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For our autumn concert, I have programmed some somber pieces, hoping to encourage some cooler weather for Redlands. Is it working?

We open with a rare work by opera genius Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), “Chrysanthemums” (“I Crisantemi”). What a gorgeous work! Written in 1890 as a response to the death of the Duke of Savoy, it is a powerful emotional outpouring. Puccini reported that he wrote it in a single night, and it certainly feels very direct and authentic!

Giacomo Puccini

Giacomo Puccini

Often unfairly maligned by musicologists for his huge popular appeal, Puccini himself realized that his greatest gifts lay in the theater. Therefore he composed very few purely instrumental works. He was proud of “Chrysanthemums”, however...so much so that he decided to include its two themes in the last act of his first great opera, Manon Lescaut.

Next we move to American composer Mark Isham’s (b. 1951) brooding Suite from American Crime, an Emmy®-winning television drama on the ABC network. I have loved Mark Isham’s film music for more than 25 years. I listened to this CD at least once a month because it made me feel peaceful at the end of a stressful day. But I had no connection with him, so mine remained only a distant admiration. To my surprise just this last May, he contacted me looking for an ensemble to play a concert suite from American Crime. I immediately suggested that we include it on a Redlands Symphony program!

Mark speaking with Elvis Mitchell at MasterClass: Mark Isham during the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival at The GRAMMY Museum:

I’m happy to say that the producers of the show have graciously allowed us to use the actual video scenes that the music was composed for. So, for the first time ever, we will have video and music together. Multimedia concerts are all the rage of late, and for good reason.  A good visual element can add excitement and depth to a concert, and I’m thrilled that our expert team has embraced the idea!

George Gershwin

George Gershwin

George Gershwin’s (1898-1937) “Lullaby” is a perennial favorite with musicians and audiences alike. In 1919, after he was already successful on Broadway, Gershwin was seriously studying classical harmony and counterpoint, as he did much of his short life. This one-movement work was an exercise for his lessons, but immediately became a favorite at the private musicales held by Gershwin’s friends. The composer thought highly enough of the melody to use it again as an aria (“Has Anyone Seen My Joe?”) in his early opera Blue Monday. The opera was a failure (it was part of “George White’s Scandals”) and was withdrawn after a single performance), but hearing the work inspired Paul Whiteman to commission Gershwin to compose a work for his upcoming Aeolean Hall concert. That work turned out to be Rhapsody in Blue! It wasn’t until 1967 that the string quartet version of “Lullaby” received its first public performance...by no less than the Juilliard String Quartet! When it was finally published in 1968, the composer’s brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, wrote, “It may not be the Gershwin of Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, and his other concert works, but I find it charming and kind.”

This brings us to our final work, Ernest Bloch’s (1880-1959) powerful and melodic Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1925). Bloch was born in Switzerland, lived in several places in Europe, and eventually became an American citizen. When asked what nationality of composer he was, he always answered with a smile, “I am a Jewish composer.” After coming to America, he worked and taught in New York, Cleveland, and Berkeley over the years. But after he discovered the Oregon Coast in the early 1940s, he lived there from then on. He positively thrived in the natural environment of that beautiful part of the world.

Ernest Bloch

Ernest Bloch (photo by Walt Dyke, courtesy of the Ernest Bloch Foundation)

His music shows a lot of influences and is always dramatic and passionate. The Concerto Grosso No. 1 is so popular with audiences that it has truly become a part of the American musical landscape. Interestingly, it was created in response to complaints by Bloch's students at the Cleveland Institute of Music about “the inadequacies of tonality in shaping the music for the next century.” He certainly proved his students wrong! Enthusiastically tonal and approachable, it is one of his greatest works. I have always liked this exciting music, and really happy we found a place for it in my first season in Redlands.

Musically yours,

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