Soprano Caitlin Cisler, with her "breathtaking range," will shimmer on Samuel Barber's nostalgic "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" and Leonard Bernstein's "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide. Ms. Cisler last appeared with us in 2020 when she performed the Queen of the Night aria.
Why You Shouldn't Miss It
We open the concert with the winning orchestral composition of the GFSA Second Performance Project. Hansol Choi is a gifted young composer, performer, percussionist, and educator based in Queens, New York.
Caitlin Cisler joins us on two beautiful vocal works from Barber and Bernstein. One reviewer gushed: "After I heard soprano Caitlin Cisler sing the fantastic, fabulously difficult "Glitter and Be Gay," I understood completely. She wasn't even halfway finished with the song, and I wanted to cheer."
Enigma Variations is one of Edward Elgar's most beloved and mysterious works, full of coded tributes to his closest friends and family members.
Glitter and Be Gay
Leonard Bernstein | 1918 – 1990
While this is the first GFSA performance of “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide, the GFSA has performed Candide’s overture several times. From our 2019 program:
Though not an immediate hit in 1957, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story
quickly became one of the most acclaimed musicals of all time, with the help of a 10-Oscar-winning film version in 1961. Bernstein’s almost-contemporaneous Candide, however, has had a much
tougher go of it, with a consistently mixed reception and at least three reworkings of the score over the decades. A few numbers from the show have maintained their popularity, however, including the soprano feature “Glitter and Be Gay,” the glorious finale “Make Our Garden Grow,” and the brilliant overture.
Veering wildly from melancholy despair to manic laughter, Bernstein’s music for “Glitter and Be Gay” intensifies the tragedy and dark humor with which Voltaire steamrolls his readers in the original novel. Cunegonde, trapped in an outwardly comfortable but humiliating situation as a “kept woman,” laments her fate with astonishing vocal pyrotechnics–sopranos who tackle Mozart’s Queen of the Night often tackle this role as well. The technical demands of the aria have made
it a preferred showpiece for the dauntless singers willing to take it on.
2017 (Revised 2023)
Hansol Choi | b. 1992
This season, the GFSA is inaugurating the Second Performance Project, an initiative designed to bring performances to worthy pieces that might otherwise remain unheard. Specifically, the project targets works that have been premiered but not played since. Every composer understands the logic behind this: While it is by no means easy to find opportunities for premieres and commissions, it is even more difficult to find opportunities for further performances of a piece once it’s been premiered. We are proud to present two pieces under the SPP umbrella this season, one on the chamber music series (see the Cascade Quartet’s Encore! concert in May), and one on this program: [OUT]cry by the New York-based composer Hansol Choi. He wrote the following program note about the piece:
[OUT]cry was inspired by a quote by author and theologian A.W. Tozer and observations of hope through the eyes of an inner child. Tozer writes, “The yearning to know what cannot be known, to comprehend the incomprehensible, to touch and taste the unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, … the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its source.” This piece is an earnest expression of said longings; lodged deep within in the soul trying to break and cry out for these longings to be witnessed. Tozer’s writings of eternal bliss running deeply through the aching human experience is the inspiration permeating throughout the work. This piece was written during periods of realizing my family’s “American Dreams” were becoming a distant and unattainable reality as Korean American Immigrants. As grief of unfulfilled dreams began to settle, I found a young and innocent sense of hope that never wavered. As I began to trace these persistent longings, I found they were hopes tightly held in the small hands of a young child within who continually longed for a better day; blissful and eternal joy shared with his loved ones. As this inner-cry became clearer, I found comfort in the writings of Tozer, God, and in the acceptance of grief. If there was a singular word to describe the expression of the piece, it would be the inner child’s “Anemoia,” nostalgia for a time or a place one has never known.
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Samuel Barber | 1910 – 1981
A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and most famous for his Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber was a fixture in the American classical music scene for most of the twentieth century. The GFSA has played his works many times; a 1993 program note describes his auspicious upbringing:
Music surrounded Samuel Barber his whole
life–everyone assumed he would become a professional musician. His first composition was written when he was seven! A series of monetary awards recognized his creative gifts and allowed him to develop them. Upon his return from Europe, where he spent 1935 as an American Prix de Rome winner, he had several works performed by prominent American orchestras.
After Toscanini’s 1938 radio broadcast of
Adagio for Strings made his name, Barber secured his place in the first rank of composers with his accessible but original style. As our
2004 program put it,
Barber was first and foremost a melodist. Virtually every one of his compositions has at least one melody of surpassing beauty. He has been labeled a neo-Romantic, but the term is anachronistic because his harmonies are too complex, the approach to form is modern, and the orchestration is usually quite experimental. That his music sounds full and rich simply means that the experiment succeeds.
The same year that Barber’s Adagio received its orchestral premiere, multi-talented writer James Agee–whose work included magazine articles, screenplays, novels, and film criticism (he had a particular interest in Charlie Chaplin)–authored
a dreamy, stylized reminiscence of his
upbringing in Knoxville, Tennessee that he called
“Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” The poem would later be incorporated into the novel A Death in the Family, for which Agee too would win a (posthumous) Pulitzer Prize.
Barber made his setting of the poem in 1947,
for soprano Eleanor Steber and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His music mirrors the text’s warm, pictorial, elusive quality. According to Barber, “It expresses a child’s feelings of loneliness, wonder and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.” Barber’s penchant for lyric beauty pervades Knoxville, making it a favorite for sopranos.
Edward Elgar | 1857 – 1934
The GFSA has performed the complete Enigma Variations once before, in 2009.
It is something of a meme that England spent a good two centuries (the 18th and 19th) failing to produce home-grown musical talent. Instead, the English impresarios imported the likes of Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn to satisfy the demands of their music-loving audiences. While not entirely fair, it has become conventional wisdom that Edward Elgar was the first homegrown composer to break the trend and usher in a 20th century that saw Britain become one of the most important musical hubs on the planet. From our 2004 program: “Edward Elgar revitalized English music. During his lifetime, he was acknowledged as England’s greatest composer and his reputation was enormous.”
Elgar’s status as a quintessentially ‘English’ composer was reinforced by his ambivalence
to London: While he had several stints in the capital, he was always drawn back to the countryside of his childhood. This western region, set against the backdrop of the Malvern Hills (officially designated an “Area of Outstanding Beauty” presents a rugged, rural version of Englishness quite different from London’s cosmopolitan bustle.
From the 2009 program:
The Enigma Variations is considered Elgar’s masterpiece and is dedicated “to my friends pictured within.” It was only after his death in 1934 that the identities of the “friends” were revealed. In all, fourteen people and a dog are featured in the variations:
First Variation – C.A.E. Elgar’s wife, Alice, lovingly portrayed;
Second Variation – H.D.S-P. Hew David Steuart-Powell, a pianist with whom Elgar played in chamber ensembles;
Third Variation – R.B.T. Richard Baxter Townshend, a friend whose caricature of an old man in an amateur theatre production
is captured in the variation;
Fourth Variation – W.M.B. William Meath Baker, ‘country squire, gentleman and scholar’, informing his guests of the day’s arrangements;
Fifth Variation – R.P.A. Richard Arnold,
son of the poet Matthew Arnold;
Sixth Variation - Ysobel Isabel Fitton, an amateur viola player from a musical family living in Malvern;
Seventh Variation – Troyte Arthur Troyte Griffith, a Malvern architect and close friend
of Elgar throughout their lives–the variation focuses on Troyte’s limited abilities as a pianist;
Eighth Variation – W.N. Winifred Norbury, known to Elgar through her association with the Worcestershire Philharmonic Society–the variation captures both her laugh and the atmosphere of her eighteenth century house;
Ninth Variation – Nimrod A. J. Jaeger, Elgar’s great friend whose encouragement did much to keep Elgar going during the period when he was struggling to secure a lasting reputation – the variation allegedly captures a discussion between them on Beethoven’s slow movements.
Tenth Variation – Dorabella Dora Penney, daughter of the Rector of Wolverhampton and a close friend of the Elgars;
Eleventh Variation – G.R.S. George Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral, although the variation allegedly portrays Sinclair’s bulldog Dan paddling in the River Wye after falling in;
Twelfth Variation – B.G.N. Basil Nevinson, an amateur cellist who, with Elgar and Hew Steuart-Powell, completed the
chamber music trio;
Thirteenth Variation – *** Probably Lady Mary Lygon, a local noblewoman who sailed for Australia at about the time Elgar wrote the variation, with quotes from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The use of asterisks rather than initials has invited speculation that they conceal the identity of Helen Weaver, Elgar’s fiancée for eighteen months in 1883/84 before she emigrated to New Zealand;
Fourteenth Variation – E.D.U. Elgar himself, Edoo being Alice’s pet name for him.
According to Elgar, these variations do not merely describe the acquaintances; instead “I’ve written the variations each one to represent the mood of the ‘party’ (the person) ... and have written what I think they would have written” – in other words, these friends should be considered not just the subjects of the variations but the composers as well (as Elgar imagined them). While the inspirations of the variations are well established, Elgar muddied the waters by claiming that there was a further riddle behind the riddle–a single unifying tune never actually heard but somehow woven through the entire piece. Elgar dropped various hints about its identity, and there’s something frankly troll-y about Elgar’s treatment of this mystery. One anecdote from the composer:
One day when I knew Troyte [Variation VII]
was coming, I marked with sticky paper certain keys on the piano, and on each paper I put a number, showing the sequence in which they were to be played. I asked Troyte to play them in the order they were marked. When he had finished, I removed the sticky paper and told him, “Troyte, you now know the Enigma!” I knew I was safe, because he wouldn’t remember which notes he had played.
Some scholars have dedicated their lives to identifying this mysterious melody, and plenty of unconvincing candidates have been put forth. The solution to this ‘enigma’ may never be known, but fortunately the notes that are included in the score are beautiful enough that we need not fret overmuch about the notes that are not.