Program Notes

The World of Celebration:A Holiday Concert

Sunday, December 8, 2013, 3:00 PM

McAfee Center, Saratoga

Dr. Edward C. Harris, conductor
Principal Soloists from Lyric Theatre
Holiday Handbell Choir
Walter M. Mayes, narrator

A Christmas Festival

Leroy Anderson (1908 – 1975)

Famous for his “concert music with a pop quality” (his own words), Anderson possessed skill in technique and a rich melodic gift, as well as an engaging sense of humor. He was particularly successful in creating descriptive pieces that effectively borrowed sounds and rhythms of the extramusical world, such as the ticking of a clock, the clicking of a typewriter, and the ringing of sleigh bells. Leroy Anderson first studied music with his mother, who was a church organist. He earned a BA degree in music and an MA degree in foreign language at Harvard University. As a student, he conducted the Harvard Band from 1928 to 1930. His musical career included positions as music instructor at Radcliffe College, band conductor at Harvard, church choir director, organist, conductor, and composer-arranger. His works in the “encore” category have few equals. Leroy Anderson was one of the leading arrangers for the Boston Pops Orchestra and frequently served as the orchestra’s guest conductor.

Composed in 1950, A Christmas Festival is a concert overture built upon traditional Christmas songs. Originally recorded by the Boston Pops, it is the Christmas medley that sets the standard for all others.

The Nutcracker Suite

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893), transcribed by John MacKenzie Rogan, revised and edited by Clark McAlister and Alfred Reed

Tchaikovsky was born in Russia in 1840, the son of a wealthy mining engineer. He studied law and at 19 began work as a clerk with the Ministry of Justice. He resigned his post after four years to pursue his interest in music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In 1866 he went to Moscow, where he was appointed professor of harmony at the new Conservatory. He completed his first symphony there, along with the opera The Voyevode. In 1869 he completed his ballet Romeo and Juliet on an outline suggested by Balakirev. New inspirations flowed with his second and third symphonies, three operas, and the Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23, in B-flat minor. Following a disastrous marriage of just 9 weeks, Tchaikovsky attempted suicide and suffered a mental breakdown. Shortly afterward the wealthy widow, Madame von Meck, became his patron and gave him an annual salary, on the condition that they never meet. He gave up teaching and composed some of his most memorable music during that time. After 14 years of support, von Meck stopped all payments when she thought she was bankrupt. Tchaikovsky recovered financially, but not spiritually. He visited the United States, where he conducted his works for the opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891. Shortly after the premiere of his Symphony No. 6, Op. 74, in B minor, “Pathétique,” he drank some contaminated water and died of cholera in 1893.

The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” It premiered in St. Petersburg in December 1892. The original ballet production was not a success, but the twenty-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. Despite this difficult beginning, The Nutcracker ballet has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s, especially in the United States. Major American ballet companies generate around 40 percent of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker. The suite has become one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions.

A Festive Christmas Celebration

Choral arrangement by Audrey Snyder, band arrangement by John Moss (1948 – 2010)

A Festive Christmas Celebration is a lively arrangement of four popular Christmas tunes: “I Saw Three Ships,” “Ding Dong! Merrily on High!” “Deck the Hall.” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

A Chanukah Celebration

Arranged by David Bobrowitz (b. 1945), scored for band by Kenneth P. Soper

David Bobrowitz studied trombone performance at the Mannes College of Music and went on to study music education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He studied composition with Robert Russell Bennett and has been a freelance bass trombonist, pianist, composer, and arranger in the New York area for more than thirty years.

A Chanukah Celebration is an upbeat medley featuring five traditional songs: “Chanukah,” “The Dreidel Song,” “O Chanukah,” “Rock of Ages” and “Who Can Retell.”

The Bells of Christmas

Robert Longfield

Mr. Longfield is an award-winning composer, arranger, and educator. He studied at the University of Michigan and the University of Miami, where he was a student of Alfred Reed. As a high school band and orchestra teacher, Mr. Longfield has been awarded “Teacher of the Year” by the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association, and the “Mr. Holland Award” from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for outstanding contributions to music education. A member of ASCAP, Mr. Longfield has received several commissions, and his compositions and arrangements have been played and recorded by bands in the United States, Europe and Japan.

The traditional carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based on the 1863 poem “Christmas Bells” by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. During the Civil War, Longfellow’s son joined the Army as a soldier and was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife, Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write “Christmas Bells.” He wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863, and it was first published in February 1865. The song tells of the narrator’s despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” The Bells of Christmas sets the touching poem to music that evokes the carol and concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Music and lyric by Mel Tormé (1925 – 1999) and Robert Wells, choral arrangement by Audrey Snyder, band accompaniment by John Higgins

Written in 1944, “The Christmas Song” is commonly subtitled “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and was originally subtitled “Merry Christmas to You.” According to Mr. Tormé, the song was penned on a particularly hot summer day. “I saw a spiral pad on his (Robert Wells) piano with four lines written in pencil…They started, ‘Chestnuts roasting..., Jack Frost nipping..., Yuletide carols..., Folks dressed up like Eskimos.’ Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off…Improbable though it may sound, ‘The Christmas Song’ was completed about 45 minutes later.”

Russian Christmas Music for Symphonic Band

Alfred Reed (1921 – 2005)

Alfred Reed was born in New York City and began his formal music training at the age of ten, studying the trumpet. He performed in small hotel bands in the Catskill Mountains as a teenager. In 1938 he started working in the Radio Workshop in New York as a staff composer/arranger and assistant conductor. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at the outset of World War II and was assigned to the 529th Army Air Corps Band. He produced nearly one hundred compositions and arrangements for band during just three and a half years of service. Reed later studied composition with Vittorio Giannini at the Juilliard School of Music. He enrolled at Baylor University in 1953, serving as conductor of the Symphony Orchestra while he earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. He served as the executive editor of Hansen Publishing from 1955 to 1966 and taught at the University of Miami until his retirement in 1993. Following his formal retirement, he continued to compose and made numerous international appearances as a guest conductor.

In 1944 international optimism was high, with the successful invasion of France and Belgium by the Allied forces. A holiday band concert was planned by the city of Denver to further promote Russian-American unity, featuring premiers of new works from both countries. The Russian work was intended to have been Prokofiev’s March, Op. 99, but it had already been performed in the United States. With just 16 days until the concert, Reed was assigned to compose a new Russian work. Reed found an authentic 16th-century Russian Christmas song, “Carol of the Little Russian Children,” to use for an introductory theme. Drawing on his investigations of Eastern Orthodox liturgical music for other thematic ideas, he completed the score of Russian Christmas Music in time. The music was first performed on December 12, 1944, on a nationwide NBC broadcast.

The liturgical music of the Eastern Orthodox Church is entirely vocal, and Reed captured the sonorities, rhythmic inflections, and flowing phrases of the human voice in his composition. Although the work is composed as a single movement, it features four distinct sections. The opening “Carol” sets a gentle mood, followed by the “Antiphonal Chant” carried by the woodwinds. “Village Song” is presented in two-bar phrases that rise and fall with the liturgy. The church bells announce the final “Cathedral Chorus” that steadily builds, pauses for a soft chorale, then continues adding instruments until all of the colors and intensity of the celebration fill the cathedral.

Irving Berlin’s Christmas

Words and music by Irving Berlin (1888 – 1989), choral arrangement by Mark Brymer, band arrangement by Michael Brown

Irving Berlin was born Israel Baline in Tyumen, Russia. His family fled to escape the region’s persecution of the Jewish community, and he emigrated to New York as a child. As a teen, Baline worked as a street singer, and by 1906 he had become a singing waiter in Chinatown. His name was misspelled on sheet music, as lyricist “I. Berlin.” He decided to keep the name, becoming Irving Berlin. He went on to become one of the most popular songwriters in the United States, with hits like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “What’ll I Do” and “White Christmas.” Berlin’s film and Broadway musical shows include Puttin’ on the Ritz, Easter Parade and Annie Get Your Gun.

About the work of a composer, Mr. Berlin said, “The songwriter must look upon his work as a business, that is, to make a success of it, he must work and work, and then WORK.”

The Night Before Christmas

Randol Alan Bass (b. 1953), poem by Clement Clarke Moore (1779 – 1863)

Mr. Bass grew up in Texas, studying piano, working in community theater and singing with local choral ensembles. A longtime student of choral music, Mr. Bass studied at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Ohio State University’s Robert Shaw Institute. Bass sings regularly with the Dallas Symphony Chorus and performed as solo pianist with the Coast Guard Academy Band in New London, Connecticut. His choral and instrumental compositions have been commissioned and performed by numerous ensembles throughout the United States, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Tanglewood Chorus, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

This piece was commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra in 1988 and is a very cinematic setting of the famous poem. It is believed that Clement Clarke Moore wrote his immortal poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” also known as “The Night Before Christmas,” for his family on Christmas Eve, 1822. He never intended that it be published, but a family friend learned of the poem sometime later from Moore’s children. She submitted it to the editor of the Troy Sentinel (New York), where it made its first appearance in print on December 23, 1823. The poem was subsequently reprinted in other newspapers, magazines, and books. Moore did not acknowledge authorship until 1844 in a volume of his poetry entitled Poems, published at the request of his children. Generations later, it is the most-published, most-read, most-memorized and most-collected work in all of Christmas literature. Moore’s poem is largely responsible for the contemporary conception of Santa Claus, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, and the number and names of his reindeer.

March of the Toys, from the operetta “Babes in Toyland”

Victor Herbert (1859 – 1924), arranged by Otto Langey and Herbert L. Clarke, edited by R. Mark Rogers

Victor Herbert was born in Dublin, Ireland, and educated in Stuttgart as a cellist and composer. After moving to New York to advance his career, he quickly advanced from being the principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera to the director of the Armory Band. He became the music director of the Pittsburgh Orchestra in 1898. His more memorable career was as a composer of symphonic and chamber works and a series of 40 comic operettas.

The most commercially successful of Herbert’s works was the operetta Babes in Toyland. Written in an attempt to outdo the musical production of The Wizard of Oz playing on Broadway at the time, Babes in Toyland premiered in the Grand Opera of Chicago in 1903. It wove together various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a Christmas-themed musical extravaganza. The show was immediately embraced as a classic of children’s music and has continued to be performed in various forms for several generations. The best-known scene is “The March of the Toys,” during which the evil Toymaker displays his toys for human children who have strayed into Toyland. We hear tinny trumpet fanfares at the start, a military style in the opening march theme, and the full band in the closing march.

It’s the Holiday Season

Choral arrangement by Roger Emerson, band arrangement by John Moss

This sprightly medley of holiday-themed songs includes “It’s the Holiday Season,” “Happy Holiday,” “The Holiday Season,” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

Sleigh Ride

Leroy Anderson (1908 – 1975)

Memories of sleigh-ride sounds from his New England childhood suggested the musical themes in this work. As with many of Anderson’s works, nostalgic bell and horse sounds are used in Sleigh Ride.

SJWS program notes are edited by Karen Berry from the composers’ notes, Band Notes by Norm Smith and:

Foothill College Symphonic Band
J. W. Pepper
The Wind Repertory Project
Silver Clef Music
Randol Bass Music
The Night Before Christmas website
Leroy Anderson Official Website
C. L. Barnhouse
Neil A. Kjos Music Company