Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Maestro Case Scaglione conducts works by Boulez, Ravel, and Varèse

The Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music's fall concert season opens with a program of works by three seminal 20th century French composers, Maurice Ravel, Edgar Varèse, and Pierre Boulez. The compositions will be performed by the Slee Sinfonietta, conducted by Case Scaglione and featuring mezzo soprano Julia Bentley. The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 10 in the Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall on the University at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst. Tickets are available at the Slee Hall box office, (716) 645-2921.


Pierre Boulez – Dérive 2, for 11 instruments (1988/2006)
Maurice Ravel, orchestrated by Boulez – Frontispice, for orchestra (1918)
Maurice Ravel – 2 Mélodies hébraïques, for voice and orchestra (1914)
Edgar Varèse – Un Grand Sommeil Noir, for voice and piano (1906)
Maurice Ravel – Un Grand Sommeil Noir, for voice and piano (1895)

Written for Elliott Carter's 80th birthday, Dérive 2 by Boulez is scored for eleven instruments: two trios (woodwinds, strings), two duos (percussion, harp/piano), and solo horn. The piece was the result of Boulez's research into periodicity. “When I reflected on some of Ligeti’s compositions, I felt the desire to dedicate myself to some almost theoretical research into periodicity in order to systematically examine its overlays, its shifts and its exchange.” The derivations are fragments of pieces by Carter and Ligeti. Boulez uses them isorythmically, in the manner of a 14th Century composer, complete with hockets.

In 1918, at the end of World War I, Ravel was in a state of deep creative despair after having witnessed the nightmare of combat firsthand. He wrote only one new piece that year, Frontispice for two pianos, five hands, a work which  lasts all of two minutes. Frontispice first appeared in a magazine in 1919 as a musical frontispiece to Sonate pour un jet d’eau (Sonata for Water Jet), a poem by Ricciotto Canudo. The piece has a numerological component in its systematic use of threes and fives: three pianists, five hands, fifteen (3x5) measures, five staves, and so on. As conductor John Kennedy remarked, Boulez's 1987 orchestration of Frontispice brings out the “novel-in-a-sigh” quality of each gesture in an almost Webernesque way.

Ravel wrote two versions of Deux mélodies hébraïques (Two Hebrew Songs), one for voice and piano, the other for voice and orchestra. The Slee Sinfonietta will play the latter. Interestingly, the dates of the piano version and the orchestral version coincide almost perfectly with the beginning and end of World War I: 1914 and 1919. The texts for both songs are from the Bible. Ravel wrote each in two languages: The first, Kaddisch, a hymn of praise to God, in Aramaic and French, and the second, L'Énigme éternelle (Eternal Mystery), in Yiddish and French.

It's always interesting to hear two accomplished composers set the same text to music. In 1895, after completing his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, Ravel composed Un grand sommeil noir (A Deep Black Sleep), a setting for voice and piano of a short poem by Paul Verlaine. This piece marks the beginning of a gloomy and macabre note in Ravel's music, born out in such later works as Le Gibet from Gaspard de la nuit and La Valse. In 1906, while still a student of organist and composer Charles-Marie Widor, Varèse wrote his Un grand sommeil noir, a setting of the same Verlaine poem. Those who know Varèse as radical experimenter and electroniste will be fascinated to hear the hauntingly lyrical melodies and tonal harmonies he wrote in this song.


In September 2011, American conductor Case Scaglione began his tenure as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. During the 2012/13 season, Mr. Scaglione worked with Sir Andrew Davis on the Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Strauss’ Elektra, and appeared as a guest conductor with the St. Louis Symphony, Edmonton Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, and Palm Beach Opera. He finished his season in China with the Guangzhou Symphony and China Philharmonic, and  at the Siena Music Festival in Siena, Italy with a production of Britten’s Turn of the Screw.

Since completing apprenticeships with the Santa Fe Opera and the Chicago Lyric Opera, mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley has appeared in leading operatic roles (Carmen, Rosina, Dorbella, Despina, and both Rossini and Massenet Cinderellas) from Anchorage to New York, and has been featured as a soloist with orchestras led by George Manahan, Raymond Leppard, Oliver Knussen, Robert Shaw and Pierre Boulez. She currently teaches voice at Concordia University and the DePaul University School of Music, as well as the graduate Art Song Seminar at North Park University.

The Slee Sinfonietta is the professional chamber orchestra in residence at the University at Buffalo and the flagship ensemble of the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music. The Sinfonietta presents a series of concerts each year that feature performances of challenging new works by contemporary composers and lesser-known works from the chamber orchestra repertoire.

Slee Sinfonietta
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall
Case Scaglione, conductor
Julia Bentley, mezzo soprano

Ticket information can be found here