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CU Philharmonia Orchestra

CU Philharmonia Orchestra

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Sep 27, 2021

CU Philharmonia Orchestra

The CU Philharmonia Orchestra features musicians from the College of Music performing a diverse range of repertoire for strings and full orchestra. This concert features Carlos Simón's “Portrait of a Queen” featuring Donna Mejia, narrator; Philip Herbert's "Elegy—Memoriam Stephen Lawrence"; the world premiere performance of CU composition alumnus Dianna Link's “Diamond Dust”; and Haydn's Symphony No. 88 in G Major. 

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Performance date and time

Monday, Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. MDT

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Program 

Link: Diamond Dust; Simon: Portrait of a Queen; Herbert: Elegy in Memoriam Stephen Lawrence; Haydn; Symphony No. 88 in G Major

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Program notes

Diamond Dust

Dianna Link (b. 1999)

Diamond Dust is a natural phenomenon that occurs in extreme cold and is a frozen cloud of ice crystals suspended in the air. Throughout the piece, the feeling of expansive timelessness is created with the shifting textures between the instruments. The piece ultimately ends with swirling harmonics that are highlighted with glittering interjections between the harp and crotales that imitate the suspended quality of diamond dust. While diamond dust is often associated with the bitter cold, it is a truly breathtaking phenomenon that showcases one of the many beauties of nature. —Program note by Dianna Link

 

Portrait of a Queen

Carlos Simon (b. 1986)

This piece traces the evolution of Black people in America through the lens of the Black woman. Using one figurative character who represents strength, courage, and selflessness, this “queen” will transform from her journey as a leader in Africa to a slave on an American plantation, to a disenfranchised citizen subject to Jim Crow laws and finally to the strong matriarch found in many churches presently. Dramatic spoken word, written by Courtney D. Ware, poetically explains the thoughts and feelings of her character, while a musical portrait is revealed of her.

Women have always played vital roles in African American communities. I have known women to have strong but warm, caring temperaments. Queen is elegant and prideful. She carries herself with distinction and class. Her guidance is given with both tender love and firmness. She is the backbone and cornerstone of her community. She gives wise instruction to those of all ages, especially the younger generations. She teaches the girls how to be women and the boys how to treat women. Her character does not change with the ages but is passed on from generation to generation. With every struggle and change presented, she is there providing support and direction to her community. Courtney Ware writes: “It was imperative that the story of Queen be told from her perspective, in her voice, with her words. Although Queen represents Black womanhood in America and in Africa, she is not one dimensional. Her story is a mixture of pain and struggle, hope and triumph.”

As each section encapsulates a different time period, the musical themes reflect that by drawing on melodies, textures, and rhythms from that particular era. The “Prologue” develops out of the Ghanaian song Mo mmra ma yengoro (“Come and let us play”) transforming the orchestra into a West African drum ensemble with its floating, polyrhythmic texture. “A Crown Forgotten” makes reference to the Negro-spiritual, Oh, Freedom by using the syllabic stress of the word “freedom” as a musical basis for the section. Slow glissandi in the woodwinds mimic the cries of captured slaves against nauseating swells in the lower strings. The tumultuous and violent character of the third section “Jim Crow” is undergirded by the quotation of the gospel song, Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You Around, as it served as a protest song during many Civil Rights Movement marches. There are many references to gospel music as the style acted as the musical soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement. Elements such as call and response, extended use of the blues scale, and syncopated rhythms make up the aggressive, unsettling tone of the section. In the final section “Church,” the piece concludes reflectively with the melody of Great Is Thy Faithfulness, a favorite hymn of my mother and grandmother, played lyrically by the string section over a recording of a prayer led by a “church mother” out of a Black Pentecostal church.

Portrait of a Queen was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra with the generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Underwood. As my mother, Lisa Simon, and grandmother, Bertha Simon, have wholeheartedly displayed the portrait of a “Queen” by their unselfish and loving character, this piece is solely dedicated to them. —Program note by Carlos Simon

TEXT

by Courtney D. Ware

PROLOGUE (Africa)

I am Queen.
Strength rests upon my head: a gold-dipped crown adorned with jewels of Patience, Kindness, and Wisdom that shine diamond bright.
Like a baby wrapped on my back in swaddling silk. I first nurtured it in my womb.
And Created a Love so deep.

A CROWN FORGOTTEN (Slavery)

Through blessed pain, I birthed a nation. An agony that followed me
across the sea.
The stench of blood... sweat... tears... permeated my skin.
Royalty replaced with rags. Silk exchanged for shameful nakedness.
Iron chains heavier than my forgotten crown.
I cannot protect the life I bore, the nation I nurtured.
So I closed my eyes just to block the pain.

JIM CROW

We marched and Our bodies swung. They tried to silence my sons and daughters with fists of hatred and nooses ‘round their necks. From whips
and chains to hoses and handcuffs.
Jim Crow is a hypocrite and separate ain’t equal.
So I tell my children to hold their hands up high. I tell them to comply. Say,
“Yes ma’am.” Say, “No, suh.” But still ... They’ll be shot in the back, left to bleed out in the streets like animals. But they’re my children. And their lives matter ... their lives matter. I said, THEIR LIVES MATTER!

CHURCH

I am Queen.
Strength rests upon my head: a white wide-brimmed hat glittering with jewels of Wisdom, Kindness, and Patience.
Oh the tears I’ve shed, the prayers I’ve cried, the songs I’ve wailed to make it through.
How I danced and shouted my way out of despair.
I speak the tongues of our ancestors. Their spirits intercede for us yesterday, today, and forever.

 

Elegy in Memoriam Stephen Lawrence

Philip Herbert (b. 1960)

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent” —Victor Hugo

Elegy was composed in February 1999 as a gesture of empathy after watching the shocking news coverage of the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence. It was subsequently premiered, by invitation from the Prince’s Foundation, for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust’s first Annual Memorial Lecture in September 2000.

The piece is richly scored for 18 string players, one for each year of the life of Stephen Lawrence. It is a chorale for 18 string players in three sections, imbued with the influence of English pastoral composers.

The music is a slow, emotional and reflective piece, moving between C major and various minor tonalities throughout. The music is full of soulful harmonies with gentle dissonances in sonorous chords, under a plaintive melody: which characterise the heavy emotions brought to mind by this tragedy. Particularly poignant, is the first section in the piece where music for soloists in a sextet for two violins, viola and ‘cello and later on in the sombre ‘cello solos.

The middle section is characterised by a solemn theme, accompanied by a march-like texture in E-flat major moving forward to climax, before the recapitulation of material presented at the beginning returns. This section is abbreviated and ultimately leads to a cadence in C minor.

“There is no music having a single sound. Different sounds are needed to give music harmony’....Dogon oral tradition: 

“Harmonious communities thriving together respectfully, bring about a spirit of the much needed peace today, just like the state and tranquility of calm waters:”

“Water is peace, focus, wisdom, and reconciliation, the state of peace we would like to have in our life.”  West African Oral Tradition

There is a need to place a higher value on the strength that comes from diverse peoples living together harmoniously, across the world. We all have something valuable and very positive to contribute to the larger part of the puzzle of life in Britain today. Stephen Lawrence was deprived of the right to a life where he could use his amazing talents for the good of wider society. Nevertheless we can press together across our communities to help realise his dreams. —Program note by Philip Herbert

 

Symphony No. 88 in G Major

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

“I was cut off from the world, there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original,” explained Haydn of the circumstances that shaped his ever-fresh voice, and nowhere does his originality shine more than in this symphony. Its history is amusing: apparently Johann Peter Tost, leader of the second violin section in Haydn’s orchestra, took the scores of this and another symphony along with six string quartets to Paris in 1788 and parlayed his luck into even better fortune by selling the publisher Sieber not only these, but others he falsely claimed as Haydn’s. The composer answered the soon-disgruntled publisher with the crisp observation “Thus Herr Tost has swindled you.” The swindle is somehow fitting for a symphony whose musical sleight-of-hand is ingenious even for history’s most illustrious musical trickster. In Haydn’s music, an accompaniment pattern turns out to be a theme; an old theme slyly becomes a new one; a recapitulation turns out to be false; a line disappears into the texture and pops out again unexpectedly; an offbeat pattern abruptly shifts to the downbeat. This symphony abounds in such effects.

After a slow introduction, the first movement moves into a perky Allegro in which Haydn plays with the conventions of sonata form so that every detail seems spontaneous. To mention just two: a second theme that seems to have jumped out of the first and a winsome flute solo that adorns the return of the principal theme. The second movement is a set of variations on a graceful them—a perfect vehicle for Haydn’s resourcefulness. Trumpets and drums make their first appearance here; they would be more predictable sitting out the Largo after playing in the more assertive first movement. In the Minuet, Haydn’s rustic roots infuse both the robust theme and the bass drone in the trio. The Finale is a spirited rondo in which the recurrent theme’s opening repeated notes are offset rhythmically (on the second beat instead of the more conventional first) and thus feel just slightly out of kilter each time the tune reappears. (Indeed, the number of themes in this symphony that begin on the upbeat and thus achieve a buoyant quality might serve as an illustration of that word’s current usage to mean cheerful or optimistic.) A complicated canon in the middle of the movement might seem out of place, but only acts as another wink (“you see, I did have another trick up my sleeve”) at the by-now thoroughly delighted listener. —Program note by Susan Key

This event will be available both in-person and via livestream. We advise arriving early to secure a seat. Seating is general admission on a first-come-first-served basis.

Featuring

Joel Schut

Director

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Read Bio for Joel Schut

Donna Mejia

Narrator

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Read Bio for Donna Mejia

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