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

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus: The Lovers

8232When Dr. David Chase assumed leadership of the La Jolla Symphony Chorus in 1973, it consisted of 60 members. Over the succeeding years, Dr. Chase grew the chorus to 130 voices while expanding the group’s repertoire to include contemporary works as well as proven classics.

To mark his retirement after 44 years as Choral Director in June 2017, Dr. Chase assembled and conducted an eclectic program inspired by love and passion under the appropriate title, “The Lovers.” The first piece, the charming “Overture to Beatrice and Benedict,” is a concert staple from Hector Berlioz’s opera comique based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Next on the bill is Arnold Schoenberg’s tone poem “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”), the composer’s interpretation of a German romantic poem. It is widely considered one of this modernist composer’s most accessible works. In the program’s final piece, “The Lovers,” American neo-Romantic composer Samuel Barber sets a cycle of poems by celebrated Chilean poet Pablo Neruda for baritone, mixed chorus, and full orchestra.

Taken as a whole the three pieces form a compelling examination of both the complexities of love and music’s ability to speak directly to the heart. Not coincidentally, the program also reflects David Chase’s passion for music and lifelong devotion to popularizing lesser-known works and is a fitting culmination to his tenure with La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. Dr. Chase will be ably succeeded, but he can never be replaced.

Watch La Jolla Symphony & Chorus: The Lovers

The Rhythm of the 20th Century

8232It’s been said that jazz is one of America’s most significant and lasting cultural exports. The style that became known as jazz originated in New Orleans in the late 19th century, and grew rapidly in popularity and influence. By the beginning of the 20th century this musical genre had firmly established itself in Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, New York City (specifically in Harlem) and other American cities. But it took a cataclysmic event to propel jazz “across the pond,” where it quickly established a firm foothold in the European cultural landscape.

The primary agent of that intercontinental expansion was Lieutenant James Reese Europe, a black officer and bandleader who volunteered in 1918 for service in World War I with members of his celebrated Harlem Society Orchestra. Because the U.S. Army was not yet integrated, their newly-formed 369th Regimental Band fought courageously alongside the French, who nicknamed the 369th “the Hellfighters” and awarded the Band the Croix de Guerre in recognition of their valor and contributions to morale.

In addition to their exploits on the battlefield, the Hellfighters brought jazz to several European cities — most notably to Paris, where several of the 369th’s musicians remained following the war’s end. In the ensuing decades Paris became a mecca for jazz practitioners and aficionados, as more Americans musicians emigrated to the City of Lights.

For the 19th Annual Lytle Scholarship Concert at UC San Diego, internationally renowned pianist and Department of Music Professor Emeritus Cecil Lytle is joined by a stellar array of jazz musicians from Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana in a concert entitled “Harlem Hellfighters: Jazz Goes to War.” Through narration and an eclectic selection of music this program relates the history of, and pays homage to, those brave soldiers and jazz ambassadors of the 369th Regimental Band.

“The music of this concert is the story of jazz,” Dr. Lytle notes, “a story of liberation ‘over there’ and back here… Not only did the Harlem Hellfighters fight for their country when they did not have equal rights at home, but they brought jazz to Paris and soon united generations of people around the world-young and old, rich and poor, black and white, friends and foes-in what would become the rhythm of the 20th century.”

Watch Harlem Hellfighters: Jazz Goes to War, a Lytle Memorial Concert.

Contributed by John Menier, Arts & Humanities Producer

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.

Jazz Camp 2014 – Finale Concert Highlights

8232What is jazz? The late great Stan Getz described jazz thusly:

“It’s like a language. You learn the alphabet, which are the scales. You learn sentences, which are the chords. And then you talk extemporaneously with the horn. It’s a wonderful thing to speak extemporaneously, which is something I’ve never gotten the hang of. But musically I love to talk just off the top of my head. And that’s what jazz music is all about.”

UC San Diego Jazz Camp exemplifies Getz’s definition. In its twelfth year, Jazz Camp transports its students through a one week, one-of-a-kind journey into the world of jazz. Combining the expertise of more than a dozen nationally- and internationally-known musicians and jazz educators, this extraordinary faculty brings students of jazz together to explore a full spectrum of approaches to jazz improvisation.

At the end of the week, UC San Diego Jazz Camp culminates in a finale concert, featuring student ensembles performing standards and original compositions with the participation and under the direction of faculty members.

Watch the latest season of Jazz Camp and browse past performances.