Simply Fun

Contributed by John Menier

32822In his remarks from the podium, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Conductor Steven Schick notes that the 2017 edition of the “Young People’s Concert” features music by two composers with differing influences, temperaments, and styles: George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. While acknowledging the contrasts Schick also points out some surprising similarities shared by the two men: both were born to Russian-Jewish parents in Brooklyn, both studied in Paris, both had an interest in jazz and popular music, both experimented with different genres, and both came to prominence in the Jazz Age. First and foremost, Gershwin and Copland were American, with all that implies; as Gershwin put it, “True music must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today.”

Perhaps the best expression of what’s been called “the American touch” may be found in two of Gershwin’s most popular scores, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris.” Both pieces reflect Gershwin’s abiding interest in jazz and blues, two indisputably American art forms, and both touch glancingly upon some of the conflicts and contradictions of American life (then and now). Ultimately, though, the most profound and appealing quality shared by the compositions is that, in the words of the Conductor, “they are simply fun.”

By comparison to the high-stepping confidence of the Gershwin tunes, Copland’s “Quiet City,” originally written for a failed play, reflects another, more contemplative aspect of the American character. One reading holds that the longing and unfulfilled aspirations evoked by this piece warn of the consequences of not being true to one’s self, an ever-present danger in a fast-moving, ambitious society. Perhaps. However one interprets “Quiet City” (if it needs any interpretation at all) there’s no denying the work’s beauty, the result of a perfect balance between string orchestra and two soloists on trumpet and oboe.

Throughout his remarks, Steven Schick notes the empathy and intricate interplay between the various sections of the orchestra, by turns tempestuous and serene as required by the score, and the absolute need to serve the music and the composers.

Watch Young People’s Concert 2017 – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

A Good Tune – SummerFest 2014

8232In past seasons the SummerFest programs aired on UCSD-TV tended to the eclectic, mixing different styles, eras and composers broadly representative of the chamber music genre. This year, we’re focusing on four great masters of the Classical style: Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms.

Some definitions are useful here. We use the term classical music (note the small “c”) colloquially to include all Western “art music” (or “serious music”) from roughly the ninth century to the present, and especially the seventeenth century to the nineteenth. In fact, the loose term classical music encompasses a broad variety of forms, styles, genres, schools, movements, historical periods, and composers. The Classical period (note the capital “C”) highlighted in our programs was predominant from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries, and was largely developed in Germany and Austria. It derived from the Baroque period and lead to the Romantic period. The hallmarks of the Classical style include a rejection of the ornamentation of the Baroque in favor of a cleaner, simpler style, one with a lighter texture and concerned with logical development, structural balance, adherence to form, proportion, and “rightness” of phrasing. It was highly organized and melodic music, well suited to the Age of Reason. As is always the case when attempting to strictly define historical periods there was considerable overlap between the different styles, and several well-known composers are considered transitional figures – Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert, for example (though it’s been argued that Beethoven is a genre unto himself).

Each of the four composers whose works are performed in our programs made contributions to the development of Classical style. Haydn is considered the key transitional figure from Baroque to Classical; indeed, more than any other composer he may be said to have invented Classical style, and has been called the “Father of Sonata Form.” Mozart, who was a contemporary of Haydn and greatly admired the older man, worked within Classical forms and brought them to an unsurpassed degree of perfection. Schubert, an admirer of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, brought his own innovations to the style and paved the way for the Romantic era that followed. Brahms was a late Classical composer, a Keeper of the Faith who resisted the siren call of Romanticism, fighting a rearguard action against the onslaught of Richard Wagner and his acolytes.

Alas for Brahms, history was on the side of Wagner. Romanticism was followed by modernism, serialism, minimalism, aleatroricism, primitivism, Neoclassicism, New Romanticism, post-modernism, etc., etc. ad nauseam. For a time Classical style fell out of favor – with composers, that is; it never lost its allure for audiences, and by the 1970s younger composers and performers were re-discovering its charms, once again immersing themselves in study of the period and its leading figures. Perhaps they were looking for order amidst the chaos of seventy-plus years of experimentation; or perhaps the older forms were seen as a tonic against the extremely subjective and drily academic nature of much modern music, and a way to reconnect with audiences.

Or perhaps, as SummerFest Music Director Cho-Liang (Jimmy) Lin notes, it’s as simple as “a good tune is always a good tune – there’s no substitute,” and the Classical masters offered good tunes in abundance.

Watch La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest 2014 Season.

It's SummerFest Season!

Summer wouldn’t be the same without La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest!

Every year La Jolla Music Society orchestrates three weeks of chamber music concerts with world famous musicians who not only perform original works but participate in discussions, give lectures and coaching sessions for younger musicians, and attend social events.

UCSD-TV has been capturing these musical moments since the 1999 SummerFest season and all of these performances are archived on our website.

SummerFest, led by violinist Cho-Liang Lin, delves into the story and art behind the musical pieces with pre-concert talks and interviews with the artists.

Get ready for the upcoming season of SummerFest with this past episode, featuring “Wayne Shorter’s Terra Incognita, 2006.” Shorter discusses his inspirations for his famous “Terra Incognita” as well as the Imani Winds quintet describing their experience playing the piece.

See what other musicians have been a part of the chamber music celebration in the SummerFest Series!

Jazz Camp 2013- Finale Concert Highlights

Looking for a way to send your summer off with a musical kick? UCSD-TV is here to help. Take one listen to our Jazz Camp finale concert and your toes will be ready to tap right into the fall. Students along with accomplished musicians take to the stage to perform compositions representing the many stylistic approaches to jazz.

Don’t miss the highlights from these incredible musicians, captured by UCSD-TV.

Check out videos from previous Jazz Camps or visit the UC San Diego Jazz Camp website!

Lear on the 2nd Floor

Composer Anthony Davis presents a modern take on Shakespeare’s classic, King Lear.

Lear on the 2nd Floor tells the story of Nora Lear, a neuroscience researcher suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. As Nora loses her bearings and autonomy, she is increasingly at the mercy of her three quarreling daughters. In this version, Nora’s dead husband Mortimer is Shakespeare’s fool and her constant companion, as she wanders through a world where past and present blend and reality bends.

Davis’s music incorporates diverse styles and influences, ranging from classical opera to jazz to reggae. This performance by UC San Diego’s Kallisti Vocal Ensemble includes various music styles from classical opera to reggae, as well as a libretto by playwright Allan Havis.

Check out our other chamber music videos.