September 10-11, 2022
Stuart Malina, Conductor
Bernstein, Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
Still, Poem for Orchestra
Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue
Stuart Malina, Piano
Prokofiev, Symphony No. 7
An accomplished pianist, Stuart Malina has impressive credits as soloist and chamber musician. He has performed concertos in Harrisburg, Greensboro, Charleston, New York, and Chautauqua, most often conducting from the keyboard. As a composer and arranger, he has created dozens of orchestral works, ranging from entire pops shows to works for symphony orchestra. His most recent composition, Common Fanfare for an Uncommon Orchestra, received its world premiere by the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra in September of 2017. Mr. Malina holds degrees from Harvard University, the Yale School of Music, and the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied conducting with Otto-Werner Mueller. He studied piano with Drora and Baruch Arnon and with Keiko Sato.
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Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
The professional fortunes of the multifaceted Leonard Bernstein took turning points in multiple directions during the mid-1940s. Shortly after his appointment as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, the little known Bernstein, having only observed rehearsals, was summoned at the last minute to replace the flu-stricken Bruno Walter to lead the Sunday afternoon performance to be broadcast live to the nation on CBS radio. The challenging program of works by Schumann, Rózsa, Strauss, and Wagner took place on November 14, 1943. The New York Times featured its stunning review the following day on page one. Interest in the young maestro blossomed and set into motion one the most spectacular careers in recent performance history.
During this same period, Bernstein was collaborating with choreographer Jerome Robbins on a one-act ballet, in which three sailors on wartime shore leave in New York, burst into a bar in search of female companionship. Fancy Free was given its premiere in April 1944 by Ballet Theatre and remains a repertory staple with the successor company ABT.
A perennially driven multitasker, Bernstein was putting the finishing touches on his first major classical work, Jeremiah Symphony. As sternly prophetic as its titled namesake would imply, the Finale features a setting of lines from Book of Lamentations sung in Hebrew. This would be Bernstein’s Jewish “coming out,” an audacious act in the mid-1940s, during which many Jewish performers lived fully assimilated lives with Americanized names and professed no religious affiliations. Bernstein premiered the work with the Pittsburgh Symphony with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel in January 1944, and received the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award for the Best American work for that year.
Back at his writing desk, ever the workaholic, Bernstein, along with Jerome Robbins, was expanding Fancy Free from a one-act ballet to the full-length, two-act Broadway show, On the Town, which would follow the three sailors from sunrise to sunrise of their 24-hour shore leave. They would enlist the help of childhood friends since summer camp, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, to do book and lyrics and to take on supporting roles. On the Town premiered at the Adelphi Theatre in December 1944 and ran for 462 performances before closing in February 1946. Aside from being a brilliantly entertaining hit, the show scored some dramatic points for what we now call diversity. Japanese-American dancer Sono Osato was cast as Ivy Smith (Miss Turnstiles) and biracial couples were in the supporting cast as well as the dance corps — with no ethnic stereotyping. And violinist Everett Lee, as concertmaster, soon advanced to music director and conductor, each Broadway firsts for an African-American.
Poem for Orchestra
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Often referred to as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” William Grant Still was one of the first to break through, despite the racial barriers common to the times during which he lived, with an impressive array of achievements. Born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas, Still’s early musical interests were nurtured by a kindly mother and step-father who provided him with violin lessons, recordings of classical music, and took him to concerts. He took it upon himself to learn the clarinet, oboe, saxophone, viola, cello, and bass. After a brief time at Wilberforce University, he found himself at Oberlin Conservatory and ultimately made his way to New England Conservatory where he became a pupil of George Whitefield Chadwick, a stalwart of the old school of American music derived from Central European formal and stylistic models, as well as his diametric opposite, Edgard Varèse, a representative of the avant-garde, who specialized in bizarre instrumentation and whose works were on the whole, not for the faint of heart.
After conservatory training and military service in the Navy during WWI, Still went to work in New York as an arranger for such popular radio programs as Paul Whiteman’s Old Gold Show. From there he moved to Los Angeles, where he arranged music for films such as the 1936 Bing Crosby hit Pennies from Heaven, as well as Dmitri Tiomkin’s score for the Frank Capra classic Lost Horizon.
In the classical field, Still’s Symphony No. 1, (Afro-American) received its premiere by the Rochester Philharmonic under Howard Hanson in 1931, and was soon taken up by other orchestras and conductors in the U.S. as well as Europe. Other firsts achieved by Still — in 1936 he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl, and in 1949, his opera Troubled Island, with a libretto by Langston Hughes, was performed by the New York City Opera. In 1955, he became the first African-American to conduct an orchestra in the Deep South — the New Orleans Philharmonic. In 1981, his opera A Bayou Legend was the first by an African-American to be performed on national television.
In 1944, Still received a commission from Erich Leinsdorf, Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, a grant made possible by the Fynette J. Kulas Foundation Original American Composers Fund. Poem for Orchestra was the result, written to express his feelings as WWII was drawing to a close with thoughts on the future. Interestingly, Still drew both on his training from the radical Varèse as well as the traditional Chadwick, beginning the work with a dark and dissonant cluster, dissolving to a more melodic though dramatic middle section, and ending on a note of hopefulness, though tempered by uncertainty. The premiere was given by the Cleveland Orchestra under Rudolph Ringwall on December 7, 1944.
Rhapsody in Blue
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Gershwin composed Rhapsody in Blue during a five-week period in 1924 for a Lincoln’s Birthday concert to be given by Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra at New York’s Aeolian Hall. Originally titled American Rhapsody, the title Rhapsody in Blue, was suggested by Gershwin’s brother Ira, inspired by picture titles viewed at an exhibit of paintings by James McNeill Whistler. Gershwin reported that he got the basic outline and direction of the piece during a noisy train ride from New York to Boston. He completed the work in a two-piano version and passed it along for orchestration to Whiteman’s chief arranger Ferde Grofé with just over a week to spare.
Whiteman and his management announced the program as “a purely educational experiment in modern music” as a means to introduce and compare the various ways in which jazz and popular music could be combined with classical forms. Aside from Gershwin, there were many such examples programmed and the concert drew a large audience, a cross section in which popular entertainers and flappers mingled with a “who’s who” of classical artists such as Victor Herbert, Sergei Rachmaninov, Walter Damrosch, Igor Stravinsky, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, John Philip Sousa, and a leading jazz pianist known as Willie “The Lion” Smith.
At the first rehearsal, Whiteman’s lead clarinetist, Ross Gorman, discovered he was to begin the piece with a trill in his lowest register followed by a written scale to the top followed by a solo statement of the main theme. Known as an irrepressible “wisenheimer,” Gorman could not resist the practical joke of playing a prolonged glissando instead of the scale, followed by the theme in a parody rendition that owed as much to traditional Jewish klezmer music as it did to the African-American style of blues, each described perhaps as “laughter through tears.” To everyone’s surprise, Gershwin stood up and exclaimed, “Hey that’s GREAT! LEAVE IT IN!” What began as a joke would become the most distinguishing feature of this extraordinary piece, aside from the solo piano part itself. Rhapsody in Blue has become so well known that it tends to be taken for granted. People forget that when new, it was both novel and well received by all but the hard-core musical snobs. Rhapsody in Blue opened new ears as well as a new era.
Symphony No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Prokofiev’s Seventh and final symphony of 1952 has suffered a certain amount of neglect due to the perception that it is lost in the shadow of his Fifth Symphony of 1944. Written during the closing days of WWII, the 5th reflected upon the relief felt as the Russians repelled the German invaders and a hard-won victory seemed imminent. The 5th was generous of spirit, optimistic in mood, and despite the modernity of its sound, was easy to follow and a delight to hear, qualities that made Prokofiev’s 5th a hit, both within the USSR, where the authorities approved it, as well as in the West, where it has achieved recognition as Prokofiev’s masterpiece among his symphonies. Prokofiev followed with the 6th Symphony, in every sense as much a masterpiece as the 5th but opposite in mood — dark, sinister, and tragic. Prokofiev was largely condemned by the authorities for the 6th, and with his health in decline he suffered a concussion during a fall.
Besides this, he was broke and in need of money. In 1951 he received a commission from the Children’s Division of State Radio and set to work on what he initially described as a “children’s symphony.” The 7th Symphony would grow into a great deal more than that, although Prokofiev was no longer able to summon the means to aspire to his former heights. But his gifts ran deep enough for him to produce a first-rate symphonic work filled with many attractive and arresting moments and episodes for the enjoyment of those fortunate enough to hear it programmed. Although much of the 7th dwells in a nostalgic realm of past recollections viewed through misty vision, it has some delightfully boisterous moments, particularly the second movement, which at times refers to his ideas for a children’s symphony, and the Finale, a rambunctious galop.
In addition to the commission fee, Prokofiev was angling for the Stalin Prize with its cash award of 100,000 rubles. His original ending would close the high-spirited Finale in a mood of ambiguity. The conductor Samuil Samosud persuaded Prokofiev to end the work happily in order to appease the authorities and improve his chances of winning the top prize. Prokofiev scored a new ending as an alternative, leaving it to future conductors to decide while making his preferences clear. Ironically, he was awarded the Lenin Prize, a lesser sum, in 1957, posthumously. Samosud led the premiere with the All-Union Radio Orchestra in October 1952, with the “happy ending,” but later recorded the 7th with the same orchestra with the original quiet ending. Conductors remain divided over which ending they will perform.
The 7th Symphony premiere was the last performance Prokofiev would attend. It is worth noting, sadly, that Prokofiev died the very same day as Josef Stalin, March 5th, 1953, which due to the massive media coverage of Stalin’s passing, Prokofiev’s passing went largely unnoticed aside from small entries in the back pages.