical traditions.
Piano Quintet in E Minor Florence Price (1887-1953)
Got a Match? Chick Corea (1941-2021)
Danzas de Panama William Grant Still (1895-1978)
String Quartet, Op. 11 Samuel Barber (1910-81)
II. Molto Adagio
Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-Flat Major, Op. 87 Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
All programs subject to change.
Individual concert tickets: $30 adult; $10 college student with ID; FREE through Grade 12.
Season pass (8 concerts): $200 adult
Smith Opera House
About the Artists
From 1999 until its final season in 2013, Clive Greensmith was a member of the world-renowned Tokyo String Quartet, giving over one hundred performances each year in the most prestigious international venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, London’s South Bank, Paris Chatelet, Berlin Philharmonie, Vienna Musikverein and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Mr. Greensmith has given guest performances at prominent festivals worldwide. In North America, he has performed at the Aspen Music Festival,… Read more
Awarded both the P. Schidlof Prize and the J. Barbirolli Prize for “the most beautiful sound” at the prestigious Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition in 2000, Italian-born violist Ettore Causa is praised for his exceptional artistry, passionate intelligence and complete musicianship. He has made solo and recital appearances in major venues around the world, and has performed at numerous prestigious festivals. A devoted chamber musician, Causa has collaborated extensively with internationally renowned musicians. At the… Read more
Violinist Geoffrey Herd leads a varied and impactful career as a soloist and chamber musician, innovative artistic director and dedicated pedagogue. He has performed throughout the United States, Latin America, and Asia at venues such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Art in Boston and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall as well as at universities and conservatories globally. An avid chamber musician, Dr. Herd has collaborated with leading musicians including Ettore Causa, Jinjoo Cho,… Read more
Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as being “fresh, different and exhilarating,” and Strings Magazine as “intensely wrought and burnished,” violinist Grace Park captivates audiences with her artistry, passion and virtuosity. Winner of the 2018 Naumburg International Violin Competition, she showcases her artistry as a dynamic soloist and dedicated chamber musician. Ms. Park has appeared as soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Canada at venues such as Walt Disney Hall,… Read more
Cellist Hannah Collins is a dynamic performer who uses diverse forms of musical expression and artistic collaboration to build connections and community. Winner of the Presser Music Award and De Linkprijs for contemporary interpretation, she takes an active role in expanding the repertoire for the cello by commissioning and premiering solo works and by co-creating interdisciplinary projects—most recently working with visual artist Antonia Contro and violinist Clara Lyon on Correspondence, a multimedia installation exhibited at… Read more
Known for his passionate artistry and engaging stage presence, pianist Jon Kimura Parker has performed internationally in a 35-year career spanning multiple genres and collaborators. A true Canadian ambassador of music, Mr. Parker has given command performances for Queen Elizabeth II, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Prime Ministers of Canada and Japan. He is an Officer of The Order of Canada, his country’s highest civilian honor. An unusually versatile artist, Mr. Parker has given… Read more
“The future of this country must be founded upon what are called the Negro melodies,” Antonín Dvořák told the New York Herald in 1893. He continued, “This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States.” The Czech composer, who had already accrued a reputation as a composer with a distinctly nationalist style, had recently joined the National Conservatory of Music in America to serve as the artistic director and composition teacher. Though he never had the opportunity to hear the music of Florence Price (1887-1953), one can imagine that he would have been delighted by her oeuvre, which strongly reflects her African American cultural heritage. Beyond her arrangements of spirituals, which were widely popular and sung by celebrated singers such as Marian Anderson, Price frequently integrated the rhythms, character, and structures of Black musical traditions into her works.
The Piano Quintet in E minor is a brief but lovely example of her writing. The first movement (Allegro moderato) marches resolutely forward, unafraid to explore chromaticism and distant tonal areas. A dreamy whole-tone flourish in the piano introduces a lusher, quasi-Romantic melody. The forward momentum resumes, though, with the introduction of a noble theme in the natural minor, which lends it a folk-like character. The Andante clearly bears the influence of the spiritual, a genre W.E.B Du Bois described as “the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side of the seas.” As in her other works (such as the third symphony), the melody is not an adaption an existing melody, but rather an evocation of the tradition. A nostalgic, tender waltz comes to the fore in the middle; like a dream, though, it disappears as the spiritual returns. A lighthearted Allegretto in triple meter closes the work, filled with playful interactions between the voices, like pizzicati commentary and imitative dialogue.
Throughout his storied career as a jazz pianist and electric keyboard player, Chick Corea (1941-2021) consistently sought out new musical directions. While working with Miles Davis, Corea discovered the electric keyboard. Of Davis, Corea recalled, “He seemed to be searching for a sound and a new way of expression and the electric piano was part of what he was envisioning.” Corea would depart from Davis’ ensemble after recording In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, the two albums that established the rock-influenced fusion style. The instrument and genre, however, would continue to percolate in Corea’s subconscious, returning in force with the 1986 advent of the Chick Corea Elektric Band. “Got a Match?” appears on their eponymous first album. The song, conceived by Corea on a plane ride, shows off the melodic and timbral capabilities of the synthesizer to great effect; Corea exhibits his ability to sustain and bend pitches, adding vibrato, grace notes, and smooth glissandi throughout. The dazzling arpeggios of the main theme (doubled virtuosically in the original by bassist John Patitucci) give way to groovy solos that explore the melodic possibilities offered by the underlying sixteen-bar harmonic ostinato. Jon Kimura Parker’s transcription captures the flamboyant brilliance of Corea’s creation; the left hand assumes the bass part, laying down the rhythm and harmony, while the right dances dexterously around its partner.
Often described as the “Dean of African-American Music,” we might also consider William Grant Still (1895-1978) to be a Renaissance man—referring, of course, to the Harlem Renaissance. The composer corresponded and worked closely, in fact, with many leaders of the movement; Langston Hughes contributed to the libretto for Troubled Island, an opera based on the poet’s play Drums of Haiti. Alain Locke also greatly admired his compositions, including Still’s music in his study of African-American artists and encouraging the composer directly in letters.
Having worked with W.C. Handy, Still often incorporated elements of the blues into his music; he explained that “they, unlike spirituals, do not exhibit the influence of Caucasian music.” The Danzas de Panama, however, utilize source material of a very different sort. Based on a collection of folk songs collected by ethnomusicologist Elisabeth Waldo, each movement includes a number of melodic, rhythmic, and even timbral references to different Panamanian traditions. Tamborito opens with a rhythmic introduction in which the performers, imitating drums, strike their instruments. A sensuous melody follows, the voluptuous triplets pulling against the overall duple meter. The second movement (Mejorana y Socavon) contrasts an easy-going melody, accompanied by saltando flourishes in which the bow is bounced across the strings, with a more fiery, severe dance in duple. The Punto features a lilting, muted melody with plucked accompaniment. The percussive knocking returns energetically in the Cumbia y Congo, foreshadowing the vigorous music that follows. The dance scampers along (only once getting waylaid by a clumsy, heavy-footed interlude), before accelerating to a wild finish.
The Molto adagio from the String Quartet, Op. 11 by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) represents a different sort of American music. Ironically, the young American composer crafted the quartet while abroad, after winning both the Prix de Rome (and its consequent two-year residency in Rome) and a Pulitzer traveling scholarship. Excerpted from its musical surroundings (as it is here), the movement has become linked in the American public consciousness to moments of great gravity—in its orchestrated form, it was broadcast over the radio in 1945 upon the announcement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, and repurposed in movies such as Platoon, where it accompanies visceral depictions of the Vietnam War. The expansive melody unfolds as if encountering resistance; indeed, it pushes throughout against harmonic suspensions that resolve only reluctantly. The tension only increases as the melody rises, forcing the instruments into the high ranges of their tessituras as they each intone the melody in turn, culminating in an astonishing climax. After the instruments fall silent—pausing as if to recover from their heart-wrenching ascent—the melody begins anew, only to stutter to a stop, unable to recover its previous strength or plenitude.
Upon assuming his post at the National Conservatory in 1892, Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) wrote to a friend, “The Americans expect great things of me. I am to show them the way into the Promised Land, the realm of a new, independent art, in short a national style of music!” His own pieces, which frequently incorporated the Bohemian dance idioms he grew up playing with his local village band, were to serve as a model of music that married folk elements to more traditional forms and compositional procedures. The Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, composed only three years before his American sojourn, stands as an exemplar of this style.
Produced in little over a month in his beloved country home in Vysoká, Dvořák composed the Quartet in a fit of inspiration. “It came to me easily,” he wrote midway through the process, “and the melodies just surged upon me. Thank God!” The piece is indeed awash with captivating tunes, and the facility with which Dvořák seamlessly develops and combines them is equally evident. The strings burst forth exultantly in the Allegro con fuoco, dialoguing with the piano as if to convince it to join in their resolute march. The keyboard is finally persuaded to abandon its spiky dotted rhythmic motive, and the ensemble is unified for the first time in a heroic presentation of the theme. The second theme of this sonata-form movement is broad and lyrical. First heard in the viola, it is traded around the ensemble before being subsumed by a return to the first theme and the ensuing development. Here, the previously triumphant melody appears in various guises; even after the recapitulation, Dvořák cannot resist one final opportunity to transform the theme, and it appears in shimmering tremolando in the coda. The Lento that follows is a melodic smorgasbord, featuring as many themes as there are members of the ensemble: a tender outpouring from the cello that inspires a consoling response from the violin, a chordal fanfare in the piano that leads to an anguished deluge from the whole quartet, which recedes to simple melody in the piano accompanied by yearning half-steps in the strings. The rhapsodic process is repeated before coming to a contemplative close. Dvořák’s embrace of folk music is on full display in the third movement (Allegro moderato, grazioso); it opens with a charming Ländler (an Austrian dance in triple meter), before venturing into the more exotic realms of the harmonic minor scale. A mazurka-esque middle section skips trippingly along through its characteristic dotted rhythms and accents. The folk music flavor continues in the Finale, the modal melody, accented ornaments, and rhythmic flair of the opening evoking Dvořák’s homeland. The music relaxes in expressive episodes, but always regains its spirited momentum; the work concludes with almost symphonic panache.
©Anya Wilkening, 2022