A Space Odyssey
Famous as part of the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra elicits wonder about our vast universe. Former Composer-in- Residence Michael Daugherty offers a suitable prelude — a new work celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Mozart’s cheerful Piano Concerto No. 23, with Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen, is the sublime centerpiece.
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Jean-Marie Zeitouni, Conductor
Juho Pohjonen, Piano
TO THE NEW WORLD
One Small Step
Piano Concerto No. 23 In A Major
ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA
Of The Backworldsmen
Of The Great Longing
Of Joys And Passions
The Song Of The Grave
Of Science And Learning
Song Of The Night Wanderer
To the New World
On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech, “We choose to go to the Moon!” launched America’s race to become the first country to land a human on the Moon. On July 16, 1969, a massive Saturn V rocket propelled the crew of Apollo 11— Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collin—from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida into outer space.
Like the rocket, which separated in three stages after lift-off, and the spacecraft, which was divided into three modules, my 22-minute composition is in three movements. I have created otherworldly music, evoking the sense of awe and trepidation that the Apollo 11 astronauts must have felt as they traveled to the new world.
“Moonrise,” the first movement, takes its title and inspiration from the 1917 Imagist poem by the poet Hilda Doolittle: “O flight, / Bring her swiftly to our song.” Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission crew, played euphonium during his college days and was a lifelong music enthusiast.
For his historic trip to the Moon, Neil Armstrong brought along cassette tape recordings of his favorite music, including Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, subtitled “From the New World,” and Les Baxter’s “Music Out of the Moon,” a mixture of lounge jazz and exotic music featuring a theremin.
A favorite instrument of Neil Armstrong, the theremin was a microtonal electronic musical instrument often used in 1950s science fiction film soundtracks. In a tip of the hat to Neil Armstong, I have added a solo euphonium to the brass section and a soprano vocalist, singing and glissing like a theremin.
I also interweave musical fragments and chords from the second movement of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 with atmospheric cluster chords and atonal punctuations, performed by the harp, celesta and mallet instruments.
On July 20, with only 25 seconds of fuel left, Neil Armstrong landed the “Eagle” lunar module on the Moon’s surface, in an area known as the “Sea of Tranquility.” The second movement, “One Small Step,” is inspired by his memorable words, beamed back to Earth as he became the first human to walk on the surface of the Moon: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
I have rhythmically translated these words into a repeated, syncopated rhythmic pattern (ostinato) that is first heard in the marimba. To dramatize the unearthly sensation of Armstrong’s moonwalk, this movement features an amplified soprano vocalist singing an eerie wordless melody, accompanied by a waterphone (an inharmonic acoustic percussion instrument, which creates sound by bowing a stainless-steel resonator filled with water).
After completing their mission on the moon, the astronauts returned in a command module streaking into the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour.
They safely splashed down into the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969, and were greeted to a hero’s welcome around the world. In “Splashdown,” the third and final movement, I celebrate the return of Apollo 11 in a dance rhythm composed in a recurring musical motif of 11 beats.
This motif, first heard in the double basses and cellos, moves at lightning speed through the strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion of the orchestra. I also create polyrhythms by superimposing the 11-beat motif over a four-beat pulse.
To heighten suspense, I feature flexatones that create strange glissando effects in the percussion section. A spirited coda brings our celebration of the historic first landing on the Moon and “a giant leap for mankind” to a rousing conclusion. But before the final triumphant chord, the glockenspiel, harp and celesta softly play an ascending scale, as I imagine the three astronauts glancing back at the Moon one last time.
Michael Daugherty is an multiple GRAMMY award-winning American composer, pianist and teacher. One of the most widely performed American concert music composers, he was Composer-in-Residence with Pacific Symphony during the 2010-11 season. As part of the residency, Pacific Symphony commissioned and recorded Daugherty’s “Mount Rushmore” for orchestra and chorus for the Naxos label.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major
Mozart was prolific from boyhood onward; he seemed to become increasingly productive as time went on, with this year or that one singled out for particular significance.
When he composed the Piano Concerto No. 23 in 1786, was certainly one of those important years: it came toward the end of a span of two and one-half years when he wrote a dozen piano concertos, including many of his greatest. No. 23 was one of three he wrote in that year; the fact that he was hard at work on The Marriage of Figaro at the same time may help account for the operatic, singing quality we hear in these concertos.
This outpouring of piano works came at an auspicious time for Mozart—six years after his success with the opera Idomeneo, when his popularity as a composer and piano soloist was high with the Viennese public. He and his best students often performed his piano concertos at subscription concerts, known as “academies,” which were successful events during the Lenten season. It was for one of these concerts that he composed the Concerto No. 23.
Musicologists tell us that Mozart often reserved this concerto’s key of A major for warm, brightly lit works like this one. But in this case, after the unassuming gentleness of its opening melody, the concerto’s warmth is deepened by occasional melancholy.
The music soon challenges us as listeners, gathering weight as it goes. The discourse between soloist and ensemble is spontaneous, rather than formulaic, and reaches a climax in the second movement, a remarkable adagio.
Here, couched in the slow, rocking Italian rhythm of a siciliano, Mozart surprises us with leaping intervals and daring chromaticism. In the lively third movement, the concerto’s occasional melancholy is resolved—as so often in Mozart’s concertos—in a joyful rondo that displays the composer’s incomparable abundance of melodic invention.
Daniil Trifonov and the Israel Camerata Orchestra performing Mozart - Concerto no 23 in A major k 488 at the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition (Tel Aviv). Conducted by Avner Biron.
Also Sprach Zarathustra
It’s hard to imagine a time when the stentorian opening notes of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra weren’t universally known. This tone-poem, though not exactly obscure, had nothing like the ubiquity it acquired after Stanley Kubrick’s use of its portentous initial fanfare in his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Suddenly, people everywhere were trying to hum this nearly unhummable passage. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that it’s as much a matter of pantomime as of music: you have to thrust your arms wide to indicate the explosion of volume that becomes successively louder after each three-note announcement in the trumpets, and you have to pound both fists to suggest the alternating booms from the timpani.
Even after successfully tracing the downward steps of the brasses as the tension of these ratchets tighter and your voice mounts upward with the repeated “nature” motif based on C-G-C, you’re faced with the difficulty of suggesting that sepulchral organ chord left hanging in the air after the instruments of the orchestra have faded away. Without a lot of hand-waving, it just won’t work. And that’s just the first 21 bars.
But for all its thunder, Zarathustra is not without its dark humor. Rather than depict an incident, it captures the spirit of a work that is philosophical and satirical, even cynical, by the author famous for shocking readers with the assertion that “God is dead.”
The title references the ancient Persian philosopher, prophet and mystic we know as Zoroaster, whose teachings formed the basis of Zoroastrianism. He is also the model for the fatherly Sarastro in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. But in Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche presents him sarcastically, with mock-biblical portentousness.
Sarcasm may seem like an odd tone for a tone poem, but religious pomposity gave Strauss a chance to unleash musical bombast of the highest order. It’s not surprising that the opening bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra have been used repeatedly to express cosmic ideas.
Composed in 1896, when Strauss was 32 and the tone poem dominated his creative output, Zarathustra is considered his most literary work in this form. It stands in stark contrast to his other tone poems, which range from children’s classics (Til Eulenspiegel and His Merry Pranks) to masterpieces of world literature such as Don Quixote. The critical deference accorded to Zarathustra may well be a matter of Nietzsche’s authorial heft and thorniness.
None of his densely philosophical works is exactly beach reading; in this one, its protagonist, like Moses, hands down the laws for living. But in this case, they are philosophical principles for reaching a higher plane of existence, and they run directly counter to the principles of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
---Video 1:00:09. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel
Eight additional movements follow this opening, but they are played with only three definite pauses. The familiar C-G-C of the opening recurs throughout the work, evolving from the epochal dawn motif to a Nature motif that has been interpreted as a universal, eternal riddle (like the riddle of 2001).
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.
Jean-Marie Zeitouni conductor
Jean-Marie Zeitouni is recognized as one of the brightest young conductors of his generation for his eloquent yet fiery style, in repertoires ranging from Baroque to contemporary. He studied at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, most notably under Maestro Raffi Armenian and graduated in conducting, percussion and composition. He is currently artistic director of the Orchestre de Chambre I Musici de Montréal, and is principal guest conductor of the Colorado Music Festival.
Zeitouni’s résumé also includes stints as music director of the Columbus Symphony in Ohio, and the Opera as Theatre program at the Banff Centre, as assistant conductor and chorus master of the Opéra de Montréal (and music director of its artist-in-residence program, the Atelier Lyrique), as chorus master of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec and Opéra de Québec, and as music director of Université Laval’s opera workshop and orchestra. While with the Violons du Roy, an orchestra with which he enjoyed a fruitful collaboration for 12 years, he was alternately conductor-in-residence, assistant conductor and principal guest conductor.
Greatly appreciated as a lyrical director, he recently conducted the Opéra National de Montpellier and Orchestre National de Lorraine of Nancy. He has also conducted numerous productions at the Opéra de Montréal, Opéra de Québec, Glimmerglass Opera, Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse and Opéra National de Lorraine, as well as productions in Banff, Calgary, Edmonton, Cincinnati and St. Louis.
Among the many Canadian symphony orchestras Zeitouni has conducted are those of Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Victoria, Kitchener-Waterloo and London, not to mention the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Arion Baroque Orchestra and Club Musical de Québec. No stranger to the international stage, Zeitouni has conducted the symphony orchestras of Tucson, Houston, Oregon, Monterey, San Antonio, Omaha, Honolulu, Huntsville and Cincinnati, in addition to the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonique de Marseille, Xalapa Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony of Mexico, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Arco Ensemble and Detroit Symphony.
He’s also a regular at the Festival international de Lanaudière, Festival international du Domaine Forget, Elora Festival, Parry Sound Festival and New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival. You may also have seen him at festivals in Round Top, Texas, and Grant Park, Illinois. He recently made his debut in Moscow with the Russian National Orchestra and at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées of Paris.
During the 2018-19 season in addition to his concerts with I Musici and at the Colorado Music Festival, Zeitouni will be conducting the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, Pacific Symphony and the Edmonton Symphony.
Juho Pohjonen pianist
Celebrated as one of Finland’s most outstanding pianists, Pohjonen has received widespread acclaim for his profound musicianship and distinctive interpretations of a broad range of repertoire, from Bach to Salonen. His interpretations are known for their intensity, thoughtfulness and fearless musical conviction.
Highlights of Pohjonen’s 2017-18 season included a remarkable summer festival circuit, with performances at Music@Menlo, the Santa Fe Chamber Music and Ravinia festivals, Cleveland Orchestra’s Blossom Festival, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. Concerto appearances include Greenwich Symphony and Turku and Tampere philharmonic orchestras, performing Saint-Saëns’ Concerto No. 5, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto and Einar Englund’s Piano Concerto No. 1. In recital, he performs at the National Gallery of Art, Frederic Chopin Society and Meany Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Washington, La Jolla Music Society, Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Mobile Chamber Music Society and Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard concerts in Fresno.
He continues his close association with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall, and was on tour in Chicago, Birmingham, Asheville, N.C., Purchase, N.Y., Athens, Ga. and Ashland, Ore., as well as in Beijing, Seoul and Taiwan. He appears frequently with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, since his tenure with the CMS Two Residency Program for Outstanding Young Artists from 2009-2012.
Recent highlights include his debuts with Vancouver, Baltimore and Cleveland symphonies, and chamber programs at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and the Library of Congress. European engagements have included performances with the Szczecin Philharmonic, Finnish Radio Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony and Antalya State Symphony. Pohjonen received high praise for his interpretation of Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic and conductor JoAnn Falletta, which he also performed across England with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits. In 2015, Pohjonen opened the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s season in performances of the Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with Jeffrey Kahane, and made his debut with Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich performing Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto with conductor Lionel Bringuier. In 2016, the pianist debuted at the Grant Park Music Festival performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, for which the Chicago Tribune praised him for his “pearly tone, articulate touch and supple legato … His sensitivity in unfurling Chopin’s intimate musical grammar was always evident.” Additionally, he gave stunning recital debuts at Beethoven- Haus in Bonn for their Klaviersommer Festival and the Ravinia Festival, and performed Mozart with the KBS Symphony Orchestra in Seoul and in Mexico’s Palacio De Bellas Artes with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional.
Michael Daugherty composer
Multiple Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Daugherty was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1954. He is the son of a dance-band drummer and the oldest of five brothers, all professional musicians. Daugherty has achieved international recognition as one of the 10 most performed American composers of concert music, according to the League of American Orchestras. His orchestral music, recorded by Naxos over the last two decades, has received six Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2011 for Deus ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra, and in 2017 for Tales of Hemingway for Cello and Orchestra.
As a young man, Daugherty studied composition with many of the preeminent composers of the 20th century including Pierre Boulez at IRCAM in Paris and Betsy Jolas at the Paris Conservatory (1979), Jacob Druckman, Earle Brown, Bernard Rands and Roger Reynolds at Yale (1980- 82), and György Ligeti in Hamburg (1982- 84). Daugherty was also an assistant to jazz arranger Gil Evans in New York from 1980-82.
After teaching composition for five years at Oberlin College, Daugherty joined the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance in 1991 as a professor of composition, where he is a mentor to many of today’s most talented young composers. He is also a frequent guest of professional orchestras, festivals, universities and conservatories around the world.
Future commissions include new works for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (a homage to the art and life of Andy Warhol for the 125th anniversary of the PSO), a violin concerto for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers to be premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center (on aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart) and the Santa Rosa Symphony (a symphonic ode to Jack London’s novel The Call of the Wild).
Daugherty’s music is published by Michael Daugherty Music, Peermusic Classical and Boosey & Hawkes.