Our second Symphony Series performance features orchestral works to suit every taste, spanning the globe, and reaching into outer space, as accordionist Michael Bridge joins the LSO for a playful night of music.
If you prefer to download and print these programme notes, please click here (pdf version).
Symphony Series 2 – Out of This World
Ralph Ford – Video Games Live Suite
An inherent part of evolution of the modern video game is the simultaneous evolution of its music. In the 1980s’ golden age of arcade gaming, video game soundtracks were restricted to monophonic chiptunes hardwired into the console, running in tandem with the game’s sound effects. Gaming companies would usually consider their music as a functional part of the game, simply working with regular employees rather than trained musicians for its development. With the advent of the more accessible home and widely popular console systems came increased investment in video game technology, allowing for games to become much more complex. Inadvertently, this spawned a niche following of video game music, epitomized by the Video Games Live concert series; an international touring event performing famous video game pieces. Composer Ralph Ford compiled the pieces often performed at VGL concerts into the Video Games Live Suite, a celebration of the rousing game soundtracks of the 2000s.
Right from the intense fanfare of the opening bars of Halo the suite affirms a sense of adventure, breathing life into Halo’s interstellar conflict. Sparkling chimes announce the enthralling Baba Yetu, the Coronation Theme from Civilization IV, a celebration of humanity through bold brass proclamation. Baba Yetu’s final stir lends itself well to the heartbeat of Bounty Hunter from Advent Rising. Here, a stalking line maintains the exciting tempo of the piece. Ending the suite is music from Kingdom Hearts, a game that features characters from Disney and the Final Fantasy series, which calls to mind other Disney soundtracks with its emotional melodies.
William Bridges – Saturday Night Dance in Canada
At the beginning of the twentieth century the accordion played a pivotal role in the culture of small Canadian towns, notably as an instrument for local dances. William Bridges explores the folk repertoire of the instrument in his concerto Saturday Night Dance in Canada, presenting a mélange of beloved folk tunes that make use of its distinct sound. Familiar tunes in the piece include Skip to my Lou, Redwing, and Chicken in the bread pan, pickin’ out dough; a distinct snapshot of the musical life of early Canada. Also featured are melodies with a clear klezmer or gypsy influence, showcasing the traditional European roots of our country’s musical culture.
Àstor Piazzolla – Libertango & Oblivion
Àstor Piazzolla was born in Argentina to Italian parents who further internationalized the family by moving to New York. There Piazzolla’s father bought his son his first bandoneon, a concertina (accordion-like instrument) whose importance to tango had the boy hooked on the genre for life. Once his family moved back to Argentina in 1936, Piazzolla quickly set about establishing himself as a professional musician, joining the tango orchestra of his idol Anibal Troilo at 17. He later augmented his knowledge of classical music by studying with famed composer Nadia Boulanger. She encouraged him to continue fusing the tango with classical elements, helping him establish his tango nuevo style.
During the 1970s and ’80s Piazzolla became a phenomenon on the international stage. These years saw him produce some of his most enduring pieces, including Libertango and Oblivion. Both were composed during sojourns to Italy, a country he would often inhabit while Argentina was under military dictatorship. Libertango literally translates to “free tango”, signifying a departure from older styles through its dark, fast pace. Oblivion was written for the 1982 film Enrico IV, an adaptation of a Luigi Pirandello play about a madman who believes he is Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. Piazzola’s musical depiction of the man’s plight is deeply melancholic, resting the melodic line on mournful quavering notes.
Gustav Holst – The Planets
Nobody could have predicted that sickly little Gustav Holst would become one of the giants of British classical music. Neuritis in the boy’s right arm made it clear that despite instruction from his organist father he could never be more than a moderately skilled pianist. The boy’s precarious health led his father to encourage Holst’s study of the trombone as a cure for asthma, an instrument that could afford little renown. Instead Holst ended up finding the limelight in composition, though success was slow. Despite earning scholarships for his abilities at the Royal College of Music, Holst had to scrape by as a trombonist in various ensembles, composing only on the side before it gave him a steady income.
What made Holst a household name was the success of his orchestral suite The Planets. Holst had originally picked the less enticing “7 Pieces for Orchestra” as the work’s title, an homage to Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra. Schoenberg’s influence is only mild however, and the title change reaffirms the idiosyncratic nature of Holst’s famous work. He began work on the suite in 1913 after developing an interest in astrology, finishing in 1917. Holst himself conducted early recordings in 1923 and 1926, becoming one of the earliest composers to be preserved on vinyl.
Mars, the Bringer of War is a bracing march to destruction, taking the orchestra to its most overwhelming power by way of a consistent 5/4 rhythm. This cataclysm is tempered by Venus, The Bringer of Peace, its title indicative of the dreamy flourishes of the piece’s angelic harps. Mercury, the Winged Messenger encapsulates the frenetic pace of its representative God through racing wind parts decorated by tinkling percussion. The piece’s sheer speed leaves little space to linger, a fact seized upon by Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. This selection, expressing the sheer size of planet in tandem with its spirit, is full of energetic brass, painting orchestral broad strokes of joy. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age looks back on a meaningful life as time slowly slips away. Contrast is found in Uranus, the Magician, whose giddy skip suggests an intention to entertain rather than ponder. Neptune, the Mystic concludes the work, as women’s voices join to provide a hint of the ethereal, their wordless chorus slowly drifting off into the infinite.
Notes by Zain Solinski