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Andrews University Orchestra
February 23, 2002
Conflict and Triumph

Elgar: Cello Concerto in e minor | James Lee: A Place for God's People | Brahms: Tragic Overture, Op.81

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in e minor, Op. 85
Allegro molto
Allegro,ma non troppo

Inspired by the English countryside and the continental musical achievements of the 19th century, Sir Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) compositions hold a special place in the history of British music providing a proud culmination to his era . Composed at the end of World War I, the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in e minor, Op. 85, is the last work of significance that Elgar produced. In addition to being an exquisitely beautiful piece, it also signifies Elgar's farewell to the English way of life as he knew it. Having written numerous pieces of Patriotic themes before and during the war, he now turned to several pieces of chamber music and a piece for cello and orchestra. As cello was not his instrument, (he was a violinist) the composer invited cellist Felix Salmond to his country house "Brinkwells" in the Sussex countryside to work with him on the concerto during the summer of 1919. The piece was premiered that fall on October 26 at Queen's Hall, London, with Salmond as soloist and Elgar conducting. The piece was to share the program with two works by Scriabin and Borodin conducted by Albert Coates. Unfortunately Coates took most of the rehearsal time allotted to Elgar causing a most unsatisfactory premiere of the concerto and a London critic to write that the orchestra "made a lamentable public exhibition of itself." Nevertheless, succeeding performances and numerous recordings have firmly established the work's well deserved place in the cello repertoire.

The concerto is in four movements which fall in pairs. Following an opening recitative for cello, the violas introduce the haunting first theme alone. A pizzicato variant of the opening chords introduces a shadowy scherzo movement in G major. The relatively short (60 bars) adagio movement pours out the essence of the work-the reflective stillness of a pond in the autumn woods. Without a real break, the orchestra suggests the final rondo theme, but the cello instigates another recitative-like cadenza before launching into the final rondo. Near the end the soulful adagio reappears, and a reprise of the opening recitative leads into a final statement of the rondo. Throughout, the full ensemble is masterfully orchestrated creating a spare but colorful support, while not overwhelming the solo instrument.

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James Lee (b.1975)
A Place for God's People

A Place for God's People, by James Lee III, was completed in December 2001, and receives its premiere tonight. Mr. Lee is a native of Benton Harbor, Michigan and a former Andrews University student. The work was commissioned by Morihiko Nakahara, music director of the Andrews University Symphony Orchestra and Andrews University as part of the Centennial celebration of the move of Andrews University (formerly Battle Creek College) to Berrien Springs, Michigan.

The programmatic piece falls in three main sections. The first represents the inspiration given through Ellen G. White as to the new location of the college. This "light" is depicted through use of the upper register of the piano against string harmonics. The undesirable city environment of Battle Creek is pictured by brass cluster chords, increasing in rhythmic and tonal intensity until a slow contrary motion glissando in the strings brings us to the slow, reflective middle section. The music conveys the spirit of prayer, work, and sacrifice of the students and faculty as they strove to get the school out of debt so that it could move out of the city to the new location. This music introduces a number of orchestral solos and produces a chamber-like effect. It is also in this section that the name ANDREWS is represented with the pitches A-G-D-E-B-E. This pattern in various forms is first heard in the woodwinds, and then later passed to the strings. The final section of the piece expresses joy and affirmation in the 1901 General Conference decision to move the college from Battle Creek to Berrien Springs. Elements from the first two sections are revisited culminating in a majestic brass passage balancing the parallel passage from the beginning. The piece concludes with cascading passages in the winds and strings-a jubilant explosion of sound.

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Tragic Overture, Op.81

After a strenuous concert season, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) took up residence in the Austrian resort town of Bad Ischl for the summer of 1880, where he enjoyed the company of artists, scholars and other musicians. In addition to rest and recreation, the composer did complete two contrasting concert overtures which he described: "one weeps, the other laughs." The Academic Festival Overture is a lighthearted potpourri of student songs produced to acknowledge the composer's receipt of an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Breslau. The portion of the pair that we hear tonight is the one that weeps. Although Brahms designated the title Tragic Overture, the piece is probably not related to any particular tragedy despite the fact that over the years there have been attempts to link it to such specific tragedies as a production of Goethe's Faust in Vienna. Brahms biographer Walter Niemann sums up his views of the tragic quality of the work: "the fleeting touches of thrilling, individual emotion in this overture are not to be found in conflict and storm, but in the crushing loneliness of terrifying and unearthly silences, in what have been called 'dead places.'"

This solemn, striking work is constructed in classic sonata form and is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.


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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2002.
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