Poulenc & Fauré
Enjoy coffee, tea, pastries and chamber music in the intimate coffee-house atmosphere of the Samueli Theater. Poulenc's Flute Sonata was composed for flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and is now one of the composer's best known works. When Rebecca Clarke submitted her Viola Sonata in a competition, it tied for first place, but some suspected it was written by a man using a pen-name and the prize was awarded to another competitor. Fauré's piano quintets rank among his greatest chamber works.
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ORLI SHAHAM • GUEST PIANIST AND ARTISTIC ADVISOR
BEN SMOLEN • FLUTE
PAUL MANASTER • VIOLIN
BRIDGET DOLKAS • VIOLIN
MEREDITH CRAWFORD • VIOLA
JOHN ACOSTA • CELLO
Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
Sonata for Flute and Piano
Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979)
Sonata for Viola and Piano
I N T E R M I S S I O N
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
Piano Quintet No. 1, Op. 89
This concert is generously sponsored by Dot and Rick Nelson.
Sonata for Flute and Piano
FRANCIS POULENC (1899–1963)
Francis Poulenc, who was born in Paris in the first week of 1899 and found his musical voice amid the stylistic rivalries of early 20th-century French music, was perhaps the most prominent member of the French Composers known as Les Six—a group of six composer-friends who looked to the composer Erik Satie as their aesthetic model, and whose shared philosophy of music was almost a rejoinder to the prevailing musical experiments in Paris and Vienna.
In contrast to their Impressionist compatriots Debussy and Ravel, who were exploring new scales and unconventional rhythms, members of Les Six sought sophistication through simple, traditional means. Their music is witty and light, with movements that are typically brief: accessible, yet not without substance.
In his musical studies, Poulenc sought private instruction and was largely self-taught. His prominence among French composers represented a break in musical tradition in the place where we might have expected it least: a bastion of highly cultivated musical nationalism with a rigid and revered conservatory system.
By contrast, in England—known to adore its eccentrics—autodidact composers Elgar and Britten had to endure a kind of professional exile. Listeners seem to associate Poulenc most strongly with the buoyant sophistication of his early works, but this is not “Modernism lite.”
It is more in line with the French understanding of the Dada and Surrealist movements in art, in which deadly seriousness and ironic humor coexisted. In works such as Dialogues des Carmélites, one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th-century opera, Poulenc demonstrated profundity and devastating emotional truthfulness. Always looking ahead rather than back, he created this opera on a script originally written for the movies.
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge by John Singer Sargent. 1923; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.
Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano was commissioned in 1956 by the Coolidge Foundation of the Library of Congress, though its composition was postponed until the following year. It is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge—the musician and philanthropist who was a neighbor and colleague of Rebecca Clarke, and whose foundation sponsored the competition that Clarke somehow won yet lost.
But the commission and the dedication are deceptive; as early as 1952, Poulenc wrote to a friend about his intention to compose a flute sonata, and in his autobiography, the great French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal quotes Poulenc as telling him, “Jean-Pierre, you know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano? Well, I’m going to. And the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it! I’ve been commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation to write a chamber piece in memory of Elizabeth Coolidge. I never knew her, so I think the piece is yours.”
---Michel Debost (flute), Jacques Février (piano)
Both Rampal and Poulenc enjoyed performing this work, the only one Poulenc ever composed featuring the flute. It showcases Poulenc’s ability to sound melodic yet modern, as well as his affection for the flute, which he challenges with some mercilessly fast tempos. In its brief span of three movements and approximately 12 minutes, the sonata’s moods range from lyrical to jaunty to nearly explosive.
Sonata for Viola and Piano
REBECCA CLARKE (1886–1979)
It is unlikely that you’ve had a chance to hear the music of Rebecca Clarke in concert before today, even though she was a prodigiously gifted composer and violist who died almost 40 years ago, at the age of 93.
To some enthusiasts, especially chamber music aficionados, her life and music are subjects of enormous interest. But she has been overlooked by others, including your intrepid annotator, whose research on Clarke and her Sonata for Viola and Piano was more jolting than Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole.
In a life filled with inner and external conflict, Clarke experienced doubt about the very idea of expressing her musical ideas in composition. This sonata remains her most frequently programmed work, and for many of her admirers it is emblematic of her story.
That story ran to extremes of admiration and rejection that were fateful in Clarke’s career and her life. She was born in London to a German mother and an American father, Joseph Thacher Clarke, a music-lover who put a violin in her hands at age 9 and enrolled her in the Royal Academy of Music at age 17.
When an instructor just eight years her senior proposed marriage, her outraged father withdrew her from the Academy. In 1907 she transferred to the Royal College of Music, where, in addition to performance training, she studied composition—one of the first female students to do so.
Without letting our sympathies or sheer fascination color our listening, it’s relevant to note that photos of Clarke during these years show a woman who embodied a pre-Raphaelite ideal of feminine beauty (born four years after Virginia Woolf). But she was not just admired.
Descriptions of Clarke’s abuse at home, discrimination in her career and clinical depression could be from last week’s news reports instead of a century ago, except that the possibility of reporting them was even more problematic in 1910. That’s when she confronted her father about his infidelity to her mother, and he disowned her.
We can say that the classical music establishment did the same thing: In the 1990 printing of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London), the entry for “Rebecca Clarke” reads, in its entirety, “English viola player and composer, wife of James Friskin.” (She had met Friskin when they were students at the Royal College of Music; he went on to become one of the founders of Juilliard, and they married when she was in her fifties.)
Clarke composed the Sonata for Viola and Piano in 1919, when she was 33 and living in the U.S. It was her entry into a major competition for new works sponsored by her neighbor, the pianist and heiress Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and tied for first place with a work by the prominent Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch.
---Molly Carr, viola, Yi-Fang Huang, piano
All too predictably, it was deemed inappropriate for a woman composer to receive the prize, and it went to Bloch although, according to reports, the judges unanimously favored Clarke.
The sonata’s three movements are performed without pause. Their verdant English lyricism is lit with the amber hues of the viola, along with excitingly virtuosic passages, especially in a cadenza-like fanfare at the opening and an incendiary finale, during which the piano shares in the fireworks.
Critics note the influence of Debussy in the sonata’s fluid chromaticism, and especially in Clarke’s use of the characteristically French “perfect” scale comprised entirely of whole- step intervals. But the sound could never be anything but English, evoking the pastoral tradition in Vaughan Williams, Delius and Gerald Finzi. The pleasure of hearing this work is haunted by the question, “what if?”
Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor
GABRIEL FAURÉ (1845–1924)
Here’s another of those hidden surprises of music history: the remarkably high proportion of French composers who—even as the Romantic era waned and modernism approached—began their careers as organists.
In predominantly Catholic France, with its centuries-old tradition of organ music, organ and composition were the two most rigorous programs of musical study. This was especially true at the legendary Paris Conservatoire, where organ students might be routinely called upon to improvise a five-voice fugue on a theme they had never seen or heard before.
The most gifted studied both organ and composition. But unlike Fauré, who studied at the exclusively religious École Niedermeyer de Paris, many viewed their organ studies as preliminaries in a career focusing on the concert hall and the opera house.
Fauré, a composer of deep gifts and consummate refinement, first sought a career within the church rather than the concert hall, beginning his studies in church organ and choir leadership at age nine. His teachers included Camille Saint-Saëns, whom Liszt considered the greatest organist of that era.
Fauré’s career began auspiciously but modestly, with regular work as a teacher and organist leading to his eventual appointment as organist at the prestigious Église de la Madeleine and director of the Paris Conservatoire.
Stylistically, Fauré occupies a crucial position in French music, bridging the stalwart Romanticism of Saint-Saëns and the Impressionist innovations of Debussy and Ravel.
It is never easy to describe musical style—especially the elusive shimmer of French style—but brave critics including the venerable Carl Dahlhaus have tried to describe Fauré’s. Elegance, opulence, refinement, and lyrical flow are the descriptors we encounter most, especially regarding his chamber music and his art songs. These mélodies are France’s answer to the German Lieder tradition, and arguably the most important French songs of the past two centuries.
Though Fauré lived almost to age 80, his health began to deteriorate in late middle age. In the 1880s he began to experience headaches and dizziness, and some time after that he faced the specter of impending deafness.
Many listeners, including composers such as Aaron Copland, feel that from that time onward his compositions, especially the songs and chamber works, showed greater emotional directness without any loss of his consummate refinement.
The premiere of his first quintet dates from the beginning of this “late” period, in 1906. It is one of two that he wrote; he also composed two quartets scored for the conventional combination of piano, violin, viola and cello. (The quintets expand this instrumentation with an additional violin.)
Recollections by his son Emmanuelle indicate that this quintet was a personal favorite of Fauré’s, and that, contrary to earlier suggestions by scholars, he took pains with its composition dating back to the 1880s.
Can we hear intimations of mortality in its first two movements as they alternate between fond reflection and regret? The quintet certainly displays Fauré’s characteristic ethereality and, in its first movement, a much-celebrated “dream” sequence in which a lovely, spectral melody floats above purling arpeggios.
Some enthusiasts hear a link between this movement and the Paradisium from Fauré’s magnificent Requiem, but the quintet’s essential discourse seems different: It is more personal and inward rather than addressing the heavens. In the central movement, the quintet’s somnolence only intensifies, and there is an unmistakably melancholy tinge.
---Schubert Ensemble: Recorded live at the Tetbury Festival 29th September 2016.
Things could hardly get more nocturnal than that, and in the final movement we seem to return to daylit realms. At first this movement seems almost like an airy divertissement; then it builds to a brilliantly melodic rondo, heightened by counterpoint that is abundant and seemingly effortless.
Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in- chief for The Santa Fe Opera.
Orli Shaham - Piano and Host
A consummate musician recognized for her grace, subtlety and vitality, Orli Shaham has established an impressive international reputation as one of today's most gifted pianists.
Hailed by critics on four continents, Shaham is in demand for her prodigious skills and admired for her interpretations of both standard and modern repertoire. The Chicago Tribune recently referred to her as “a first-rate Mozartean” and London's Guardian said Shaham's playing at the Proms was “perfection."
Shaham has performed with major orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia symphony orchestras; and internationally with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Filarmonica della Scala, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and Orchestre National de France, among many others.
Concert highlights of the 2017–18 season include performances with the Indianapolis Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Nashville Symphony, Santa Rosa Symphony and Orlando Philharmonic among others. Shaham continues to serve as the artistic director for Pacific Symphony’s chamber music series in Costa Mesa, a position she has held since 2007. She is a featured performer on each of the chamber recitals in the series. In addition, Shaham serves as the artistic director for the interactive children's concert series, Baby Got Bach, which she founded in 2010.
Shaham’s acclaimed 2015 recording, Brahms Inspired, is a two-CD set of new works by Brett Dean, Avner Dorman and Bruce Adolphe alongside works of Brahms and his compositional forefathers. The New York Times praised Shaham's “beautiful performances” on the recording, calling it “a treasurable album."
Benjamin Smolen - Flute
Benjamin Smolen was appointed principal flutist of Pacific Symphony in September 2011, where he occupies the Valerie and Hans Imhof Chair. He has won top prizes at the Haynes International Flute Competition, James Pappoutsakis Memorial Flute Competition, National Flute Association Young Artist Competition and New York Flute Club Young Artist Competition. He has given solo performances in Russia, Japan, Belgium, France and as concerto soloist with Pacific Symphony, Princeton University Orchestra, Charlotte Civic and Youth Orchestras, and Gardner Webb Symphony Orchestra. Smolen’s performances have been featured on NPR (Performance Today and From the Top), WGBH-Boston, WDAV-Charlotte, French National Radio, and the Naxos and Mode record labels.
Additionally, he can be heard on the soundtracks for movies such as Monsters University, Planes, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Night at the Museum and the 2015 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He recently released his debut album, Bach to Beaser, with guitarist Jerome Mouffe. Smolen studied at Princeton University, the Moscow Conservatory, the New England Conservatory and the University of Michigan. His primary teachers include Paula Robison, Michael Parloff and Aleksandr Golyshev. He is a William S. Haynes Artist and performs on a handmade, custom-crafted Haynes 14-karat gold flute.
Paul Manaster - Violin
Paul Manaster has been the associate concertmaster of Pacific Symphony since 1998. He is almost a native Californian, having grown up in San Diego from a young age. Manaster has performed with a variety of groups in the Southern California area, including the San Diego Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has performed as concertmaster of the Riverside Philharmonic and the San Diego Chamber Orchestra.
Prior to his move to Orange County, Manaster lived in Texas for eight years, playing with the San Antonio Symphony. He received a bachelor of music degree from Northwestern University. In addition to performing, Manaster teaches violin privately and has served on the faculty of Trinity University and other institutions. Manaster lives in Irvine with his actress/oboist wife Dianne, their daughter Stephanie and three cats.
Bridget Dolkas - Violin
Bridget Dolkas holds the Elizabeth and John Stahr Chair as principal second violin of Pacific Symphony and is a passionate and vibrant member of the Southern California musical community. As first violinist and founding member of the California Quartet, she cofounded the Connections Chamber Music Series, which The Orange County Register called, “a worthy series.” Since 2000, the California Quartet has performed in Europe and the United States to great acclaim.
Dolkas has performed worldwide since the age of 10. In recent years, she has performed as soloist with South Coast Chamber Orchestra and Poway Symphony. She performed for eight years in the San Diego Symphony and the San Diego Opera Orchestra. Studying chamber music under such masters as Joseph Silverstein, Kim Kashkashian, Fred Sherry, Toby Appel, as well as the Juilliard, Alexander and Miro Quartets, has made a tremendous musical impact on Dolkas.
As a student of Alice Schoenfeld, she earned her bachelor’s degree at USC, continuing her studies with Isaac Malkin and completing a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. She is near completion of a doctorate degree from UCLA, where she studied with Mark Kaplan.
Meredith Crawford - Viola
Violist Meredith Crawford, a Maine native, studied under the tutelage of Professor Peter Slowik at Oberlin College and Conservatory. She graduated in 2009 after completing Oberlin’s double-degree program with both a B.M. in viola performance and a B.A. in English literature. After being inducted into the Pi Kappa Lambda honor society, she received the prestigious Prize for Musicianship, awarded to students judged to be “the most outstanding of those elected to Pi Kappa Lambda.” Crawford was the first-prize winner of the Ohio Viola Society’s annual competition in 2007, the 2009 Skokie Valley Symphony Annual Young Artist Competition and the 2009-10 Oberlin Conservatory Competition—the first win for a violist in over a decade.
At the age of 22—before the completion of her senior year at Oberlin Conservatory—she won her first orchestral audition and a seat with Pacific Symphony. In September 2012, she was awarded the position of assistant principal viola and five years later, she won her current position with the orchestra as principal viola. Additionally, she has been performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic since April 2010, and more recently with the Riverside Philharmonic (as principal viola), the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Irvine’s Mozart Classical Orchestra.
Crawford is also an active chamber musician, performing frequently with the L.A.-based Salastina Music Society, the Historic Portsmouth Chamber Music Series in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the High Desert Chamber Music series in Bend, Ore. Crawford is also on the faculty of the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina, where she is assistant principal viola of the faculty orchestra under the baton of Gerard Schwarz. She currently resides in beautiful Belmont Shore (where her neighbors include Pacific Symphony’s principal flutist Benjamin Smolen and principal oboist Jessica Pearlman) with her two cats, Twinkie and Rahula.
John Acosta - Cello
John Acosta grew up in a family of string players in Garden Grove. Beginning in 1974 while still only in high school, Acosta began performing as a regular with the Long Beach and Pasadena Symphony orchestras, with which his parents Edward and Mary-Anne also performed. In 1979, while working through his studies at CSUF, he served as co-principal for the Pacific Symphony until the orchestra’s expansion in 1981. At this time, Acosta became principal cello of the Pageant of the Masters’ orchestra and started to record regularly in film, television and on vinyl for LP’s. One of his specialties is recording solo tracks for composers.
Although invited to fulfill his master’s at Eastman School of Music by Paul Katz (Cleveland Quartet), he decided to remain in the southland to pursue recording and maintain a regular commitment with just the Pageant and Pacific Symphony orchestras. He served again as acting principal for two years during the time Pacific Symphony took temporary residence in the first Segerstrom Hall.
In 1999, he added the title of principal cellist of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, and for five years, simultaneously performed with the Pageant, the Hutchins Consort touring ensemble, the San Diego Symphony and Chamber Orchestra schedules, plus the Pacific Symphony schedule.
Up until he left CSUF, Acosta had attended a few competitions, and among those he was a winner in the MTNA Wurlitzer Concerto Competition at the local, state, regional and national level, and a winner in the Young Musicians’ Foundation competition. He has performed with orchestra the Variations on a Rococo theme by Tchaikovsky, and the Dvorák, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Haydn C & D concerti as soloist. His principal teachers were Alayne Armstrong, Joseph DiTullio (Emanuel Feuerman) and Dr. Charles Baker (Eastman).