PSYO Spring Concert
Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra opens its spring concert with Analog Intelligence (A 21st Century Dance Suite) by Brendan Faegre, followed by Gustav Mahler's gloriously epic First Symphony. The spellbinding slow movement is based on the children's song "Frère Jacques," transposed into a haunting minor key.
Admission is free, but tickets are required. Seating is general admission.
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To learn more about PSYO Music Director Roger Kalia, please click here.
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ROGER KALIA • CONDUCTOR
BRENDAN FAEGRE • COMPOSER & PERCUSSION
Brendan Faegre (b. 1985)
Analog Intelligence* (A 21st Century Dance Suite)
Drum ‘n’ Bass
Brendan Faegre, percussionist
I N T E R M I S S I O N
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Symphony No. 1 in D Major, “Titan”
Slowly, dragging. Very restrained throughout
Moving strongly, but not too quickly
Solemnly and measured, without dragging
Stormily agitated – energetic
*Commissioned by Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra
This evening’s performance is generously sponsored by Irvine Korean Parent Association (IKPA).
Brendan Faegre (B. 1985)
A native of Portland, Oregon, Brendan Faegre (b. 1985) received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. He received master’s degrees from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and from Indiana University, and has also studied at the Norwegian Academy of Music and at Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. In addition, he studied Indian classical music in India.
Faegre has served as composer and drummer for Edge Ensemble, a contemporary music ensemble noted for blurring the boundaries between different musical genres. Analog Intelligence (A 21st Century Dance Suite) is a newly written work, commissioned for Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Faegre’s musical influences are highly eclectic, including contemporary classical music, traditional Indian music, rock and jazz. Such a diverse set of musical stimuli is common in this day and age, an era unlike any other in music history in which virtually anything that has ever been composed anywhere in the world is immediately available at the touch of a button. This aspect of Faegre’s music reflects how technology is changing contemporary culture.
Analog Intelligence was originally written for my violin/drum kit/electronics trio 'Bow Hammer Connection'. It was a 21st century dance suite, equally inspired by J.S. Bach and James Blake. When Roger Kalia approached me about writing a piece for Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra, I knew the dance suite could be done great justice in a detailed orchestration.
I set about translating the heavily electronic soundworld of the original piece into the language of an acoustic orchestra. The echo effect became slow wah-wah mutes in the brass, the distortion effect became aluminum foil mutes in the strings, and the reverb effect became airy sounds from all sections of the orchestra. In this new version a unique sonic environment is born, straddling the line between acoustic orchestral and electronic chamber music.
-- Brendan Faegre
GUSTAV MAHLER (1860 - 1911)
One of the most significant Austro-German composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Gustav Mahler (1860- 1911) was perhaps the single most important link between late Romanticism and 20th century modernism. Today known as a composer, he was primarily regarded as a conductor in his own day.
Considered the world’s greatest living conductor, he was nonetheless highly controversial. He had extremely high, uncompromising musical standards and reformed many of the institutions he served. In particular, he drastically increased rehearsal time, demanding nothing less than absolute perfection from his musicians.
Predictably, his unrelenting artistic standards were not always enthusiastically received by orchestra members with whom he repeatedly clashed. In fact, some of his musicians threatened him with physical violence, and he was once even challenged to a duel (thankfully, he refused). Mahler’s career was certainly not helped by his difficult personality. In spite of the pushback, Mahler’s ideas would prove highly decisive and helped inform how we think about and perform music to this day.
The son of Jewish parents, Mahler grew up in the town of Iglau in western Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He studied piano and composition and participated in the town’s musical life featuring Czech folk musicians, an amateur orchestra, a small professional theatre and opera, and open-air military band concerts in the main square. As a part of Austria, Bohemia hosted a German-speaking middle and upper class into which Mahler’s parents had assimilated.
After a brief academic stint in Prague, Mahler attended the Vienna Conservatory where he studied piano and composition (including some classes with Anton Bruckner) and fell under the spell of Wagner—to his teachers’ consternation.
He also attended academic courses at the University of Vienna, developing particular interests in the Academic Wagner Society, leftist philosophical circles and pan- Germanism. As a student, he began conducting student rehearsals and gave piano lessons. A young artist and intellectual in a city renowned for its café culture, Mahler frequently discussed philosophy with friends.
In 1885, Mahler was hired by Arthur Nikisch (future conductor of the New York Philharmonic) for a six-year contract at the Leipzig Opera to begin the following year; due to disputes with Nikisch he would only stay for two years. Mahler composed his First Symphony in 1888 while working as second conductor at the Leipzig City Theatre, although much of it was assembled from music written earlier. Although he tried to have it performed in Leipzig, he was unsuccessful.
In addition to the composer’s artistic, philosophical and social aims for the piece, the work’s intense expressivity is partly due to his romantic association with Marion von Weber, the English-born wife of the grandson of the early 19th century German composer Carl Maria von Weber.
A difficult personality to work with, Mahler resigned from his position in Leipzig two years into his six-year position; he returned to Prague but was soon fired there. Luckily for him, he was noticed by David Popper, a cellist who was in charge of the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest (Mahler nearly missed his meeting with Popper because he was intensely absorbed in composing).
Mahler’s arrival in Budapest in 1888 thrust him in the midst of a raging political dispute. As with Ljubljana and Prague, he came to Budapest as a representative of German culture. Although he had come from a Jewish family in a small town in Bohemia, his family had been highly assimilated into Austrian society.
Throughout the Austrian Empire, German had been both the language of administration and a unifying cultural force in an empire that encompassed many minority groups. Mahler thus grew up speaking German rather than Czech or Yiddish, reading German literature, attending a German high school and studying and producing what was perceived as German music.
During the 1860s, Hungary had been granted particularly strong autonomy within Austria, becoming an equal component within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the time of Mahler’s arrival there in the late 1880s, two factions vied for control of Budapest high society.
A more liberal, pro-German group wanted to accept German culture, although on Hungary’s terms. This faction sought to perform German works, particularly Wagner, although it aimed to utilize Hungarian singers and to perform the works in Hungarian translation. On the other side, a right-wing conservative faction embraced Hungarian culture over German and sought to perform works primarily by Hungarian composers.
Mahler, for his part, attempted to learn Hungarian and establish friendships with important members of Hungarian society, but he still was seen by many as overwhelmingly German and foreign. Much of the criticism he faced was due to this tension between rival political factions within Hungarian society, although he also suffered from anti-Semitism.
Gustav Mahler at the time of his First Symphony
It was in this fraught political situation in which the 1888 premiere of Mahler’s first symphony took place. The piece’s first part was warmly received, with high praise from critics and ovations from audiences. The darker, more experimental second part, however, was roundly rejected by audiences and critics alike. Mahler put the work away for three years, focusing instead on conducting.
During the 1880s, the Royal Hungarian Opera theatre had been run by Sandor Erkel, part of the anti-German faction. At the same time, both the general manager for all Budapest theatres and the Intendant of the Royal Opera were pro-German Wagner supporters. In 1890, Hungarian politics shifted to the right, with the pro-Hungarian faction gaining power in government as well as within the theater. Amidst this uncomfortable, stifling political environment, Mahler broke contract. He was soon hired to conduct in Hamburg.
A free city for hundreds of years, not subject to the same restrictions as other regions of the Holy Roman Empire, Hamburg had a history and traditions of an open, entrepreneurial climate.
Moreover, a part of the recently unified Germany rather than an ethnically disjointed Austria, its political environment was far less fraught. The Hamburg opera was run as a commercial business with a manager committed to maximizing revenues and audience sizes, not managing an official public culture.
Mahler thrived in the new environment, where he conducted freely, enjoyed long walks along the harbor, and finally returned to his symphony. He drastically revised its orchestration, finishing his second version in 1893. The work was performed in Hamburg in 1893 and in Weimar (through the help of Richard Strauss) the following year. Both cities were far more receptive to experimentalism than Budapest, although the work still proved controversial and divisive. Mahler continued revising and re-orchestrating the piece, finally publishing it in 1899.
A satirical comment on Mahler's Sixth Symphony. The caption translates: "My God, I've forgotten the motor horn! Now I shall have to write another symphony."
In a famous conversation, Finnish counterpart Jean Sibelius remarked that a symphony must have “profound logic and inner connection.” Disagreeing with him, Mahler countered, “No, a symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” Mahler symphonies are indeed world-encompassing.
For Mahler, unlike many other German symphony composers, the “world” of the symphony included social criticism. Since his youth, Mahler had been fascinated by the prospect of using music as a metaphor for social justice, with different “voices” coming to denote different social classes and ethnic identities. Mahler’s incorporation of popular music into the symphony represents the culmination of this impulse.
Another inspiration for the extreme levels of contrast in Mahler’s music was a childhood incident. Witnessing a distressing argument between his parents, the young Mahler ran away from home. Distraught, he encountered a local street band. He never forgot the juxtaposition of his own unhappiness with a wider world that seemed unknowing and uncaring.
Mahler’s music also reflects attitudes about symphonic music as a vehicle for the expression of profound philosophical ideas. In German artistic philosophy, absolute, “pure” music (i.e., music without words) was held in higher esteem than vocal music or “program” music.
Program music—music written to express a specific extra-musical literary, philosophical, or artistic idea—was limited in possibilities and could only be about one specific thing (and was frequently expressed as “tone poems”). In contrast, absolute music—as embodied by the symphony—was held to offer limitless and infinite expression. Combining both theoretical impulses, Mahler’s music reflects the paradoxes of cosmic and personal, high and low, symphony and song, huge societal forces and intensely private meditation.
Like nearly all his works, Mahler’s first symphony represents his efforts to reconcile poetry and music. Large parts of it were assembled out of music previously used in his song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). A set of four songs for piano and voice written in 1884, that work’s poetic text deals with a young man’s idyllic youth, a disastrous love affair and emotional resolution.
Unlike today’s version, the symphony originally had five movements; an additional movement (called “Blumine”) was placed after the first. Mahler based “Blumine” on incidental music he had composed in 1884 for a poem by Joseph Victor von Scheffel, but excised it from the symphony after the first three performances.
Mahler originally called the piece Titan, a Tone Poem in Symphonic Form rather than a symphony. The piece straddles the boundary between absolute music and program music. For its first performance, in Budapest, Mahler left it as abstract (albeit with hidden literary references). He did supply a program for the Hamburg and Weimar performances, but later recanted it. To this day, it remains controversial among musicologists whether these explanations should be taken as authoritative.
In the written program, Mahler described the piece’s first movement as “’Spring and no end’ (Introduction and Allegro Comodo). The Introduction depicts the awakening of Nature from the long sleep of winter.”
The movement uses a unison A in the strings to represent natural sounds including bird calls, while off-stage trumpets represent physical distance, separation, and alienation between man and the nature from which he springs. Depicting the symphonic main character’s youth, the movement reworks the song “Ging heut’ Morgen übers Feld” (“I went this morning on the field”) from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.
Ein Landler (1897)
Coming after “Blumine,” the current second movement is described as “’With full sails (Scherzo).” A ländler, a simple Austrian country dance in 3/4 meter, the movement represents the symphony’s main character growing up, filled with youthful energy. Some of the movement’s music dates back to “Der Trompeter von Säkkingen” which Mahler wrote in 1880, a full eight years prior to the symphony.
Mahler gave an extended description of the third movement:
Stranded! (A funeral march in “the manner of Callot.”) The following might explain this movement: the external inspiration for the piece came to the author from a parodistic picture well known to all children in Austria: “The Huntsman’s Funeral,” from an old children’s book: the animals of the forest accompany the dead huntsman’s bier to the grave; hares escort the little troop, in front of them marches a group of Bohemian musicians, accompanied by playing cats, toads, crows etc. Stags, deer, foxes and other four-legged and feathered animals follow the procession in comic attitudes. In this passage the piece is intended to have now an ironically merry, now a mysteriously brooding mood.
Out in the cold by Léon Bazile Perrault, (1832 - 1908)
Filled with bitter irony, the movement’s round on Frère Jacques in a minor key reflects disillusioned memories of childhood. A contrasting section presents an ironically detached street music scene. The bitterness of a seemingly uncaring world breaking in on the protagonist’s existential crisis almost certainly reflects Mahler’s memory of his own childhood incident.
Mahler also provided an alternative explanation for the movement in a private letter:
On the surface one might imagine this scenario: A funeral procession passes by our hero, and the misery, the whole distress of the world, with its cutting contrasts and horrible irony, grasps him. The funeral march “Brother Martin” [Frère Jacques] one has to imagine as being played in a dull manner by a band of very bad musicians, as they usually follow such funeral processions.
The roughness, gaiety, and banality of this world then appears in the sounds of some interfering Bohemian musicians, heard at the time as the terribly painful lamentation of the hero. It has a shocking effect in its sharp irony and inconsiderate polyphony, especially when we see the procession returning from the funeral (after the beautiful middle section), and the funeral band starts to play the usual happy tune (which pierces here to the bone).
The finale, which Mahler describes as “’D’all Inferno,’ like the suddenly erupting cry of a heart wounded to its depths,” follows immediately after the previous movement. In his own words, Mahler describes it as “A battle in which victory is always farthest away at the exact moment when the warrior believes himself to be closest to it. This is the character of every spiritual battle, since it is not so easy to become or to be a hero.”
In another letter, Mahler offers the following description: “Our hero is completely abandoned, engaged in a most dreadful battle with all the sorrow of this world. Time and again he—and the victorious motif with him—is dealt a blow by fate whenever he rises above it and seems to get hold of it, and only in death, when he has become victorious over himself, does he gain victory. Then the wonderful allusion to his youth rings out once again with the theme of the first movement.”
Regardless of whether one takes Mahler’s program on face value, the work is a profound expression of the human spirit. Like the world, it truly contains everything.
Joshua Grayson, Ph.D., is an historical musicologist and graduate of the USC Thornton School of Music.
To learn more about PSYO Music Director Roger Kalia, please click here.