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La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Reflects on Composer-Soldiers of WWI in Dramatic Season Finale

Soprano Eden Tremayne (2019 LJS&C Young Artist Winner)

La Jolla CA— La Jolla Symphony & Chorus (LJS&C) concludes a season-long exploration of the theme “Lineage” in its final concert of the 2018-19 series. On June 8-9, guest conductor Michael Gerdes will lead orchestra, chorus and soloists in a program titled “Remembrance of Things Past.” The concert reflects on a turbulent time of change at the beginning of the last century: the modern age was looming, and it started violently with a world war that ended a century ago. The concert features composers, some of whom were also soldiers, of that time. Maurice Ravel’s La Valse begins the program followed by the hauntingly evocative From Hanover Square North by Charles Ives and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The second half opens with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ choral masterpiece, Dona Nobis Pacem, and concludes with George Butterfield’s idyllic The Banks of Green Willow. Soprano Eden Tremayne (2019 LJS&C Young Artist Winner) and baritone Anthony Whitson-Martini solo.

Maurice Ravel’s La Valse (The Waltz) is one of his most opulent and exciting scores. The composer described his concept for the beginning: “Whirling clouds give glimpses, through rifts, of couples waltzing. The clouds scatter little by little.” The music illuminates a scene of an immense hall and a twirling crowd reminiscent of an “Imperial Court, about 1855.” Ravel was charmed by Viennese waltzes and originally conceived of writing a great waltz for orchestra in 1906. The work was delayed, and he did not return to it until the fall of 1919, a year after WWI had ended. La Valse premiered in Paris on December 12, 1920. This music displays the elegant vitality of the Viennese waltz but ends unexpectedly in a frenzy – what the composer described as a “fantastic and fatal sort of dervish’s dance.”

Baritone Anthony Whitson-Martini. (courtesy photo)

Charles Ives’ composed From Hanover Square North (the complete name of which is From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose) in response to an unexpected and moving scene he encountered at the Hanover Square elevated train station in New York City. It was May 7, 1915, and the British passenger liner Lusitania en route from Liverpool to New York was torpedoed by a German submarine, killing nearly 1200 of the 1962 people on board. News of the tragedy spread quickly through New York as Ives left his job working at an insurance firm in lower Manhattan. While waiting for the train, a hurdy-gurdy player on the platform began to play the old hymn tune “In the Sweet By and By.” Gradually the crowd began to sing along as a natural outlet for their own feelings, shattered by the day’s news. That scene became the starting point for this musical mediation. The eight-minute piece is multi-layered, beginning with an off-stage ensemble of chorus, horn, chimes, piano and strings. Gradually the main orchestra enters and bits of familiar tunes begin to emerge and converge, creating a complex texture that dissolves until the music drifts into silence.

Samuel Barber’s well known Adagio for Strings began as part of a larger work composed for string quartet. Even before its premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet in Rome on December 14, 1936, Barber knew there was something special about the piece’s central movement, an Adagio. He rewrote the movement for string orchestra, and Adagio for Strings premiered in 1938 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. This work takes the form of a long arch. Built upon a single theme, the slow and sinuous melody is initially heard in the first violins. The theme builds with slow but inexorable power, passing from section to section and gathering force with each repetition until finally it builds to a climax of great intensity.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace), a cantata for soprano (Eden Tremayne), baritone (Anthony Whitson-Martini), chorus and orchestra, in 1936 as the clouds of another war were gathering over Europe. He drew the text for the cantata from a variety of sources: the Latin Mass, Walt Whitman’s collection of Civil War poems, and excerpts from an anti-war speech given before the House of Commons in 1855 by the Quaker John Bright and the Bible. A heartfelt protest against a war that daily seemed more inevitable, this is compelling music. Divided into six interconnected sections, it begins with the soprano’s opening appeal for peace that floats with a purity above the rumblings far below. From this ethereal beginning the music moves on to the brash sounds of military marches, to the passion of war and, finally, to the bass voices rising from the depths of the orchestra, singing a vision of peace. As the music rises to a grandiose climax, all seems set for a conventional ending, but the happy fervor is cut short. The sounds of triumph fade, and the soprano’s ethereal opening returns as the music subsides on a final prayer for peace.

The concert concludes with George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow. This short piece for orchestra, written in 1913, is based on several old English folk melodies and evokes a pastoral life in all its idealized simplicity and tranquility. The work was premiered in London on March 20, 2014. Five months later WWI began, and Butterworth enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He was shot dead at the age of 30 in the Battle of the Somme. Ralph Vaughan Williams, who had been a close friend, dedicated his “London” Symphony to Butterworth’s memory.

The performances take place in Mandeville Auditorium at UC San Diego on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9, 2019. Concert times are 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. A pre-concert lecture by Michael Gerdes is given one hour before concert start. Tickets are $15-$35. Parking is free on weekends. To purchase tickets or for more information, call 858-534-4637 or visit lajollasymphony.com.

The La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, San Diego’s oldest and largest community orchestra and chorus, is a non-profit musical performing group offering San Diego a classical music alternative. Its 90-person orchestra and 110-person chorus perform groundbreaking orchestral and choral music alongside traditional favorites from the classical repertoire. During the 64th season, Music Director Steven Schick leads the ensemble in music by Florence Price, Bernstein, Beethoven, Philip Glass, Stravinsky, Ives and more. Founded in 1954, LJS&C has been an affiliate of UC San Diego since 1967.